Local organizations, alliances and citizen advocates for the past three years have made it a point to keep residents focused on Loudoun County’s future. With that future in mind, members of the Board of Supervisors lugged with them giant folders and copies of letters, petitions and testimonies before approving the 2019 Comprehensive and Transportation Plans earlier this summer.
Weeks after adoption, town and county leaders reflected on the plan and the community engagement that influenced the board’s decisions.
"I thought it was phenomenal—it was the essence of what participatory and representative government is all about,” Middleburg Mayor Bridge Littleton, one of the leading voices for preserving rural Loudoun, told the Times-Mirror. “I mean, who would've thought you would’ve had hundreds of citizens to come and talk about land use?”
Shortly after the plan was adopted, county staff released the residential development forecasts, which include a projection of 40,950 additional housing units through 2040, an increase in 11,490 from the Revised General Plan adopted in 2001.
The Planning Commission recommended 56,370 units through 2040, which was just under 94 percent of the full market demand.
“We believe that affordable housing is the most critical issue in the county, and we furthermore believe that meeting the demand forecast was imperative, and doing that by providing a broad supply was really the only solution,” Planning Commission Chairman Fred Jennings said. “So, when I look at the numbers in the approved comp plan, they fall pretty far from what the commission wanted to accomplish, which got us to [roughly] 95 percent of the forecast demand.”
Even with the new quadplex development plans included in the new plan, Jennings said the county will come up short of housing units, resulting in development being forced into the Rural Policy Area, although nothing in approved plan calls for more housing in the RPA.
Loudoun Chamber of Commerce officials also advocated for more housing throughout the process.
“The main priority for the chamber and the business community was and will continue to be housing affordability for Loudoun’s workforce,” Loudoun Chamber Vice President of Membership and Government Affairs Grafton DeButts said in a prepared statement. “Unfortunately, this plan does not go far enough to address this critical need in our community. We are very pleased in the creation of the Urban Policy Area, the inclusion of the Unmet Housing Need Priority, and our work with the Northern Virginia Technology Council and data center industry to focus on the long-term sustainability and growth of the largest segment of our commercial tax base.”
Groups like the Loudoun County Preservation and Conservation Coalition, the Coalition of Loudoun Towns, Save Rural Loudoun and the Transition Area Alliance worked to keep the public engaged through months of lengthy discussions and late-night meetings.
The alliance was formed in 2016. It includes often like-minded organizations like the Aldie Heritage Association, Aldie Citizens Association, League of Women Voters of Loudoun County, Loudoun Residents for Reasonable Growth and the Piedmont Environmental Council.
“My first impression was that it was a fairly reasonable compromise, but it’s all going to depend on execution. And do they really understand what they passed?" Transition Area Alliance member Bill Carney said.
He added that one test will be with the Whitman Property-South project that sits in the Transition Policy Area, or TPA, and falls under the Transition Community Center place type. The project proposes to include retail and auto services stations.
Carney also questioned the forecast figures listed in the plan. The county's population is expected to increase to 694,000 residents by 2040, up from its roughly 406,000 residents currently. With continuing growth and varying ideas for the future, the alliance felt the need to keep the public informed through its lens.
“Nobody paid any attention to this until probably the last nine months, and then all of a sudden it kind of went viral, and we started posting stuff and it was being shared all over the place,” Carney said. “I think it was a good example of mobilizing citizens, and I do think the board did pay attention to that in some of the decisions that they made.”
In a June 20 letter that was shared with the board before the approval of the plan, all seven town mayors of the Coalition of Loudoun Towns, or COLT, applauded the county board and staff’s efforts. But they went on to express concerns with preserving western Loudoun and restoring the Town of Leesburg as the primary utility provider of water and sewer in the Joint Land Management Area. The Comprehensive Plan made Loudoun Water the primary utility provider of the area instead of Leesburg.
As part of the plan’s adoption, Land Bays P1 & P2 were placed in the Transition Policy Area from the Rural Policy Area. Land Bay P1 is located east of Evergreen Mills Road just south of Heritage High School. Land Bay P2 is located off Evergreen Mills Road between Shreve Mill Road and Hogeland Mill Road.
In addition to the Loudoun Water-JLMA issue, land that is brought into the Leesburg JLMA that can be served by the presumed utility service is to remain in the county and not be annexed into the Town of Leesburg.
COLT said in its June 20 letter, “While substantial and much-needed improvements have been made since the Planning Commission version was released to you just 90 days ago, there are still areas within this plan that cause us great concern. We ask you to consider these issues in the weeks and months to come and direct staff to develop approaches to addressing them … We recognize no plan is ever perfect, nor can it ever hope to make all parties happy, but we feel strongly that these outstanding issues warranted this feedback and call for specific actions.”
Littleton, the Middleburg mayor, added that there will be plenty of issues surrounding land use to deal with in the future.
“But we can start to tackle some of those things through the zoning,” Littleton said. “To me, the zoning is actually going to be more important that we get that right, because that’s what applications are actually going to be filed on. Nobody files an application off the comp plan. They file an application on the updated zoning ordinances, so COLT will absolutely be fully engaged and probably more so on the details of what the zoning will look like going forward over the next coming years. And frankly, it is our responsibility as elected officials to do that.”
Residential Development Forecasts
2019 Comp Plan vs. 2001 Revised General Plan
-Suburban and Urban Policy Areas – 25,550 vs. 16,250
-Transition Policy Area – 5,840 vs. 3,660
-Towns/JLMA/Rural Policy Areas – 9,560 vs. 9,560
-Countywide Total – 40,950 vs. 29,460
COLT feedback on the new comp plan
"A commitment to a residential housing growth policy of 1 percent. For over 20 years we have grown at 3.5 times the rate of the D.C. metro area. We need to temper growth going forward, catch up on needed infrastructure and amenities and address the structural challenges we face before adding to the problem ...
"The restoration of Leesburg as the primary provider of utility services in their JLMA. The county is setting a dangerous precedent by, in an ad hoc manner, changing a decades-old practice with no analysis or citizen input. What will keep future boards from using this as a predicate to making the similar snap changes to another town’s JLMA? Please reverse this policy ...
"The return of P1 & P2 to the Rural Policy Area. The board’s promise to us all at the outset of this process to leave the RPA untouched should be honored ...
"Rural Policy Area clustering. While mentioned but left unaddressed in the plan, this is a severe weakness. It destroys what it was originally seeking to protect – rural farmland and open space. Hold on rural cluster developments until we can develop the right policies for the RPA and update the plan through an amendment ...
"A commitment to a no-net-loss of farmland in Loudoun County. Our rural farming and agritourism economy have become a huge and defining asset for Loudoun. It is the key to our future that relies on good farmland, something we have a finite amount of. In the last seven years we have lost 10 percent of our farmlands to development, a trend we must arrest now."