In 2006, Dave Gregory moved to Loudoun County after years of doing business in the area. After a decade of driving by Graydon Manor on his way to and from work each day, he decided to purchase the 131-acre property with plans to build aco-housing village—following nearly six decades of the property operating as children’s treatment center.
Now more than three years later, Gregory is finding out that it will take more money than he originally bargained for and hundreds of hours of discussions—and even litigation—to make those plans a realty, if that’s even possible at all.
Gregory, the principal of the Zeeland NV property company, plans to build239 co-housing units on the western portion of the property, which sits west of the Town of Leesburg and east of the Shenstone Farm neighborhood. His plans include 73 units to be housed in their own individual, 2,780-square-foot single-unit buildings; 160 units in 40 4,320-square-foot buildings; and six units in two 3,240-square-foot buildings.
Alongside that project, Gregory plans to build abrewery that would be housed in a building near the W&OD Trail, as well as inside the property’s 11,000-square-foot, century-old manor house and in an adjacent building. He also wants to put in a winery that would feature a farm-to-table restaurant, among various other amenities, like a library, a greenhouse and a convenience store.
Additional Sewer Service Questionable
To bring those plans to life, Gregory will need water and sewer service on the property. While Gregory said that an aquifer on the property would provide it with more than enough water, sewer service is a whole other discussion.
According to a presentation by Leesburg Utilities Director Amy Wyks during the Sept. 30 Town Council meeting, the town has provided sewer service to Graydon Manor since 1963 at a rate of 765 gallons per day, but town leaders are concerned about continuing to provide the service if Gregory’s co-housing village plans go through.
Wyks said it was her understanding that the proposed development would require far more than 765 gallons per day, noting that each of Gregory’s proposed co-housing units would use 300 gallons each day. If so, that would come out to 71,700 gallons per day, exclusive of a brewery, winery or other use.
Wyks said that while she’s unsure whether the town would need to spend money to install larger, or additional, sewer pipes to provide Graydon with more sewer capacity, she said the existing 56-year-old terracotta pipe might be in need of an upgrade to continue the service.
She also pointed out that Graydon Manor is located in the county’s Rural Policy Area—an area that the county’s comprehensive plan prohibits municipalities from providing with public water and sewer, unless the property has a failing private utility system or is a public facility, such as a school.
She also mentioned that the Town Council in 1998 passed a resolution to discourage the town from extending sewer service west of its corporate limits.
But Gregory says a sewer “extension” is not the correct terminology. He said it would be an “expansion,” since he wouldn’t be asking the town to extend sewer to another property, but expand it on the same site.“They’re playing word semantics,” he said.
Town Attorney Barbara Notar on Tuesday affirmed the town’s position on “extension” versus “expansion.”
“The town has been consistent in our position that what the property owner proposes is an extension of the sewer system under the Town Code,” she said. “Any extensions under the Town Code must be approved by the Town Council.”
When Council member Suzanne Fox asked whether the town had the capacity to serve the proposed development with sewer, Wyks said she didn’t know the ultimate buildout of the development, because a sewer model had not been performed and because the downstream pipes to the town’s wastewater facility has not been evaluated.
Gregory said the town probably does have enough capacity, though, since it’s engaged in a legal battle with the county as it tries to become the sole utility service provider for future developments in the Joint Land Management Area—properties outside the town’s corporate limits where the town traditionally serves with water and sewer.
Last Monday’s hour-long Town Council discussion on sewer extension solicited mixed responses from council members.
Councilman Tom Dunn said that while the town has sewer capacity concerns that it needs to address when considering service extensions, he didn’t feel that the town should automatically tell existing sewer customers that it would cut their service back should they decide to change their use. In Gregory’s case, a change in use means building a co-housing village on now-vacant land.
Councilman Ron Campbell pointed out that extending sewer service to the property would provide the town with increased revenue from the collection of added sewer fees. “We’re not giving it to them for free—we’re going to charge them for it if it were to be done,” he said.
Before stepping off the dais to exclude himself from a more in-depth, and open session, discussion on the matter, Vice Mayor Marty Martinez mentioned that he would have a different opinion on what the town could do for Gregory if his plans for Graydon Manor included helping veterans.
He referenced a discussion the council had two hours earlier in the meeting regarding the possibility of the town providing the VFW building on Old Waterford Road with a $7,512 sewer connection fee waiver in the form of a gift, as permitted by Virginia law—a possibility Martinez said he was “more than willing to support” and which the council voted to approve a day later.
Zoning Interpretation Sparks Legal Battle
As Gregory debates a sewer service extension, or expansion, with the town, he’s also debating the county over its interpretation of the term “co-housing.” While Gregory knows co-housing to be a permitted use in the county’s Agricultural Rural 1 zoning district, the county sees his co-housing plans as a misinterpretation of the zoning ordinance.
In a November 2018 response to Gregory’s request for a zoning ordinance interpretation on the term “co-housing,” Senior Planner Mark Depo informed Gregory that co-housing is an arrangement of individually-owned lots, not buildings containing multiple dwelling units.
Under the AR1 zoning district, Gregory could apply to subdivide the land to build separate single-family homes at a maximum density of one lot per five acres, but he’s not considering that option.
After the county Board of Zoning Appeals affirmed Depo’s interpretation of co-housing in February, Gregory filed a lawsuit against the county, seeking a court-ordered reversal of the board’s stance.
The suit alleges that legal action arose from Zoning Administrator Mark Stultz’s “inappropriate actions to thwart by-right development on Graydon Manor’s property.”
It goes on to allege that Stultz “ignored Graydon Manor’s by-right permitted uses and manufactured limitations and restrictions that do not exist in the plain text of the unambiguous zoning ordinance.”
Gregory’s lawsuit also argues that the county initiated a zoning ordinance amendment to change the AR1 zoning district regulations to “impose new restrictions on residential uses.” That amendment proposes to add language making it clear that the maximum density of an AR1 lot would be one dwelling unit per 20 acres, if a landowner chooses not to apply to use one of a few other development options. Gregory said he feels the amendment was, to some degree, initiated in response to his plans for Graydon Manor.“We’ve been targeted with this,” he said.
But Deputy County Attorney Courtney Sydnor said the zoning ordinance amendment is not targeted toward Gregory’s plans, nor is it limited to just the AR1 zoning district. She said it’s tied to a total of 16 zoning districts.
Sydnor said the amendment, if approved by the Board of Supervisors early next year, also wouldn’t decrease density in the AR1 zoning district, but that it would simply express residential density as a number of dwelling units per acre to add uniformity to the ordinance.
Sydnor said Gregory’s plans don’t conform with the regulations set in the AR1 zoning district. “It’s not a matter of what the county … would like to see [developed on the property]. It’s whether or not it meets the ordinance and this does not,” she said.
In its May 2 response to the lawsuit, the county wrote that the Board of Zoning Appeals’ decision “is in accordance with the facts, the law and the intent of the zoning ordinance.”
A four-day trial is set for spring 2020.
Feelings of Bullying
Gregory said he feels the county and town are “bullying” him by intentionally pushing back on all his development plans. He mentioned that he feels the “harassment” has affected him in more places than one, citing a June lawsuit the county filed against him in an effort to gain control of a 35-foot-wide right-of-way on his 8-acre Ashburn property neighboring Loudoun Station—a right-of-way stretching about 500 feet that Reliance Insurance Company in 1997 proffered for an access road to the future mass transit station to be constructed.
County Attorney Leo Rogers said the county filed the suit because Gregory “was holding VDOT up for money” on land that had been proffered two decades earlier and because VDOT asked the county to step in and help.
While Gregory has since settled with VDOT on the dedication of that land, he feels the county’s lawsuit was intended to “torment” him even more than what’s going on at Graydon.“We find that to be just plain malicious,” he said.
In response, Sydnor said that “there is no intention by the staff, by the county to bully Mr. Gregory” and that Gregory’s development plans at Graydon Manor just don’t meet the regulations of the county’s zoning ordinance.
County Chairwoman Phyllis J. Randall (D-At-Large) said she regrets that any resident “doesn’t feel like they’re being treated fairly or respected by the county.”
“That’s never the goal,” she said. “I would never want to see that for anyone.”
If All Else Fails, Skeet Shooting
While Gregory said he fully intends to fight the county over its interpretation of the co-housing village and the town over its sewer service pushback, Gregory said that if the two governments fully block his development plans, he would set his sights on another by-right use for the property—a skeet-shooting range. As is the case with the co-housing village proposal, Gregory might also have some difficulty there.
In an August response to Gregory’srequest for a zoning ordinance interpretation of the term “shooting” as an outdoor sport, Stultz informed Gregory that the terms “shooting” and “outdoor sporting event” don’t appear in the AR1 zoning district regulations and, moreover, that the Zoning Ordinance does not define either term.
In the case that the ordinance does not define a specific term, the zoning administrator is allowed to pull a definition from the most recent edition ofWebster’s Unabridged Dictionary. Stultz wrote that the dictionary defines “shooting” as “to hit, wound, damage, kill or destroy with a missile discharged from a weapon.” He wrote that the dictionary defines “outdoor” as “out of doors” and “sport” as “an athletic activity requiring skill or physical prowess and often of a competitive nature, as racing, baseball, tennis, golf, bowling, wrestling, boxing, hunting, fishing, etc.”
While the dictionary doesn’t define “shooting” as a sport, Gregory argues that it should be considered as such, since it’s part of the Olympic competition. “I don’t think they get to decide which sport they want,” he said.
He said he knows that “shooting” may come off as an unappealing activity to neighbors, but said he’s not considering a type of shooting that incorporates bullets, which can leave the property if fired recklessly, as has been the case in recent incidents across the county. “We know that [a skeet shooting range] would be a viable business,” he said.
Stultz also pointed out that the county’s Zoning Ordinance references “archery or firearm shooting” as a component of a “recreation establishment, indoor,” but that the use is not permitted by right or as a special exception in the AR1 zoning district.
Stultz went on to note that while the “rural recreation establishment, outdoor” use is permitted in that zoning district, it contains no reference to archery or firearm shooting.
Finally, Stultz wrote that the only other ordinance referencing firearms shooting is “firearm range, indoor,” which is not listed as a permitted or special exception use in the AR1 zoning district and which the ordinance does not define.
The Board of Supervisors is, however, currently considering a Zoning Ordinance amendment that proposes to add “sports shooting range, outdoor” as a special exception use in the AR1 and AR2 zoning districts. It will begin discussing that amendment as part of the comprehensive zoning ordinance overhaul this month and should take a vote on it by late 2021.
“The proposed [zoning amendment application] is further evidence that the board did not intend the current Zoning Ordinance to permit outdoor firearms shooting as a commercial, principal use in the AR1 and AR2 zoning districts,” Stultz wrote.
But Gregory said he’s still completely focused on his battle to bring the co-housing village plan to fruition and that he would only advance the skeet shooting plans if it becomes impossible for him to follow through with his original concept for the property.“We will attempt to exhaust the co-housing,” he said.
Moving toward trial with the county and further discussions with the Town of Leesburg on sewer service, Gregory said he’s hopeful that cooler heads will prevail. “We hope it can be resolved soon,” he said.