Loudoun Supervisors Look Ahead to Land, Zoning Decisions for Remaining Term

County planners have their work cut out for the rest of the current Board of Supervisor’s term—and beyond.

Loudoun supervisors have directed the county’s professional land use planners to do a variety of jobs beyond the ongoing rewrite of the county’s zoning ordinance, ranging from assessing the fees the county charges developers for traffic impact studies, to revisiting airport noise zones, plans for work along Rt. 15, new regulations on solar arrays, and designing new historic exhibits for the courthouse green. On May 3, county staff members gave supervisors their approximate timeline for getting all of those various jobs done—and advised supervisors that their plates are full.

County Administrator Tim Hemstreet said the Department of Planning and Zoning’s work plan has arrived at “a critical point” in the current Board of Supervisors’ term, which runs from January 2020 to December 2023 with supervisors facing election in November 2023. He said at this point, “the staff is at maximum capacity.”

“This is the priority that the board has given to us previously for these things, that our understanding as staff is what is important to you to complete before the end of your term,” Hemstreet said. “What that means by definition is, we’re really not in a position at this point in the term to take really any additional Board Member Initiatives or accept any additional changes of significance.”

Limited government staffing resources have been a theme in Loudoun County, where government has not kept up with the growth in population and the county has sometimes relied on more-costly consultants to fill gaps in staffing. The Board of Supervisors over this and the previous term have sought to grow staffing numbers and compensation to grapple with the county administration’s workload.

Already supervisors are worried that a big part of the plan—the ongoing work to rewrite the county zoning ordinance to reflect the 2019 comprehensive plan—will fall behind. Currently, the plan is for the new zoning ordinance to come to the Board of Supervisors in November, and the Planning Commission which will see it first hasn’t yet begun work on the ordinance. County Chair Phyllis J. Randall (D-At Large) recalled the much-delayed Envision Loudoun project to write the new comprehensive plan, which was originally scheduled to take 18 months and ended up lasting almost three years. And when supervisors passed the new plan in June 2019, analysis of its impacts hadn’t been completed.

“I would be shocked and pleased if the Planning Commission actually had the zoning ordinance rewrite for three months,” she said. “We said that about the comprehensive plan, and 12 months later we got it back.”

Supervisor Tony R. Buffington (R-Blue Ridge) pushed to get new solar array regulations higher on the list. He said with its current spot last on the list, “I’m not even sure this is something we are going to actually accomplish during our term.”

He proposed swapping that work with a project higher on the list, considering bringing the Red Hill Community near Brambleton from the county’s Rural Policy Area into the Transition Policy Area between the rural and suburban areas. Members of that neighborhood, which has seen development close by, have asked supervisors to do that. That project is tentatively expected to come to the board for the first time at their May 17 meeting and wrap up in February.

But Buffington said the new regulations on solar arrays are more urgent and affect more people.

“Large landowners are actively being lobbied and contacted by the solar array industry right now, who want to build basically solar farms on their parcels, and I think this is something that is definitely—in my opinion at least, and as the opinion of the farmers and the large landowners that I’ve heard from in western loco … this is more important than this Red Hill issue.”

Randall pointed out the board has heard consistently from Red Hill residents during work to revise the comprehensive plan, including one who still comes to the Board of Supervisors regularly to push them for action.

“I don’t know if I want to punish the residents who did nothing different but buy a home in a rural area, and then watch all this stuff go up around them,” she said.

And other supervisors, even if they didn’t disagree with the solar panel regulations’ priority, said they’re not realistic to get done in this term.

“I think if we were to move the other one up, all we’re going to do is not get the Red Hill one done, and the solar one is still going to be way out because it’s such a big project,” said Supervisor Matthew F. Letourneau (R-Dulles). “From a work plan point of view, efficiency, I don’t think it makes a lot of sense to do that.”

Buffington also opposes bringing the Red Hill community into the Transition Policy Area, which he pointed out would effectively be upzoning land currently planned as rural. He said upzoning areas because adjacent areas are developed will eventually lead to building out the county’s rural area.

“Eventually, it’s always going to be built up right next to the line, and somebody’s going to want to be upzoned because they want to sell and move away and make a killing because their property just got upzoned,” Buffington said. “So they bought it cheap under the Rural Policy Area density, then they got it upzoned while they lived there, then they’re able to sell it for a lot of money and move away, and all of a sudden now that newly zoned Transition Policy Area is going to be developed.”

Buffington’s motion to swap the new solar array regulations and the Red Hill work failed 3-6, with Buffington, Supervisor Kristen C. Umstattd (D-Leesburg) and Vice Chairman Koran T. Saines (D-Sterling) in favor.

Among the projects ahead for county planners are new regulations and standards for short-term residential rentals such as Airbnbs, expected to be complete in September; updated airport noise maps in September; and new protections for prime agricultural soils and updates to cluster zoning in October.

A planning initiative to decide how to widen and improve safety on Rt. 15 is expected to finish in July.

Additionally, a committee to recommend new names for the county courthouse is expected to have suggestions ready in November, and the project to apply for National Historic Landmark designation of the historic Courthouse and grounds is expected to wrap up in March. The “Path to Freedom” historic exhibit on the courthouse grounds is on the list, but with no current completion date.

Other projects including the Red Hill Community, reviving the county’s Purchase of Development Rights program, and new solar arrays policy are on the list, but without any specific timeline yet.

3 thoughts on “Loudoun Supervisors Look Ahead to Land, Zoning Decisions for Remaining Term

  • 2022-05-09 at 3:21 pm

    Critics say Loudoun’s supervisors sold out to developers long ago. And they did so to the detriment of longtime residents. I don’t know if that’s true. But I plan to closely watch their future decisions. If they’re truly in the back pocket of developers, that’s an unacceptable situation. Happy Asian & Pacific Islanders Heritage Month Loudoun!

  • 2022-05-09 at 5:33 pm

    When government can’t do it’s job, government’s answer is always more government.

    It wouldn’t hurt if the BoS would stop trying to pack 10 pounds of crap into a 5 pound bag.

  • 2022-05-10 at 8:37 am

    Is picking a name for the courthouse extension an important priority as residents sit for extended periods of time waiting for the Rasberry light to change on Route 15 north of Leesburg as NOBODY is crossing that light in an east to west or west to east direction! You decided to expand the road yet nothing has been done to actually widen it or fix the light while you removed statues and changed some road names. How about reducing the dis-proportionate burden small lots (under 20 acres) that may want to do reasonable things with their property? How about allowing lots with less than 10 acres to have two accessory apartment instead of one to help with the supposed shortage of low cost rentals? How about paving the rest of Montressor Road so locals can get off of Route 15 in the afternoons? How about spending some of your time insisting LCPS operate efficiently as required by law? Let’s get some work of real constituent value instead of just opening up the vault so the real estate development community can fund re-election efforts!!!! 🙂

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