Push for Public BLA Talks Fail to Sway Council Majority

An effort by three members of the Leesburg Town Council to have a public update on the town-county negotiations of a boundary line adjustment has been met with stiff opposition by both town staff and remaining council members.

The latest instance of this came during a hastily called special meeting Dec. 8, when council members Suzanne Fox and Tom Dunn sought to discuss the BLA in an open session. The meeting adjourned because of a lack of a quorum, with only Dunn, Fox and Councilman Ron Campbell in attendance. The three other council members arrived in time for their regularly scheduled meeting, which began only 15 minutes later. 

The BLA process was kicked off by the council in 2018 in an effort to expand its commercial base. The targeted annexation area includes more than 500 acres in the Compass Creek development off Battlefield Parkway, including the location of a new Microsoft data center campus. That area falls within the Joint Land Management Area, where the town and county have traditionally cooperated on planning policies. Some property owners there have already signed off on coming into the town’s corporate limits, including the Ion International Training Center, and several commercial properties by developer Peterson Companies. But the full details of what the county is asking for to move forward with the BLA have never fully come to light, although several staff reports have indicated that a revenue sharing agreement between the two elected bodies may be a part of it.

Dunn, whose term along with Campbell’s expires Dec. 31, has often lobbied for the topic to be discussed in open session, and has usually chosen not to participate in closed session meetings on the topic. After last week’s special meeting failed to reach quorum, Dunn said he believes speaking about the topic only in closed session is done to hide the town’s inability to negotiate with the county.

“There are no negotiations. The town is letting the county know what they want, the county then counters and then we say yes,” he said. “The problem is that the staff is really just looking at the money to be gained in the revenue share and therefore willing to give up little by little all the issues the town had going into the BLA. With Microsoft not coming into the town there really is no BLA anymore; it’s just a revenue share.”

Town Attorney Christopher Spera would not confirm whether Microsoft has decided that it will not consent to being incorporated into the town limits. 

“Details of the agreement are not yet finalized,” he said. 

Dunn said he believed an annexation process initiated by the town in Circuit Court would have been a better deal for Leesburg than a negotiated boundary line adjustment.

“We are on the losing end for this. The town is going to end up with some money, [but] we’re risking in town water [rates]. We’re risking our ability to negotiate for annexation with anybody else outside the town. We’re risking our ability for self rule and being able to have city status. We’re risking that Loudoun Water is still going to be able to be a player in the JLMA and thereby providing water to Microsoft. There’s no security in this for the town other than trying to get some money but we could have gotten some money and security through a true annexation,” he said.

Fox said she believes there needs to be more transparency in the BLA process, and wants to see talks resume in open session. She said both she, Dunn and Campbell have all been requesting information for months, only to be stonewalled by town staff. 

“When the time comes to vote on the BLA and revenue sharing agreements—which vote is long past due and should have been handled by this council and not passed to the new council—I would like the citizens of Leesburg to know what the trade-offs and/or repercussions are for the town should we agree to the county’s terms. We have been discussing/trying to discuss details for the past year, and the public still knows next to nothing about what is going on. Both the staff and three members of council should be more willing to be transparent about the terms of such an important topic,” she said.

Spera noted that the matter is part of pending litigation, as Leesburg filed suit against the county a month after its June 2019 decision to grant Loudoun Water, rather than the Town of Leesburg, the right to extend utility services to the JLMA as part of its comprehensive plan update. 

“That litigation has been filed but not yet served. In addition, boundary line adjustments in general, if not done consensually, are potentially matters of a specific type of litigation between government bodies—annexation. Agreement on the boundary line adjustments is essentially resolving potential annexation litigation. The agreement being negotiated is to resolve litigation, both the specific case the town brought [regarding the] county’s changes to its plan, as well as any individual annexation case that might be brought with respect to specific parcels,” he said. “It is not my practice to discuss the details of ongoing negotiations to resolve either actual or potential litigation in open session. In my experience, most Virginia local government attorneys share that view.”

Mayor Kelly Burk concurred with Spera’s assessment.

“In any negotiations you don’t want to show your complete hand while you’re doing the negotiating. We’re at that point,” she said. “Having that information, discussing that information out in the open at this point would be a detriment to what we’re trying to accomplish.”

Come Jan. 1, there will be three new council members to help shepherd the process forward. Burk is hopeful the new council will get the best deal for the town.

“I’m absolutely confident this group is focused and wants to work together,” she said. “The only agenda we have is what’s best for Leesburg.”

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