School Board moves forward in condemning land for acquisition
In a 6-3 vote, the board elected June 25 to take the property, located on Belmont Ridge Road near Croson Lane, to build ES-27, an elementary school to serve Ashburn and Brambleton residents. The property is owned by Edwin Lim, a pastor in Fairfax, Sarah Lim and trustees of the Sung Chun Park and Chun Hwa Park Living Trust.
Negotiations between the two parties have been difficult. According to Michael Coughlin, an attorney with Walsh Colucci Lubeley Emrich and Walsh who is representing the landowners, the property owners currently have an offer of $4.5 million, though he would not disclose who made the offer. The School Board has offered $1.5 million and the county assessor has valued the land and the single-family home on the property at $2.18 million. The Lims and Park trustees made a counteroffer of $3.75 million to the School Board.
“The action we would request is deferral of the buying certificate and giving the parties enough time to reach an agreement,” Coughlin said to the School Board during Tuesday's public hearing.
Stephen DeVita, counsel for Loudoun County, told the School Board that voting to condemn the property (or begin the process of eminent domain) doesn't preclude the parties from engaging in further negotiations.
“This is planned to be a slow take,” DeVita said. “There isn't going to be any immediate taking of property. These issues will continue to be negotiated.”
DeVita also noted that he hasn't seen written proof of another offer on the property yet but will continue to work with the Lims and Parks and their counsel.
The property has most recently been used as a site to dump construction waste and part of the area is wetland, which can't be used.
The area is currently zoned for one-acre lots but is by-right for schools, meaning no special exception would be needed to put a school there.
Debbie Rose (Algonkian), Jill Turgeon (Blue Ridge) and Bill Fox (Leesburg) were the dissenting votes on the measure.
“I am fundamentally opposed to the use of eminent domain,” Rose said. “Difficult negotiations don't ever equate to just taking property away.”
Rose noted that she only supports eminent domain in cases of public safety.
“This is never going to be the case here,” Rose said. “It isn't urgent and we need to engage in negotiations, whether its difficult or not.”
Turgeon and Fox both stated they would have liked to delay the vote until further hearing about the other offer.
But in acknowledging his support for the measure, Jeff Morse (Dulles) said the School Board still plans on engaging in negotiations.
“We're not pushing someone out of their house,” Morse said. “We've established the land is for sale and now we're just trying to figure out whether the cost is reasonable.”
Thomas Reed (At-large) and Jennifer Bergel (Catoctin) said the School Board has worked for two years to secure this property.
But D. Winston Park and his sister Sohyun said the school system didn't communicate as much as they said they wanted to buy the property and left the family waiting. During the waiting period, her father's health deteriorated from cancer and he died in April.
“They just had us wait. There was no two-way conversation,” Sohyun Park said. “It's not entirely accurate to say it's been two years.”
Her brother agreed.
“They've frustrated our purpose. If at all possible, we'd like to see to the public good,” D. Winston Park said. “Being misled has not helped.”
Coughlin said that while the situation is not ideal, he plans on continuing to work with the School Board.
“We would have appreciated more time to consumate negotiations,” Coughlin said. “But we remain optimistic.”