Graydon Manor Stairwell

The grand stairwell at the run-down Graydon Manor, which used to be a group home and then mental health facility.

Graydon Manor boasts an impressive view of Loudoun County. The 20th-century manor house looks out over 131 acres of trees and hills and neighbors the Rust Nature Sanctuary. From a hilltop on the property, visitors can see all the way to the urban centers of Reston and Tysons Corner.

Property owner and developer David Gregory believes this view would be ideal for a destination winery, brewery and a co-housing development.

“No one’s built anything like this in Loudoun,” Gregory said. “I think people would love to live here.”

Loudoun County officials, however, have taken issue with Gregory’s application, leading Gregory to file four active lawsuits against the county. And now, Leesburg too is facing threatened litigation over town sewer service to the property.

While each side alleges the other is misreading the zoning ordinance, one thing is clear: The county and Gregory represent different sides of what it means to keep western Loudoun rural.

Gregory’s vision

As David Gregory drives his Lexus sedan over a field with a barely-marked trail of trampled grass, he remarks on the contrast between his co-housing vision and the isolated mansions at Shenstone Reserve next door.

“Done right, it’s a village,” Gregory said of the property just west of downtown Leesburg.

Inspired by neighborhoods in northern Europe, Graydon Manor as proposed would feature about 240 co-housing units at a variety of price points. While each home would have its own essential living space, other amenities – larger entertaining areas, a workshop, a gym and more – would be housed in central community buildings a short stroll away.

On the Leesburg side of the development would be fields for animals like goats and ducks; a 40,000-square-foot, high-end wine barn and vineyard; and a brewery and event space expanding off the historic house. Another smaller brewery and recreational area would sit next to the W&OD Trail along with a parking lot catering to people who want a base from which to walk or ride, according to plans.

Graydon Manor

A rendering of the brewery proposed for Graydon Manor, located just west of Leesburg.

Residents of the co-housing neighborhood would be invited to participate in some of the agricultural uses, but most would have day jobs, Gregory said. The property would maintain the use of its well water—Gregory calls the quality of the water “fantastic”—but needs Leesburg to provide sewer services.

The county’s perspective

According to site plan documents dating back to last year, Gregory and Loudoun County have disagreed over the county zoning ordinance’s definition of co-housing. According to the zoning ordinance, co-housing is a permitted use for the AR-1 zoning district where Graydon sits.

In comments from Zoning Administrator Mark Depo in July of this year, the county contends the co-housing neighborhood needs a subdivision application because the houses would actually be detached dwelling units on their own separate lots.

Gregory has countered that according to the zoning ordinance, co-housing does not require a separate subdivision application because it has a condominium-style ownership where residents own the building, not the lot.

In addition, he claims, the AR-1 uses lot coverage instead of house density. Lot coverage is the area of rooftop covering a property. According to the zoning ordinance, the lot coverage limit for residential units in AR-1 is 10 percent of the property. At a property size of 131 acres, Gregory’s co-housing development would fall within the limit.

Even so, Depo says co-housing must be, according to the zoning ordinance, “a residential arrangement on the site of an active agricultural, horticultural or animal husbandry operation,” with an agricultural use being a principal function of the property. While the majority of the property would go toward agriculture, the co-housing element would not be directly tied to agricultural use, the county claims.

Gregory counters that it's all merely semantics, alleging the county is “slow walking” his application while fast-tracking changes to the zoning ordinance that would rule out his development entirely.

“We are finding the county to be extremely creative in their obstructionary behavior,” Gregory said.

When the Times-Mirror asked the county the average length of time for approval of a site plan application similar to Graydon Manor, staff said that times vary.

Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Phyllis Randall (D-At Large) said that changing the zoning ordinance will be a major part of county business next year, though she denied that the county is specifically slow-walking Graydon Manor.

“Our zoning ordinance has not been updated in two decades,” Randall said. “[Applications] have taken more time than needed.”

Leesburg sewer

Leesburg rarely extends sewer to property outside town, especially property outside Leesburg’s Joint Land Management Area. In 1998, Leesburg Town Council voted not to extend sewer services beyond its western borders.

However, Graydon Manor is unique. In 1963, Leesburg extended sewer to the property when it housed a group home and school for children with epilepsy, and later, a mental health center that specialized in drug rehabilitation. Today all of the property’s buildings—about 20—have town sewer service.

In a report to Leesburg Town Council on Sept. 24, Director of Utilities Amy Wyks said that if the sewer pipes installed at Graydon channeled more than 765 gallons per day, it would require an extension from the town.

Gregory, however, alleges the 765 gallons figure is bogus, saying that the pipes channeled more than 13,000 gallons per day when Graydon was open as a mental health facility. He said the pipes are designed to handle tens of thousands of gallons. 

Gregory does not have an active application with Leesburg, though he sent a sewer capacity modeling request in late July. Leesburg returned his check a week later, claiming that they could not process it without “council approval of the extension of sewer to the parcel,” Wyks said.

Graydon Manor Water Tower

The old water tower at Graydon Manor.

Gregory has not filed a suit against Leesburg, but he says it isn’t out of the question.

“We are somewhat perplexed as to why the town is suing the county to acquire new customers in the JLMA while they’re trying to terminate a customer that has been with them for more than 50 years,” Gregory said, referring to the recent spat between Leesburg and Loudoun County over JLMA utilities.

Leesburg council members appear divided over the proposed development.

Councilwoman Suzanne Fox supports it. “The plans for Graydon would be a boon for the town economically,” she said. “Additionally, the revenue the town would stand to gain by offering increased sewer service would probably defray some of the loss that the town will most likely experience from losing the JLMA to Loudoun Water.”

Fox has received more than $23,000 from Gregory for her political campaigns, according to the Virginia Public Access Project. The Leesburg councilwoman is currently running for the state Senate's 33rd District seat.

Mayor Kelly Burk is uncertain how the development would affect Leesburg and Loudoun County.

“My concerns center around the fact that this is a Rural Policy Area, and we’ve been chipping away at it,” she said. “I think we need to honor the fact that this is zoned for rural activities and not housing.”

Graydon Manor

While lawsuits simmer and fingers point, Graydon Manor itself remains a grand, if dilapidated, rural Loudoun property. The clapboard water tower looks like a fairy-tale lighthouse, and the manor rests like a Southern estate at the end of a tree-lined drive.

As Gregory walks through the manor house, littered with construction equipment, he describes how attractive the property could be as an event venue: suites for bridal parties upstairs, an upscale bar for the brewery. He passes campaign signs for Fox and commonwealth's attorney candidate Nicole Wittmann (R) that lean against the walls. Gregory, however, has given more than $100,000 to candidates on both sides of the political aisle – including $2,000 to Randall and $20,000 to Del. John Bell (D-87th), who is running for the state Senate's 13th District seat.

Gregory says if his current plans don’t work, he might turn the property into a dog kennel, a project approved by the Board of Supervisors in 2018, or a skeet shooting range. But the co-housing project is his top choice.

“I would love to start construction tomorrow morning,” he said.

Gregory reaches the main staircase at the front of the house. The wood and wrought-iron railings seem to defy the decades, floating to the second floor without a missing rung. In spite of crumbling plaster and abused hardwood flooring, the building has the potential to be lovely once again.

Just what kind of place it becomes, though, is uncertain—as is the future of rural Loudoun.

Graydon Manor

A rendering of a renovated Graydon Manor, which includes housing, a winery, brewery and common areas.

(5) comments

BobOhneiserEsq

Sam, You make great points! I think the explanatory phrase you may be looking for is:



"Get while the Getting is good". The developer/real estate construction community in Loudoun has paid for its politicians (both my opponents) and they want to maximize their return on what they view as investments NOT DONATIONS! I'm glad you posted . a viewwhich hopefully will motivate western Loudoun, Blue Ridge, Lovettsville. Lucketts, Catoctin and whatever oth4er place folks think they live instead of seeing Loudoun as their home which is overtaxed, too much traffic, crowded schools unless the $4.4 billion in construction can be timely approved and county leaders that say . anything to get elected via party loyalist support yet most only represent their donors!


Loudoun Farmer

This property certainly has a lot of potential to be part of the rural economy. However looking at the plans that have been circulated, it looks like the parts of the property set aside for "ag" as usual are the soils that were not as easy to develop for residential, and not the actual areas suited to agriculture. There was an area noted on the map for "orchard" in a low lying area of wet soils...the exact opposite of where a farmer or ag professional would place it. It gives the impression that the agricultural uses are thrown in as window dressing to get the huge increase in residential density...and the ag uses are set up to fail because the ground they are given aren't suited to the type of ag thats being proposed. The other problem is that unless there is an actual farmer on site, and employed..simply just throwing some ag uses on a map won't make them happen. Farming requires a lot of knowledge, equipment, and experience and its not something that can just be drawn on a map and then have people "do it in their spare time." Changing the zoning also once again would give the impression that the rural areas of Loudoun are rural...only until someone comes along with enough cash or influence to make a better offer. I hope the Board of Supervisors hold firm on the underlying zoning as there are still a vast number of uses that could be undertaken on the property that meet the requirements of that current zoning...and don't give the impression our prime ag lands are just things to be bartered away.


BobOhneiserEsq

He self identifies as a developer. He wants to add many, many more housing units than even the new comprehensive plan allows for. He is also a multi-thousand dollar donor to Chair Randal. He wants his return on his investment. Are you one of the majority of people who chooses not to vote in local elections. Our community needs you to come out this year and stop this nonsense now before ALL OF Loudoun looks like eastern Loudoun, the traffic feels like Arlington, the taxes feels like NYC and the developers finally get to retire to Potomac next to Mr. Snyder. SHOW UP AND VOTE!


rational

We don't need another winery. Restore this beautiful place and leave it be.


Sam Kroiz

“Gregory describes how attractive the property could be as an event venue”. Yeah, that’s allowed in the Rural Area, so why doesn’t he just do that? So are the winery and brewery parts of the proposed project. And/or it could be a really great country inn. But the condominium part definitely does not belong in the Rural Area. I don’t get why he’s spending so much money on campaign donations and legal fees for 4 lawsuits instead of pursuing any or all of these reasonable, permitted, rural, and profitable uses for his property.


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