Loudoun supervisors Wednesday night voted to change the longstanding county policy governing development in the planned growth area around Leesburg’s borders, giving Loudoun Water first dibs on new water and sewer hookups in that area.
The Leesburg Joint Land Management Area extends from south of the executive airport and wraps around the town’s eastern boundary to the Potomac River, bounded by Evergreen Mills Road and Goose Creek. Under the existing comprehensive plan, which supervisors are working to replace, it is planned cooperatively between the town and county, and it is planned to eventually be annexed into the town, as the town extends utilities.
A draft of the new comprehensive plan continued those decades-old policies, stating the town will have the opportunity to serve any new development in that area, and another water and sewer provider used only when the town, county, and Health Department agree.
But Wednesday night, supervisors voted that under the new plan, Loudoun Water would get the first cut at serving new development in that area, which includes the Compass Creek development where Walmart opened a supercenter last week and Microsoft planned to build data centers.
Board of Supervisors Vice Chairman Ralph M. Buona (R-Ashburn) said the move was prompted by potential big new businesses being scared off by Leesburg’s high out-of-town water and sewer rates—“Fortune top 20 companies that are considering leaving.”
A number of companies on that list have previously been talked about for locations in Loudoun, such as Apple and Amazon, and others like Verizon already have corporate offices in the county. Microsoft, number 26 on the Fortune 500 list, purchased property in Compass Creek last year.
“They’re holding a gun to the heads of the applicants, and frankly the word ‘extortion’ probably isn’t too strong,” Buona said. “For that reason, we have to break up this monopoly and give these applicants some options, because some of them, I have no doubt, are going to walk away.”
Outside town, Leesburg charges $8.95 per 1,000 gallons of water and $9.56 per 1,000 gallons for sewer service for commercial customers. Loudoun Water charges commercial customers a fraction of that, currently $3.32 per 1,000 gallons of water, increasing to $5.32 if they exceed a reserve capacity paid for when they connect; and $4.97 per 1,000 gallons for sewer service.
“It’s not just this once,” said Supervisor Ron A. Meyer Jr. (R-Broad Run). “It’s been a trend over years of the Town of Leesburg potentially jeopardizing major economic development deals, and we cannot have our major economic development deals be jeopardized because of the political whims of the town anymore.”
Leesburg District Supervisor Kristen C. Umstattd (D) objected, arguing the town had not been consulted, and had invested millions of dollars in its water and sewer system based on the old policy.
According to Umstattd, the change was made at the request of a developer connected to the Tuscarora Crossing and Compass Creek developments. She and other supervisors had met with developer Michael Capretti, who also represented the Northern Virginia Building Industry Association on the Envision Loudoun stakeholders group that wrote the first draft of the plan, and serves on the county’s Fiscal Impact Committee and Facilities Standards Manual Review Committee by appointment by supervisors.
But her suggestion to first study the issue and consult with the town before making any changes was narrowly voted down. Buona said the change “has real essence of urgency to it—these are current applications, some of them already financed, and dirt is moving.”
Buona’s motion passed 5-2-2, with Umstattd and Superivsor Koran T. Saines (D-Sterling) opposed, and Chairwoman Phyllis J. Randall (D-At Large) and Supervisor Geary M. Higgins (R-Catoctin) abstaining.
The change extends Loudoun Water’s potential reach further west, opening up areas west of Goose Creek near Leesburg and up to Evergreen Mills Road where it had not yet expanded.
Supervisors also reversed the presumption that land in the Joint Land Management Area would eventually be annexed into the town. Land served by Loudoun Water will be presumed to stay unincorporated.
“Part of the being held hostage situation deals with the town demanding up front that applicants agree to annex into the town, and if they don’t, there are certain things withheld from them, and that’s what I meant about a gun to the head,” Buona said.
The town has already begun the process to extend its borders around Compass Creek.
Umstattd said the board was turning “decades of land use planning on its head for no good reason.”
“It’s a horrible night for Leesburg tonight, that’s all I can say,” Umstattd said. “This turns on its head—with no analysis, no thought, no discussion, no inclusion of the town—everything the town and the county have agreed to since the Revised General Plan was passed decades ago. And you might as well just eliminate the whole Joint Land Management Area, because essentially that’s what you’re doing tonight.”
She added “if it’s going to be done to Leesburg tonight, theoretically it can be done to any town at any point in the future.”
Supervisors passed that change 5-3-1, with Higgins abstaining and Umstattd, Randall and Saines opposed.
“This is a sad day to realize that the Board of Supervisors has so little respect and regard for the Town of Leesburg,” said Leesburg Mayor Kelly Burk. “This will have a huge negative impact on Leesburg. [The vote] was not fair in the way it was handled or the comments made,”
Burk also said she was upset that the Town Council was given no advanced notice of the action and that there was no fiscal analysis performed. She said those who supported the motion showed in their votes that they are “more concerned about the impacts to developers” than the impacts to the town.
Reporter Kara C. Rodriguez contributed to this story.