York, Staton Spar Over Eminent Domain; Information Distributed In Sugarland Run Called "Alarmist": Leesburg VA Today, 5/16/07

By Dusty Smith

Information sent to people living in the Sugarland Run community in a homeowners association newsletter suggests plans are afoot by the Loudoun Board of Supervisors "to use its right of eminent domain to buy your home, bulldoze your community, and replace it with a densely-populated high-rise one."

County Chairman Scott K. York (I-At Large) said he became angry when the newsletter was brought to his attention, and suggested Supervisor Mick Staton (R-Sugarland Run) had given the two Sugarland Run HOAs the impression their community had been targeted. York said there are no such plans and called the letter "alarming."

"That is the biggest lie I have ever heard with respect to the Comp Plan," York said during a campaign kickoff last week. He brought the issue up again during Tuesday's board meeting. "Unfortunately what this did is put people in a panic. Fortunately, this is not true."

He also said the term eminent domain only appears in the portion of the county's comprehensive plan that deals with transportation as a means of obtaining right of way. York said no county staff member, supervisor or developer has "ever proposed such a preposterous plan."

Staton said he did not author the message in the newsletter and that it did not exactly reflect what he told the HOA. He had addressed the HOA about a comprehensive plan amendment he has proposed that would remove language about eminent domain and about promoting development of new mixed-us town centers in communities east of Rt. 28. The Loudoun Planning Commission has scheduled a May 21 public hearing on Staton's proposal.

Since Sugarland Run and Sterling are essentially built out, Staton said, there is no way to construct town centers in those communities without tearing down and redeveloping what now exists. The HOA letter may have been over the top, Staton acknowledged.

"I found out about it after the fact. It was a complete surprise to me when I saw it," he said. "When I read the letter, it did sound a little alarmist."

However, Staton said provisions in the comprehensive plan could be construed to allow such redevelopment in the east.

"The current plan does envision the redevelopment of those areas," Staton said.

York said because of legislation passed this year by the General Assembly, the county would not be able to take property through eminent domain for economic development purposes, making Staton's amendments unnecessary. The state law was intended to allow the use of eminent domain only for the purposes of obtaining a public use site, such as for a school or fire and rescue station.

However, Staton said the fact the state has a law addressing the subject does not relieve the county from assuring residents of its intent.

"Quite frankly, their action does not preclude our action," Staton said, explaining that there's nothing wrong with making sure local policy does not envision such a use of eminent domain.

In response to the letter, York sent his own letter to the Sugarland Run HOA.

"Apparently, your HOAs were in receipt of bogus information sent to you in the newsletter titled Urgent! We need your support to protect the future of Sugarland Run," York wrote in his follow-up letter. "This letter was incorrect and needs to be addressed to set the record straight."

York promised that eminent domain would only be used "as a tool of last resort."

"Again, I can assure you that there is no such plan to buy and then destroy yours or anyone else's community," he said. "Sugarland Run is a very important part of our community and a wonderful place. I can only hope that whoever was responsible for giving the misinformation to you and your fellow citizens will next time check the facts before spreading false information."

Staton's amendment to the comprehensive plan, which would restrict the use of eminent domain for economic development purposes, strike the word "redevelopment" in several areas and remove language calling for town centers in Sterling and Sugarland Run, remains under review.

Members of the Sugarland Run Board of Directors could not be reached Tuesday for comment about the newsletter.

Leesburg VA Today: http://www.leesburg2day.com