After weeks of preliminary meetings, the group charged with updating the plan for Loudoun’s future is about to begin the public outreach that will form the foundation for their efforts.
The team—including a citizen committee appointed by county supervisors, a team of consultants, and members of the county government staff—are excited to get the project rolling.
Monday night’s meeting of the Comprehensive Plan Stakeholder Committee was the first led by planning consultant C. Gregory Dale, of Cincinnati-based McBride Dale Clarion, and focused on building a framework of key topics the plan will address and laying out the details of an ambitious community outreach effort.
These are the first steps in what is planned as an 18-month process to rewrite the county’s General Plan and create a guide to community development over the next two decades and beyond.
Monday’s meeting occurred two days after the 25th anniversary of the adoption of the county’s groundbreaking Choices and Changes General Plan on Sept. 17, 1991. That document established a vision of promoting suburban-style development in eastern Loudoun and around the county’s towns, while working to limit development in the rural west. Among the items envisioned in that document was the extension of Metrorail into Loudoun; it did not mention data centers.
That plan was revised in 2002, and the new planning vision included new development curbs that lowered the development potential in eastern Loudoun and set the stage for an ultimately successful downzoning of rural land.
Around the table Monday night, participants stressed this was a once-in-a-generation opportunity to guide Loudoun’s future.
Dale said Loudoun’s planning effort will be on the cutting edge for jurisdictions nationally. Like many community development plans, Loudoun’s growth policies set aside large swathes of land reserved for corporate office parks that were the most sought after type of commercial land use in past decades. Today, that concept is “economically obsolete,” Dale said. “This is something communities all over the country are dealing with.”
Now the commercial demand is for “mixed use centers” that combine office, retail and residential uses. Loudoun already has several successful examples in the ground—in places like One Loudoun and Lansdowne—and several more approved on paper. And developers are lining up with more requests.
“Mixed-use in all its forms is really the rage right now,” Dale said, adding the planning phrase can mean lots of different things. “Is it just another fad? Is it long-lasting?”
Another question Loudoun’s planners will face is what’s next for suburban development that has defined the county’s growth over the past 30 years. “You guys are at the epicenter of the question what is ‘suburban’ going to look like,” Dale said. “You’re on the front line.”
Other challenges identified by committee members were the need to provide a variety of housing, for families, for millennials, and for empty-nesters and retirees; how to overcome a deficit of public parkland; and how to develop a better functioning transportation network, between Loudoun’s neighborhoods and around the region.
The answers won’t be easy, particularly because current residents don’t want to see change, several members noted.
Mike Turner, appointed to the panel by County Chairwoman Phyllis J. Randall (D-At Large), described it as “a tension between what is and what will be.”
John Andrews, chairman of the Housing Advisory Board and a former chairman of the School Board and the county’s Economic Development Commission, agreed that current residents are likely to resist big changes, but said the new plan should look to the needs of the future. “Don’t get bogged down in today,” he said.
Joseph Paciulli, also a former EDC chairman and a past chairman of Loudoun’s CEO Cabinet, said there would be resistance to policies that promote redevelopment of the county’s older communities. Not much redevelopment has occurred in Loudoun to date, he said, adding that more areas should to be targeted for redevelopment than residents likely would accept.
The process of addressing those concerns and many others will take a leap forward this fall when the first round of public outreach meetings take place.
“We plan on going big,” Project Manager Chris Garcia said of the outreach effort.
Jamie Greene of Planning Next is the consultant leading the offer to gather, record and collate community input. He said the outreach will include three rounds of four public meetings at locations around the county. They hope to have hundreds of people attend each. There also will be an extensive online and social media campaign, as well as smaller meetings with targeted groups such as trade organizations, service clubs and religious congregations.
Will residents take time out from their busy schedules to participate in the process? Committee members hope so. They said it’s an opportunity too important to pass up.
Some suggested marketing slogans were tossed about.
“It’s a milestone moment,” Dulles District representative Scott Ficker said.
“Make the Loudoun County of the Future,” said Julie Leidig, of the Northern Virginia Community College Board.
“Don’t let developers dictate your future,” Andrews suggested.
But Andrews also noted that it’s often difficult to get Loudouners to pay attention to even the most important of subjects. But he noted that one item that never fails to attract large crowds is a proposal to change the attendance zone boundaries of county schools. His suggestion to get people to pay attention: “Planning for Loudoun’s Future—Are school boundaries going to change?”
The stakeholders committee will meet again Oct. 11 to finalize plans for the first round of public outreach.
Learn more about the project at loudoun.gov/newcompplan.