It looks like big changes are coming to Old Ashburn, the eastern Loudoun village that retained much of its rural railroad stop charm even as large housing developments popped up around it.
County supervisors are wrestling with the ramifications of a plan to build 46 townhouses on 2.5 acres that once formed the commercial core of the farming community.
The future of Old Ashburn has been debated for many decades. Most of those conversations focused on how to preserve the neighborhood. In fact, previous development plans for this property, with the owners leading the effort, helped spur the successful application to have the village added to the state and national registers of historic places. Those designations don’t come with regulatory restrictions, and local leaders repeatedly opted not to pursue the creation of a local historic district that would allow more development controls.
The current controversy is focused on a previously undetected loophole that permits high-density residential development on land zoned for Rural Commercial uses. That’s a valid concern, but it matters little whether the buildings on this Ashburn tract are razed to make way for six or 20 or 46 homes; the community will be forever changed.
The developer is not the villain here; county government and community leaders had many opportunities to ensure a different result. While a better outcome may yet be worked out, the case provides another example of why the current effort to update the county’s comprehensive plan is important—as is following through with regulations and incentives to bring that plan to fruition.
This is what the current Revised General Plan says on the issue: “Protection of the historical assets in the Village of Old Ashburn and the Village of Old Sterling through architecturally compatible rehabilitation and adaptive re-use of historic structures and the sensitive development of architecturally compatible infill projects.”
That does not appear to be the future of Old Ashburn.
Without a viable implementation strategy, a comprehensive plan is little more than pages of empty promises. Those leading the Envision Loudoun effort and those seeking to protect their own neighborhoods or treasured spaces should keep that lesson in mind.