After months of meetings and public hearing sessions with thousands of responses from Loudouners, the people steering the county’s new comprehensive plan are getting down to brass tacks.
The 26-member stakeholders steering committee guiding the county’s comprehensive plan overhaul has a big job ahead. Consultant Greg Dale counted around 1,200 policies in the county’s comprehensive plan.
“That becomes an important issue as we go forward, because one of the things we talked about is creating a more strategic, more streamlined, and more user-friendly document,” Dale told the group Monday night. “How do you make this thing more streamlined and still account for 1,200 policies?”
On top of that, the Board of Supervisors has recently rolled the development planning work around Loudoun’s future Silver Line stops into the stakeholders committee’s work on the comprehensive plan. Some supervisors have said Silver Line-area planning could account for more homes and growth over the next two decades that all other areas of the county put together. County planners expect adding that work to the stakeholders committee’s plate will extend an already 18-month-long process.
As the committee tackles that job, members began asking each other: How are we going to do this?
Al Van Huyck, a former Planning Commission chairman representing the Loudoun Preservation and Conservation Coalition, worried that dissenting opinions would be lost in the committee’s final report in cases of split opinions among its members.
“You’re saying that the stakeholders group, our group, is really like a decision-making group,” Van Huyck said to county planners. “If so, how are we going to handle conflicts? It’s very likely that we will not get consensus on all issues.”
Planning Commission Chairman Jeff Salmon, who is leading the stakeholders group, said he expects the panel to come to broad consensus on most issues, as in his experience on the Planning Commission.
“If we can’t come to a consensus, we’ll come to a vote, and we’ll present the vote to the Board [of Supervisors,]” Salmon said.
Some members grappled with the idea of breaking up into subcommittees, which they agreed would almost certainly be necessary to tackle the huge task ahead of them. John Andrews, representing the county’s Housing Advisory Board, said that could take advantage of the expertise on the committee—for example, his both as a developer and advising on housing policy. Andrews is also former chairman of the School Board and the county’s Economic Development Commission.
But others worried that would bias the subcommittees.
“I think, counterintuitively, that is a real risk,” said at-large representative Mike Turner. “You are building in an institutional bias in the type and nature of the discussion. … I’m really concerned with groupthink when we get all of the expertise in a particular area in one group.”
Van Huyck said during his work on the previous plan, rather than being appointed, anyone who wanted to join a subcommittee could, to avoid that kind of bias. Andrews worried that would allow a different bias, affording more influence to committee members with the free time to join every subcommittee. The stakeholders committee already meets twice a month for three-hour meetings.
And yet others, like Van Huyck and Visit Loudoun President and CEO Beth Erickson, worried about finding a way to make the comprehensive plan, particularly around the Silver Line, uniquely Loudoun.
The stakeholders committee meets again July 31.
Currently, county planners expect the panel to wrap up its work by May 2018. After that, it will go to public hearings involving the Board of Supervisors, Planning Commission, and Virginia Department of Transportation. The Board of Supervisors envisions taking a final vote in June 2019.