The 26 members of the Envision Loudoun stakeholders steering committee feeding input to the county’s rewrite of its comprehensive plan may have 26 different reasons why, but they almost all agree: the transition policy area has got to change.
The transition policy area is a swath of land dividing the county’s rural west and suburban east, stretching north to south near Leesburg and along the county’s southern border east to Dulles Airport. It covers more than 23,000 acres, almost 7 percent of the county.
It is meant to provide a buffer and transition between the rural west and suburban east, but many members of the committee say that in practice, parts of it are effectively suburban and the boundaries are arbitrary.
“In reality, if you drive into one of these places, I can’t tell the difference between it and Ashburn, it’s just there’s fields surrounding it,” said Chad Campbell, the Blue Ridge District appointee to the committee. He served briefly on the Planning Commission.
Since central utilities were allowed in the transition policy area in 2004, residential building there has accelerated. The county counts nearly 5,600 homes in the transition area.
At their meeting Monday, committee members almost unanimously said the status quo is “not an option.”
“I think one of the big questions is, are we able to accommodate the demand [for housing] for the next five to 25 years, and I think with the status quo that’s not possible,” said Lars Henriksen, who represents the Dulles Area Association of Realtors on the committee. He said he has seen clients move into the transition area, then move away because zoning rules in the transition area allows mostly residential and little commercial development, making little allowance for amenities like grocery stores.
Others argued it was necessary to revisit the transition area to reflect how the land is actually being used, and with what the county staff described as “targeted density increase.”
“The status quo was not going to address workforce housing or affordable housing—period,” said John Andrews, who represents the county’s Housing Advisory Board and is a former chairman of the School Board and the county’s Economic Development Commission.
But the idea of keeping the suburban east separate from the rural west is not dead in the committee.
“There ought to be a way that we can preserve the nature of the transition area but still go up in density in locations in a way that’s compatible,” said at-large appointee and retired U.S. Air Force Col. Mike Turner.
And others felt they were shooting in the dark without more concrete data and modeling from the county staff on how their decisions would impact the county.
“Several of the groups have mentioned that this was going to be a place for affordable housing, workforce housing,” said Loudoun Preservation and Conservation Coalition representative and former Planning Commission chairman Al Van Huyck. The committee had broken into small groups to discuss the transition area, then returned with every group recommending changes. “Did anyone talk about how that’s actually going to be made to happen?”
Turner agreed affordable housing has to be “the number one priority of this group.”
“If this group doesn’t come up with a plan for housing affordability for the future, we will almost completely have missed the boat,” Turner said. “We’re the group that needs to focus on that and come up with a plan.”
The Transition Area Alliance has produced a report arguing the county should keep the transition area largely as is. That organization is comprised of citizens and several other citizen groups including the League of Women Voters of Loudoun County, the Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy, and the Piedmont Environmental Council and worked in concert with the Loudoun County Preservation and Conservation Coalition to produce the report.