Starting Monday, Loudoun residents will have the opportunity to dig deeper into the latest vision for Loudoun’s future. If you are concerned about growth or jobs or quality of life or road congestion or cost of living or community design or, quite frankly, your neighborhood, it’s time to start paying attention.
During the past two years, some of Loudoun’s brightest minds and most experienced industry and community leaders have gathered in a small meeting room at the County Government Center to debate broad concepts and minute details of a new plan that will guide the county’s development over the next two decades. While disagreements remain over how best to address some of the county’s major growth management challenges, and the consultant-led structure of their deliberations didn’t allow for their best work, the plan published this week provides a solid foundation for the next rounds of deliberations.
When adopted, this will be Loudoun’s fifth county-wide comprehensive plan. Overall, the concerns and priorities are little changed since the Loudoun County Comprehensive Development Plan was adopted in 1969. The introduction written for 1979’s Resource Management Plan could, with a few tweaks, describe today’s growth and preservation challenges. The 1991 Choices and Changes General Plan established the character of today’s suburban neighbors and office parks and the 2001 Revised General Plan honed those policies in the face of the rapid pace of the county’s growth. The new plan, currently dubbed the 2040 General Plan, will be the first to address the reality—rather than the concept—of commuter rail service and true urban scale development.
At this stage there are some glaring shortcomings.
In an era of real-time analytics tracking nearly every facet of our lives, members of the Stakeholders Committee lacked the tools needed to determine how their policy changes would impact taxpayers’ wallets or commutes, or change the outlook for the employment and housing markets. That information is coming, but not in time for the foundational work of this panel.
Another shortcoming stems from the Board of Supervisors’ firm direction that no changes could be made in the Rural Policy Area. The thinking at the time was that the stance would ensure the countryside would not be opened to more development. More evident now is that the county’s current rural planning policies are likely to fall short in preserving the vision that thriving farms, wineries and other ag-related enterprises would forestall the construction of new housing subdivision or disrupted commercial uses. The growth of the rural economy in recent years provides the opportunity for additional innovation—a chance to improve on the status quo that is expected to result in the construction of some 7,500 new rural homes during the plan’s 20-year timeframe. There is new appetite—and more resources—today to pursue options such as Purchase of Development Rights or more aggressive easement programs, for example. The Rural Policy Area needs a thoughtful new look to ensure the community’s strongly held shared vision can hold up for generations to come.
There will be a temptation by county leaders to push this project through to adopt to meet some self-imposed deadline. At its outset, the plan was expected to be the capstone of this Board of Supervisors’ term. Supervisors will probably get to that vote, but the project is too important to rush.
And it’s too important for residents to ignore. There will be six community input meetings as locations across the county during the next two weeks. Take some time to see what is being planned for your community. Loudoun residents and businesses will be living with the ramifications of these policies for the next two decades and beyond.