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EDITORIAL: In Loudoun, an identity-defining choice depends on who makes the rules

Participation in the county’s future has come a long way since Supervisor Steve Snow told citizens to move to Canada if they didn’t like like the onslaught of development.

That was a decade ago. Snow and other supervisors were voted out of office and investigated. Planners and citizens alike recognized then that change was required to steer the county through a pivotal period of growth.

In many ways, Loudoun is back to that moment. But county planners and supervisors are smarter about the agenda this time. A new Comprehensive Plan, participatory in its origins, is finally in the works.

The Comprehensive Plan -- so important that the words are capitalized – is the opus publicum of county government, a master plan of progress and intention meant to guide planners and Boards of Supervisors through the contentious issues of growth, preservation and conflicting opinions about what constitutes progress. In the ideal world, it intends to remove politics and conflicts from Loudoun County’s most pressing issues with long-range goals and objectives for all activities that impact local government.

It also includes a process for citizen participation, data collection and outcome-directed marketing straight out of the consulting handbook.

Citizens have been enthusiastic about the process. Nearly 2,000 of them have participated in workshops that generated 4,500 ideas about growth in Virginia’s fastest-growing county.

Yet, there are rumblings anew among residents of rural Loudoun that the process is rigged, that developers have their hands on the scale and that planners are steering the process to a foregone conclusion. They point to a disproportionate number of advisers and task force members who might benefit from an aggressive strategy to build and develop the rural and transitional segments of the county. Many of them have been appointed by supervisors.

The criticism is unfair, those who endorse the process say. “While we are a long ways away from a final plan, there is one sentiment that seems almost universal among task force members: Leave the rural west alone,” one volunteer wrote the Times-Mirror.

The problems are history and credibility. Some residents of rural Loudoun simply don’t trust the players driving the Comprehensive Plan. They are skeptical about whether the voices of preservation are respected and properly represented.

Recent decisions by the Board of Supervisors seem to support “development creep” into transition and rural segments of the county. Some decisions defy consistent policy on issues of housing, traffic, school population and commercial development.

The goal of the Comprehensive Plan is to reset the rules in order to consistently guide the county’s growth. Power over the myriad decisions that change Loudoun’s landscape will flow from the consequential document.

Progress has been called the ability to complicate simplicity. Loudoun can ensure progress by respecting the will of those who conduct their lives in a dynamic place of enduring possibilities and beauty.

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