It has been a long tradition in Loudoun to include representatives of the development industry around the table when government leaders are overhauling the county’s planning and zoning policies.
That approach has continued, but, in recent years, criticism has mounted from some corners that the concept is providing developers undue influence. As preliminary talks of the Envision Loudoun stakeholders committee have focused on the debate over whether the county faces an impending housing shortage, cries of foul have amplified.
Another Board of Supervisors-appointed advisory panel, the Zoning Ordinance Action Group, also has been targeted by critics. This committee is charged with providing supervisors with recommendations to improve the development regulations, often seeking to streamline application processing, eliminate conflicts, or addressing new trends.
In both cases, representation by private sector land-use attorneys, planners and engineers, as well as general business leaders, is designed to tap the expertise from those most familiar with the policies and their real-world impact. If the regulations don’t work, even the best conceived vision will fail to be realized.
Traditionally, those valued points of view have been joined around the table by representatives of other interest groups, including preservation and conservation organizations. Also to be included are community-minded residents, perhaps with little knowledge of how the development process works but with clear understandings of what they expect from it.
It’s a formula that has provided a successful balance for decades and one that helped create the framework for the Loudoun of today. The concept is sound.
But execution is important, too.
If county supervisors don’t create the environment for competing points of view to be heard and thoughtfully evaluated early in the planning process, they’ll only set the stage for larger battles in the months ahead. Likewise, if the hundreds of county residents who took time to participate in input sessions and complete surveys don’t see their points of view being represented by the planning panel, the credibility of the entire process could erode.
The question today is: Are the worries expressed by the critics of these advisory panels valid? If county supervisors have concerns about the balance of the advice they’ll be receiving, now is the time to address them. Creating a new vision for Loudoun’s future will be this board’s hallmark; whether it got the plan right or wrong will be its legacy.