Loudoun Board Approves New Uses in Rural Open Spaces

After a years-long process, Loudoun supervisors have approved 14 new uses in the designated open spaces in the county’s rural areas.

The zoning amendment opens some of the county’s countryside to new types of business and tourism, but it includes less than half of the new uses originally proposed for inclusion. Some others—including eco-tourism, farm-based tourism, farm restaurants, indoor recreation establishments, and Virginia farm wineries—have been sent back to county staff for more work.

The relaxed rules for use of designated open space in the county’s rural and transition area zoning districts have faced some resistance, including from former Planning Commission chairman Al Van Huyck, and the action comes at a time when proposals for a rural brewery and an event center are under fire from rural residents worried that those businesses would be disruptive to their peace and quiet.

But Supervisor Geary M. Higgins (R-Catoctin) forcefully defended the county’s work. Higgins said the county has put years of study into the zoning changes.

“I’m somewhat—I’ll use the word dismayed—when people come up and use the microphone to say we haven’t thought about this, or thought through this, or this is being done in a hurry,” Higgins said.

Chairwoman Phyllis J. Randall (D-At Large) said she did not want to hold up other updates to zoning rules for the sake of a few contentious items. The amendment also includes a number of fixes to clean up language and definitions in the zoning ordinance. It also expands the exemptions for historic structures to include buildings listed or eligible for listing in the Virginia Landmarks Register of the National Register of Historic Places. Previously, historic structures exemptions in the zoning ordinance only applied to buildings existing prior to January 7, 2003 and located in a county Historic Site District or Historic and Cultural Conservation District.

With the new zoning amendment, landowners can now use their land in open spaces for: agricultural cultural centers, agricultural processing, agri-education, arboretums, botanical gardens, pick-your-own-type direct sale of products produced on-site, farm co-ops, farm markets with on-site production, production nurseries, pet farms, liveries and private stables, tenant dwellings such as those maintained for farm staff at Willowsford Farm, and wayside stands.

In the midst of this debate, Supervisor Tony R. Buffington Jr. (R-Blue Ridge) sent a letter to the Rural Economic Development Committee asking the panel to lead an effort to develop guidelines about what kinds of businesses would fit into Loudoun’s rural economy.

“It is critically important that we strike an appropriate balance between having a strong rural economy and ensuring a high quality of life for residents,” Buffington wrote. “Over the past year it has become evident to me that many western Loudoun residents are uncomfortable with the current balance.”

Buffington asked the committee to lead a “collaborative effort” to come up with recommendations defining the types of businesses that should comprise the rural economy and maintaining that balance. He suggested that effort include western Loudoun residents, Visit Loudoun, business owners, and “other groups, organizations, and stakeholders interested in the future of Loudoun County.”

The motion to add the 14 new uses passed 8-0-1, with Supervisor Suzanne M. Volpe (R-Algonkian) absent. The motion to send eco-tourism, farm-based tourism, farm restaurants, indoor recreation establishments, and Virginia farm wineries to the staff to bring forward as part of another package of changes passed 7-1-1, Supervisor Kristen C. Umstattd (D-Leesburg) opposed. Umstattd expressed concerns about the idea of including indoor recreation establishments in the county’s open spaces.

rgreene@loudounnow.com
@RenssGreene

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