Partial New Zoning Ordinances Heads to Planning Commission Public Hearing

Parts of the county’s new Zoning Ordinance will head to a public hearing at the Planning Commission on Aug. 30 after years of work.

But some of the new ordinance’s most impactful and argued-over chapters are still not ready for a public hearing, including ones detailing zoning districts, use standards, overlay districts, environmental standards, and attainable housing rules.

The Zoning Ordinance codifies into enforceable laws and standards the visions set out in the county’s General Plan and Countywide Transportation Plan, collectively referred to as the comprehensive plan. The Board of Supervisors approved a new comprehensive plan in 2019, after almost three years of work—and almost 20 years since the previous General Plan overhaul in 2001. That launched the project to write a new Zoning Ordinance to reflect the new plan, along with the new realities of a county that has changed dramatically in the past two decades.

On Aug. 30, the commission will take public input on chapters of the ordinance including development standards such as landscaping, parking, light and noise, and parking; sign regulations; regulations on nonconforming uses such as buildings that do not fit the new Zoning Ordinance but are grandfathered in; and adaptive reuse, usually rehabilitating historic structures and putting them to new use.

Other chapters deal in large part with the administration of government, including procedures ranging from applying for permits, to legislative applications, to zoning enforcement; a chapter governing the powers, duties and makeup of the zoning administrator, Planning Commission, Board of Zoning Appeals, and Historic District Review Committee; and a schedule of fees related to development applications.

And more sections relate largely to the hefty document itself, such as definitions of the terms it uses, an index of acronyms, and rules on how the Zoning Ordinance should be interpreted.

And that is still plenty to talk about—the sections going to the public hearing Aug. 30 total 248 pages. That is dwarfed by the 371 pages of comments from the public submitted online and by email and compiled by the Loudoun County Preservation and Conservation Coalition, and the 424 pages of statements and supporting materials from organizations ranging from development and business interests to environmental groups to the Loudoun County Equine Alliance.

The feedback has ranged as widely.

The Apartment and Office Building Association of Metropolitan Washington, the Northern Virginia Building Industry Association and land use law firm Walsh, Colucci, Lubeley & Walsh, which often represents developers bringing major projects to the county, called for looser regulations, with the NVBIA warning the new ordinance “seems more repetitious, subjective, and cumbersome.” They variously called for more flexibility in development regulations, arguing they would get in the way of development including of affordable housing, and Walsh Colucci sought to roll back some environmental protections and policies and streamline the zoning special exception process.

The Dulles Area Association of Realtors pushed the county to provide more explanation of the differences between the old Zoning Ordinance and the new, and questioned aspects of the proposal such as how it encourages additional affordable housing and the new Mountainside Resource Protection Setback. Meanwhile, Friends of the Blue Ridge Mountains President Peter Weeks wrote to the county urging stronger protections for mountainsides and stronger enforcement of those regulations.

Groups like the Unison Preservation Society, the Waterford Foundation, the Virginia Piedmont Heritage Area and the Loudoun Historic Village Alliance wrote urging the county to offer stronger protections for historic areas of the county. The Catoctin Scenic River Advisory Committee offered a series of suggestions and questions, urging stronger protections for waterways.

Some of the county’s own advisory committees weighed in. The county’s Environmental Commission reviewed a draft of the new Zoning Ordinance and made a range of recommendations to strengthen its environmental protections. The Rural Economic Development Council formed an ad hoc committee which also combed through a draft, suggesting a series of edits to both preserve the rural character of parts of the county and the businesses there, such as allowing farm markets by-right in urbanized areas of the county, or removing a five-acre minimum lot size for non-livestock agriculture such as growing hay or fruit trees, but also seeking to tighten down regulations on farm wineries and breweries.

Even the Purcellville Town Council weighed in, asking the county to ensure data centers would not be allowed in the area around town limits, specifically with an eye toward an industrial-zoned property north of town.

After the public hearing, the Planning Commission anticipates meeting several times to work on the proposed ordinance, as well as another public hearing for its remaining chapters. It will then be forwarded to the Board of Supervisors for consideration.

There are also other Zoning Ordinance projects running parallel to the Zoning Ordinance Rewrite, including revising regulations on short-term residential rentals such as Airbnb, an effort to rework the county’s cluster zoning options to better protect prime agricultural soils, and updating the Airport Impact Overlay District to reflect a new study of airport noise around Dulles International Airport.

To read the proposed text for the Aug. 30 public hearing, go to loudoun.gov/ZoningOrdinanceRewrite.

The Planning Commission Public Hearing will begin at 6 p.m. in the boardroom on the first floor of the Government Center, 1 Harrison St. in Leesburg. Information on the Planning Commission including how to sign up in advance to speak at the public hearing is at loudoun.gov/PlanningCommission.

Comments may also be submitted to an online form at loudoun.gov/ZoningOrdinanceRewrite or by calling 703-777-0246.

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