The Envision Loudoun stakeholders steering committee has held off on making any decisions about the boosting development in the transition policy area, but asked its members to trust the process—and the Board of Supervisors to stay out of it.
“For the public record, I’d say: please, Board of Supervisors, stay in your lane,” said committee and Planning Commission Vice Chairwoman Kathy Blackburn (Algonkian). She said it makes it much harder on the staff to be balancing feedback from the Board of Supervisors while the stakeholders committee continues its work.
The committee, which is working to draft a new long-range comprehensive plan for the county, faced criticism from supervisors last month for considering changes to the transition policy area—the buffer between the suburban east and rural west—that would allow as many as 18,000 more homes in that area. But staff and committee members pointed out that the committee has made no recommendations yet, and is still at work.
The 26-member committee has also faced internal division, particularly in the areas of conservation and affordable housing.
In particular, Loudoun Preservation and Conservation Coalition representative Al Van Huyck has frequently expressed concern that the new plan is too general, and loses the current plan’s emphasis on the distinctions between suburban east, rural west, and towns.
“I don’t believe that will make a useful plan that can be read and can be measured,” Van Huyck said. “I think we have to recognize these spatial distinctions are very unique to Loudoun, and are all very different places.”
Van Huyck is a former chairman of the county Planning Commission, and worked on the previous revision of the comprehensive plan. Challenged on the usefulness of the current plan, he gave the example of AT&T’s unsuccessful application to build a large industrial facility on top of Short Hill Mountain.
“[Catoctin District Supervisor] Geary Higgins (R) and other supervisors and ourselves went back and found eight specific things in the comprehensive plan policy that said we should not approve that, and the public mobilized behind that,” Van Huyck said. “Where if the plan only said something vague about mountains, we wouldn’t have had the policies to measure it.”
Ultimately, AT&T withdrew that application under public pressure.
Planning and Zoning Director Ricky Barker and other committee members asked their colleagues to trust the process.
“We want something that’s user-friendly, something that most people can just go and look at the plan and see what’s the vision, what’s the actions and strategies that the county wants to achieve, and be able to easily find that,” Barker said, comparing it to the complicated, redundant comprehensive plan the county has today.
“I’m perfectly comfortable with the direction that this group has been going for the last year and a half,” agreed Broad Run District representative Lou Canonico. “We started down a course back a year and a half ago, I have no desire to go back and revisit everything that we’ve done. From my perspective, the thing that seems to be lost in the translation is that the plan is a policy document. It’s not a regulatory document.”
The committee, which meets twice a month, has also struggled to get to everything on its agenda at the last several meetings.
“We’re in this a year and a half—does the staff think that we’re on track?” asked Lars Henriksen, who represents the Dulles Area Association of Realtors on the committee.
“I think we are where we are,” said Planning and Zoning Director Ricky Barker. “… I say that in all seriousness, because you all have to feel comfortable moving forward.”