A divided Loudoun County Board of Supervisors voted to allow more houses per acre in an area south of Dulles International Airport as part of a settlement with politically connected litigants.
The votes Tuesday followed through on a deal reached last year with lawyers representing Roma Dawson, the former campaign treasurer for Supervisor Stephen J. Snow (R-Dulles), and Greenvest LC, the county's largest landowner and a major campaign contributor to Snow and other supervisors who have sought to spur development in Loudoun.
Supervisors voted 5 to 4 to change county plans and approve an application to build 224 homes on 225 acres, about three times what the previous rules would have allowed. The plan changes will also allow increased development on more than 200 nearby acres owned by others, according to the county.
Dawson and Greenvest had sued Loudoun after supervisors on a previous board denied their request to build about two homes per acre on the property. They said the county was unfairly seeking to block growth. County officials had argued in denying the original request that the area in Loudoun's southern tip lacked the roads, schools and other costly public facilities needed to serve higher numbers of houses.
Debate on the move turned testy Tuesday, with supervisors sparring over whether the circumstances of the votes created an appearance of a conflict of interest.
"I just have to ask that Mr. Snow recuse himself . . . from the vote because of Ms. Dawson being his campaign treasurer," said Supervisor Jim G. Burton (I-Blue Ridge). "Although legally he doesn't have to, I think there's a perception of a conflict of interest."
Burton and other opponents of the development said it was too intense for the area, and out of step with neighboring jurisdictions. Fairfax County allows one home per five acres in nearby areas, while Prince William County allows one home per 10 acres nearby. Backers, though, said Tuesday's vote would allow a reasonable amount of building and represented a compromise solution for applicants caught up in the county's broader fight over growth.
Snow read from state conflict of interest rules that he said clearly showed he had no conflict and chastised Burton for attempting "to disparage my character." Snow downplayed Dawson's involvement in his campaign, and cited a Dawson family tragedy in calling Burton a "bottom feeder."
"A treasurer is nothing more than a bookkeeper. That's all the poor lady did," Snow said. "She's a grandmother, and during that period of time, her daughter-in-law was killed, or died of a disease. I think she died of cancer. For Mr. Burton to sit there and keep disparaging this poor grandmother . . . you've stooped to lower depths now."
Dawson said the vote ended years of difficult struggle with the county but comes at "a very tough time" for the family.
"I'm delighted. They finally saw the light," Dawson said.
She is busy caring for her grandchildren after her daughter-in-law died of a massive heart attack, Dawson said.
According to county records, Dawson and her husband sold the property to Greenvest last year for $7 million. Dawson would not comment on whether the firm had yet paid her the full amount or how Tuesday's votes affected the arrangement.
"We'll get together with Greenvest and work that out I guess," Dawson said. "I don't know that it's anyone else's business, to be honest with you."
Dawson added that she and her husband had worked hard on the property for decades. "We bought it, we cleaned it up, and we built," Dawson said. "We sweated tears."