Supervisors Establish Protective Cemetery Buffers

Starting with the new year, historic burial grounds in Loudoun will have a buffer surrounding them to protect them from development.

Currently, the only rule on the books in Loudoun is a requirement in the Facilities Standards Manual that site plans include an archaeological study and that existing cemeteries be identified on site plans.

After repeated controversies around development encroaching on historic burial grounds, a number of county committees proposed new rules for protecting cemeteries for development. And in March of 2018, supervisors directed county staff members and committees to update a variety of standards for development around landscape buffers and screening. That also included around cemeteries, a hot topic in Loudoun as development has repeatedly brushed up against—or even bulldozed over—historic burial grounds.

Under the new rules, the perimeter of burial grounds established before Jan. 7, 2003 must be marked with a fence between three and four feet high. The rules will also create a two-layer, 50-foot buffer around them.

            The first part, a 25-foot protection buffer, will extend from the limits of the burial ground outward. No land-disturbing activity—excavating or building—will be permitted inside that buffer, except to install pedestrian access or clear invasive plant species, except species that were planted in association with the burials. The rules in a protection buffer can only be modified through a minor special exception, a legislative application to the Board of Supervisors that requires a public hearing.

The second step, the preservation buffer, reaches another 25 feet beyond the protection buffer. In that area, land disturbing is also not allowed, but it will be easier to get permission—it would be granted through an application to the zoning administrator, an administrative process that does not require going through the Board of Supervisors. If the administrator finds the buffer’s requirements are impractical or ineffective, and the property owner submits a proposal for a modification that meets the intent of the buffer, an exception may be granted.

            The new rules also grandfather in applications for development that are already in process, only taking effect with the new year.

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