County Chair Phyllis Randall (D-At Large) met with a group of close to 50 residents from the village of St. Louis on Tuesday night at Banneker Elementary School to present them with a proposal by Supervisor Tony Buffington (R-Blue Ridge) to downzone the village, in an attempt to prevent future projects like the embattled 30-home Mojax subdivision.
Mojax LLC, headed by Jack Andrews, is planning Middleburg Preserve, a 30-home subdivision—which is allowed to be built by-right—near the village. That proposal has upset many area residents over the past two years, who have cited worries that the development’s wells could adversely impact the community’s water supply.
The Board of Supervisors recently abandoned a proposal to give Mojax the county-owned Aldie Tavern and surrounding land along with money aid the tavern’s renovation in a trade for the St. Louis land. In Aldie, supervisors are now considering a new offer from resident and Aldie Heritage Association member Guy Gerachis, who has proposed to restore the buildings on the property and put them back into use with a less intensive development plan than Andrews’ envisioned.
But that also left St. Louis residents still looking for an answer, prompting Buffington to propose launching an effort to downzone the rest of the village.
But, Randall clarified in a phone call after the meeting, the downzoning is not targeted at the Mojax property—a move that could set up a legal battle with the property owner by reducing the value and development potential of the land.
Instead, because the development proposal is by-right—needing no approval from the Board of Supervisors, only normal permits—Randall said she is focused on making sure everything is in order with Mojax’s applications before building permits are issued.
“It is important to me for the county to ensure that before building permits are issued to them—and building permits have not been issued to them at this time—that their applications absolutely perfect in every way,” Randall said. “And there are quite a few things that they still have to do before their application would be in order and they could receive a building permit.”
The idea of downzoning the village concerned some residents during the April 27 meeting. One resident, who said his family had lived in St. Louis for seven generations, said new zoning regulations would restrict longtime residents from building new homes.
Randall said the proposed zoning ordinance amendment could not eliminate by-right development all together, but would restrict large, dense developments from going in.
To expedite the Comprehensive Plan amendment and downzoning process, Middleburg Mayor Bridge Littleton, who serves on the county’s Zoning Ordinance Committee, said during the meeting the county government could speed up the process of adoption by holding required public hearings by the county Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors in quick succession.
“They know that this is an issue. It’s a sense of urgency,” Littleton said about the Board of Supervisors.
Some residents also raised concern that Randall’s office, and the county government in general, wasn’t keeping them as informed as they could be. Randall disagreed with those comments and urged residents to write her and the county government even more, and to show up in person to meetings.
“I’d like to see more people in the room,” she said.
Overall, Randall said she was opposed to Mojax’s plans for Middleburg Preserve primarily because western Loudoun villages aren’t the places for high-density housing, because development would gentrify the village and “tax people out of their land,” and because the village’s well system could be adversely affected.
Already, Mojax’s well drilling operations were cited for damaging wetlands, resulting in a Department of Environmental Quality consent order requiring Mojax to pay a $32,275 civil penalty, restore the wetlands and purchase 0.6 acres of wetlands credits.
On Tuesday, one area resident asked if Mojax had complied with that consent order. Randall said, to her knowledge, Mojax had not yet completed all remedies.
Job Woodill, the president of the Friends of St. Louis civic organization, said the remedies DEQ proposed in the consent order weren’t onerous enough, which is why the group, he said, has filed suit against DEQ.
Littleton said area residents’ battle to keep Mojax from developing the land was important, but “not the last one.” Rather, he said it would be one of a thousand such battles against large-scale development in the rural west in the next five years.
Still, Littleton urged residents at the meeting to not demonize Mojax and other developers for doing what they do to make money and feed their families. Rather, he said those developers just don’t have visions for Loudoun like the people who live in the rural west do.
Randall said the Board of Supervisors could set a public hearing on the proposed Comprehensive Plan amendment and downzoning as early as May or June. She assured St. Louis-area residents that she would apprise them of any substantial changes related to the matter within 24 hours of their occurrence.