Editorial: The Top Priority

The results of the residents’ survey commissioned biannually by the county government were released last week with the spotlight on a finding that growth and development had supplanted traffic as Loudoun’s biggest problem.

Pollsters said that was the first time in a decade that congestion didn’t rank as the top community concern. That result serves as both a vote of confidence and a key challenge for the county’s leadership.

A decrease in the dissatisfaction level with the county’s road and transit systems can be tied directly to the massive investment of local and, finally, state funds made to address the daily gridlock. Yes, we’re still 18 months or so away from a free-flowing Rt. 7, but motorists can monitor the progress as they drive past the work zones each day. Missing links have been connected. Lanes are being added. And there is more work in the pipeline. Taken together, the projects give the appearance that, after decades of inaction, transportation is under control.

Growth is another story.

In the development arena, county leaders have a lot of balls in the air and it’s not clear whether the juggling act will end with a cohesive community development strategy or a hodgepodge of policy changes that could open the floodgates to residential growth, even unintentionally.

While all eyes are on the Envision Loudoun effort to update the countywide vision, numerous smaller planning amendments and zoning rule changes continue to percolate through various levels of governmental review. Each is driven with urgency by advocates seeking to address some public policy or market need. Individually, each also may have merit.

The problem is that county leaders haven’t yet established their long-term comprehensive goals. That work won’t be done until sometime next year, at best. Supervisors may, in the short term, be voting on policies that hamper or undermine their ability to implement the plan they are devoting two years of work to develop. We don’t know and they don’t either.

At times, previous boards in the midst of similar undertakings have put the brakes on ancillary planning and zoning projects to provide the best opportunity for their new plan to succeed. Today’s supervisors should consider that approach. The scale, type, location and timing of future development will drive the need for—and cost of—schools, transportation and community services for decades to come. After they have their vision in place they will better understand planning and zoning changes needed to implement it.

As we know from this year’s survey, getting the growth strategy right is the top priority.

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