Loudoun County’s building and development department, which handles land development applications and other zoning and permitting matters, saw an increase in its workload in 2020 despite the COVID-19 pandemic.
The building and development department received 10.5% more applications from April through December 2020 compared to the average for the same period from the previous six years. Additionally, customer support calls increased on average by 25%, according to a Jan. 15 email from county staff.
To keep up the level of service to handle the permit applications, Loudoun County is in the early stages of setting new building and development fees.
“What we’re really doing tonight is sort of establishing a principle, a policy of 100-percent cost recovery,” Supervisor Matt Letourneau (R-Dulles), who serves as the finance committee chairman, said Jan. 12.
The goal of the policy is to “ensure that our taxpayers don’t have to subsidize certain activities,” Letourneau said.
Virginia law allows localities to offset the cost of code enforcement and development reviews. Loudoun County’s current fees were set in 2001 and were kept the same seven years later when they came under review. Currently, though, the fees cover less than 100% of the costs of development review in several areas, including rural economy site plans, nonresidential preliminary subdivisions, and small business site plans of one acre or less.
Additionally, in 2014, the county set residential development grading permit fees at 100% recovery, with the exception of single home, single lot grading permits, and commercial grading permits, which were set at 50% recovery.
The board’s reasoning for reduced fees was to offer incentives for commercial users to move to Loudoun, according to county staff.
Reduced fees for small lot residential and commercial development were also implemented to prevent development costs from being a cost burden on development, staff said.
The proposed fee schedule, currently under consideration, would generate about $2,178,160 in additional revenue in land development activities beginning in fiscal 2023.
The finance committee voted 5-0 in favor to move the amendment proposal.
Supervisor Juli Briskman (D-Algonkian) said she believes that 100% recovery is a “good” goal for the county. She also expressed surprise with the department’s increased workload during the pandemic.
Paul Brown, deputy director for the Department of Building & Development, said in an email to the committee that the workload rate indicates that land development activities in Loudoun continue to be steady during the pandemic.
In land engineering, Brown said the number of pre-submission meetings to review pre-application submissions has increased by 45% over the last 90 days.
Supervisor Caleb Kershner (R-Catoctin) said he is concerned about the proposed fees impacting small business owners. He noted that the proposed fee increase for the rural economic site plan is triple the current fee, from $2,300 to $6,600.
“They have other additional expenses that we as supervisors sometimes forget it and I’m here to kind of remind us they have other permits and fees — well, septic inspections, VDOT entrance permits, building permits, building licenses — and the more cost that you add on, the much prohibitive it becomes,” Kershner said.
The county has several steps to take before voting on the amendment, including two public hearings, each with the Loudoun County Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors.
Building & Development Department highlights
B&D received 10.5% more applications in the period between April 1 and Dec. 31, 2020, compared to the average number of applications over the previous six years.
For the previous nine months, the number of monthly Land Development Division reviews was up 7% over the average going back to January 2015.
Permitting – Customer Service
Main B&D Line customer support calls increased on average 25% per day. (241 a day to 302 a day)
The number of pre-submission meetings to review pre-application submissions increased 45% over the last three months of 2020.
Virginia Stormwater Permit submissions and reviews increased 23%. Erosion & Sediment Control inspections per inspector increased 16%, from an average of 870 inspections to 1013 inspections. Flood Plain applications increased 38%.