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What now? Realtors look west (Virginia SC voids zoning in Loudoun county)
Loudon Times Mirror ^ | 13 April 2005 | Anne Keisman

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.

TOPICS: Business/Economy; Government; US: Maryland; US: Virginia
KEYWORDS: agenda21; landuse; loudoun; loudouncounty; propertyrights; smartgrowth; zoning
Wow this seems big to me if I'm reading it right.
1 posted on 04/13/2005 6:58:47 PM PDT by Lorianne
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To: Lorianne

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.

2 posted on 04/13/2005 7:39:31 PM PDT by reformedliberal
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To: Lorianne
It is big. It is tragic. Some of the most beautiful and historically important land in the United States--land comparable in historic importance to Gettysburg or Antietam--may be plowed under for cheaply-built, overpriced townhouses and shopping centers. Once that land is paved, it's never going to be restored; our heritage of Virginia history is lost forever.
3 posted on 04/13/2005 9:09:27 PM PDT by Capriole (I don't have any problems that couldn't be solved by more chocolate or more ammunition)
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To: reformedliberal
Hopefully, this is establishing precedents that can be built upon elsewhere. . . .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.

4 posted on 04/13/2005 9:32:27 PM PDT by Capriole (I don't have any problems that couldn't be solved by more chocolate or more ammunition)
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To: Capriole
No, I don't live there. It sounds like if I did, I would sell out immediately and move.

I live in an undeveloped, rural area just far enough from the nearest large city to be still working or fallow farmland. We have a contingent of smart growth hippies in the area who have been trying to force draconian land use plans on us for a decade. If we can all hold them off for another 5 years, the state plan will prevail. The state plan is pretty generic and allows the landowner to subdivide. The Regional Planning Commission designated the area as greenbelt/recreational back in the seventies. The smart growth plan dictates that all property remain in its present use upon being sold and in perpetuity. No one can sell smaller than a 40. The big scare tactic is "a shopping center" we are supposed to believe would ever be built along a small fork of the local small river along the side that floods each spring. The hippies prowl the bottom land each year, asking the farmers if they have found any Indian artifacts. If they did, it would allow the Historical Society to come in and slap a preservation label on that land. The Indians were smarter than that and built their summer villages elsewhere in the neighborhood. The smart growth geniuses have detailed land use rules: how close you can build to the road, for example, in a hilly area where a long, uphill driveway can mean you are snow bound in winter and in a sea of mud when it rains, forcing your expensive gravel to wash out onto the highway. It goes on to dictate the color of structures that can be seen from the river, which is not navigable except by kayak. They want to dictate everything from forestry practices to the non-metallic mining uses (sand, gravel, clay & shale deposits). So far, the rest of us have maintained our private property rights, as the planning is by township and the costs for smart growth are in the $40k-$50k per township range just for the initial surveys and legal costs. Our land is our retirement annuity. Of course we will make a profit when we sell. Land appreciates. But the pool of buyers will be limited to more wealthy Greens and land trusts unless the land is relatively unencumbered. One couple who has a 20 acre parcel is apoplectic at the thought of more small parcels, since they want to be able to charge extra for an already surveyed small acerage and the value of their land rests in already having been divided.

30 years ago, we were lucky to have one car every 2-3 hours come down the county highway. More often, it was a piece of farm machinery. Today, it is perhaps up to 10 cars an hour in summer and this is so irritating to the hippies that they can work themselves up into a lather over the *congestion* and the *noise*. Road improvement gives them the vapors, but they haven't a prayer in forcing their ideas on the State DOT.

We have nearly the cheapest land in the country at $3k/acre. The area is old mountains and will not be leveled for mass development. The nearest city of 50k is 45 miles away by car with some daunting hills on the route. We have few illegals, except in the summer when the apple orchards in the county to the south need workers. We had some who moved in to work in a packing plant about 25 miles away. The plant was unsafe and went belly-up over various injury settlements. Our winters can go down to 40 below and our county has less than luxurious welfare benefits compared to the surrounding ones.

The development in our future is for starter castles. Once the farms are sold, the taxation is for recreational use, instead of farming and increases drastically. If the next owner wants to invest the approximately $1M it would cost to survey the average farm and provide access roads and run in the electrical lines to sell charming building lots, most of us believe that is their right. If they want to bring in light industry, which would provide needed jobs, that, too, is their right.

My complaint is with people who want to set land use in stone forever. This is marginal farmland. The day of the 25-40 head dairy herd is long past. I have no idea what it will be like in 50 years and I will be gone, anyway. The motives of the land use Nazis are simply to prevent any changes at all that are uncontrolled by their wishes right now.
5 posted on 04/14/2005 1:18:46 AM PDT by reformedliberal
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To: reformedliberal

Where ya' located? W. Wash?, Northern Midwest?

6 posted on 04/14/2005 1:24:13 AM PDT by dakine
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To: dakine

SW Wisconsin.

7 posted on 04/14/2005 1:41:35 AM PDT by reformedliberal
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To: reformedliberal

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.

8 posted on 04/15/2005 10:58:13 PM PDT by Catoctin County supporter
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To: farmfriend


9 posted on 04/15/2005 11:00:49 PM PDT by freepatriot32 (If you want to change goverment support the libertarian party
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To: Catoctin County supporter
There is no doubt you have been hosed.

We are so far from the centers of power that those who live here are mostly cussedly independent. Whenever our township board tried to hold an election where they thought they would sneak through smart growth, suddenly, the entire township showed up for the meeting. The organizers were reduced to sneaking around the edges and the Chairman weakly announced an *agenda change*. They were reduced to taking a mail-in vote on whether or not we should spend what was at that time $25k to initiate the smart growth studies and they lost. The County can't impose a plan on any one township. Once in a while, a radical gets on the County Board and can come close to ruining things, but in the past, those impacted have successfully sued them over various laws they have passed that were unreasonable.

We just want the right to sell our land to the largest possible pool of buyers, given that it isn't so valuable that people are willing to bribe to get it. None of us will make even one million. Those building the starter castles are content to own 80-120 acres that were in hay and pasture. They then plant trees.

It is odd to me that this county had such a compact: to have one half paying protection money to preserve their life style. Although, I have heard stories over the decades that the original designation of our area as greenbelt/recreational was achieved by the influence of outsiders on the regional planning commission. I haven't found any proof of this, however. We are just too far from the high-paying jobs on land too hilly for mass development.Even with watershed dams, some portions ofthe river flood every few years.

Smart Growth will make the land more expensive. It will allow the area to remain undeveloped while giving the Greens too much power over the individual landowner. While some flat land on the ridges may be developed into 1/2 acre home sites if things are left alone over the next 20 years, the majority will remain in 20-acre or larger parcels. The costs of development are just too high to entice the developers, so far.
10 posted on 04/16/2005 5:10:11 AM PDT by reformedliberal
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