Residents, Builders, Planners Split Over Comp Plan

An area that takes up about 7 percent of the county’s land was once again the focus of the majority of the debate around the latest draft of Loudoun’s new comprehensive plan during a public hearing Wednesday night.

Loudouners got another chance to tell county planners what they think about work on the new plan, and once again the debate focused heavily on the future of the Transition Policy Area. It has served as a buffer between the county’s rural and suburban areas since its creation in 2001, and the Planning Commission’s work on the plan calls for expanding part of the transition area westward and allowing more residential and even light industrial development in the zone.

That proposal has faced sustained opposition from conservation groups, rural interests, and the leaders of Loudoun’s town governments.

“The citizens of Loudoun have demanded limited, managed growth focused on the Metro centers,” said former planning commissioner Al Van Huyck, who was also a member of the committee that helped write the first draft of the new plan and a co-founder of the Loudoun County Preservation and Conservation Coalition.

The members of the Coalition of Loudoun Towns, representing Loudoun’s seven incorporated towns, have also expressed strong concerns. Hillsboro Mayor Roger Vance said the proposed changes to the transition are “an affront to the original intent of the Rural Policy Area, and threaten the west.”

“Growth in Loudoun County is inevitable,” Vance said. “But what is not inevitable is that it must come at the expense of the open spaces, of the Transition Policy Area, or the land that fosters a robust agricultural and tourism economy that serves all Loudoun County.

Middleburg Mayor Bridge Littleton said the plan’s allowance of increased residential development will put a heavier strain on the county finances through the need for more roads and schools.

“Residential development is the number one county cost driver, not revenue driver … This plan will be looked at by the bond agencies and affect the county’s credit,” Littleton said.

After voicing their concerns to the Planning Commission during a meeting in September—and being challenged the provide an alternative to meet growing housing demand—the Coalition of Loudoun Towns this week sent the Planning Commission a letter proposing alternatives for development and infill based on work by the Berkley Group, a consulting firm for local governments.

During Wednesday’s hearing, planning commissioners also heard protest from groups like the Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy, the Loudoun County Equine Alliance, and the Piedmont Environmental Council.

However, some residents and one organization in particular—the Northern Virginia Building Industry Association—seemed happy with the latest draft of the comprehensive plan.

“We just want to thank you for your work on the 2040 Comprehensive Plan,” said NVBIA Director of Government Affairs Steven Marku. “We’re glad to see the attention you paid to housing affordability, which is a real crisis in our region.”

Likewise, representatives from the Loudoun County Chamber of Commerce and the Dulles Area Association of Realtors argued allowing more development in the transition area was necessary to help Loudoun tackle its affordable housing problem. Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Tony Howard said the county is “quite capable” of adding new housing in the transition area while simultaneously protecting the rural west.

Commissioners said they heard a lot of ideas at the public hearing, and have a lot of work left to do.

“The information in the draft is just that—it’s a draft, it’s going change,” said Commissioner Jeff Salmon (Dulles), who also served on the committee that helped write the first draft of the plan. But he said “the demand is there” for housing, and if Loudoun doesn’t address it through the transition policy area, the county could face even higher housing costs.

“The line is drawn at the Rural Policy Area,” Salmon said. “The demand is coming. Burying your head in the sand won’t change that.”

Likewise, commission Chairman Cliff Keirce (Broad Run) said increased building in the Transition Policy Area is the county’s only option.

“Not planning for more houses is the worst thing you can do for that transition policy area,” Keirce said.

When the county’s current general plan was updated in 2001, it created the Transition Policy Area to serve as “a separation between the suburban and rural policy.” It has become a defining feature of Loudoun’s land use planning. It comprises a bit less than 7 percent of the county’s area, and its western edge is the “Urban Growth Boundary,” beyond which centralized water and sewer service are not allowed except in or around towns, which have their own comprehensive plans.

The planning commission has scheduled a day-long work session on the comprehensive plan for Saturday.

4 thoughts on “Residents, Builders, Planners Split Over Comp Plan

  • 2018-11-08 at 4:30 pm

    “Residential development is the number one county cost driver”

    let’s say it again

    “Residential development is the number one county cost driver”

    Additional houses benefit NOONE who lives in the County. All our problems are the result of too many homes too quickly.

    Once gain, the taxpayer is going to get stuck with the bill (additional bonds, property taxes) while developers reap windfall profits.

    The Draft Plan needs to be issue #1 in the Nov ’19 BoS election.

    PS It would be nice if, when a planning commissioner is mentioned, the corresponding BoS member that appointed him/her was also mentioned so we can see the connection.

  • 2018-11-08 at 11:08 pm

    I read this story once and then again….and the takeaway is that somehow just because there is a “demand” for housing that the county should provide for it. What happened to protecting those who live here? Since when should government support “demand” that is created by the greedy developers who only want to make more money at our expense? Go out West sometime and just look at what they do. Portland Oregon for example has an Urban Growth Boundary that is impenetrable…there is a line around the city that marks where development can take place and where it cannot. They revere their open lands and their government will not bow to or cater to developers. Why can’t that mentality be used in Virginia? Not everyone has to live in Loudoun, there are other places to live. To the Bos, grow a set and tell the developers where to get off. If not, we have an election day coming and we will take care of it that way.

  • 2018-11-10 at 8:00 am

    It’s pretty rich for Jeff Salmon to state this is just a draft when his record shows he does not care one bit about conserving the transition area.

    I was at the public hearing of the planning commission when it was decided to grant an exception to the transition area policy and push the datacenter along Sycolin to the BOS for approval, smack in the middle of the transition area, and bordering Goose Creek, a state scenic river.

    Jeff Salmon then, right before the vote, said “hey when you cast your vote, keep in mind Envision Loudoun is looking at turning this whole area into light industrial”. And then he promptly voted to allow the application to move forward.

    So much for “drafts”. Back then it wasn’t even at the draft stage.

    Now we’re going to be stuck with an eyesore that doesn’t even have to comply with the proposed new “transition light industrial” area that would have required it be screened from view.

    Jeff Salmon’s latest statement about pushing higher density housing in the transition policy area being inevitable, despite what the people of Loudoun County are asking for confirms his loyalty is to developers.

    Yes, there is demand for more housing. And the transition area could handle more with the current plan, but it is not getting developed much, because most of the entities that own a sizable tract of land there are just sitting on it, waiting for people like Jeff Salmon to gut the comprehensive plan and allow more lucrative developments than what the current zoning allows for.

  • 2018-11-11 at 7:08 am

    Interesting comment from Mr. Mach. You might remember another comment he made in a letter to the editor to Loudoun Now: “Forbidding shooting in the Transition Policy Area will essentially put an end to hunting, resulting in the explosion of the white-tailed deer population. This is not an urban area that pushes deer away. Most of the transition area is zoned TR-3 or TR-10, meaning one dwelling unit per 3 to 10 acres of land. This leaves thousands upon thousands of acres of meadows and woods for deer to thrive.” Why was this comment made by Mr. Mach? Because two houses in Loudoun County were shot up by people shooting on their property earlier this year, which has been followed by about four more incidents like that. It appears that Mr. Mach is not interested in development problems for the impact it has on traffic, schools and taxes. Is it perhaps that Mr. Mach is actually advocating for people who don’t care a darn about the lives and property they are endangering, in the pursuit of their claimed god given right to shoot anything that moves, or not, in the case of a house, when ever they want? Is Mr. Mach’s comments nothing more than to advocate for something that would allow him to go out and shoot up the area to his heart’s content. Nothing like hobby over public safety.

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