Rural Policy Puts Landowners, Residents at Odds

Rural Policy Puts Landowners, Residents at Odds

More than 250 residents took the opportunity to address the Board of Supervisors, both in person and on tape, during two days of public hearings over the proposed downzoning of western Loudoun. The hearings Wednesday, June 7, and Saturday, June 10, brought out both eastern and western residents, many of whom expressed their support for the proposed plan and the preservation of the rural west.

"I urge the board to enact the Clem-Burton plan immediately," Purcellville resident Dan Bell said. "Not six months or a year from now, but now, while there is still something to save. This is a compromise I believe we can live with."

The board is currently considering a proposal that would restore a large amount of the 2003 zoning. The 2003 zoning, which was overturned by the Virginia Supreme Court in March 2005, was more restrictive and required lower densities than the current proposal. Following the court's decision, the Rural Policy Area reverted to A-3 zoning, which allows for one dwelling unit per three acres.

The current proposal supports AR-1 zoning, which allows for one house per 10- or 20-acre lot, in the southern portion of western Loudoun and AR-2 zoning, which allows for one house per 20- or 40-acre lot, in the northern portion.

Supervisors must take some action on the proposed Comprehensive Plan amendments and remapping of the Rural Policy Area before June 18, which is three months after the Planning Commission first made its recommendations. If the Sunday deadline passes, the process will be put on hold until the Planning Commission recertifies its recommendations.

At its June 5 meeting, the Planning Commission chose not to recertify its recommendations over concerns over how the recommendations were advertised for the public hearings.

AMONG THE ITEMS the Planning Commission expressed concern about was the recommendation for the grandfathering of applications already in process at the A-3 zoning, an issue that took center stage at the public hearings.

While many residents opposed the grandfathering of applications because they said it gave favor to developers who were trying to take advantage of the current dense zoning.

"Why do you want to support speculators and Johnny-come-latelies?" Ashburn Farm resident Michael McPoland said.

"Many applications have come through since the Planning Commission recommendation of grandfathering," The Piedmont Environmental Council's Ed Gorski said. "These applications are held not by mom and pop farmers, but by land speculators."

However, many of the people who currently have applications in process are landowners and farmers who are looking either to sell a piece of their land so they can stay in Loudoun or portion off their land for their children to live on.

"I am not a developer, I am a family farmer," Michael Megeath, who owns a 65-acre farm in Waterford and submitted an application last month to subdivide, said. "Let me and some others that are here tonight have our family close to us."

Joyce Legard, whose family owns a 250-acre farm in western Loudoun, said she offered to sell a large portion of their land as open, or nondevelopable space, but nobody wanted to buy it and now the subdivision application her family has submitted is their only chance.

"What do you do with land that you have held on to for 75 years when no one wants to buy it and leave it as open land," she said. "Now the family is in a position where we need help and support for what we are trying to do with our land and there is none there."

MANY LANDOWNERS at the public hearings said it was unfair of the county and residents to place the weight of conservation squarely on them.

"I think it is greedy to take what we landowners own because you want to look at it," Blue Ridge landowner Mary Jane Windle said. "Not one of those speaking tonight thought it was wrong to build the house that they own, so why do they think it is wrong for us to do the same thing?"

Western landowners also said they believed that their constitutional property rights were being violated and no one else should be able to decide what they do with their land.

"I own the vista that everyone here wants to preserve," Edna Cross, who owns a 300-acre farm, said. "It is not fair to treat farms as if they were publicly owned and privately run. I think the good people of Loudoun should step aside and let us think for ourselves."

Even landowners were split over what should be done in Rural Policy Area. Many farmers stated they could not continue to farm or live the way they want to if the west was developed as the east has been.

"I think this ordinance is based on the future," Robert Moutoux, whose family has farmed in Loudoun for 30 years, said. "I completely agree with people that say my land is my land and is not your land, but I am saying that I own a farm and I want kids who are kids now to come out and pick apples and their kids to come out in 30 years and pick apples."

Some farmers said that the future of the rural economy rests on the decisions made about zoning in the west and they believe the proposal before the board will protect it.

"Loudoun's rural economy will be protected and growth will be controlled so that farmers will not be driven out of the county," Tony Horkan, whose family owns the 1,700-acre Cleremont Farm in Upperville, said. "Loudoun's growth and smart rural land policy are equally important and should not be seen as mutually exclusive."

BOTH EASTERN AND western residents who supported the proposed downzoning said they were concerned about the impact development in the west would have on their taxes, traffic and schools.

"Even with the Clem-Burton act we need to add two more high schools in western Loudoun and we can't afford to buy the land," resident Norma Wilson said. "Why bring in more people when you cannot take care of the children?"

"We can ill afford to transfer the problems we are experiencing in eastern Loudoun to the rural area," Lansdowne resident Kathryn Burrell said.

"I am horrified by the rate of development and the lack of infrastructure the county has for its citizens," Virginia Warren, who lives near Middleburg, said.

More than anything, however, speakers expressed concern over losing the beauty that drew them to the county in the first place.

"You people need to wake up and smell the roses, the clean air and the open spaces while we still have them," Ashburn Village resident Anna Chamberlain said.