Virginia: Loudoun GOP Eases Growth Restraints - Newly Elected Board Reverses Policies

By Michael Laris and Maria Glod
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, January 6, 2004; Page A01

The new Republican majority on Loudoun County's Board of Supervisors firmly took control of the county's government yesterday, reversing many of its slow-growth predecessors' decisions on development and transportation and stripping the incumbent board chairman of many of his powers.

In a series of 19 votes, the six GOP supervisors voted to extend water and sewer services to a wide swath of central Loudoun, a move opponents said could eventually open the nation's second-fastest-growing county up to substantial new home construction. They also revived a plan to build a major new highway, dubbed the Western Transportation Corridor, through Loudoun and north toward Maryland. Each move requires a public hearing and a second vote.

The new majority also rescinded a countywide historic preservation plan passed last month; instructed a county lobbyist in Richmond to reverse course and oppose legislation that would allow localities to charge developers fees to offset school construction and other costs; and cut ties with the Coalition of High Growth Communities, a group of more than 20 fast-growing Virginia jurisdictions that was founded by Loudoun board Chairman Scott K. York (I-At Large).

The votes mark the official launch of the latest development swing in Loudoun, a semirural county between Dulles International Airport and the Blue Ridge Mountains that has lurched between pro- and slow-growth positions over the past 20 years as the Washington region has continued to expand.

Loudoun became a symbol of the national debate over sprawl in 1999 when eight supervisors were elected on promises to control home construction in a county whose population has doubled in the past decade. In November, real estate and construction interests joined Republican activists to form a disciplined, well-funded campaign to unseat supervisors who imposed the region's most controversial and ambitious growth curbs.

Members of the GOP majority said they used their first public meeting to make a series of substantive and symbolic changes that underscore their intention to remake the county into a more business-, development- and taxpayer-friendly destination.

"I'd side with people before I'd side with a tree," said Supervisor Stephen J. Snow (R-Dulles), whose district near the airport includes many of the county's new and future subdivisions.

Snow said he is most concerned about the county's ever-expanding bureaucracy -- and the torrent of paper it generates.

"It's not the developers. It's the insidious growth of government," Snow said. "The poor staff must be killing half the trees in the county."

Members of the board's three-member minority -- one independent supervisor, a Democrat and York -- said they were caught off guard by colleagues who they said kept their plans hidden from public view. York, who was elected countywide, at one point tried to delay the impending votes by calling a lunch recess and walking out of the Leesburg boardroom. He returned half an hour later after the newly elected vice chairman, Bruce E. Tulloch (R-Potomac), continued the meeting without him.

Under new rules adopted by the Republican majority and read into the record over 45 minutes, the county board's agenda will be determined by Tulloch, who will also serve as parliamentarian.

Because Tulloch represents one part of the county and was not elected at large, York said the GOP bloc had "disenfranchised the voters."

York, who by state statute is required to preside over the board meetings, said: "They, in effect, have taken the chairmanship and made it the vice chairmanship. . . . My role is simply to open and close the business meetings and the public hearings. That's it."

Tulloch said he and fellow Republicans were simply setting up a governing structure that reflected their status as the majority.

The GOP supervisors brought forward, and passed, a wide range of proposals that usually would be made public days before a vote.

Among them: ending public funding for the county program that pays landowners not to develop their property; requesting advice from Virginia's attorney general on whether they can rescind actions that the former board took last month, including giving the nonprofit Howard Hughes Medical Institute nearly $6 million a year in tax breaks; and directing staff to create a fast-track system for businesses seeking county approvals.

GOP supervisors also told county staff and school officials that they plan to cut deeply into their requests for funding in the next fiscal year and scheduled a heavy calendar of budget meetings.

The new board's vote to amend county plans to allow new homes to hook up to public water and sewer in a part of Loudoun between rural and suburban portions of the county will not in itself allow more home construction in the county, according to Supervisor James G. Burton (I-Blue Ridge), who opposed the change. But Burton said that extending pipes through the area, including land near Dulles Airport, will make it much harder to deny builders permission to construct even more houses.

"I think that is the real agenda here," Burton said.


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