Loudoun County supervisors voted yesterday to settle a lawsuit challenging efforts to slow home building south of Dulles International Airport.
The suit was filed by Roma Dawson, the campaign treasurer for Supervisor Stephen J. Snow (R-Dulles), and Greenvest LC, the county's largest landowner and a major contributor to the campaigns of Republicans who won control of the county board last November. Snow oversees land use matters for the board.
The settlement will allow one house per acre on more than 200 acres near the airport. Several on the losing side of the 5 to 4 vote said members of the board's GOP majority had signaled by their action that they plan to settle scores of similar lawsuits that seek to overturn building curbs in the nation's fastest-growing county. The restrictions were adopted by the previous board after three years of often-raucous debate.
Critics said that yesterday's action would open the door to landowners, developers and others who want to build more homes than are currently allowed in the county. Developers will use the settlement to demand similar treatment, they said.
Supervisors who voted for the settlement said it would make a small correction to a bad decision by their predecessors, not set a far-reaching precedent.
Greenvest Chief Executive Jim Duszynski said the agreement offered a chance for his company and the county government to start anew after years of conflict.
"I think it's the right thing for both sides to get that phase of our relationship behind us and work together to plan for the future development in the county," Duszynski said, adding that he hopes the firm's remaining lawsuits, as well as scores filed by others, will be settled soon. "I'm hopeful we're going to be settling all of them in the near term, along with everybody else in the county," he said.
The courts -- and the private room that supervisors have used for 10 months of closed-door deliberations on legal matters, as allowed under Virginia law -- are the latest fronts in a years-long struggle over development in Loudoun.
In recent months, developers have applied for permission to build tens of thousands more homes than are currently allowed under Loudoun's rules, fueling heated board exchanges.
"This is political payback," Supervisor James Burton (I-Blue Ridge) said of yesterday's decision, adding that Snow had an "ethical and moral conflict of interest" in voting on his former treasurer's case.
Snow said the vote was "a vote for property rights" and against "the tyranny of the minority" and "demagogues" such as Burton on the wrong side of history.
Supervisor Sarah R. Kurtz (D-Catoctin) voted against the settlement, saying that neighbors to the south in Fairfax and Prince William counties have cut building in that area to protect the Occoquan watershed and that Loudoun will be out of sync by allowing substantial new growth there. But Supervisor Bruce E. Tulloch (R-Potomac), who supported the settlement, said the decision was tailored to protect the watershed.
Dawson sold the property to Greenvest earlier this year for $7 million, according to county records. The previous board had rejected a Greenvest application to build an average of almost two houses per acre, prompting the suit. Nearby parts of neighboring Fairfax allow one home for every five acres.