The most crucial decision in years is in front of theMiddleburg Planning Commission. A developer proposes to build a clustered subdivision, Banbury Reserve, with houses on as little as three acres, at the eastern entrance to Middleburg on Rt. 50. The developer seeks to build 28 homes, altering the character and look of Middleburg forever. And the Middleburg Planning Commission (MPC) cannot do anything about it. Or can it?
Does the MPC have the authority to reject the subdivision? Or must it approve it? According to the county, the development meets the county’s criteria for a by-right subdivision. A by-right decision means that a use of the land meets all the conditions of the zoning ordinance that applies to that location. The approval of the use of the land is a ministerial process e.g., an administrative check that the application meets the requirements. At first it seems that the MPC has no choice but to grant approval. But there is a distinction between the Middleburg rules and the county rules that applies to the Banbury case.
Middleburg has a special status in the county’s Zoning Ordinance. The town controls a one-mile area surrounding the town when it comes to regulating subdivisions. No other town in Loudoun has this privilege. The town regulations apply in this one-mile area, not the county regulations.And the town regulations are stricter than the county regulations.
The MPC’s responsibility is to enforce the town regulations, not the county regulations. And the town zoning ordinance very clearly says the requirements for approving a proposal. In this case, the proposal meets the county requirements, but does not meet the town requirements. But the county and the applicant have applied pressure on the MPC, saying they must approve this proposal because it meets county requirements.
This issue will weigh heavily on the commissioners’ vote, and they should carefully review the conclusions reached by the opposition group’s attorney that they can reject the application because they enforce town rules, not the county’s. The developer’s law firm has sent a letter to the town strongly threatening a lawsuit if the MPC did reject the application. Some have asked what the purpose of the Middleburg Planning Commission is, if it must follow the opinions of anonymous county staff, who live elsewhere, and the applicant’s lawyer who threatens the town with a lawsuit?
The MPC has a responsibility to consider the needs of Middleburg first, legal technicalities aside, and preserve this oasis that is unique in our world. Our citizens overwhelmingly objected to this inappropriate development in person and in writing. Many people have decided, at cost to themselves, to donate land and create conservation easements to preserve our town. Let us not let these sacrifices amount to nothing.
A no vote from the MPC is a yes vote to our citizens. Let us hope that the MPC makes a good decision on Aug. 10.
John Lovegrove, Middleburg