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Frederick County approves lawsuit against Stephens City

By Garren Shipley -- gshipley@nvdaily.com

WINCHESTER -- If there was any doubt as to Frederick County's intentions toward Stephens City, it was removed Wednesday night.

The Frederick County Board of Supervisors came out of a closed session and unanimously signed off on a lawsuit filed against the town over a land-use dispute.

Wednesday night's vote came a week after the Stephens City Town Council voted to give its attorney authority to sue the county.

Supervisors didn't comment Wednesday, but the vote came just days after the town's attorney said the suit he had been authorized to file involved violations of the state Freedom of Information Act.

That law requires that public business must be done by votes at meetings held in public.

The fight is over two developments sought by the Town Council.

As drawn, development of the Russell-Stephens property would bring 300 homes on 1/8-acre lots to 125 acres west of U.S. 11. Plans call for 135 town homes, and commercial and industrial space.

Development of a second parcel, known as the Davis property, would create an "active adult" development with about 60 homes and condominiums with commercial space to 26.6 acres, also west of U.S. 11.

County officials filed suit against the town in July, alleging that the town violated an agreement struck last year between the two over how much money developers would pay to offset the impact of their developments.

While the town would be responsible for providing some services to the new developments, the county would be on the hook for expensive services such as schools and fire.

Frederick's suit asks a judge to either force the county to comply with the proffer deal or pay $5 million.

The county and town have a long history of sparring over land-use issues.

The two bickered over a boundary adjustment for more than a decade, as the town sought to expand its largely built-out borders, and the county sought assurances that the town wouldn't allow rampant residential growth.

Rapid residential growth has been a major concern for the county during much of the past decade. In 2005, Frederick County saw building permits for $258 million in new housing.

The collapse of the housing market has significantly curtailed that growth -- the county posted only $57.3 million in residential building permits in 2008.

A brief détente was reached in 2004, when the two reached an agreement that allowed the town to expand somewhat, but only after the town threatened to annex lucrative commercial areas on the east side of Interstate 81 along Va. 277.

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