Although the process of revising the county’s zoning ordinances to reflect the 2019 comprehensive plan has been underway for months, county supervisors hit an important milestone on Nov. 16 with a vote formally shaping the work going forward.
The legally required Resolution of Intent to Amend sets in stone the work that county planners and board-appointedZoning Ordinance Committee face in the months ahead, with an aim to adopt a new zoning ordinance in mid to late 2022. And much as the comprehensive plan was badly in need of an overhaul after nearly 20 years without one, Loudoun’s zoning ordinances, while getting updated piecemeal over time, are getting plenty of work, too.
The Zoning Ordinance Committee, which was created in in October 2020 to replace the Zoning Ordinance Action Group, has been meeting about twice monthly since its creation, offering feedback as county planners give Loudoun’s current zoning ordinance a first pass to recommend updates. The group has been steadily making its way through that hefty document, most recently discussing zoning for the county’s suburban policy area zoning and new urban policy area zoning, then launching into the transition and rural areas, including things like the Joint Land Management Areas where the county cooperates with town governments, and the Village Conservation Overlay District that helps protect parts of Loudoun’s historic villages.
The committee tentatively plans to wrap up this phase of work in February, launching a series of open houses for the public to look over and offer comment on the work so far in early 2022. And from there, a new, staff-recommended ordinance goes to the Planning Commission.
The changes being proposed for the ordinance reflect not only the vision of the comprehensive plan, but also new market realities and technologies.
“Our primary objective with the Zoning Ordinance Rewrite is to align with the comprehensive plan,” said Director of Planning and Zoning Alaina Ray. “There are some other objectives that came with the introduction of the project plan for the Zoning Ordinance Rewrite, such as to simplify and streamline processes, bring it into conformance with modern day market language, things like that.”
But the county will have to move ahead without Ray, who finished out the comprehensive plan project after the departure of the department’s previous director in 2018. She recently handed in her resignation, effective Dec. 3. The county has not yet made an announcement about who will fill her role until a new director is hired.
For example, county planners are hashing out new language to govern solar panels as they spring up in Loudoun County, particularly in rural areas. During a Nov. 16 board meeting, Supervisor Kristen C. Umstattd (D-Leesburg) asked about new regulations governing commercial solar panel arrays—which would be prohibited in western Loudoun—compared to private solar panels that would power buildings on the same property. Umstattd wondered if clustered developments would be permitted to also share a solar array, akin to a community well.
Ray said those are just the kinds of things planners are looking at.
“I do think that we are being very careful about the larger commercial solar arrays in places like the Rural Policy Area because of the implications that that has,” Ray said. “If you generate a lot of power, you’ve got to have a way to move that power, and we certainly don’t want to do anything that would encourage transmission lines in places that we don’t want them.”
Some of the work is simply streamlining and making more readable the county’s dense zoning documents. That includes work like reorganizing the document, or combining similar zoning districts with perplexing names like PD-OP, PD-IP, PD-RDP and CLI (Planned Development-Office Park, Planned Development-Industrial Park, Planned Development-Research and Development Park, and Commercial Light Industrial, respectively) and giving them simpler names, like Suburban Employment, or SE.
And while the 2019 comprehensive plan introduces broad concepts such as the new Urban Policy Area, the new zoning ordinance will make those real with specific rules—such as with another first, parking maximums. Ray said specific ordinances on required parking for every defined use in the zoning ordinance, along with caps on the amount of parking in some areas, could reduce the urban heat islands caused by acres of asphalt, reduce the tendency of development to spread out, and incentivize more reliance on mass transit rather than individually owned vehicles.
For example, the required parking for an office park in the county’s Urban Planning Area could be less than for a similarly sized office park in the Suburban Area. Other new standards could require a certain amount of parking for bicycles, or with charging stations for electric vehicles.
That struck supervisors, who are used to hearing complaints about a lack of parking, as odd.
“The parking problems that I wanted to work on are the opposite. It’s that we’re under-parked consistently throughout our multifamily complexes,” said Supervisor Matthew F. Letourneau (R-Dulles).
Meanwhile, some changes to zoning ordinances have been taken out of the larger Zoning Ordinance rewrite and are running parallel to that work, aiming to expedite both.
“There are also certain topics that could be discussed with the zoning ordinance that are extremely controversial, and the breweries [in western Loudoun] is one of them, that might be better handled outside of the Zoning Ordinance Rewrite,” Ray said. “And this board made that decision with the clustered subdivision prime ag soils [zoning ordinance amendment], and also with the shooting range [zoning ordinance amendment], to hold those items separately so they did not delay the adoption of the Zoning Ordinance Rewrite.”
A major example: the county’s project to encourage more attainable and affordable housing, work stretches not only into zoning but also budgeting as supervisors consider dedicating a portion of local tax revenues into helping fund that housing.
“There has to be balance everywhere, not just in western Loudoun County. Wherever you live in Loudoun County, there should be some sort of balance there between the commercial industry, the residential industry or the residential homes, people who live here, work here and play here,” said Supervisor Tony R. Buffington. “We have to live here together, and one side shouldn’t be forcing the other side to move, one side shouldn’t be forcing the other side to close their business.”
The Zoning Ordinance Committee’s meeting materials are recordings of its meetings are online at loudoun.gov/zoningordinancecommittee.