County supervisors have taken a rare vote to deny a rezoning application for a housing development after the developer retracted offers to help offset the project’s impact on county infrastructure.
Rezoning applications are seldom stopped at the Board of Supervisors—typically, by the time they have made it through plan review with various county departments and the Planning Commission, applications have either already been withdrawn or reached a state where they are likely to pass. The vote June 15 to deny came after the applicant, Cody Francis of GFC Properties LLC, twice reduced proffers—payments and considerations the developer and county negotiate during rezonings.
Without a rezoning, existing zoning on the property would support up to four single-family homes, according to Department of Planning and Zoning Director Alaina Ray. In that case, the county would also receive no proffers, which are only negotiated with rezonings. The property is along the W&OD Trail, near the border with Fairfax County. It is an infill project, an undeveloped parcel surrounded by houses, townhouses and the historic Oak Grove Baptist Church.
When the applications cleared the Planning Commission, the last step before reaching the Board of Supervisors, and even up to the night of the board’s public hearing for the application, those proffers went even beyond the normal formula the county uses to estimate a development’s impact on county services like roads and schools
The developer was offering an additional price-controlled unit beyond the seven that the county would normally require, as well as a marker and archaeological survey to help offset the loss of some of the last vestiges of the historically Black Oak Grove community.
On the property stands a house built around 1890 by one of the early Black landowners and a founding leader in Oak Grove, a community of people then recently freed from slavery, according to a county staff report. Nearby is an archaeological site with the remains of the local lodge of the Grand Order of Odd Fellows, a mutual aid organization.
But while both are considered eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places, rehabilitating the house was called “not practical” because of its poor state, and both buildings were set to be demolished. The developer offered to work with the nearby, historic Oak Grove Baptist Church, the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority, the Black History Committee of the Friends of Balch Library, and the Loudoun County Heritage Commission to design and install a commemorative sign for the Berkeley House along the W&OD Trail, and to conduct an archaeological study at the Odd Fellows site.
While supervisors still had some concerns about runoff and sidewalk access during the May 12 public hearing, Randall said at that meeting there was no reason not to approve it.
“This is one of those moments where, if we said ‘no’ on this application, we’d end up in court,” Randall said, also noting she knew the applicant through her pastor, and that the congregation of Oak Grove Baptist—one of the oldest Black churches in Loudoun—was supportive.
When the application came back to supervisors for a vote June 1, the proffers had begun to chip away. The developer eliminated the proffers for an archaeological study and interpretive sign, as well as the additional Affordable Dwelling Unit. Supervisors held a vote on approving the application, which fell short of a majority with a 3-3-1-2 vote: Supervisors Sylvia R. Glass (D-Broad Run), Michael R. Turner (D-Ashburn) and Matthew F. Letourneau (R-Dulles) were in favor; Supervisors Tony R. Buffington (R-Blue Ridge), Juli E. Briskman (D-Algonkian) and Kristen C. Umstattd (D-Leesburg) were opposed; and Randall and Supervisor Caleb A. Kershner (R-Catoctin) were absent.
“The two things that made me really think about voting yes are now gone,” Umstattd said.
“I can’t recall ever seeing an application that had the proffers pulled back when it came to the final business meeting,” said Letourneau, the longest-serving current member of the board.
Supervisors also did not affirmatively vote to deny the application, though. That left it in limbo until the next Board of Supervisors business meeting June 15—where it arrived with yet more taken out of the proffer agreement. The developer then was offering $499,999 in capital facilities contribution, as opposed to the $1.26 million that would normally be expected under the county’s formula, and no fire and rescue contribution when $6,000 would be expected.
That turned away the three supervisors who had supported it before.
“I saw it as a reasonable, infill type of development consistent with our plans, but now we’re in a position where we would be treating this applicant differently than we treat every other applicant in terms of mitigating impacts,” Letourneau said.
“We have used this tool for years,” Turner said. “[…] No developer has ever not provided this amount of money, which has been determined to be a reasonable assessment of the impact on the county’s infrastructure.”
Randall said there will need to be a post-mortem on the application.
“How do we take an almost perfect application, and get to this place?” Randall asked.
Supervisors voted 7-0-1-1 to deny the application, with Randall abstaining and Kershner off the dais.
“Well, I voted against this last time because I didn’t think it was a great application, and now the applicant himself—or herself, whoever it is–has made this a much worse application by reducing what they’re providing in the proffers,” said Supervisor Tony R. Buffington (R-Blue Ridge). “So I will be adamantly opposed this time. Last time was a soft no. This was a hard no.”
The application may yet still have life.
“I’m going to abstain and I’m going to continue talking, because if for no other reason, the church wants this,” Randall said. “The church wants it and they’ve always wanted it. And so I think I’d like to give this another run and we’ll see how it goes.”
By the board’s rules of order, she or any supervisors on the prevailing side of the vote may bring it back up for reconsideration at their next meeting, July 6.