Tag Archives: Loudoun County

A fowl tax

This hen will now cost you $165 to “permit” you to have a chicken coop.

This hen will now cost you $165 to “permit” you to have a chicken coop.

The County is taxing Western Loudoun farm buildings, by the authority of the Commissioner of Revenue, by assessing pole barns for taxes that the County never assessed before this year.

Even among those barns that were assessed previously, farm owners have been confounded by by the amazing leaps in assessed value.

In one case, the increase in assessment was a factor of thirteen times greater, from a $2,000 assessment last year on a 60 year old barn to a $26,000 assessment this year, with the questionable explanation, by the assessor, that the owner of the barn had painted the barn.

Farmers say this arbitrary policy of assessments is hardly reasonable and is fundamentally unfair.

In another setback for farmers in the West, following upon these Assessments, the County, by a new Zoning Ordinance, circulated this past Friday, requires that farmers obtain a permit for each chicken coop that a farmer has or acquires.

This is how the current zoning permit procedure reads.

It is described as the “procedure for obtaining a zoning permit for a coop/shelter for chickens.”

It says, “the property owner shall complete a building and zoning permit application form … that is accompanied by a plat showing the proposed location of the structure with distances to property lines …”

The term, “shall,” makes this requirement mandatory, and not permissive.

The permit fee – apparently mandated for each separate coop – costs $165 each.

The coop is described as a “structure.”

Farmers have asked the Commissioner of Revenue in connection with the increased assessments, to explain exactly what the Commissioner meant by the term “structure.”  The Farmers are of one mind that they got no answer at all.

As for the coops, chickens generally live mostly in small mobile boxes that house or protect them from the elements and from predators.

These coops are not large stationary structures that required a zoning permit or a health department permit in the past.

It is hard to make out a fair rationale, Farmers say, when the County requires permits for chicken coops about the same size as a dog-house but require no permits for a dog house. Continue reading

Words matter

Supervisor Ron Meyer

Supervisor Ron Meyer

George Orwell, author of “1984,” made the point that language has the power in politics to mask the truth and mislead the public.

In “1984,” in his novel, he coined the phrase “Newspeak,” referring to the abuse of language by the government.

In Loudoun County, we have long had a “transition” area in the County’s Comprehensive Plan, serving as a buffer between western Loudoun (rural) and eastern Loudoun (suburban).

Every Members of the Board of Supervisors knows what that means.

In a recent County study, inviting us to “envision” the future, we were told there is a “market” demand to add 50,000 residential units to our already over-crowded County.

Citizens have said loud and clear – we do not want 50,000 more units – not in the West or the East or the Transition area,

When the “vision” statement for the “new and improved” comprehensive plan was considered by the Board of Supervisors last week, a majority of the Board favored myopia, narrowing the County’s “vision,” and kicking the County’s long-held land use policy of “transition” to the curb.

Supervisor Ron Meyer (R-Broad Run) feigned a misunderstanding of the English language when he said, “As far as saying something’s a transition setting, I’m not sure what that means in the English language.”

If Mr. Meyer suffered a language lapse, he could have consulted a dictionary.

Merriam Webster says a “transition” is the “passage from one state, stage, subject, or place to another.”

Loudoun’s “transition” area is a “passage” from suburban development through mixed development to rural development.

Mr. Meyer understood perfectly what and where the transition area was when, as a Board candidate in 2015, he answered the Chamber’s questionnaire, faulting the Comprehensive Plan, including the Transition area, under review and subject to revision now.

Mr. Meyer said, “Current planning does not reflect community realities in this [transition] area and it will be vital to better plan the transportation network and land use polices to ‘fill in the gap’ in a smart and responsible way between suburban areas in Ashburn and Leesburg in this small corner of the Transition Area (underscoring supplied).”

Mr. Meyer’s shoddy mimicry of Orwell’s “Newspeak” sought to eliminate “transition” to compromise any thought or memory of the policy that has preserved and protected the County’s special character.

Nor did Mr. Meyer stop with his faux misapprehension of what “transition” meant.

Mr. Meyer swelled with intolerant and disrespectful humor, when he said, “What is the transition setting, does that have to do with someone’s gender identity?’” Continue reading

The living legend – farmer “Jimmy” Spring

The Movie – the Living Legend - “Jimmy” Spring

The Movie – the Living Legend – “Jimmy” Spring

Another example of why Western Loudoun is worth preserving and maintaining is the kind of farming folk that made this County.

Perhaps more people need to understand and consider what kind of people made Western Loudoun what it is, and why it must be preserved because what’s best about the West is a lot more than geography.

It’s about core values that sustain a community when the center doesn’t appear to hold any longer.

We have just recognized a “living legend,” long time Lovettsville farmer, James “Jimmy” Spring, 95.

Jimmy likes to tell stories, but this story I’m telling is about “Jimmy.”

It’s about Jimmy’s values, the ones we treasure as a community, that we celebrate, seek to emulate, because these values he shares give us a place to stand and enable us to achieve a worthy objective, whether it’s farming or anything else we might consider worthwhile.

Aristotle said, “Nothing improves your aim like having a target.”

Jimmy had a target, and a way to reach it, because he had the character transparent to everyone else, revealing exactly who he was, and what he was made of.

His force of character defines his life, as a living legend, and it’s particularly instructive for all of us to consider this man in our time of fact-free discourse of a seemingly rudderless and unworthy cast.

This past Sunday at about 3PM, at the local Lovettsville Lutheran Church in the basement, a crowd of 120 came to hear Jimmy’s story, and to watch a movie prepared by yours truly that expands upon the remarks I’m making here (the movie was posted on line after its premier at the award ceremony – and it’s free – https://vimeo.com/195151504 ). Continue reading

Loudoun citizens battle AT&T, declaring “not on our mountain”

The “view” from the Lovettsville Squircle on Memorial Day

The “view” from the Lovettsville Squircle on Memorial Day


The Short Hill Mountain is a scenic and pre-historic geologic treasure for which the County Board of Supervisors is responsible as stewards to maintain and preserve and protect; the County’s Comprehensive Plan memorializes this praiseworthy obligation.

Many citizens have objected that AT&T wants to deface the mountain, by placing a Costco size industrial building, atop the mountain, visible for miles around, sucking up millions of gallons of water, and megawatts of electricity, in a rural and residential area, and the community is calling foul, and demanding that the Board stop AT&T in its tracks.

Citizens on both sides of the Mountain are demanding that the Board overrule the permit that the Planning Commission, they charge, improvidently granted, and that the Board do this at its meeting scheduled for June 23, 2016.

There have been public and private gatherings all for the purpose of defeating this permit. There have been statements and letters published and forwarded to the Board and on social media. There are resolutions to this effect. Some are drafting reports they may submit to the Board. Citizens are seeking audiences with their elected representatives at every level – county, state and federal government. Continue reading

To vote or not to vote

voteThis year we have we have many elective posts in Loudoun County that will be filled with candidates in opposition to each other for the countywide board of supervisors, for constitutional offices, for the school board, for the soil and water board, and for the general assembly.

These offices generally and specifically determine policy that intimately affects the lives of each and every person living in the County.

But many won’t vote.

Indeed, it is highly likely that non-voters will determine the election by failing to vote; the number of non-voters is so large, it’s often referred to as the party of non-voters.

One observer noted that maybe what we are losing among the non-voters are a disproportionate number of the uninformed and uneducated who wouldn’t vote intelligently anyhow.

That may sound harsh but there is data that those with more schooling and more income are much more likely to vote in any election.

Thomas Jefferson once said, “A nation that expects to be ignorant and free expects what never was and never will be.” Continue reading

The developers are coming (again)!

handshakeIf you’ve looked around, you’ve seen our rivers overrun and mud and dirt flowing across the road. It’s because we’ve had a lot of rain in recent days. We may be surprised and concerned at these torrential conditions. But the real problem is – it could get much worse if some developers have their way.

The Developers want to build on steep slopes and in flood plains, now prohibited.

Our Board of Supervisors is considering allowing them.

The name, flood plain, is self-descriptive. If either side of a stream or river is prone to flooding, then it’s a flood plain.

As a trial lawyer, I imagine someone building in a flood plain, their home then flooded, and asking, “How did that happen?” Answer: – our Board of Supervisors changed the ordinance because that’s what their contributors wanted.

Of course, more happens than a homeowner or commercial business getting flooded.

If a storm water pond floods, it’s likely to send polluted sediment and water downstream.

If waters overrun a parking lot in a flood plain, you can have toxic run off from the vehicles.

If you have barrels of petroleum, consider the disaster should that petroleum be carried off downstream.

An area is declared a flood plain as a buffer, with limited uses, as a guard against having to clean up, at taxpayer expense, should one build in that area.

As for steep slopes, have you ever tried to plant cover on a steep slope. If you don’t have something that holds that soil together, everything you plant (dumbly) will just run down hill.

A “steep slope” is an incline greater than 25 degrees. That slope has a high potential for erosion and mudslides. What do you think would happen if you were to place a development on or below a steep slope? You’re right. Disaster.

Could some engineer re-make the contours of the land? Sure, I suppose, by destroying what exists, but such development is destructive and that’s what the current County policy acknowledges, and prohibits.

So why should we change either our ordinance limitations on flood plains or steep slopes, since they appear to be quite responsible? We shouldn’t.

The Citizens have already recoiled from the Board’s proposals to modify the steep slopes prohibitions, so the Board retrenched, directing the County Staff, “the Imagineers” (you might call them), to come back and present “a compromise.”

How in the world do you think that “compromise” can work?

The truth is the Board is delaying, waiting for a Hail Mary pass, because they are inclined to do what their bosses, the developers, want, and to push this round peg through a square hole– at a date to be determined – if we don’t fight them and stop this wrong-headed revision.

Our Board, transparently lackeys for the developers, want Loudoun County to be “more business-friendly,” so they say, by making more land available for commercial development.

The Piedmont Environmental Council (the PEC) issued an alarm, rightly declaring, that these proposed changes are plain wrong, and, as for Loudoun County becoming more “business friendly,” the PEC says, “that storyline just doesn’t add up. Loudoun has significant vacant commercial space, and more than 3,100 acres of commercially zoned land (greater than 50 million square feet of space) on the market that hasn’t been built yet.”

So what’s the real story?

On the off chance this Board is not returned to office, a much hoped for electoral result, they are going to reward those developers who brought them to the dance, by passing these revisions.

Don’t wait until the election to vote them out of office, appear at the public Board hearing on Flood Plains on October 14 at 6:00pm, and tell them to represent the public interest, and not the Developers.

Political brawling in Loudoun

boxingBrawlFighters like politicians don’t always know when to step down.

Loudoun County Board Chairman Scott York is that kind of fighter who doesn’t know when to quit.

On about January 8, 2015, Scott said he’d put a lot of thought into whether he’d quit and decided his future “just didn’t include being Chairman for another four years.”

If Ali, a three time heavyweight champ, had listened to Doc Ferdie Pacheco, he might have gone out like undefeated heavy weight champ Rocky Marciano, physically intact, laurels strewn in his wake, without the humiliation of a drubbing by Leon Spinks and Larry Holmes.

York badly wanted those laurels from the Chamber of Commerce and he told them, rumors to the contrary notwithstanding, not to worry, he really wasn’t going to go for a fifth round to get elected.

The Chamber conferred on pug Scott York his desired “laurels,” and, no sooner did they rest upon his hallowed crown, did he throw a sharp left jab at his own integrity, and jump into the political ring, seeking re-election.

“Slippery” Scott is like a small club fighter who slips punches, shifts his stance to suit election year allies, tracks backward in the ring, the “Slippery” Scott shuffle, and, between rounds, his corner men treat his cuts, an expanding contributing entourage of developers, according to VPAP, including real estate developers, general contractors, highway contractors, building trades, excavation contractors, so they can have their hoped-for fifth round, more pay days by our County, for even more development. Continue reading

Gaming the crowded Loudoun elections

prefVotingThe candidates seeking countywide offices in Loudoun have been elbowing for political advantage for weeks and months.

The field is not yet set but, it appears, we’re going to have more than two candidates for several county wide offices and this favors split voting and an uncertain outcome that may not represent what most voters really want.

In some elections, split voting occurs by Machiavellian design, introducing a bogus candidate (or candidates), as a misdirection, to split the opposition in favor of a candidate who can’t win otherwise.

In Loudoun, this election cycle, we have more than two candidates, it appears by chance, in two countywide races – (1) to become Chair of the Board of Supervisors, and (2) to become our next Sheriff.

The Republicans chose lawyer and party activist, Charlie King, as their Republican nominee for Chair, and the Democrats chose a professional and community leader, Phyllis Randall, as their nominee. This is where the process, however, gets complicated. Republican Supervisor Shawn Williams challenged Mr. King for the Republican nomination for Chair, then Shawn withdrew because of embarrassing personal and seemingly disqualifying disclosures. That said and done, Shawn has now taken a U-turn, and decided to make a run as an Independent. Among the Dems, a former Democratic nominee, who lost in the election four years ago, Tom Bellanca, has decided he wants to run again, and, having sat out the Democratic nominating process, he’s running as an Independent.

In the Sheriff’s race, the Republicans chose the incumbent Sheriff, Mike Chapman, over a vigorous Republican Challenger, Mr. Eric Noble. Brian Allman, a law enforcement officer, filed to become the Democrats’ nominee. But there’s more. When Mr. Noble lost his party’s nomination, former Sheriff Steve Simpson, who was a Noble supporter, announced he’d run himself as an independent.

How does a voter game the choices, four seeking the Chair, three wanting to be Sheriff, and select the persons in the races most representative of what Loudoun needs? Continue reading

Don’t you agree, Brian?

Brian Allman, Democratic nominee for sheriff

Brian Allman, Democratic nominee for sheriff

Brian Allman is on the November ballot as the Democratic nominee for Sheriff.

As the public gets to know a candidate, it questions the background and policies that the candidate supports and hopes to implement once elected.

Brian is no different.

Last Thursday evening at the Democratic Committee meeting at the fire house, many Democratic Committee members had questions for Brian.

This is an ongoing dialogue the Committee conducts to learn what to expect from a candidate.

The occasion for the discussion was that Brian wanted to join the Democratic Committee as a member.

In order to become a committee member, the candidate must be nominated at one meeting (last week), and then the Committee votes approval (or not) at the next monthly meeting (in June).

Several questions at the May meeting had to do with the number of law suits that Brian has filed himself.

Of course, court is how we settle disputes that can’t be settled any other way.

But a large part of any lawyer’s practice is discouraging litigation and encouraging settlement.  And the job of Sheriff is not only to enforce the law but to be a peace officer as well, to calm rather than to disturb troubled waters. Continue reading

Law and disorder

lawDisorder

We have law and disorder in Loudoun County because of our Loudoun County Commonwealth Attorney and our Sheriff.

Our county slogan is, “We byde our time.”  Well, we’re finished “byding” our time.

A popular long-running criminal justice show, “Law and Order,” begins every episode, saying, that: “In the criminal justice system, the people are represented by two separate and equally important groups, the police who investigate crime, and the district attorneys who prosecute the offenders,” and then the intro concludes, “these are their stories.”

Well, we’ve got a sad story to tell in Loudoun County.

Our Commonwealth Attorney, Jim Plowman, prosecuted a black man for felonies when three Deputy Sheriffs violated the Ashburn resident’s constitutional right to be left alone.

More than that, this crack law enforcement duo, of Jim and Sheriff Mike Chapman, still can’t figure out, after 1 ½ years, who and how one or more Deputies allegedly embezzled more than $200,000 from the Sheriff’s Office.  At the least, that was awkward!

Only days ago, the Commonwealth Attorney, Jim Plowman, dissed his law enforcement “partner,” Sheriff Mike Chapman. Continue reading