Loudoun Adopts Strict Controls on Development
Deputies Rein In Crowd Gathered for 7-2 Vote
Tuesday, July 24, 2001
The Loudoun County Board of Supervisors -- buffeted by howling opponents and cheering backers -- voted 7 to 2 last night to adopt stringent development curbs they hope will turn one of America's fastest-growing counties into a model of "smart growth."
Four county sheriff's deputies restrained the crowd gathered for a vote that capped 19 months of raucous debate on what may be the most ambitious growth limits ever attempted in the Washington area.
Two hundred people packed the government center in Leesburg. Dozens of plan opponents, many wearing their trademark red bandannas, repeatedly interrupted the proceedings with outbursts accusing the board of violating their property rights. "Thou shalt not steal," read one of their signs.
The board's plan seeks to keep two-thirds of the county in rolling farmland and transform existing suburbs into communities that feel more like traditional towns.
The blueprint for Loudoun's future emerged after years of campaigning by interest groups and heated exchanges among county residents wrestling with emotional issues ranging from farm preservation and affordable housing to property rights and the environment. The battle has turned the county spread between Dulles International Airport and the Blue Ridge Mountains into a nationally recognized test case in the debate over suburban sprawl and development.
"It's a victory for the voters that put us in there. It's a victory for common sense. And it's a victory for protecting this county and its rich resources," proclaimed board Chairman Scott K. York (R-At Large), who was one of eight supervisors elected in 1999 on promises to slow growth.
Voting against the plan were Supervisors Eugene A. Delgaudio (R-Sterling) and J. Drew Hiatt (R-Dulles), both from the eastern part of the county.
Over the din of protesters, supervisors voted to cut the number of houses that could eventually be built in the county even further than they had envisioned a week ago. The board's actions yesterday wiped 83,158 potential homes from Loudoun's plans and ended county support for studying a new north-south highway that foes say would promote more development. Known as the western transportation corridor, it would connect Dulles and points north with Interstate 95 to the south.
The plan seeks to preserve about 300 square miles as countryside, with one house allowed every 10, 20 or 50 acres depending on where the houses are and whether they are clustered to preserve open space.
Detractors savaged the plan, vowing to undermine it in the courts and with the public.
"They're creating open space that's going to be a no man's land," said Jack Shockey, leader of Citizens for Property Rights, the most vocal opposition group. Shockey said his members would work up a two-year plan to thwart the supervisors' restrictions, which he said provide for "more green and less space for people."
Peggy Maio, the Loudoun representative of the Piedmont Environmental Council, said the board succeeded in charting a "new direction" for the county. She said the plan "enables the county to define its place in the region as . . . having the best of the suburban communities and a real countryside."
Business groups had intensified their lobbying against the plan in recent days, on the airwaves and through personal appeals.
Transportation has been a major focus of the plan's critics. A group that supports the western transportation corridor broadcast radio spots warning that by turning its back on the highway, Loudoun would condemn itself, and the region, to more snarled traffic. The advertisement sought to turn the oft-used slow-growth slogan "Don't Fairfax Loudoun" against the slow-growthers, warning Loudoun supervisors not to repeat the mistake of its neighbor by not building enough roads.
Mark Stavish, executive vice president of human resources at Dulles-based America Online Inc., sent board chairman York an e-mail seeking changes in several of the plan's key provisions.
"He just basically said the standard mantra that has come from the Chamber of Commerce about concerns over transportation, concerns over affordable housing," York said. "I'd have to disagree with him."
An AOL spokesman said the company had made a "few constructive suggestions" to York but declined to release the e-mail.
Land-use experts and scholars of suburbia have given the board and its plan mixed reviews.
William Lucy, a professor of urban and environmental planning at the University of Virginia, said the Loudoun board is making a noble effort to try to shape the county's future.
"So much new land has been touched with development but not developed into communities," Lucy said. "Acting as soon as possible to cut that process short by stating a rural conservation goal is a good thing."
Lucy said that Loudoun has been "whipsawed" by various policies toward development in the past and added that the key question is: "Will it hold up over time?"
But William Fulton, president of Solimar Research Group, a land-use policy firm in California that has studied similar growth-control measures in the western United States, said Loudoun's supervisors have acted only in the county's narrow interest.
The plan, he said, would simply transfer home building elsewhere and force commuters to drive ever farther.
"They are only dealing with a small part of a regional housing and job market. They don't have any motivation to see or act on the bigger picture," Fulton said.