County supervisors slammed developer Stanley Martin Homes and a consulting firm, christopher consultants, on the night of a unanimous vote to look for money to buy out homes in the Selma Estates neighborhood that have repeatedly flooded.
“I am pretty concerned, I’m pretty upset, and I’m very disappointed in christopher consultants as well as Stanley Martin,” said Supervisor Caleb A. Kershner (R-Catoctin). “I believe that they have fallen down. They are largely responsible for this flooding issue that has occurred, and quite frankly that people have almost lost their lives. And I ask them from my position here to step up to the plate and see what they can do to make this right, rather than fighting litigation and trying to get out of their responsibility that they should have undertaken from the very beginning.”
Residents on Farnborough Place, Osterly Lane, Trongate Court, Berkhamstead Place, and Saxon Shore Drive in the development north of Leesburg have faced repeated flooding in their homes, and an independent firm hired by the county government reported last year that the only viable solution at this point is to buy out those homeowners.
A county report to supervisors noted that while three residents are interested in the buyouts, others will consider anything but. Supervisors voted unanimously May 5 to look for funding options to for that buyout program, which could include the use of local tax funds, Federal Emergency Management Agency grants, and “private funding sources.” They also voted to look for funding for flood mitigation measures around other properties where the owners are not interested in selling.
Supervisor Michael R. Turner (D-Ashburn) suggested those “private funding sources” should be the developers and consultants.
“I would go after the developer and the consultant with all guns blazing immediately to recover any cost the county acquires as a result of this effort,” Turner said.
The action comes after years of pleas from residents at Selma Estate, who have complained that the county government ignored their warnings or dragged its feet, as homes have been flooding since 2013. Stanley Martin also faces multiple lawsuits from Selma Estates residents over the flooding—including from George Biller, who has frequently contacted supervisors and the county government over his concerns, and has frequently come to county meetings to speak publicly about his experience; and Chad West, who has said he has on multiple occasions rescued his elderly mother-in-law from possibly drowning in the basement of his house.
Christopher consultants designed the infrastructure in the subdivision, such as the flood mitigation.
But the buyouts won’t come for more than a year at least. Supervisors will look for the money to buy those properties in their Fiscal Year 2022 budget, which covers the fiscal year beginning July 2021.
If it does move ahead, the county would then destroy those houses as part of its flood mitigation work.
Supervisor Matthew F. Letourneau (R-Dulles) said the issue exposes a flaw in the county’s process for reviewing development applications.
“We are entirely reliant on what applicants give us for this information, and, during my last term, Supervisor [Tony R.] Buffington (R-Blue Ridge) and I had a [board member initiative], which we got a little flak for at the time, to try to change the way traffic studies were done, and required the county to be more involved in setting out those processes for the same reason,” Letourneau said.
And, he said, the cost of settling the lawsuits may be less than the damage Stanley Martin takes to its reputation.
“From a cost-benefit standpoint, it is worth it for Stanley Martin to be incurring this type of discussion in a public setting with the Board of Supervisors, as opposed to just stepping up to the plate here and trying to help mitigate the solution?” Letourneau said. “Because there will be a reputational cost in the future, and I’m not in that industry, but that doesn’t seem like a good business decision to me, particularly because I think that it’s a problem that could be handled and addressed as a partnership fairly inexpensively, considering the amount of money involved in land development in this county.”
Stanley Martin Homes, based in Reston, developments residential projects from Georgia to Maryland, including other projects in Loudoun such as Tuscarora Village, McIntosh near Aldie, and Loudoun West near Lovettsville.
christopher consultants, based in Leesburg, provides planning, surveying, civil engineering and other services. It is also a firm with deep ties to county government, with its leaders regularly serving on county committees.
The firm also has a current $246,000 contract drawing up construction plans for building Riverside Parkway, a four-lane divided road, from Loudoun County Parkway to Lexington Drive.
Selma Estates began developing in 2003, and today includes 277 lots.