The Loudoun County Board of Supervisors advanced two competing plans for limiting home building in a vast area of the county yesterday, three months after Virginia's Supreme Court threw out a more restrictive set of zoning rules on a technicality.
Substantial new home building would be allowed under both plans, which now move to public comment sessions. But both plans also would sharply reduce the number of homes that could be built in the western two-thirds of the county now that decades-old zoning rules for the area have been restored by a local judge.
The plans have been touted as compromises by their backers on Loudoun's Board of Supervisors. Some landowners voiced support yesterday for each of the proposals. Others rejected both as infringements on their ability to subdivide and develop their properties.
At stake is a 300-square-mile expanse of scenic land west of Dulles International Airport now alternately viewed as prime real estate for the Washington region's booming population or as a rural respite from that suburban expansion.
The restrictions thrown out by the Supreme Court in March were passed in 2003 after three years of planning debates and political posturing. They required 20 acres to build a home in northwestern Loudoun, or 10 acres per home if open space were preserved. In southwestern Loudoun, the rules required 50 acres for a home or 20 under the open-space provision.
The court ruling means the old rules are back in force. They require three acres per house.
Some supervisors voiced hope that passage of a compromise between those two poles would end the county's long-running debate over growth in the county's western reaches. But some pro-development interests said they would continue their fight if either plan were approved.
"What I'm trying to achieve is what I campaigned on, which is a fair and balanced growth plan," said Supervisor Mick Staton Jr. (R-Sugarland Run), who added that he believes the plan he supports would prevent a new round of lawsuits seeking to overturn the plan. "I'm trying to achieve an end to the constant fights that have gone on on this issue. This has gone on for decades."
Staton supports a plan fashioned with colleague Bruce E. Tulloch (R-Potomac) that would allow an average of one home per five acres in northwestern Loudoun if the homes are clustered together and 10 acres per home in southwestern Loudoun.
His Republican colleague, Supervisor Lori Waters (Broad Run), supports a bipartisan plan originally offered by Supervisors James Burton (I-Blue Ridge) and Jim Clem (R-Leesburg). The plan includes a Waters proposal to raise funds for roads and other public projects, which are usually not covered in Loudoun's rural developments.
Under the plan, property owners with 20 acres or more in northwestern Loudoun could build a home on every 10 acres. In the southwest, owners with 40 acres or more could build a home every 20 acres. But if they applied for permission from the county board -- using what backers said would be a streamlined approval process -- and agreed to pay for improvements, they would be able to build additional homes, an average of one per 71/2 acres in the northwest, and one per 15 acres in the southwest.
"I hope we can discuss all these issues in the most simple way possible so that people can respond to the facts," Waters said.
According to a county analysis, the invalidated 2003 rules would have restricted home building in western Loudoun to 10,000 more homes. The current three-acre zoning would allow 46,000 more homes. The plan supported by Staton and Tulloch would allow 20,000 new homes, and that supported by Waters and the other supervisors would allow 14,000 new homes.
The effort to pass zoning rules that are more restrictive than those currently in place has angered some of the pro-development activists who helped elect a Republican majority in November 2003.
While the Republican-led board has approved new housing projects and pursued policies that could allow thousands of additional homes to be built in suburban Loudoun, a majority of supervisors say they support zoning rules that would eliminate thousands of future houses in rural areas.
Jack Shockey, president of the pro-development group Citizens for Property Rights, said his group's official position is that it is willing to accept the Staton-Tulloch plan. But he said that anything other than one home per three acres represented a betrayal and that he and many of his members probably would sue again to overturn either plan.
Virginia's Supreme Court, acting after more than 200 lawsuits were filed, had rejected the earlier rules because it said the county had not provided proper notice in a required newspaper advertisement.
"I'm sorry the Board of Supervisors didn't have enough sense to listen to the Supreme Court and back off," Shockey said. "There's going to be more land-use lawyers and consultants in the peanut gallery taking notes."
He said the Staton plan would "minimize the lawsuits."
"Instead of getting 200 lawsuits, maybe they'll get 100 or 150," Shockey said.