Um, which river did you mean?

Leesburg rainfall totals from May 3-5 aren’t particularly high for the month of May, but swollen streams in Lansdowne show dramatic effects of erosion that has occurred since construction of Riverside High School (RHS). It opened in September 2015 on land purchased by the Loudoun Board of Supervisors from the National Conference Center (NCC) in 2011. Total rainfall in May so far is 1.2 inches.

NCC’s new owners seek a rezoning from Loudoun County to allow construction of 137 townhomes, grouped on either side of the compromised streams. They will drain into the same basin where these photos show new routes being carved out to accomodate the speed and volume of water draining from the steep slopes along the Potomac River — also the source of drinking water for downstream residents in Fairfax County.

Before the high school was built, the second owner of the NCC had fallen behind on payments for a $50 million loan taken out in 2005 to finance construction of a ballroom to update the 1974 facility, originally built by Xerox for training. Part of the NCC property was sold to Loudoun County’s Board of Supervisors as a high school site after a controversial appraisal in March 2011 raised the value of the property, at least on paper, and was reduced by the Board of Equalization three months later. Road improvements, ostensibly built for the high school, also made the NCC more attractive to a new purchaser, and the NCC property changed hands f0r just the third time in 2014.

Because of challenging environmental constraints, a popular county-owned sports park that had been proffered by the developer of Lansdowne on the Potomac ultimately became the high school site when it could not be constructed on the newly-purchased NCC property. Instead, school ball fields, not generally accessible by the public for youth league games, were built on newly-graded slopes formerly owned by the NCC. These drain into the now-compromised streams which flow to the Potomac River less than a mile away.

The NCC is presently used as the training site for workers willing to cross Verizon picket lines to temporarily fill jobs of striking workers.

See: Loudoun County LOLA

Application Name:NATIONAL CONFERENCE CENTER EAST
(See also: National Conference Center West)
Application Number:ZMAP-2016-0001
Type:ZMAP
Status:ACTIVE
Description:Rezone from approximately 49 acres from PD-SA…

This photo, taken May 8 2016, shows erosion to a streambed behind a house on Squirrel Ridge Road in Lansdowne.

This photo, taken May 8, 2016, shows the classic pattern of “incising” that is the first stage of streambed erosion. The view is from a golf cart path at Lansdowne Resort, behind Squirrel Ridge Road in Lansdowne.

 

Workers to fill in for striking Verizon employees are being trained at the National Conference Center in Lansdowne

Workers to fill jobs of striking Verizon employees are being trained at the National Conference Center in Lansdowne

 

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Local Ethics 101

An ethics pledge where none had existed before had great urgency as the first order of business for Loudoun Board of Supervisors Chair Phyllis Randall after she took office this year. Now its first test is transpiring with no attention from the press.

Catoctin District Supervisor Geary Higgins, whose nice-guy image and eyes-on-the-horizon stance normally lift him high above reproach, last month sought a grant of about $150,000 from Loudoun County, to be funded with local proceeds from the Virginia Transient Occupancy Tax (a/k/a “hotel tax”) to offset recent losses to the non-profit Waterford Foundation after weather caused the cancellation of a fundraising event, the Waterford Fair. According to sources, the nonprofit had already spent about $200,000 on the fair before it was cancelled, and wants to recoup that money.

Let us count the facets of this ethical faux pas:

  1. The Virginia General Assembly declined an identical request presented by Sen. Dick Black, reportedly because it violates state law directing how state funds can be directed to charities.
  2. The application missed the deadline for funding from Loudoun County by almost four months, perhaps because it was busy rebounding from the state legislature.
  3. Until recently, a member of Supervisor Higgins’ family served on the board of directors of the Waterford Foundation.
  4. The Ethics Pledge championed by Chair Randall forbids exactly this in Section 8.
  5. The Waterford Foundation is a well-endowed non-profit that owns millions of dollars worth of property.

cam and Oher

Supervisor Higgins is the only Republican on the Board of Supervisors who resisted snark and giggles when Chair Randall first arrived on the dais. For the first few meetings, he protected her blind side like Michael Oher protects Cam Newton of the Carolina Panthers.

But uh-oh. As Cookie Monster once said about delayed gratification, ethics are very hard.

 

Posted in All, BOS Chair Phyllis Randall, Ethics at the local level, Loudoun Board of Supervisors | Leave a comment

No free lunch in kindergarten

 

Since 1989, parcel 421367289000 in Hamilton, has been in Loudoun's land use program. Adjacent land with agricultural use is tinted tan, and in conservation use, green.

Since 1989, a 146-acre parcel (#421367289, outlined in blue) in Hamilton, has been classified as open space in Loudoun’s land use program. Adjacent parcels in agricultural districts are tinted tan;  nearby conservation districts are green. (Source: Loudoun County).

Virginia Delegate Randy Minchew (R-10th) has again introduced a bill to substitute land use values for fair market value (FMV) when the state of Virginia computes the local composite index (LCI) that determines how much money localities like Loudoun County get from the state as “basic aid funding” for education.

Minchew, of Leesburg, works as managing partner for land use attorneys Walsh, Colucci, where he “serves as Managing Shareholder of the firm’s Loudoun Office. Primarily working in land use and zoning, he has successfully represented a number of clients in obtaining the necessary approvals for a variety of cases, including major residential, commercial, and mixed-use projects,” according to Walsh, Colucci’s web site. http://thelandlawyers.com/j-randall-minchew/

Wording of the 2016 version of the bill is identical to the 2015 version. It was defeated last year in an education subcommittee by two votes, 10-12.

The bill would  require the state to use the lower “use value” of land classified as open space, agricultural, forestal or horticultural use. Loudoun’s share of funding for education would then increase, while the share for other localities would decrease under the LCI formula, according to a 2015 impact statement by the state department of planning and budget.

On Jan. 1, 2015, the total taxable value of 5,146 parcels in land use programs was $2,001,731,280, according to Loudoun County. At a tax rate of $1.135 per hundred dollars of value, they reduced the county’s tax revenue by  $22,719,650.03. In Loudoun County, frequently characterized as the wealthiest county in the nation based on median household income, a significant portion of real estate west of Route 15 has “land use” status and as a result, lower real estate taxes.

https://www.loudoun.gov/DocumentCenter/View/111539

Just one example is Parcel ID 421-36-7289-000, a 146-acre tract in Hamilton that is vacant. According to county tax records, fair market value of the parcel in 2015 was assessed at $1,323,500. However, as “open space” in the land use program, its taxable “use value” is assessed at $44,730. The 2015 tax bill was $507.70. If the parcel had been assessed at fair market value, the tax bill in 2015 would have been $15,021.70.

In 2011, when FMV of the parcel was also assessed at $1,323,500, the land use value was assessed at $5,170 and the tax bill was $66.44. The property, located in Lincoln, is owned by the family of late Loudoun General District Court judge, Julia Taylor Cannon, and has been in the land use program since 1989.

http://reparcelasmt.loudoun.gov/datalets/datalet.aspx?mode=valuesall&sIndex=0&idx=1&LMparent=138

In 2013, the state department of planning and budget used 2014 data to estimate the fiscal impact of state support for FDK in Loudoun at $2 million per year, with an increased local cost of $2.6 million per year, without considering capital and operating costs.
https://lis.virginia.gov/cgi-bin/legp604.exe131+oth+SB1153F122+PDF

Loudoun Schools Superintendent Eric Williams on Jan. 7 presented a $1 billion budget that sets aside $9.5 million to expand full-day kindergarten.

http://www.loudountimes.com/news/article/loudoun_superintendent_proposes_1_billion_budget432

With the additional funding, full-day kindergarten would be offered to 75 percent of all LCPS students.  Currently, 35 percent of students are offered full-day kindergarten, according to the Loudoun Times Mirror.

Virginia House of Delegates: House Bill 191 (2016)

Composite index of local ability-to-pay; use value of real estate in certain localities.
Va. Del. Randy Minchew (R-10th), chief patron.

SUMMARY AS INTRODUCED:
Composite index of local ability-to-pay; use value of real estate in certain localities. Requires, for the purpose of determining the state and local shares of basic aid funding, that the composite index of local ability-to-pay or “local composite index” utilize the use value of all applicable real estate (i) devoted to agricultural use, horticultural use, forest use, and open-space use in each locality that has adopted an ordinance by which it provides for the use valuation and taxation of such real estate and (ii) used in agricultural and forestal production within an agricultural district, forestal district, agricultural and forestal district, or agricultural and forestal district of local significance in each locality that provides for the use valuation and taxation of such real estate, regardless of whether it has adopted a local land-use plan or local ordinance for such valuation and taxation.

Virginia House of Delegates: House Bill 1514 (2015)

Composite index of local ability-to-pay; use value of real estate in certain localities. Va. Del. Randy Minchew (R-10th), chief patron.

SUMMARY AS INTRODUCED:

Composite index of local ability-to-pay; use value of real estate in certain localities. Requires, for the purpose of determining the state and local shares of basic aid funding, that the composite index of local ability-to-pay or local composite index (LCI) utilize the use value of all applicable real estate (i) devoted to agricultural use, horticultural use, forest use, and open-space use in each locality that has adopted an ordinance by which it provides for the use valuation and taxation of such real estate and (ii) used in agricultural and forestal production within an agricultural district, forestal district, agricultural and forestal district, or agricultural and forestal district of local significance in each locality that provides for the use valuation and taxation of such real estate, regardless of whether it has adopted a local land-use plan or local ordinance for such valuation and taxation.

Virginia Department of Planning and Budget: 2015 Fiscal Impact Statement

If land use value is substituted for fair market value in the Local Composite Index (LCI) formula, “The changes to the LCI for FY 2016 would create an overall state general fund cost increase of $1.9 million. Individual localities would have increases or decreases, depending on how the LCI change impacted the amount of their required local share.

“Since the LCI is a measure of a locality’s ability to pay for the cost of public education, utilizing the use value will lower the property values in the participating localities and reduce their required share. Urban localities and rural localities which minimally participate in a use value program would see their local match amount rise, since the LCI is based on each locality’s share of the total state value.”

Seventy divisions would see a decrease in their LCI value (resulting in increased state funds) and 58 divisions would see an off-setting increase (resulting in decreased state funds).

“While the bill notes that the adjusted composite index should be applied to basic aid funding, this fiscal impact is based on all state K-12 funding that is distributed based on the LCI.”

Supervisors ask state for more money. 

On Jan. 6, the Loudoun Board of Supervisors voted 7-2 to ask the state of Virginia for additional funding to pay for full-day kindergarten:

I move that the Board of Supervisors seek additional state financial support in order to enable the county to accelerate the full phase-in of full-day kindergarten in Loudoun County in a fiscally responsible manner while limiting class sizes.

— Motion by Loudoun Board of Supervisors Chair Phyllis Randall (At-Large), Jan. 6, 2016. Seconded by Vice Chair Ralph Buona (Ashburn). Amended by Matt LeTourneau (Dulles).

https://www.loudoun.gov/webcast-archives

Posted in Ashburn Supervisor Ralph Buona, BOS Chair Phyllis Randall, Dulles, General Assembly 2016, Loudoun Board of Equalization, Loudoun Board of Supervisors, Loudoun Circuit Court, Matt LeTourneau, Va. Del. Randy Minchew, Virginia Ethics Commission, You pay so they don't have to. | Tagged | Leave a comment

Loudoun Supervisors Approve Funding For Slave Memorial

By Jonathan Hunley

Leesburg Today

Sept. 3, 2015

The statue of a Confederate soldier at the Loudoun County courthouse could be getting some company in the future, which probably pleases Pastor Michelle Thomas.
“He seems lonely,” Thomas, who leads Holy & Whole Life Changing Ministries International in Lansdowne, said Wednesday night about the statue.

"He seems lonely," said Michelle Thomas, pastor of Holy and Whole Life Changing Ministries International in Lansdowne.

“He seems lonely,” said Michelle Thomas, pastor of Holy and Whole Life Changing Ministries International in Lansdowne.

Thomas was one of six speakers who urged Loudoun’s Board of Supervisors to support memorializing slaves sold at the courthouse and county residents who fought for the Union in the Civil War.
And the supervisors obliged, voting 7-0-1-1 to allocate $50,000 to help with the cost of placing a memorial on the courthouse grounds in Leesburg.
The move came at the recommendation of county Chairman Scott K. York (R-At Large), who attended a July rally held by the NAACP’s Loudoun Branch in which the organization pushed for monuments for the slaves and Union forces and also to recognize that the courthouse is a registered National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom historical site.
The $50,000 the supervisors approved is to be donated only after other fundraising for the memorial is complete, a process that mimics the rules for a similar donation the county pledged toward the creation of a Revolutionary War statue, which will be placed at the courthouse in November.
Part of the allocation also could be used for an initial effort to ask the Virginia Board of Historic Resources to approve the placing of a state historical marker at the courthouse noting the Underground Railroad recognition. Work to secure that commemoration can be done a lot faster than what’s necessary for a more complicated monument, Phillip Thompson, the Loudoun NAACP branch’s president, said recently.
Talk about courthouse memorials began after the June 17 racially motivated killings in Charleston, SC, which prompted discussion of Confederate symbols, including the Confederate soldier statue in Leesburg.
That statue relates part of Loudoun’s Civil War heritage. But Donna Bohanon, who chairs the Black History Committee of the Friends of Thomas Balch Library, told the supervisors Wednesday that there are other portions of history that deserve to be told.
“This type of memorial is long overdue,” she said of the proposed monument.
Supervisor Geary M. Higgins (R-Catoctin) spoke of honoring history, as well. But he noted that not everything in the past was rosy.
“Make no mistake: Loudoun was a slave-holding county,” Higgins said.
Supervisor Kenneth D. Reid (R-Leesburg) abstained from the vote on the memorial donation, saying he was concerned that $50,000 wasn’t enough of a contribution for the county government to make. Board Vice Chairman Ralph M. Buona (R-Ashburn) was absent from Wednesday’s meeting because he was on a business trip.

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Loudoun County Real Estate Tax Bill: $67

While everyone in Loudoun County pays the same real estate tax rate, not everyone pays taxes on 100% of the value of their property. Some property owners apply to have their real estate taxes deferred under programs that set aside some of their tax exposure: categories such as Agricultural or Forestal District, Historic District, Permanent Open Space Easement, Land Use Assessment, Tax Relief for the Elderly or Disabled, or Affordable Dwelling Unit among them.

In 2011, the Loudoun County real estate tax bill on this 145-acre property in Hamilton were $67.

In 2011, the Loudoun County real estate tax bill on this 145-acre property in Hamilton was $67.

In 2011, Loudoun County assessed the fair market value of this vacant 145-acre property in Hamilton at $1,323,500. The tax bill that year was $66.43. This year, the same property was again assessed at fair market value at $1,323,500, but the tax bill at the current tax rate of $1.135 per $100 of value is $514.40. The property is protected with an open space easement. What changed?

Another home located on Market Street in Leesburg is assessed at $1,111,640 this year. The owners’ 2015 tax bill is $12,617.11, a multiple some 25x times what the landowners in Hamilton pay.  As a Loudoun County taxpayer, do you think the value of developable vacant land in Hamilton  is worth just 1/25 of the value of a house on Market Street in Leesburg for tax purposes?

This spread sheet breaks out total numbers for taxable and exempt properties. Countywide, there are 126,277 taxable properties and 1,245 that are exempt:

http://va-loudouncounty.civicplus.com/DocumentCenter/View/111539

Election year is a good time to ask candidates for chairman of the Board of Supervisors how they feel about real estate taxes — these pay for public schools. To provide full day kindergarten in Loudoun County, the county needs much more tax revenue to pay for it. That contends with programs that reduce taxes for some classes of land, and some groups of property owners.

Before you vote on Nov. 3, ask Board of Supervisors Chairman candidates Tom Bellanca, Charlie King, Phyllis Randall, and incumbent Scott York how they feel about special tax programs. Ask for a breakout showing how many properties, in which magisterial districts, enjoy how much in reduced taxes. Ask what it costs Loudoun County.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Ashburn Supervisor Ralph Buona, BOS Chairman Scott York, J. Scott Littner, Loudoun Board of Equalization, Loudoun Board of Supervisors, Loudoun Circuit Court, Loudoun Journalism, Va. Del. Randy Minchew, Virginia Ethics Commission, Virginia FOIA, You pay so they don't have to. | 1 Comment

‘Tell the story, but tell it all.’

Scott York, chairman of the Loudoun Board of Supervisors, takes notes as Pastor Michelle Thomas talks about hopes for the Loudoun Freedom Center, to depict the lives of slaves in the county.

Scott York, chairman of the Loudoun Board of Supervisors, takes notes as Thomas speaks about the desecration of a slave cemetery in Lansdowne. Charles King, at left, and two others are running to defeat York’s reelection.

The Rev. Michelle Thomas, pastor of Holy and Whole Life Changing Ministry International, speaks how a slave cemetery was desecrated in Lansdowne.

The Rev. Michelle Thomas, pastor of Holy and Whole Life Changing Ministries International, said she hopes formation of the proposed Loudoun Freedom Center will honor the lost lives of 42 slaves on the grounds of the former Coton  Plantaion, remember their names, and research their genealogy.

The crowd gathered in front of the Loudoun County courthouse in Leesburg on July 18 listened attentively to speakers at a rally sponsored by the Loudoun NAACP.

A crowd gathered on the Loudoun County courthouse lawn on July 18 for a rally sponsored by the Loudoun NAACP. Early morning rain could have discouraged attendance. Estimates of crowd size ranged from 50 to 100 at the courthouse, with 10 or fewer gathered around a statue of a confederate soldier.

The Leesburg Town Council could vote as soon as Tuesday, July 28, whether to approve Loudoun County’s request to demolish four historic buildings on Edwards Ferry Road to clear the site for a huge new courts complex.

Loudoun County officials have threatened to move their government offices to Ashburn if the council turns down an appeal filed after Leesburg’s Board of Architectural Review (BAR) denied the county’s demolition request in May.

Leesburg Mayor Kristen Umstattd, also a candidate for the town’s seat on the Loudoun Board of Supervisors, and one other council member said they will vote to raze the buildings to keep the government and its business downtown. Amid charges that county officials are bullying them into a “yes” vote, other council members on July 14 delayed a vote, saying they need more information.

County officials threatened to move government offices to Sycolin Road outside downtown Leesburg or to undeveloped property next to Metro’s planned Ashburn station, the last stop on the Silver Line. After several delays, the line’s arrival has been delayed to 2019. The Leesburg council could wait until late August for a final vote.

Loudoun County is struggling for its racial dignity after the recent disclosure that 42 slave graves in Lansdowne were destroyed in the late 1990s to build amenities for a community center, designed in the shape of a dairy barn, on the site of the old Coton plantation. Slaves powered Loudoun’s agrarian economy before the Civil War. Another slave burial ground, at the former Belmont plantation on the opposide side of Route 7 from Lansdowne, is unmarked but mostly intact, according to Loudoun historians.

On July 18, a small, mostly white crowd on the Loudoun Courthouse lawn protested the presence of a Civil War statue of a lone confederate soldier as five people displayed confederate flags at its base.  That display is silent about the history of slaves who were sold, and allegedly sometimes lynched, on the courthouse grounds in the 18th Century. The Loudoun NAACP has asked  the courthouse display be expanded to honor slaves and the Union soldiers who tried to free them.

Intermingled in the crowd were hopeful candidates for local office including Umstaddt, Board Chairman Scott York and two of his three challengers, Democrat Phyllis Randall and Republican Charlie King. Also present: Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring; Mike Turner, a Democrat running for Ashburn supervisor; Tom Marshall, running for Leesburg’s seat on the Loudoun School Board against incumbent Bill Fox;  incumbent Loudoun Sheriff Mike Chapman; and Leesburg town council members Kelly Burk and Marty Martinez.

Adding irony to Thomas’s comments about the disappearance of a slave cemetery in Lansdowne was the Leesburg council’s impending decision whether to raze historic buildings to build a new courthouse. A historic Episcopal cemetery that fronts on Church Street, adjacent to the proposed new courthouse, will remain intact.

A white cemetery on Church Street north of the proposed courthouse stays; four small historic buildings could be demolished to build a new courthouse.

A white cemetery on Church Street north of the proposed courthouse stays; four small historic buildings could be demolished to build a new courthouse.

Posted in All, BOS Chairman Scott York, Loudoun Circuit Court | Leave a comment

“I still think this is hilarious though, because you know, they did lose. They actually lost.”

Roland Martin, formerly a broadcast journalist for CNN, interviews several of the demonstrators holding Confederate flags on July 18.

Roland Martin, a broadcast journalist, interviews three of five demonstrators with Confederate flags on July 18.

You can videotape me, Dude. I’m already on television. So I’m good. I’m on television every day. Feel free to videotape me, but I’m already there. You can Google me. Want a name too?
— Roland Martin

Former CNN journalist Roland Martin, confederate sympathizers, and former sheriff candidate Ron Speakman argued the history of secession in front of a statue of a confederate soldier on the courthouse lawn in Leesburg on July 18.

http://www.loudountimes.com/news/article/roland_martin_confronts_confederate_statue_supporters_in_leesburg

Video by Anna Harris, Loudoun Times-Mirror.

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