March 22, 2018
The following is reposted from “Lansdowne HOA Talk” group on Facebook. It has 1343 members. The board approved the NCC rezoning, from PDSA to PDOP and PD-4, by a party line vote of 6-3.
The Board of Supervisors will vote tonight on ZMAP-2016-0001, the rezoning proposed by the NCC to permit 74 age-restricted townhomes about 2200 square feet in size. There are at least 5 likely yes votes considering that Broad Run Supervisor Ron Meyer on Jan. 10, 2018, promised his support if the proposal reverted to smaller, age-restricted units that would not impact school enrollment. The issue of shared amenities is very much unresolved. What is the takeaway?
1. The public process of reviewing land use proposals is hopelessly broken. The public never knows the issues until the last few days because they do not see or read popsicle signs, they do not see certified mail left on their front door to notify them of public hearings because they come and go via the garage and never drive to the post office to pick them up, and they read newspapers online and do not ever see legal ads.
2. Ashburn Supervisor Ralph Buona and the Lansdowne on the Potomac HOA Board of directors, 5 men “elected” with a 10 percent quorum, appointed themselves as decision-makers. In two years, neither made any attempt to hold a town meeting with LOTP residents whose viewsheds will soon be destroyed by this development. Mr. Buona falsely represented the value of homes on Ridgeback Court. The applicant represented their meetings with Lansdowne Conservancy and LCPS as efforts to communicate with residents.
Only when Chair Phyllis Randall ordered a public meeting did one come about more than a month AFTER the only public hearing had been closed when no proffers were available to anyone. At that meeting, attendance was restricted by the HOA president standing at the door checking driver’s licenses to allow admittance.
Further, the HOA board’s illegitimate claim that they represent the LOTP body politic resulted in needless delay and expense to the applicant; first by recommending 4,000 square foot townhomes and agreeing to negotiate shared amenities, then by recommending that the 27 “west” townhouses be scuttled for reasons that appear influenced by self-serving concerns of the 5 board members. The time and expense this caused the NCC and LCPS staffs in addressing the cut-through road to Kipheart will be recovered only if this road resurfaces as a new proposal from the NCC for office park use of the surface parking lot on Kipheart. The NCC has shown no concern for LOTP residents and demonstrates slavish dedication to an opaque and incremental approach to monetizing their bargain-basement investment in a dated, obsolete property.
3. Let this be absolutely clear to Mr. Buona and the LOTP HOA Board: should they continue to negotiate a money deal to permit admission of NCC townhomes to LOTP’s indoor and outdoor pool and other EXPENSIVE amenities, there will be an intensive, thorough, and effective campaign to disempower all current HOA Board members in NOVEMBER 2018 (nine months from now) and Mr. Buona in NOVEMBER 2019. These men have always known that the idea of shared amenities is a non-starter. The idea was deleted from early proffers and reintroduced in a ham-handed attempt by Mr. Buona on Jan. 8 to throw it over the transom. A complicit HOA board then obediently passed a “resolution” in secret to present the illusion they had actually vetted the idea with residents. The LOTP Board and Mr. Buona have consistently exhibited cavalier disregard for the people who elect them and this will be returned to them in kind when they return to solicit our votes. We understand why the issue of amenities is of supreme important to the NCC. It will be difficult to sell townhouses that face a high school football stadium (with lights and very effective PA system) without having a swimming pool or some other means to attract buyers at a price that will meet the NCC’s appetite for return on investment.
4. The new residents of these 74 townhouse can enjoy full access to the wonderful amenities at the NCC including their fitness center, ballroom events, and bars. But there is not enough money to reimburse Landsowne on the Potomac residents for the hellish two years, and $2.3 million they were assessed, to make the indoor pool facility as attractive as it is today after it was originally constructed with no dehumidifier in the building. We share generously with LCPS to make the pool available to the Riverside swim team, affording to those students an advantage not available to other county residents.
We do not wish to share our pool, amphitheater, or other amenities with residents of these 74 townhouses and all the townhouses to come in the future as the NCC’s out of state owners try to recoup their $36 million investment in their 2014 short sale purchase of an aging and obsolete property. The NCC is a revered Loudoun institution and we deserve to know what the current owners plan to do with the massive buildings that are not in use. Note: we do understand that the Board of Supervisors does not determine the outcome of the shared amenities controversy.
5. A one-acre dog park will do nothing to address the canine population in LOTP. An ideal dog park sits ready for use next to the Potomac River at Elizabeth Mills Park and needs only a fence to make it useful to county residents and redeem the county’s investment in that property. Higher use might deter the ruffians who gather in the parking lot now and require police patrols. It is a former baseball field that would require only footing, mowing, and a fence. The county can issue dog tags to admit residents to use it for $50 a year to defray expenses. A one-acre park is in no way a suitable exchange for access to LOTP’s amenities and fails to offer any incentive for LOTP support. The other amenities mentioned in the NCC’s 16th and current proffer, a basketball court with one hoop and an amphitheater for 20 people are simply too absurd to mention. They show how confident the NCC’s attorneys are that the LOTP HOA board will deliver shared amenities.
And finally: Loudoun County needs a bottoms-up review of its land use proceedures to address the ineffectiveness of public hearings which require attendance at the government center at inconvenient times. Since changes to the signup system early this year, there is now an inevitable competition for limited speaking slots at business meetings, where supervisors are already overloaded with information and restless to vote. By then, their minds are made up and the deals are already cooked. These waste everyone’s time.
This is the 21st Century. Virtual public hearings with total transparency could be set up at the County web site in a week. The “LOLA” comments section is a joke. Popsicle signs, certified mail notices, and legal ads are laughable as a system of notification in the “wealthiest county in the nation” where “80% of the internet traffic passes through.”
This system excludes from citizens the edification provided by other citizens who have more time to research proposals. We do not have a staff that works at home, or the resources to engage six land use attorneys, planners, and engineers. We have one member of the Board of Supervisors to represent us and when that person is all in for the applicant, we are screwed from the beginning. Any effort we make is a waste of our time and their political capital as Mr. Buona will soon learn. Somehow this lesson has evaded him for the past six years.
The current system ensures 100% opacity that makes comments unavailable to the public only AFTER the FACT. This is why some supervisors will be leaving the board next year. If they operate on the belief that citizens will continue making personal sacrifices to attend public hearings where they are ridiculed and scorned — as Maria Gianferrari was in the closing moments of the Jan. 10, 2018 public hearing on this rezoning — they need to be schooled. They need to learn that having the highest median income in the nation does NOT mean voters are either rich or dumb. They may actually be heavily in personal debt, but they are savvy, they are resourceful, they are #motivated, and they will #voteyouout nextyear.
Thank you, Supervisors Meyer and Umstattd and Chair Randall, for your responsiveness. Thanks in part to the new policy which allows supervisors’ staffs to work from home, our attempts to reach other Supervisors were met time and again with voice mail and represent another critical loss of transparency.