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 Don't Supersize Loudoun!
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Board Votes to Allow 18,000+ New Houses in Rural Area

Last week the Loudoun Board of Supervisors voted 5-4 to allow 18,000+ new houses in rural Loudoun. Supervisors York, Burton, Kurtz, and Waters remained steadfast in their support of the rural economy and a much lower number of new houses.

What does this vote mean for Loudoun taxpayers and commuters? 18,000+ new houses in an area with few jobs and little infrastructure means higher taxes, more traffic, longer commutes, increased competition for community services, and ongoing erosion of our tax base from the rural economy.

Some have called the vote's outcome a compromise, but it is hardly a compromise for Loudoun's working families and rural business owners. As Supervisor Sally Kurtz said:

"[The new rural zoning] isn’t based on protecting the full property rights of all Loudoun rural landowners. It’s not legislation with unintended consequences; it’s legislation with very direct, intended, special interest consequences. It is a selective manipulation of projected total build-out numbers. Its intended consequence is to benefit corporate land developers."

The 21-month delay also will impact us. As reported today by the Washington Post:

"In the months leading up to last week's vote to impose strict new development rules in western Loudoun County, landowners rushing to subdivide their land increased by 1,300 the number of houses that can be built...More than 900 of those lots would not have made it through the county's regulatory gantlet had the Board of Supervisors not repeatedly delayed voting."

We supported the original 2003 rural zoning ordinance that was in place when this Board took office. The new zoning, based on the Staton plan, allows an 80% increase in new houses over the original zoning.

Loudoun citizens spoke out over and over in favor of the 2003 zoning ordinance and the Burton Plan. We are disappointed that the will of the citizens was ignored, but we urge you to continue speaking up and holding the Board of Supervisors accountable.


Thank the Supervisors who Listened to the Citizens

Say thank you to the four Supervisors who listened to the citizens and stood up for Loudoun taxpayers and the rural economy.

Supervisor Scott York (At Large)
Supervisor Jim Burton (Blue Ridge)
Supervisor Sally Kurtz (Catoctin)
Supervisor Lori Waters (Broad Run)

Send all four an email

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Statement by Supervisor Sally Kurtz, Catoctin District
December 6, 2006

The Northern Tier zoning passed, yesterday by the Board of Supervisors, needs to be put in substantive context. This five-acre cluster density for the Northern Rural Tier is not based on additional study or change of County fiscal or transportation circumstances since 2003. It isn’t based on protecting the full property rights of all Loudoun rural landowners. It’s not legislation with unintended consequences; it’s legislation with very direct, intended, special interest consequences. It is a selective manipulation of projected total build-out numbers. Its intended consequence is to benefit corporate land developers.

In practice the prior Burton Plan was essentially 10-acre zoning for the Northern Tier of the Rural Policy Area. It treated landowners of both modest means and land development entities equally. It allowed both clustering of lots and landowner spin-off of lots, one at a time. In practice the upfront costs of clustering for maximum density is expensive and those of modest means usually sell to a developer with the developer fronting the costs. That spin-off option for all landowners was an equalizer. With, for example, 100 acres there were 10 residential lots that could be created either all at once with clustering or one at a time by an owner or family who needed to raise cash. Not so in this zoning. In this zoning there’s a density penalty for the landowner who either doesn’t have the money to subdivide the whole property or who wants to keep most of his land intact but by necessity needs money for expansion or other personal reasons. With the same hypothetical 100 acres, corporate entities and well heeled speculative landowners get 20 lots by clustering and landowners who spin-off one lot at a time get 10 lots.

Not only does this zoning in practice benefit the corporate residential developer the most, its western Fairfax, 5-acre density is unprecedented in any County adjacent to a large urban area professing a desire to retain agriculture and its associated economic benefits. Agriculture zoning is an umbrella under which food and fiber production, horticulture, forestry, the equine industry and tourism operate in market conditions. Clarke County, VA, starts its agricultural residential zoning at 15 acres; Montgomery County and Frederick County, MD, both in the 20-acre range. They all have at least twenty-five years history of consistent zoning policies.

I’ve spent a decade following this issue at the local, state, and national level and a decade thinking about the rural component of the Catoctin District and the issues of fundamental fairness to all entities. Over that decade I went from thinking only 25-acre zoning could be successful in the long-run to thinking that the Burton compromise at 10-acre density, combined with increased business uses dependent on the character of the rural area, could sustain the full property rights package of agricultural zoning.

I’ve said before that I think the full property rights package of agriculturally zoned land, by the very nature of zoning, includes an owner’s daily use. Those uses include potential commercial value with as much free irrigation water or water to house tourists as the property can naturally provide. Further, agriculturally zoned land protects an owner’s right to hunt with firearms on his property and, as I’ve said in the past, park his bass boat in his front yard or park on the grass. These are individual uses that do not underlie other zoning districts. The sole tipping point where regulation due to public safety necessity erodes those freedoms is the density of residential housing scattered or clustered across the land. This zoning, just like A-3 zoning, foreshadows that tipping point.

Additionally, I think this 5-acre zoning is a squandering of thirty years of Loudoun’s public investment in the Use Value Taxation Program, our state tax deferral program set up to preserve agriculture and fiscally pace the conversion of agricultural land.

There are 20,491 homes in western Loudoun served by well water, as of October 31, 2006. I’ve no idea how many additional gallons of well water are used for commercial purposes. Allowing a progressive doubling of that residential lot number and their accessory residential dwellings negates any aspect of responsible caution for the public safety and welfare. I think it the job of this Board to use caution when we do not have the data to validate that the fractured bedrock aquifer can sustain such increased withdrawals. I ask who would want to own property surrounded by this 5 acre density and find out ten years from now that the pumping of groundwater in that specific geographic location limits your own development rights or business expansion. Or watch the stream running through your property that now holds pools of minnows and a trickle of water in the late summer evolve into bone dry every year.

The Burton plan was vetted through our Rural Economic Development Committee and our Zoning Ordinance Review Committee as well as the public. During the Opt-In period for the initial Comprehensive Plan, one developer opted into Catoctin’s proposed 10-acre density, clearly proving there was real estate money to be made.

I asked my colleagues,

  • Do you really want to support a continued trend guaranteed to erode my constituents’ rights to fully use their property for hunting and expanded business uses?
  • Do you really want to penalize our long term modest landowners with this 5-acre cluster density?
  • Do you really want to stuff this zoning down the throats of both duly elected representatives of the rural districts?
  • Do you really want to ignore the majority of the public who testified here?
  • Do you really want to ignore every organized historical and environmental citizen group in the County?

And finally,

  • Do you really want to ignore fundamental caution when the water supply data doesn’t exist and Virginia isn’t a water rights state?

What is so right about rewarding those who develop first with the possibility that over time the only open space left will be that which has a depleted groundwater status? Will government pay those landowners for their diminished land value then?

I think yesterday a majority of the Board of Supervisors answered a resounding “Yes”, to all those questions.

Thank you for your support,
Andrea McGimsey
Campaign for Loudoun's Future

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