Downzoning's Unfair Price

Apparently the view that there is a taking of private property by government when it downzones land is unacceptable to David Jenkins, government affairs director of the Republicans for Environmental Protection ["Republican Values in Loudoun," Letters to the Editor, A Section, Aug. 2].

Jenkins's comments suggest that the recent U.S. Supreme Court action acknowledging the government's right of eminent domain to take private property when it serves the public good and giving it to developers somehow negates the criticism of Supervisors Lori L. Waters (R-Broad Run) and Jim E. Clem (R-Leesburg) that their vote to downzone western Loudoun County represented the taking of private property.

Private property includes not only a property's physical aspects but also the owner's emotional as well as monetary values related to that property.

Private property, in my non-legal, limited observations, can be "taken" in three ways. The government can use its power of eminent domain as recently demonstrated by the Supreme Court. There can be an illegal taking, in which the Fifth Amendment of the Constitution is violated.

In each of these two instances, however, the property owner is justly compensated, either directly, as in the first instance, or through penalties, as in the second instance.

The third method of taking, to my way of thinking, is through downzoning. Not only are these property owners not compensated, but they are additionally penalized, tax-wise. Their property, even though downzoned, continues to be assessed at market value, representing an added tax indirectly imposed by government.

In addition, an owner is prevented from accessing a property's potential value since the property may not sell, may be sold at a low price or may be retained at reduced value, and 100 percent of nothing is still nothing.

To heap accolades upon Waters and Clem, therefore, for voting to allow the government to take private property through downzoning is misplaced.

At the combined Board of Supervisors and Planning Commission meeting Aug. 1, Waters and Clem, along with other board members, voted to allow individual property owners to change their property's zoning from A-3 to AR-1 and AR-2, instituting selective "landowner consent" specifically removed from the 1993 Comprehensive Plan by the previous board.

At the same meeting, again in concert with other board members, they voted to discriminate against other A-3 property owners by denying them the opportunity to exercise the same landowner consent to retain their property as A-3.

The 5,000-plus acres of property belonging to the owners granted the option to voluntarily downzone their properties from A-3 to AR-1 and AR-2 are scattered throughout the county, making the action taken by the board in this regard spot zoning.

Waters and Clem are to be congratulated, not for being true conservative Republicans voting for smart growth, given the cost of litigation, but for stimulating growth by forgetting that they were Republicans, as noted by Jack Shockey, president of Citizens for Property Rights, and once again abdicating their important fiscal responsibility to the courts.

Lawrence V. Phillips

Round Hill