In the latest draft of the Loudoun County 2040 comprehensive plan, released Monday, Loudoun leaders envision a county with a mixture of rural, suburban and – for the first time in the county’s history – urban living.
However, some residents are urging “not so fast” on the proposed changes.
Most agree that Loudoun County is in dire need of a new comprehensive plan. The last one, though it has been amended since, was revised in July 2001—well before the approach of Metro's Silver Line into Ashburn. The Envision Loudoun Stakeholders Committee, a group of 23 local residents from a variety of key groups, has been working on this latest comprehensive plan for the past 18 months.
“What I envision is a county that will have an urban area, a suburban area, a transition area and a rural area, and that the rural area remains fairly untouched,” Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Phyllis Randall (D-At Large) said.
The Board of Supervisors will have the final vote on the plan, expected in early 2019.
The new urban area will be centered around future Silver Line Metro stops, along with a strip of more than three miles on the southern side of Route 7 around One Loudoun and Dulles Town Center. According to the plan, it will emphasize “walkable mixed-use and transit-oriented development,” including a variety of housing options for multiple income levels.
The new plan also encourages preserving and improving local natural and heritage resources, a greater amount of housing diversity—especially affordable workforce housing—and greater residential density in the transition policy area.
“This won’t all happen at once,” Randall said. “We will continue putting infrastructure in place before the homes come.”
While Supervisor Ralph Buona (R-Ashburn) approves of this draft’s changes, he says it needs a better transportation plan. Currently, the transportation plan says it will “focus” on the urban and suburban areas, with special attention toward roads around the future Silver Line stops.
However, many Silver Line commuters will have homes in the suburban and rural areas of the county, as well as Maryland and West Virginia, Buona said.
“We told the stakeholders, ‘Don’t mess around with the rural area,’” Buona said. “That doesn’t mean that there aren’t some roads [in the rural area] that probably need to be dealt with.”
Citizen group reaction to the newest draft of the comprehensive plan was swift. Gem Bignol of the Piedmont Environmental Council questioned the increase in residential development in every area of the county, especially since the transportation plan is not as strong as it could be.
“In Loudoun, if you build residential, new residents will most certainly come, forcing school redistrictings and more traffic congestion throughout eastern Loudoun,” Bignol said. “Instead of more costly growth added to the approved but unbuilt pipeline of housing, it’s time for the county to meet the needs of existing residents.”
Facing the most drastic change is the transition policy area in the southeastern area of the county, west of Gum Spring and running along Evergreen Mills Road. This stretch is to be developed as a largely residential area that’s a crossover between the rural west and more urban east.
The Board of Supervisors seems optimistic about the proposed 1,500 additional residences to be built in the area over the next 20 years, saying that it’s a compromise from an initial proposal of 18,000 residences total.
“We do have a housing deficit right now,” Buona said. “Nothing changing is not practical… Most of us knew there had to be some adjustments made [in the transition area].”
However, Transition Area Alliance member Bill Carney has crunched the county’s numbers. The changes are more sweeping than they seem, he said.
“There’s kind of a sense out there that these are minor tweaks to the transition area, and it’s really not the case,” Carney said.
Carney surveyed the land bays, or empty plots, in the transition area to see how the comprehensive plan’s rezoning could affect the number of allowed residences. Roughly half are staying the same—but the other half are increasing the number of dwelling units per acre significantly, sometimes exponentially, he said. Townhomes would be permitted for the first time, and 450 acres of open space would be lost.
In addition, the county is shifting 800 acres from the neighboring rural area to the transition area, adding the potential for 1,000 residences beyond the 1,500 announced by the county.
“I don’t think [the county has] dug into it this deep yet,” Carney said. “That’s one of the reasons we wanted to get this out there, that the [1,500 residences] might be misleading.”
If the current draft of the comprehensive plan is accepted, Carney said, he’s certain that development—along with traffic—will eventually come.
“People feel different ways about [growth],” Carney said. “What we really want is lots of partnership and input at these Envision Loudoun meetings.”
Envision Loudoun has announced six open houses around the county where citizens can review and comment on the current draft of the comprehensive plan. Citizens can also provide input online starting May 14.
The county hopes a citizen-reviewed draft of the comprehensive plan will go to the Planning Commission in July, which will pass it along after revisions to the Board of Supervisors.
The open houses will be:
-Monday, May 14, 6:30-8:30 p.m., Harmony Middle School, 38174 W. Colonial Highway, Hamilton
-Wednesday, May 16, 6:30-8:30 p.m., Harper Park Middle School, 701 Potomac Station Dr., Leesburg
-Monday, May 21, 10 a.m. - 2 p.m., Loudoun County Government Center, Dulles Room (first floor), 1 Harrison St. SE, Leesburg
-Monday, May 21, 6:30-8:30 p.m., Eagle Ridge Middle School, 42901 Waxpool Rd., Ashburn
-Tuesday, May 22, 6:30-8:30 p.m., Cascades Senior Center, 21060 Whitfield Place, Sterling
-Thursday, May 24, 6:30-8:30 p.m., John Champe High School, 41535 Sacred Mountain St., Aldie