Skip to comments.What now? Realtors look west (Virginia SC voids zoning in Loudoun county)
Posted on 04/13/2005 6:58:47 PM PDT by Lorianne
On Friday, Circuit Court Judge Thomas Horne will get an order from the highest court in Virginia that voids the zoning in most of rural Loudoun.
When news of this broke more than a month ago, the reaction was immediate. Slow-growth advocates threatened to secede from the county, rural business owners hired lawyers -- and in Realtors' offices, the phones began to ring.
According to local Realtor Ray Mauk, it was hard to know what to tell people with the scant information available.
"A lot of what you see is just impressions. We wanted to get some real answers instead of speculation," he said.
On Thursday, he and about 200 other members of the Dulles Area Association of Realtors piled into a conference room at Carradoc Hall in Leesburg to get the facts. What is the future of western Loudoun?
Two lawyers, an elected official and an engineer showed up to try to set the record straight.
First, they laid out the background: The previous board of slow-growth supervisors down-zoned the west to one house per 20 or 50 acres. More than 200 landowners sued the county, claiming their property rights had been violated. After two years of legal wrangling, the restrictive zoning was thrown out because the Virginia Supreme Court ruled the county did not adequately notify the public of its plans.
After Friday, the zoning map will return to what it was before one house per three acres, or A-3 zoning.
The panel at Carradoc Hall included Stephen M. Sayers, who represented the landowners who sued the county, land-use lawyer Randy Minchew, Supervisor Mick Staton (R-Sugarland Run) and former Northern Virginia Building Industry Association president Patrick Quante.
The main message from the panel to the assembled Realtors? Patience.
The panel indicated that the new Republican board, in all likelihood, will not try to reimpose the restrictive zoning but create a hybrid of the old and the new.
When the previous Board of Supervisors took measures to down-zone the west, many landowners either rushed to quickly subdivide their land or rushed to their lawyer's office to file a lawsuit against the county.
"It's time to stop issuing sound bites and start looking for real solutions," said Staton. "It is time to stop denigrating anyone who may disagree with the smart-growth line as either greedy or corrupt. It is time to start listening to all viewpoints."
Staton went on to assure the audience that the development community will not be vilified while the board decides on a new plan for the west.
"I know when I bought my first home it was one of the proudest days of my life. I was a homeowner. I had achieved something very important," he said.
At the Board of Supervisors meeting on Tuesday, the ramifications of the court's ruling will be aired for the first time in public, when the supervisors are briefed by county staff.
I agree. Hopefully, this is establishing precedents that can be built upon elsewhere.
However, it seems to me to have been a win on a technicality.
I want to see these cases won on the constitutional issues of private property.
Here's what I don't understand about the "private property" argument for development. People in western Loudoun County sued the county Board of Supervisors because they considered their property an investment and claimed they were going to be denied the right to make a profit on the sale of their land to developers. But where is it written that government must guarantee an investor a profit? Show me the paragraph in our Constitution that orders state, local, or federal government to always protect everyone's investments. If you own stock and that stock loses value due to some change in the law, the government does not owe it to you either to change that law to suit you or to make up the profit you expected. If you are a landowner and got it into your head that a piece of farmland was going to make you rich, the government does not owe it to you to arrange things so that you don't have to take a loss or break even.
Are you from Loudoun County? Are you familiar with the issues that drove this situation in the first place? Loudoun is the fastest-growing county in the US. Between illegal immigrants (200,000 of them in the area) and people moving into the county legally, the traffic is now considered the second-worst in the nation. Schools are overcrowded. Taxes are already extremely high, but they have to be jacked up even more to pay for new roads, schools, sewage-treatment plants, water piping, utilities, police and fire protection, hospitals, etc. etc. etc., all of which became swamped the moment they were brought on line. Quality of life has been deteriorating markedly because of crowding. Traffic is so bad that people just can't move further away from their jobs to escape these conditions, or they would never seen home and family.
The people of Loudoun County a few years ago cried out "No mas!" They found that development was costing them a fortune and they could not continue paying and suffering just to gratify a few developers who wanted to get even richer with yet more developments. They voted overwhelmingly for candidates who supported a slow-growth (rather than no-growth) policy. Once in office those candidates passed laws that continued to permit development, but slowed the rate rather than prohibiting it.
So it is an interesting legal and constitutional question. Does the private individual have the right to demand he make a profit from his investment, whether that investment is in stocks, bonds, or land? Should he sue to demand that government alter laws so that he makes his profit? Should the voters have the right to control the circumstances in which they live? It's a delicate balance between the rights of the group and the rights of the individual, but I do not think that the Virginia Supreme Court has settled it equitably. After all, 20-acre zoning does not prevent a land owner from selling his land for development. He can sell it for quite an amazing price, especially since this is among the most expensive areas in the US. It will be developed in a different way than if sold as a site for five kajillion townhouses.
Where ya' located? W. Wash?, Northern Midwest?
Out here in Loudoun County, the following was stated by a former planner for the area in January 1999, while speaking at a Loudoun Public School meeting.
"In the past, there was an implied contract in Loudoun County whereby Western Loudoun would remain rural, with low populations and a strong rural economy. It would enjoy smaller, older school facilities without all of the bells and whistles of the new schools in the east, but with the old fashion commitment of dedicated teachers in small classes. Conversely Eastern Loudoun would be the growth center of houses, jobs, and retail services. Western Loudoun would pay through taxes a fair share in supporting this new development in the east and in return would preserve a lifestyle the residents valued."
Somewhere in 2001 to 2002, that line was crossed and whether thru trying to offer a consession to growth pundits, or thru an act of outright greed, building in the West was begun. To add insult to injury, the funds that the west had always offered for it's security in being relatively build-free were "jacked" up in ever increasing percentages as the east keeps requiring more and more infrastructure.
Loudoun has been borrowing from Peter to pay Paul for so long, and in opening west Loudoun to development and refusing to garner proffers and impact fees from the developers who are running thru the county....
Loudoun is approaching the day where both sides of the county have huge infrastructures and no money buffer anywhere else to pull from.
Basically, when all of it is developed and Peter and Paul are both broke, all eyes will turn to the lowly taxpayer to pick up that slack.
Meanwhile, those to blame for the development will be retired in Florida on their multi-million dollar estates while we are stuck in Loudoun dealing with their contributions to our County. Developers and Board members alike.