Guiding Loudoun’s Future: Plans to update county comprehensive plan moving ahead

The Loudoun County Board of Supervisors is getting ready to take on a project that is even bigger than its annual budget.

The comprehensive plan will take two years to finish and is meant to guide the county’s development over the next 20 to 30 years.

It consists of the General Plan, last revised in 2001, and the Countywide Transportation Plan, which was updated in 2010, and a number of strategic plans on specific topics and areas, such as the Bicycle and Pedestrian Mobility Master Plan, the Heritage Preservation Plan, and the Arcola Area/Rt. 50 Corridor Plan.

“There are simply places in our comprehensive plan that are 20th century plans,” Supervisor Ron A. Meyer Jr. (R-Broad Run) said. The current comprehensive plan was adopted in 2001 and since then, the county has seen economic boom and bust and has nearly doubled in population. The Board of Supervisors has approved 26 amendments to the comprehensive plan since it was adopted.


Protecting the West

“There was a lot of emphasis on the comprehensive plan 15 years ago for, I would say, the western part of the county,” said Supervisor Suzanne Volpe (R-Algonkian). Volpe chairs the board’s Transportation and Land Use Committee, which will make recommendations to the board as the comprehensive plan review goes on.

Western Loudoun supervisors agreed. Supervisor Geary M. Higgins (R-Catoctin) said he doesn’t see much need for comprehensive plan revisions in his district.

“The emphasis needs to be on Metro stops and that area in the east where things have changed substantially,” Higgins said.

“While this comprehensive plan is desperately needed, and it’s something that I ran on, it scares the hell out of me at the same time, because western Loudoun was protected several years ago through the rural and transition policy areas,” said Higgins’ western colleague Supervisor Tony R. Buffington (R-Blue Ridge). Buffington said he had been reassured in discussions with staff and other supervisors, and said he would be “greatly opposed” to moving the boundary of the Transition Policy Area westward.

The Transition Policy Area, as the name suggests, is meant to provide a transition or buffer between suburban areas in the eastern part of the county and rural areas in the west. It runs generally south of Leesburg, and then east along the southern border of the county. Buffington said parts of it need to be updated to reflect what’s actually on the ground as development has grown.

“There are some areas in the Transition Policy Area that are Transition Policy Area in name only,” Buffington said.

A New Plan for the New Plan

The board has directed the county staff and the Transportation and Land Use Committee to develop methodology to revise the plan. The New Comprehensive Plan Charter, which the committee will consider on March 11, proposes that the county tackle the comprehensive plan differently than it has in the past.

Historically, the lion’s share of comprehensive plan work has fallen to the Planning Commission. This year, the county staff is recommending a 26-member Stakeholder Steering Committee to take on some of that work.

The committee would include two planning commissioners to serve as chair and vice chair, one constituent appointed by each supervisor, and 14 or 15 members representing specific interests, such as from the Chamber of Commerce, the Dulles Area Association of Realtors, the Loudoun Water Board, Visit Loudoun, and the Washington Airports Taskforce.

Other staff resources, such as representatives of Loudoun Water and Dominion Power, would be included in a Staff Technical Advisory Committee.

Barker said the process would focus heavily on community involvement, through both the Stakeholder Steering Committee and the public meetings.

Paying for the Plan

The Planning and Zoning Department has asked for $1 million in the next fiscal year for work on the comprehensive plan. According to Planning and Zoning Director Ricky Barker, county staff also expect to ask for $650,000 more in the FY18 budget to finish the job. Barker said that funding will be used for consulting services and public outreach.

“For a major effort like this, our staff is not staffed up to that level,” Barker told the Board of Supervisors. “We do feel like our staff will handle a majority of the effort and time related to this project, however we do feel strongly that consultant services are necessary.”

The board, facing a tough budget year, has not yet decided on the department’s request. They have asked Barker to come back to the March 17 board meeting with more details on the scope of the revisions.

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