Zoning rules may seem arcane and irrelevant to our daily lives. In fact, they have major impacts on many of the things that matter most to us.
For decades, Loudoun’s zoning regulations have encouraged over-development. In our rural areas, Loudoun farms are being lost to new housing at an alarming rate – 67 square miles were destroyed over the past two decades. Unless the rules are changed soon, our formerly rural areas will be gone forever. In practical terms, that means: even more traffic congestion (in both rural and suburban parts of the county); increased tax burdens to pay for expanded public roads schools, and clean water (again, affecting all county residents – suburban and rural); loss of farmland needed by farming businesses and scenery needed by tourism businesses, and loss of the local jobs associated with those businesses; and destruction of unique landscapes, historic legacies and natural spaces for outdoor recreation and enjoyment.
This year, the county is launching a comprehensive review of our zoning regulations. This presents a critical opportunity – maybe the last we will have – to slow or stop the ongoing destruction of rural Loudoun and ensure the county will continue to offer a uniquely high quality of life to all its residents. Save Rural Loudoun and other community groups are advocating for concrete changes that would, among other things: reduce the maximum density (houses per acre) of rural “cluster subdivisions;” prevent prime farm soils from being destroyed or divided into uselessly small parcels; preserve sustainable surface and sub-surface clean water resources; preserve existing tree cover, woodlands and sensitive ecosystems; and ensure that rural subdivisions are designed to harmonize with the rural environment and rural economy.
We need other procedural changes, too. To increase citizens’ trust in the integrity of decisions on zoning issues, the county needs to adopt stronger rules to ensure that the members of the Planning Commission and other key advisory bodies represent the general public and not just their private interests. In addition, the county needs to strengthen its enforcement of zoning rules rather than simply relying on citizens to report neighbors’ violations.
Advocacy efforts by Save Rural Loudoun and other community organizations will not, in themselves, be sufficient. County supervisors – particularly those representing the eastern part of the county – need to hear directly from their constituents that these issues matter to them. It is easy to communicate with the supervisors via the county website at loudoun.gov/bos. If needed, the site includes a tool to help citizens identify the supervisors for their districts.
The future of the county is ours to decide. Please let your supervisors know that you support changes to the county’s zoning rules to preserve farms and the rural environment.
John Ellis is a member of the Save Rural Loudoun Board of Directors.