Neighbors, Western Towns Warn Against Rural Water Plan

A proposal to create an exception to a long-standing rule prohibiting central water from the eastern side of the county into the western Rural Policy Area drew consternation from neighbors and the Coalition of Loudoun Towns during a Board of Supervisors Public Hearing on Thursday night.

It is targeted at a specific site along Evergreen Mills Road, currently farmland, where the county has 173 acres under contract to purchase for a new middle school, with a study period expiring Dec. 16 and closing planned in January. The school system envisions a large school complex there eventually, adding a high school, elementary school and, potentially, the county’s first indoor track facility. That impending deadline to close on the purchase has supervisors rushing to approve an amendment to the comprehensive plan which would allow central water and sewer service to publicly owned properties in the county’s western Rural Policy Area, but adjoining the central Transition Policy Area.

There is some limited central water and sewer service available in the Rural Policy Area already, where towns have extended their systems beyond their borders. But it would be the first time the county’s water and sewer utility, Loudoun Water, would be permitted to reach west into the county’s Rural Policy Area to serve new development. The last time that service area boundary was moved was in 2004, when supervisors voted to permit central water service in the Transition Policy Area which divides the Rural and Suburban Policy Areas; before that it was allowed only in the suburban policy area.

However, allowing water and sewer service has long been seen as a precursor to more intensive development, and prohibiting that service in most of the Rural Policy Area has been treated as a way to protect the rural west from development.

Evergreen Mills Road on that parcel represents the boundary in policy areas; houses across the street are in the Transition Policy Area and can be served by central water and sewer.

Like the Planning Commission, which voted 8-1 to recommend supervisors abandon the proposal, neighbors asked supervisors not to use the piecemeal process of creating an exception to longstanding policy, and instead amend the comprehensive plan to bring that area of land into the Transition Policy Area where water service is allowed.

The property is a section of the Rural Policy Area of is surrounded on three sides by Transition Policy Area, and which supervisors and planners considered moving into the transition area during their work on the new comprehensive plan last year. Supervisor Matthew F. Letourneau (R-Dulles) said the decision not to was “one of the most illogical decisions I think the board’s ever made.”

“We could have very carefully crafted it, but the board wanted to be able to say we weren’t going to put RPA into TPA, and that was really I think for political reasons,” Letourneau said. Now, he and other supervisors argued, the board should move ahead with the current proposal to avoid delaying the new school, but should also go back consider moving the property into the transition zone.

The Planning Commission, in voting against supervisors’ proposal, also asked the board to direct the commission to conduct a new review of land policies in that area—which could include recommending moving that land, denoted as the “Q1” area during the comprehensive plan talks, into the transition zone.

The property in question also surrounds Fleetwood Farm Winery on three sides. Winery owner Skip Edgemond told supervisors there is already a water tower nearby that the community cannot use.

“If we move forward with the water and sewer for the three schools, again, we will have another utility service in place but will not be able to access the water and the sewer,” Edgemond said. “…The planning commission just last month signaled to the board the denial vote for water and sewer to this property. They concluded there must be a better method or process to address the goals of allowing water and sewer to this area. Can the board consider a comprehensive plan amendment and finally place Q1 into the TPA?”

“Planning a middle school, elementary school, high school and 10 lighted ball fields and yet denying public utilities to the adjacent homes is not comprehensive planning, but spot planning,” said William Steedly, who lives nearby on Evergreen Mills Road. “… Stop this convenience planning and follow the planning commissions motion to deny this application and have them reevaluate comprehensively the Q1 area.”

And the Coalition of Loudoun Towns, representing the mayors of Loudoun’s seven towns, also registered its concerns with the process in a letter to supervisors.

“What is the difference if the result of public utilities to the school is the same?” the letter reads. “The difference lies within what precedents will be set by the choice of how to amend the CPAM [comprehensive plan amendment]. In the first case, changing the definition of the RPA would set an entirely new precedent in the Comp Plan and in Loudoun—saying that we will now accept the changing of the definitions and rules for the RPA. It matters not that this CPAM would be narrowly tailored around this school, because the [precedent] it sets is far more dangerous.”

Supervisors plan to vote on the proposal at their meeting Dec. 1.

“This whole process frustrates me,” said Supervisor Caleb A. Kershner (R-Catoctin). “It puts us in a very, very—puts me in a very difficult or perplexing position. This clearly has not been vetted enough. And yet we’re up against the deadline for a school that must be built.”

Supervisor Tony R. Buffington (R-Blue Ridge) has pushed against the proposal.

“I also agree with most of the comments we’ve heard that that was not the right way to do it,” Buffington said. “The right way to do it is to have that parcel be in the TPA, so we’re not furthering a precedent that we don’t want to further.”

One thought on “Neighbors, Western Towns Warn Against Rural Water Plan

  • 2020-11-13 at 4:18 pm

    Where utilities go, development follows. This sounds like the proverbial camel getting its nose under the tent.

    With thousands of students being withdrawn from LCPS, and LCPS’ student projections consistently overstating the student population, there is little urgency to push this forward anyway.

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