Against some formidable competition, Supervisor Suzanne Volpe (R-Algonkian) last week took a commanding — and perhaps indomitable — lead in the race for the coveted Dumbest Supervisor award among the all-Republican Loudoun Board of Supervisors.
The occasion was the Board’s recent snappy 5-3 vote (with Supervisor Janet “Profiles in Courage” Clarke, R-Blue Ridge, abstaining) to approve one of more than a half dozen pending rezoning applications from developers seeking to convert commercial property to residential, which will add some 10,000 new homes to the county — despite a backlog of 25,000 approved residential lots.
A bit of history: under two previous Republican-controlled boards (the Dale Pollen Myers Board and the Bruce “Never Technically Indicted” Tulloch Board), the county was thrown open to residential development at an unsustainable pace. The result was a tripling of the county’s population, a tripling of the average property tax bill, and a billion dollars in debt to pay for scores of new schools.
Back then, members of the developer-controlled Loudoun Republican Party practically foamed at the mouth if anyone dared utter the truth that residential development costs far more in services, mainly schools, then it ever pays for in taxes: they literally denied that this was the case, and went so far as to label as a “RINO” (Republican In Name Only) anyone who said otherwise.
Fast forward to 2012. The new all-Republican Board, still developer-controlled, having carried the water for the residential developers for years and allowed them to build out much of the county, turned on a dime and began piously warning that . . . yes, residential development does not pay for itself; ergo, what is needed now is more commercial development to “balance” the tax base. It is of course the merest coincidence that this coincided with a shift in the interests of developers from residential to commercial, having saturated the Loudoun housing market.
Thus the Board began ramming through a series of amendments to the zoning ordinances to make it easy for the commercial developers to further ruin what’s left of the county, with big box stores, lax enforcement of commercial sign restrictions, “by right” uses, and a host of other goodies.
The half-dozen-plus lingering residential rezoning requests from commercial property holders however put the Board in a bit of a hypocritical quandary. If they actually stuck to the argument they’ve been touting to justify all of their giveaways to commercial developers, they ought to oppose all of these requests to flip commercial properties to residential.
But don’t expect mere “principles” to stand in the way of doing the bidding of the developers who bankrolled their election campaigns to the tune of $500,000.
To their credit, Supervisors Ralph Buona, Matt Letourneau, and Shawn Williams voted against the request from University Center, with Williams even arguing that such rezonings add to the tax burden and ought not to be approved.
Volpe however came up with this jaw-dropping “explanation” for her yes vote (along with the ever-reliable Chairman Scott York, always ready to a favor for the big money boys). As reported in Leesburg Today, here was what she said:
“Loudoun County government declined to purchase the property for a public use at a below market rate. We said it was a dog for an office building. Some of what we have to do up here is make judgment calls…No private company is going to spend what the property is worth just to try to build on it with retaining walls.”
So in other words, because the county declined to take a sucker deal for a dog of a property that a developer purchased knowing full well that it was zoned commercial and that it was on a slope, the county is obligated to take a sucker deal to bail out the poor developer who now cannot find any other sucker.
The 10,000 pending new residential units, by the way, will cost the county $280 million in new school construction and add $37 million to the annual school budget.
So much for fiscal conservatism!
Something to keep in mind when the Board begins slashing away at the school budget again come January. It’s a safe bet they will blame everyone but themselves for increased school costs.