BLA Eccentric Article
Annexation Disinformation: Correcting the Record
(As published in the August 25, 2022 edition of the Middleburg Eccentric)
By: Mayor Bridge Littleton, Vice-Mayor Peter Leonard-Morgan and Council Members Cindy Pearson, Darlene Kirk, Kevin Daly, Philip Miller, Bud Jacobs, and Chris Bernard
The mayor and Town Council would like to thank all the members of the public who attended the public information session in April and have provided thoughtful, meaningful, and valuable input on the two annexation concepts. Through the website we created for public input, and the mail in form we sent to every citizen, we have received nearly 200 unique sets of comments. Regardless of feedback, the vast majority of those who have engaged have done so respectfully and diligently, arguing either the merits or the concerns with each concept. We very much appreciate your efforts.
Unfortunately, not all the feedback has been respectful. A very small cohort have been waging a disinformation campaign against the town, the mayor and entire Council. This campaign has knowingly misled the public, spread falsehoods and untruths regarding the annexation concepts, the actions of Council, the mayor, and the Town government. It is disheartening these divisive tactics, so prevalent in today’s politics, have made their way to our community. These pernicious assaults have stirred animosity and angst amongst the citizenry and distracted from a sincere discussion on the pros and cons of these 2 annexation concepts. The Town Council has written this article to unequivocally set the record straight, not with opinion, gossip, propaganda, or hyperbole, but with the truth and the facts.
Our goal from the outset has been to provide the public with the most accurate information possible. Frankly, that is why we made the conscientious effort to make this process a public one from the earliest opportunity. We must now set the record straight.
We have diligently reviewed all the information at www.preservemiddleburg.com as well as their various articles and letters to the press. We have fact checked every assertion, claim, and derogatory statement. We have identified nearly 2 dozen blatant false hoods, fabrications, and distortions to say nothing of the underlying disparaging insinuations against the mayor and Council. While the full magnitude of untruths and distortions is too long to provide here, we have created a fully documented section on our Town website citing the untruthful information and its source, the correct information and the explicit documentary proof supporting the truth – this can all be found at www.middleburgva.gov/blafacts. We encourage you to see it for yourself.
Below are five examples of the egregious disinformation currently being pushed. We are providing the falsehood, the accurate facts and a link to the source information for both.
False Statement #1: The Middleburg Taxpayers will pay $250,000 for the Hill School Sewer Hookups when the properties are annexed into the town.
The false claim in the Middleburg Eccentric July 28, 2022 edition, and on www.preservemiddleburg.com: “And it has estimated that the completion of that one project alone will cost the Middleburg taxpayers almost $250,000.”
Fact: In none of the FOIA documents on www.preservemiddleburg.com or in any other town document, statement or item anywhere is there the statement, assertion, or fact that the town taxpayers will pay for any of the $250,000 of potential costs for sewer hookups at the Hill School properties should it move forward. There is one simple reason why – it is against the law. Town Code Chapter 83.1, Section 83.1-5 B. clearly states that “All costs and expenses incidental to the installation and connection of the sewer lateral shall be borne by the owner.” (Link to town code: bit.ly/3PCCOVd)
Additionally, Article 7 of the Subdivision and Site Plan Ordinance (opening sentence) states that “All required improvements shall be installed by the subdivider or developer at his cost.” (Link to town code: bit.ly/3T3L1EV)
We are at a loss as to how anyone could make the claim that the town taxpayer will bear the $250,000 of costs for the sewer connections, should the properties be annexed, when this is barred by 2 sections of the Town code, available for all to see.
False Statement #2: Hill School Annexation Proposal was Secret and Withheld from Public View
The false claim in the Middleburg Eccentric July 28, 2022 edition and on www.preservemiddleburg.com: “We also learned in our FOIA that there are two additional proposals that have been withheld from public disclosure….The other project withheld from public view is to annex six plats along Landmark School road. Despite the property’s adjacency to the Hill School, this proposal was left out of the mayor’s public input presentation.”
Fact: This potential annexation was discussed and briefed in detail and at length during multiple open and public Council meetings. On May 14, 2020, the Head of Hill School, Mr. Treavor Lord, gave a public presentation on their desire and reasoning to annex into the Town of Middleburg. The Town Council invited Mr. Lord back to the public Council meeting on June 11, 2020 for further discussion, in public. This meeting also covered the topic of our desire to connect these homes to the town’s sewer system to protect our sources of water which are downhill from these property’s septic drain fields. We also discussed the benefits of cost sharing the feasibility study as we also wanted to know if annexed would this protect our source water.
Had these critics simply reviewed the prior Town agendas, watched the recorded meetings, read the full transcripts (all of which are available online at the links below) or just asked the Town, they would have seen these facts and perhaps avoided making the false statements that the Hill School annexation request had been discussed “in secret” and “hidden from the public”. This certainly would have saved a great deal of public, school, and town anxiety. These links will take you to the meeting video, agenda and the transcripts of Mr. Lord’s presentation, and the Council’s discussions at the multiple meetings.
Links to May 14, 2020: Treavor Lord presentation of annexation request
Video of meeting and agenda link: www.bit.ly/3c82nQq
Minutes and Transcript of Meeting link: www.bit.ly/3c7OnpO
Links to June 11, 2020: Treavor Lord follow up information and Council discussion
Video of meeting and agenda link: www.bit.ly/3PyEAa0
Minutes and Transcript of Meeting link: www.bit.ly/3pEJ0Bu
Link to the January 14, 2021 Council meeting public Staff Report on Hill School Annexation Update Report from Deputy Town Manager Will Moore link: www.bit.ly/3A8M9P7
False Statement #3: The mayor used “executive privilege” to hide emails and text messages with developers from the Public
The false claim in the Middleburg Eccentric July 28, 2022 edition, and at https://www.preservemiddleburg.com/news/foia states: “…Littleton withheld seven of his emails and four texts with developers related to these annexation projects, citing executive privilege over the release. According to the Town Clerk the four texts are related to an as yet unknown fifth annexation project. In his communication with the Town Attorney the mayor cited “potential litigation” related to the release of his messages.”
Here they falsely claim the emails/texts were with developers, but we must ask, how can they know who the emails were with if they have never seen them in the first place?
Fact: Under the Virginia Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) (https://law.lis.virginia.gov/vacodepopularnames/virginia-freedom-of-information-act/) the communications of certain officials, including those of any Virginia mayor, are exempt from FOIA. Regardless, the mayor disclosed every communication with the exception of the 11 texts/emails mentioned, but not for the reasons asserted, as the requestors were told at the outset why they were being withheld. These break down into two categories and we will address both separately
For complete accuracy we quote from the Town Clerk in her written response to the requestor of June 23, 2022 regarding the withholding of 4 texts; “4 texts – Va. Code section 2.2-3705.7(2) – Mayor’s Correspondence (Note: These documents are not related to the two-boundary line adjustment request currently before the Council but rather are related on a previous one that did not move forward)”. Yet this statement was twisted too “an as yet unknown fifth annexation project” creating the implication there was another annexation proposal currently in the winds. The reality is this: The 4 texts’ withheld were the mayor’s direct communications with Chuck and Stacy Kuhn. During the April information session, the mayor committed to reaching out to potential conservation easement proponents to explore whether a pure conservation solution could be possible. The mayor followed through on that commitment in early May when he got in touch with them. The Kuhns were very interested in helping and met with the mayor at the Town office in mid-May for several hours, reviewing the Homewood Farm concepts to understand if a conservation approach was feasible. After reviewing all the details with the mayor, the Kuhns agreed to make an offer to buy the property at current market value and to then move toward a conservation easement solution, as they have recently been done with Wolver Hill Farm and many other properties in Loudoun. The mayor passed the offer onto the owners who declined at this time, but Chuck and Stacy Kuhn are ready to re-engage should there be interest. The mayor’s decision to hold back these communications was to protect the Kuhns from attacks and potential harassment much like the Council is now dealing with. Because of this disinformation campaign the mayor recently spoke with the Kuhns and they were more than happy for this information to be made public to set the record straight. We truly appreciate their efforts, and all they do for Western Loudoun, they exemplify what it means to be true community leaders.
Second, again directly quoting the Town Clerk: “7 emails – Va. Code Section 2.2-3705.1(2) – Written advice of legal counsel to public bodies or the officers or employees of such public bodies.” These emails are attorney/client privileged communications (these were NOT withheld under the previous exemption as cited), hence the 2 different code references. BLA/Annexations are judicial proceedings heard by a Judge, not a land planning/zoning process, and thus judicial actions with a judge are litigation. The “litigation” referred to is this legal process and nothing else. There is no mention in any document to any lawsuits by or against the Town with respect of the BLA/annexation and the implications of such b the critics is unsubstantiated conjecture.
False Statement #4: The Homewood Farms proposal is to annex 212 acres into the Town.
The false claim on the site www.preservemiddleburg.com (https://www.preservemiddleburg.com/projects/farm-condominiums), it states that the town will “annex 212 acres at Homewood Farm across from Salamander Resort on the North end of Town to build retail and condominiums”.
Facts: The Homewood Farms concept does not call for the annexation of 212 acres of land into the Town of Middleburg. It calls for the annexation of 22 acres of land into the Town, with the remaining 190 being placed in permanent open space conservation easement and remaining in Loudoun County. This fact was presented at the April information session and can be seen in this detailed map that has been on the town website since April 2022. Link here: www.bit.ly/3wfDPvN) – the areas in blue are the proposed annexation parcels, and the areas in bright green at the areas committed to being put into open space conservation easement in Loudoun County. This map and other information were mailed to every resident in Middleburg in June of 2022.
False Statement #5: The Town Planning Commission should have performed a review of BLA/Annexation applications
On www.preservemiddleburg.com, a post dated 8/18/2022 asserts that the Town Planning Commission should have first reviewed any BLA/Annexation applications.
Fact: Under Virginia Law, a BLA/Annexation process is a judicial process, and not one involving zoning ordinances or building requirements. Because of this, no Planning Commission has authority or purview over them. Once a parcel of land is brought into a municipality, then its Planning Commission assumes oversight for all land use thereafter. This has been the case with every BLA/Annexation the Town has ever had in the past, as well as every local government in the Commonwealth of Virginia.
We have provided here just 5 of the numerous falsehoods on www.preservemiddleburg.com and in the various articles and letters to the editor, but please remember this is not the exhaustive list. All of the true facts on these and many more are available at www.middleburgva.gov/blafacts.
We live in a world where people make baseless claims and accusations expecting everyone to take them as fact. It is unfortunate that this reality has found its way to Middleburg. The town and the Council's commitment has always been one of transparency and the desire for public input and feedback. When you examine the extent to which the town has gone to engage the public in an open and transparent process it is clear the Town has done everything possible to be forthright and above all, truthful.
The town is currently in the final stages of getting the reports from our two studies and the public comments. As we committed in April, we will have one final public information session to review this with the public, at that time it will be up to the landowners if they wish to apply. The review will include full reports and complete public comments. Should you have any questions regarding the information provided here or on the town website we encourage you to email, call, or just come by and speak with us.