Supervisor Tony R. Buffington (R-Blue Ridge), whose district includes both properties wrapped up in a proposal to stop development near the village of St. Louis and hand off the historic Aldie Tavern, has asked his colleagues on the county board not to sign that deal.
Although he said his obligations with his day job with the U.S. Capitol Police—who are mourning the deaths of two officers within a week and preparing for the presidential inauguration Wednesday—would keep him out of the boardroom, Buffington said he no longer supports the deal. The public hearing was initiated on a motion by Buffington after supervisors came out of a closed session after midnight at a previous meeting.
In exchange for the 16-acre St. Louis property, where developer MOJAX LLC had planned a 30-home subdivision, supervisors propose handing over the county-owned Aldie Tavern property, $1.5 million, and $600,000 in escrow for matching funds to work on the tavern building and install an access road to a planned private park behind it, also owned by one of the developers behind MOJAX, Jack Andrews. That deal is meant to forestall the development near St. Louis and provide a path to restoring the Aldie Tavern and surrounding buildings.
Buffington asked the board to take no further action on the deal, and instead to move ahead with purchasing the St. Louis property separately. The county had previously put forth a proposal to buy that property for $1.5 million, but the developer backed out.
“Since making the original motion out of Closed Session, I have been contacted by many constituents, organizations and Towns,” Buffington emailed his colleagues. “All had the same message of—we don’t trust the individual making the offer and we don’t want the County coupling the Aldie Assemblage to any deal related to the Saint Louis property. Not one person who has contacted me has been in favor of selling the Aldie Assemblage to the individual Invol[v]ed in the current offer.”
In response to that input, he said, he asked county staff members to put together a list of previous zoning violations by Andrews.
MOJAX is facing fines for disturbing wetlands at the St. Louis property; county staff put together a long list of other violations and lawsuits, compiled by several departments, including Building and Development, Planning and Zoning, Transportation and Capital Infrastructure, County Administration, and the County Attorney’s office.
County staff also found a complaint for clearing and grading to cut a road through protected steep slopes in Aldie, for which Andrews’s company was assessed a fine, which was referred to the County Attorney’s office for collection. “Change in ownership and the property’s placement under a deed of conservation easement means that further enforcement is unlikely to occur without another notice of violation,” county staff reported.
In another case, as Simpson Farm LLC, the developer disturbed a floodplain, with fines assessed, appealed and awaiting an opinion from the Attorney General’s office on the law, with the property now under new ownership. In two more cases, at the St. Louis property, MOJAX was issued stop work orders for grading without a permit, and later obtained the permit.
Two more complaints were successfully defended in court or referred to a state agency with no action. Andrews is also in a long-running legal battle with the Land Trust of Virginia, which holds the conservation easement on the land he owns behind the Aldie Tavern.
Hobie Mitchel, who has been speaking publicly for MOJAX and has plans to manage development at the Aldie property if approved, is also a familiar name in Loudoun development for some larger projects. Before working with MOJAX, Mitchel was involved in developing South Riding and Lansdowne on the Potomac. He is also in the early planning stages of the Village at Clear Springs, a possible 284-acre development along Evergreen Mills Road across from Evergreen Sportsplex. Early meetings have been held on a possible rezoning to allow for single family homes, active adult homes, a sportsplex, attainable housing, and hotel use.
In addition to resistance from conservation groups and many neighbors, the Coalition of Loudoun Towns is expected to send a letter in opposition to the St. Louis-Aldie deal. Middleburg Mayor Bridge Littleton told the Town Council that discussion of the proposal during a Coalition of Loudoun Towns meeting led all seven of Loudoun’s mayors to agree that the deal should not be made.
“All the mayors are absolutely against this,” he said. “There was a strong feeling that was sort of an unsavory, untoward pressure put on the county because they really want to protect this St. Louis piece and they’ve been put between a rock and a hard place. … The county has been thrown under the bus.”
Littleton said COLT would send a letter to the county urging it to identify a better use for the property, and suggested the Middleburg Town Council do the same.
“Find the right thing for this property,” he said, directing his comment to the county.
This article was updated Jan. 18 at 4:29 p.m. to correct an error about Village at Clear Springs.