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Dear Neighbors,

Last Wednesday afternoon Chairman York sent an email to his Board colleagues informing us that he intended to add an agenda item to this Tuesday's Board meeting: a request that the Board direct the County Attorney and the County Zoning Administrator to explore the viability of locating HS-3 on a property just north of Round Hill.  He followed up this email by requests through his aide to set up individual meetings with Board members beginning the following morning, Thursday.  (My meeting with Mr. York was scheduled for 11:00 am Friday.)

Later Wednesday evening, before having shared any particulars of his proposal with either Catoctin District Supervisor Sally Kurtz or me or with any other member of the Board of Supervisors or the School Board, Mr. York made a public presentation of his proposal with Round Hill Mayor Frank Etro at a special meeting of the Round Hill Town Council. I was not informed of this meeting; if I had been, I certainly would have attended. Instead, I found out about this meeting - as did other public officials (other than the select group invited) - by reading a news account two days later in Leesburg Today written by its Editor-in-Chief Norm Styer, whose beat does not usually cover Round Hill Town meetings (although I believe he does live in the town).  It would seem that neither Mr. York nor Mr. Etro felt that this presentation would be of interest to either of the affected district Supervisors, to any School Board member representing the Western districts, to the full Round Hill community, or to any of the greater Western Loudoun County residents whose children will be affected by this decision.  I am extremely disappointed by this lack of courtesy towards the citizens and their elected representatives on the part of other elected public officials, especially by my longtime friend and political ally, Chairman York.

Friday morning, Mr. York and I were finally able to sit down and discuss his proposal.  The site in question sits north of the Town on the west side of Woodgrove Road (Route 719) between Evening Star Drive and Williams Gap Road.  As with some of the other sites previously suggested in the Round Hill area, this site was part of a major residential development that was approved in 1990. The development “proffers” (that is, the conditions the County sets for approval of a development) required the creation of a "greenbelt" around the Town by the placement of a number of parcels in conservation easements.  In this specific case, the proffers required establishing three separate 50-acre minimum conservancy lots west of Rt. 719 and north of Evening Star Drive.

After the County approved the development, several adjoining landowners filed suit against the developer and the County challenging the legitimacy of the decision. The Court approved a settlement to that lawsuit in December 1991 which validated the proffered open space easements and added further restrictions. Specifically, that settlement added an additional restriction to the conservancy lots in question, requiring a 400-foot building setback from the property line of the neighbors to the north. Further, in regard to this 400-foot setback, the language of the settlement specifically says that “no residence, outbuilding, or support building will be constructed,  including, but not limited to, homes, garages, barns and sheds”  within this area. I find it inconceivable that a settlement which would not allow a a gardening shed  or a small barn for a child’s pony would permit a lighted football stadium or high school playing fields in the same area. 

For some reason the developer has neither completed the legal filings that would have formally placed this site in easement nor recorded the 400-foot setback covenant.  This raises two interesting questions:  (1) is such a failure a violation of the court order which settled the lawsuit and (2) if so, and the County rezones the property for a school, will the County then also violate the court order?  I have asked the County Attorney and the Zoning Administrator to look into these questions. I would like to point out, however, that neither is a judge, and these questions may ultimately require an answer from the Court, not a County official, in what may be a time-consuming, lengthy, and expensive lawsuit.

Outside of the easement issue, my discussion with Mr. York about his proposal left several other questions unanswered.  At Mr. York’s request, Mayor Etro produced a rough drawing of how a school and some playing fields might fit on the site.  Mr. York showed me this drawing at our meeting on Friday.  In looking at the rough drawing, it seems to me that Mr. Etro has placed a portion of the school smack dab in what appears to be the middle of a small stream and drainage swale which feeds a storm water management pond south of Evening Star Drive. In addition, the drawing does not seem to have taken into account the topography of the site (a 65-70 foot difference between the lower and higher sections of the site) and the issues such topography raises with regards to construction.  Certainly, if you are creative enough, you can make any sort of project work on any piece of property.  This begs the question:  how much is the County willing to pay to implement such creativity and how long would it take?

The property is not zoned for a school.  Therefore, the Board of Supervisors would need to undertake a rezoning process to allow a school to be built on the property.  Rezonings can take as long as 24 months.  Clearly, if the Board of Supervisors decides to pursue this site, the School opening will be delayed at least one year and possibly two.

As the old statement goes, “There is no free lunch.”  The final aspect of my conversation with Mr. York involved what the developer wanted in order to deed the property over to the County for use as a school site.  The answer, among other things:  (1) 20 additional building sites, which will substantially - and I do mean substantially - add to the developer’s profit, while burdening the County taxpayer with over $900,000 in capital infrastructure costs and (2) resolution of certain water and sewer issues between the developer and town. 

Clearly, I have a lot of questions, many of which Mr. York was unable to answer at our meeting.  The County Attorney and County Planning and Zoning staff have requested direction from the full Board before they undertake significant investment of time or resources on this proposal.  Thus, Mr. York's request to the Board on Tuesday will be that the Board direct staff to spend the month of August answering the questions I raised above and any raised by the other Board members in addition to reviewing the draft developer-written Memorandum of Understanding between the developer, the Town, and the County.  This seems like a harmless request: what is 30 days to investigate one more site, just to make sure that the school goes in the right place?  Yet I do have some concerns that I have been thinking about since Friday.  In sharing them with you, I am inviting your comments and observations before Tuesday’s Board meeting.

1).  The School Board and County staff have promised us that they are doing everything they can to ensure that a high school opens on Fields Farm by 2008 as scheduled.  I am concerned that the path Chairman York is leading us down will take us into at least 2009, if not 2010.  What are we supposed to do with the approximately 3,000 Western Loudoun high school children predicted by school staff to be enrolled by 2010? Loudoun Valley High School is already so overcrowded that the entire freshman class must be accommodated off campus at Harmony.

2). The Purcellville Town Council promised to sue the County if Fields Farm were selected, and has done so.  However, I have not yet been shown any precedent where a court held a comprehensive plan to be a legally binding contract - the Town's basic premise on which its arguments rest.  It is my understanding that the citizen litigants from the Round Hill area and some of their neighbors have now retained the same lawyer who represented them in the original lawsuit to protect their rights under that settlement. These citizens have an existing court order which the developer has not yet fully implemented some 15 years after the settlement, while the County seemingly has failed to actively pursue such full implementation.   While it is not yet clear to me whether the County had a legal duty to perform the latter action, it seems very clear to me that we have a moral duty not to actively violate that court order.

3).  When the County agreed to hold the easements on the conservancy lots that resulted from the proffers and the lawsuit settlement, we, in essence, made a promise to the citizen litigants who had worked so hard to ensure the retention of green space around the Town of Round Hill.  These were not wealthy people - several were retirees - but they cared deeply about their community and their neighborhoods, so they pooled their resources, hired a lawyer and persevered, until they brought a major corporation, a nationally known developer, to the settlement table.  If the County fails to insist that the settlement agreement be upheld in full, both as to the letter and the spirit of the law, if we choose to attempt to renege on that settlement for political reasons, the County will have betrayed those citizens and the trust they placed in us.  I, for one, have a problem with that.

As always, I look forward to your thoughts and suggestions.

Best regards,

Jim Burton

Dear Neighbors,

 

Last Wednesday afternoon Chairman York sent an email to his Board colleagues informing us that he intended to add an agenda item to this Tuesday's Board meeting: a request that the Board direct the County Attorney and the County Zoning Administrator to explore the viability of locating HS-3 on a property just north of Round Hill.  He followed up this email by requests through his aide to set up individual meetings with Board members beginning the following morning, Thursday.  (My meeting with Mr. York was scheduled for 11:00 am Friday.)

 

Later Wednesday evening, before having shared any particulars of his proposal with either Catoctin District Supervisor Sally Kurtz or me or with any other member of the Board of Supervisors or the School Board, Mr. York made a public presentation of his proposal with Round Hill Mayor Frank Etro at a special meeting of the Round Hill Town Council. I was not informed of this meeting; if I had been, I certainly would have attended. Instead, I found out about this meeting - as did other public officials (other than the select group invited) - by reading a news account two days later in Leesburg Today written by its Editor-in-Chief Norm Styer, whose beat does not usually cover Round Hill Town meetings (although I believe he does live in the town).  It would seem that neither Mr. York nor Mr. Etro felt that this presentation would be of interest to either of the affected district Supervisors, to any School Board member representing the Western districts, to the full Round Hill community, or to any of the greater Western Loudoun County residents whose children will be affected by this decision.  I am extremely disappointed by this lack of courtesy towards the citizens and their elected representatives on the part of other elected public officials, especially by my longtime friend and political ally, Chairman York.

 

Friday morning, Mr. York and I were finally able to sit down and discuss his proposal.  The site in question sits north of the Town on the west side of Woodgrove Road (Route 719) between Evening Star Drive and Williams Gap Road.  As with some of the other sites previously suggested in the Round Hill area, this site was part of a major residential development that was approved in 1990. The development “proffers” (that is, the conditions the County sets for approval of a development) required the creation of a "greenbelt" around the Town by the placement of a number of parcels in conservation easements.  In this specific case, the proffers required establishing three separate 50-acre minimum conservancy lots west of Rt. 719 and north of Evening Star Drive.

 

After the County approved the development, several adjoining landowners filed suit against the developer and the County challenging the legitimacy of the decision. The Court approved a settlement to that lawsuit in December 1991 which validated the proffered open space easements and added further restrictions. Specifically, that settlement added an additional restriction to the conservancy lots in question, requiring a 400-foot building setback from the property line of the neighbors to the north. Further, in regard to this 400-foot setback, the language of the settlement specifically says that “no residence, outbuilding, or support building will be constructed,  including, but not limited to, homes, garages, barns and sheds”  within this area. I find it inconceivable that a settlement which would not allow a a gardening shed  or a small barn for a child’s pony would permit a lighted football stadium or high school playing fields in the same area. 

 

For some reason the developer has neither completed the legal filings that would have formally placed this site in easement nor recorded the 400-foot setback covenant.  This raises two interesting questions:  (1) is such a failure a violation of the court order which settled the lawsuit and (2) if so, and the County rezones the property for a school, will the County then also violate the court order?  I have asked the County Attorney and the Zoning Administrator to look into these questions. I would like to point out, however, that neither is a judge, and these questions may ultimately require an answer from the Court, not a County official, in what may be a time-consuming, lengthy, and expensive lawsuit.

 

Outside of the easement issue, my discussion with Mr. York about his proposal left several other questions unanswered.  At Mr. York’s request, Mayor Etro produced a rough drawing of how a school and some playing fields might fit on the site.  Mr. York showed me this drawing at our meeting on Friday.  In looking at the rough drawing, it seems to me that Mr. Etro has placed a portion of the school smack dab in what appears to be the middle of a small stream and drainage swale which feeds a storm water management pond south of Evening Star Drive. In addition, the drawing does not seem to have taken into account the topography of the site (a 65-70 foot difference between the lower and higher sections of the site) and the issues such topography raises with regards to construction.  Certainly, if you are creative enough, you can make any sort of project work on any piece of property.  This begs the question:  how much is the County willing to pay to implement such creativity and how long would it take?

 

The property is not zoned for a school.  Therefore, the Board of Supervisors would need to undertake a rezoning process to allow a school to be built on the property.  Rezonings can take as long as 24 months.  Clearly, if the Board of Supervisors decides to pursue this site, the School opening will be delayed at least one year and possibly two.

 

As the old statement goes, “There is no free lunch.”  The final aspect of my conversation with Mr. York involved what the developer wanted in order to deed the property over to the County for use as a school site.  The answer, among other things:  (1) 20 additional building sites, which will substantially - and I do mean substantially - add to the developer’s profit, while burdening the County taxpayer with over $900,000 in capital infrastructure costs and (2) resolution of certain water and sewer issues between the developer and town. 

 

Clearly, I have a lot of questions, many of which Mr. York was unable to answer at our meeting.  The County Attorney and County Planning and Zoning staff have requested direction from the full Board before they undertake significant investment of time or resources on this proposal.  Thus, Mr. York's request to the Board on Tuesday will be that the Board direct staff to spend the month of August answering the questions I raised above and any raised by the other Board members in addition to reviewing the draft developer-written Memorandum of Understanding between the developer, the Town, and the County.  This seems like a harmless request: what is 30 days to investigate one more site, just to make sure that the school goes in the right place?  Yet I do have some concerns that I have been thinking about since Friday.  In sharing them with you, I am inviting your comments and observations before Tuesday’s Board meeting.

 

1).  The School Board and County staff have promised us that they are doing everything they can to ensure that a high school opens on Fields Farm by 2008 as scheduled.  I am concerned that the path Chairman York is leading us down will take us into at least 2009, if not 2010.  What are we supposed to do with the approximately 3,000 Western Loudoun high school children predicted by school staff to be enrolled by 2010? Loudoun Valley High School is already so overcrowded that the entire freshman class must be accommodated off campus at Harmony.

 

2). The Purcellville Town Council promised to sue the County if Fields Farm were selected, and has done so.  However, I have not yet been shown any precedent where a court held a comprehensive plan to be a legally binding contract - the Town's basic premise on which its arguments rest.  It is my understanding that the citizen litigants from the Round Hill area and some of their neighbors have now retained the same lawyer who represented them in the original lawsuit to protect their rights under that settlement. These citizens have an existing court order which the developer has not yet fully implemented some 15 years after the settlement, while the County seemingly has failed to actively pursue such full implementation.   While it is not yet clear to me whether the County had a legal duty to perform the latter action, it seems very clear to me that we have a moral duty not to actively violate that court order.

 

3).  When the County agreed to hold the easements on the conservancy lots that resulted from the proffers and the lawsuit settlement, we, in essence, made a promise to the citizen litigants who had worked so hard to ensure the retention of green space around the Town of Round Hill.  These were not wealthy people - several were retirees - but they cared deeply about their community and their neighborhoods, so they pooled their resources, hired a lawyer and persevered, until they brought a major corporation, a nationally known developer, to the settlement table.  If the County fails to insist that the settlement agreement be upheld in full, both as to the letter and the spirit of the law, if we choose to attempt to renege on that settlement for political reasons, the County will have betrayed those citizens and the trust they placed in us.  I, for one, have a problem with that.

 

As always, I look forward to your thoughts and suggestions.

 

Best regards,

 

Jim Burton