After nearly a year of work, the Envision Loudoun planning process is hitting the home stretch, with teams gathering to assemble the policies that will guide the county’s community development over the next two decades.
Entering this critical phase, there is reason to be worried about the outcome. The work will be guided by a series of generic, anywhere-USA aspirational goal statements onto which implementation polices will be affixed. By the consultant team’s own estimation, nearly 20 percent of those participating in the public input process raised concerns about them; many more suggested changes to the goals and objectives before moving ahead.
Under the current process, we’ll learn how those statements were interpreted in January when a draft of a whole new countywide comprehensive plan is presented to the Planning Commission for review and then sent to the Board of Supervisors for adoption in the spring.
There are two changes that could help ensure the work done over the next five months puts supervisors in position to accomplish their goal of updating the county’s overall development strategies.
First, there is merit in getting the Planning Commission involved early in the debate over specific public policy recommendations. The Stakeholders Committee has been valuable in collecting broad public input and for providing opinions from a wide range of interest groups. However, the group has not been used effectively so far, with most of its meeting time spent in small groups that fragment the benefit of members’ expertise. Getting more planning commissioners involved at the policy development stage, with the stakeholders continuing to add their input, would help ensure the plan’s first draft can move quickly to the board. Also, in Virginia, the commission holds the statutory responsibility for comprehensive planning in localities and they deserve a seat at the table.
Second, a convincing case still has not been made that the current General Plan should be replaced. Based on the comments heard at the numerous public input sessions, there appears to be merit in simply revising and updating that document. The overall vision for the county’s growth hasn’t changed since it was penned in 1991 and revised a decade later. The goals of promoting integrated, mixed-use communities in the east and promoting land conservation through economic development opportunities in the west remain.
Really, the foundations of the county’s overall growth vision haven’t changed much since the Resource Management Plan was adopted in the late 1970s. The challenges are a bit different, as are the tools available, but there seems to be little merit in starting from scratch as we strive to extend that so-far-successful vision to a new generation.