Loudoun Planning Commission Recommends New Rural Commercial Rules

The Planning Commission has recommended a cap on residential development in rural commercial zoning districts.

The commission recommended allowing no more than four homes units per acre in RC zoning, a comparatively rare zoning district created in the 1993 zoning revision “for the conversion of existing commercial properties zoned C-1 under the 1972 Zoning Ordinance which are located sporadically in rural Loudoun but deemed appropriate to be retained as commercially zoned land for development to a more preferred development pattern,” according to the zoning ordinance.

The county’s Zoning Ordinance Action Group had also recommended higher residential densities be permitted by minor special exception, but the county zoning staff recommended against that. Planning and Zoning Director Ricky Barker told the commission on Thursday that increasing density is best done through rezoning.

“[It] creates a change in character, and that’s not something you typically do through special exceptions,” Barker said.

ZOAG member Eric Zicht said allowing property owners to change density through a special exception process creates more flexibility and a less onerous process.

“Basically what ZOAG saw here was that we’re putting a patch on a bigger problem, and that is that we don’t’ have a good feel for what this rural commercial district is,” Zicht said. “Its’ a grab bag of uses that are not easily defined.”

Both Barker and Zicht agreed, however, that this zoning district should be looked at through the Envision Loudoun comprehensive plan review.

The county’s work to update its RC zoning has been made more urgent by pending applications to the county, such as applications to build up to 109 townhouse condominium units near the intersection of Ashburn Road and the W&OD Trail, or another that proposes to build 80 townhouses at the intersection of Stone Springs Boulevard and Evergreen Mills Road.

“There’s a reason why this is called rural commercial,” Barker said. “…It’s really important to understand the intent of this district was for rural uses, and it’s not to pack townhomes in.”

Two commissioners, Cliff Keirce (Broad Run) and Dan Lloyd (Sterling), attempted to exempt applications that have already been filed with the county but not yet acted upon from a change to zoning rules.

“You have land owners that have followed the rules, and have filed an application the way the county has said,” Keirce said. “…They now suddenly have that yanked out from under them. I don’t think it’s good business for the county to do that to people.”

The attempt to protect those applications from a zoning change failed 6-2-1, Keirce and Lloyd alone supporting it and Commission Jim Sisley (At Large) recusing himself from the discussion to avoid a conflict of interest.

The planning commission recommended the residential density cap, without ZOAG’s special exception recommendation or Keirce’s exemption for active applications, 7-1-1, Lloyd opposed.

rgreene@loudounnow.com
@RenssGreene

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