Meet The New Loudoun Planning Commission

Most incoming or returning supervisors have made their picks for one of the county’s most influential bodies: the Planning Commission.

Some familiar faces will return. Kathy Blackburn (Algonkian), Robert Klancher (Ashburn), Eugene Scheel (Catoctin) and this year’s chairman, Jeff Salmon (Dulles), all will be nominated for reappointment by reelected supervisors, and Charlie Douglas (Blue Ridge) will be reappointed by newly-elected Blue Ridge District Supervisor Tony Buffington, Jr. (R).

Like the board of supervisors, there will be some new faces on the Planning Commission, although none are strangers to public service. Incoming County Chairman Phyllis Randall (D-At Large) will appoint Jim Sisley, who is currently chairman of Leesburg’s Economic Development Commission. Supervisor-elect Ron Meyer (R-Broad Run) will appoint Cliff Keirce, who served on the Planning Commission from 2009 to 2010. And Supervisor-elect Kristen Umstattd (D-Leesburg) will nominate Ad Barnes, who served as the long-time mayor’s appointment on the Leesburg Planning Commission.

Supervisor-elect Koran Saines (D-Sterling) said this week he had narrowed the field to a handful of candidates, but has not yet selected a planning commissioner for the district.

The incoming Planning Commission will probably be a busy one—supervisors are expected to ask for a complete review of the county’s comprehensive plan. Some commissioners already have ideas for that.

Salmon said his biggest issue relates to Loudoun having three sets of ordinances: the 1972, the 1993, and the Revised 1993 County Zoning Ordinance. With three ordinances in force, he said, simple questions and applications to the planning commission had become long and expensive processes. Applications to the planning commission, he said, take a year to resolve.

“Right now, when you talk to someone and they say they have x-y-z-zoned property, can I do this with this, the answer is, well, we’re not sure,” Salmon said, adding “simplification is key.”

Scheel said the county needs to rethink how it approaches development in the Transition Policy Area and standalone historic sites, such as Davis Church in Sterling. Scheel said changes in zoning should not bring increases in density in the transition zone or rural areas of the county, and that standalone historic sites should be protected.

“Currently, a standalone historic site that is not in a historic district is not eligible to be on the National Register and is considered vulnerable,” Scheel said. “In other words, you can do away with it, it doesn’t seem to have any importance, and I think that is a poor rule.”

In the case of Davis Church, which is being eyed as a location for a self-storage warehouse, staff reports from the Virginia Department of Historic Resources indicate that consultants believe the building is too far separated from the Guilford area to contribute to the historic district.

Keirce agreed that the Transition Policy Area needs work, but disagreed on which direction to take.

“None of these areas look like what the comprehensive plan envisioned,” Keirce said. “In Dulles South, you drive through these communities, it’s every bit as dense and urban as it is up here in Ashburn, but without the amenities.”

Keirce said more infrastructure, shopping, and amenities are needed in the transition zone and Sycolin Road corridor between Ashburn and Leesburg.

“Maybe the intent might have looked good on paper, but I think the way it’s developed has created more problems than it’s solved,” Keirce said. He was also concerned that the county gets very little from by-right development in those areas. Without undergoing the rezoning process, the developments do not contribute proffers the county has used to keep up with needs like school and road construction.

Klancher agreed the comprehensive plan is due for a review. He said major initiatives would include planning for development along the Silver Line, encouraging a commercial tax base, and looking at transportation needs created by growth. The commission, he said, would have to study the impacts and results of that growth.

“At this point, we don’t really know, because we don’t know what our future’s going to be,” Klancher said, adding it would likely require a mix of public transit and road building.

Commissioners will be appointed after the new board takes office.

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