By Mayor Bridge Littleton
As most members of our community are aware, the town of Middleburg has received two preliminary concept plans for potential requests to annex property into the town with the desire of building housing. We presented the facts and details of these proposals in a public information session on April 19, (thank you to everyone who attended). The goal of that public information session was to provide as much information as the town currently has, allow folks to see what the potential impacts will be, outline the town’s process for receiving input and feedback from the community, and to ask questions. Since that time, many folks in the community have either sent in questions or directly asked a member of the town government excellent and thoughtful questions and also provided valuable input, recommendations and feedback. Unfortunately, there has also been a good deal of misinformation, speculation, and simply erroneous info that has made its way into this very important community discussion.
Our goal here is to lay out again the correct facts, our process, and reiterate our request for input and ideas from the community. It is very important to note at the outset that no applications have yet been filed by either party, and the Council has made no decisions. The town felt it best that before taking on the expense, time, and effort for the applications to put together required for annexation applications, that it made more sense for the applicants to provide the community with a draft proposal and an overview of requests that we could then present to the community to receive feedback, input, suggestions. This feedback and input will ultimately guide us to understand if these proposals have merit to move forward or not, and/or what changes or revisions are necessary to address any concerns of the public. It is important to state again, no actual applications for annexation or BLAs have been made to the town at this time, so there is no action before the Town Council to take – this is all about education and information gathering. As mentioned, it is important to lay out again the facts of these proposals, our process going forward and dispel a certain amount of misinformation currently being circulated.
Q: Why is the Town considering these proposals at all? This is a very important question, and probably the most important question. The town is considering these proposals for two key reasons. First, in 2018-2019 the town rewrote its entire Comprehensive Plan which governs land use for the next 20 years for Middleburg. The comp plan is a policy document which guides and captures the needs, hopes, vision, and desires of the community and how we will manage our zoning and land-use. At that time the town held three public input sessions, with several hundred citizens participating. The number one recommendation from the community was the desire for more price-varied housing for younger families, teachers, and workforce in Middleburg. Housing prices in Loudoun and in Middleburg have been outpacing salaries for many years, pricing out those looking for starter homes. The second reason is because in the Comp Plan we sought to establish a greenbelt of protected land around the town. The applicants are proposing to put almost 90% of their acreage in open space conservation easement to establish that greenbelt. This too is something our town citizens said they wanted.
Q: What is the Town process going forward? From a big picture perspective our goal is this: over the next several months to receive feedback and input from the community. We will then provide that feedback and input to both applicants and ask them to revise and update their proposals. They will then bring their revised proposals back to us and we will again present those to the community and again receive feedback and input from our citizens to understand how best to proceed. That will drive the ultimate decision as to whether the town will move forward or, more importantly, not move forward with either of the proposals. Remember, each proposal stands on its own and are not linked to each other in any way.
Q: How do I get information and provide my input? The Middleburg community has multiple ways to view all the available information and provide feedback and input. We created a special page on our website which has all available documentation (https://www.middleburgva.gov/386/Proposed-AnnexationsBLAs). It also contains an online form to submit input and ask questions with no limits on multiple submissions. Additionally, we have an FAQ which we update every Friday with all new questions submitted and the answers. At each Town Council meeting for the next two months, we are reserving a special session at the beginning for public comment specifically on the annexations. If you wish to speak to the Town Council, you can do so at any of those meetings. Directly after that session, the Town Council will discuss the feedback received. Lastly, you can reach out directly to any member of Council, or a member of the town staff. Our principal responsibility is to provide the community with as much information as we have and answer every question that we can. We want to hear from you.
Correcting the Record. Fact vs. Fiction:
Fiction: The town is only doing this for more revenue to pay for the new town hall.
Fact: There could be nothing more patently false than this assertion. The fact is residential real estate taxes account for a minimal amount of our overall town revenues. In fact, of our total town revenues of $4.4 million, residential real estate taxes from the approx. 450 homes we have makes up just $270,000, or less than 7.5%. Residential real estate taxes do not even pay for a third of the cost of our Police Department, much less all of the other services provided to town citizens and businesses. Over 70% of our revenues come from business activities in town. Adding any additional housing will have no appreciable impact on our revenues. As the Town is currently running a surplus of $880,000 over expenses, we have no need for additional revenues to run the Town or pay for the new Town Hall.
Fiction: The proposed homes at the Homewood Farm site are going to be affordable dwelling units (ADUs) or some other form of subsidized housing.
Fact: This again, is utterly untrue. The owner has proposed to build small sized units aimed at entry-level homebuyers but fully market rate driven and unsubsidized in anyway.
Fiction: We have to accept these two proposals of 126 homes as is.
Fact: That is incorrect, as was mentioned in every public meeting, these are first draft proposals. The town has unilateral authority to approve or deny any proposal, or ask for a modification. These applications are not set in stone. And yes, if the overwhelming feedback from the community is that they want to see a reduction in the scale and scope of these projects, that is what we will take back to the applicants. We reiterate, at the end of the day no matter what proposal is submitted, the town can still ultimately say no and the applicants/land owners will simply exercise their by-right zoning rights in Loudoun County.
Fiction: The Town Council and the Mayor do not care about conservation or protecting the west.
Fact: Nothing could be more absurd or offensive than this statement. The Council has worked extremely hard over the last four years to fight back against suburban sprawl, the threats to Middleburg and Western Loudoun County. This should be clear by our effort on many issues such as working to preserve historic Aldie from developers, fighting on behalf of St. Louis to fight the MOJAX development, advocating hard and working with others to restrict the by-right cluster zoning in Loudoun County- these are just a few of many examples. We have met with the Board of Supervisors during public comments and individually dozens of times and worked closely with conservation preservation groups and uniting with COLT (the Coalition of Loudoun Towns) to protect rural western Loudoun. The fundamental fact about these properties is that they are going to be developed one way or the other. One way is under by-right uses in Loudoun County. The other way is through the town having control. What that control looks like is up to all of us. But as we learned with the Banbury Cross development, change is going to happen. We can either engage and shape that change or allow the County zoning to shape it. Either is an approach, and we want to know from you what is the best path.
In closing, we again want to thank all the members of our community who have taken the time to understand the details of these proposals and provide meaningful and thoughtful feedback and recommendations. We are going to continue this process for the next several months and we ask everybody to provide us with their thoughts. As stated earlier, the town has made no decisions on these proposals, and we are dedicated to understanding what the community wants. What has always made our Town the special place that it is, is the diversity of people in it, and how everyone genuinely cares for each other regardless of background, wealth, race, or religion. We are all bound together by wanting to do what is best for each other and to ensure our legacy of community is preserved for the next generations.