Higgins Worries County Losing Sight of Rural Economy Goals

Supervisor Geary M. Higgins (R-Catoctin) is concerned that the county government is going off track on growing the rural economy.

Higgins made the comments May 15 as supervisors were receiving a report on the board’s four-year strategic initiatives plan, which coincides with the end of the board’s term. One of those objectives: “improving the rural economy in a way that maintains the quality of life for current residents.”

But Higgins said the county has gotten off track on that in terms of actual work products.

“The only thing we got there is rural uses and performance standards to be adopted,” Higgins said, referring to ongoing work to update zoning rules in the county’s rural and agricultural districts. “I’m not sure how that enhances the rural economy.”

Higgins said that work—nominally intended to allow more flexibility and certainty in developing rural businesses—will in fact add uncertainty.

“At this point I’m concerned about this and will be watching it very closely to see where we end up, because I think we have gone off the tracks of where the intentions of the board was with these items,” Higgins said.

Deputy County Administrator Charles Yudd said Higgins “might be onto something.”

“We are seeing through the Envision [Loudoun] update that there are rural issues being raised,” Yudd said, referring to ongoing work to revise the county’s comprehensive plan, “And those will come forward through that process, but there may be other opportunities to address this stated goal that are not specifically zoning ordinance-related.”

Nonetheless, said Chairwoman Phyllis J. Randall (D-At Large), the board has “got a lot done in the last two and a half years,” and agreed with Higgins, but added the county has also set up a rural business incubator.

“I do share Mr. Higgins’ thoughts that we really do want to stay kind of laser beam-focused on this, and want to be clear that we appreciate what the rural economy and the rural nature is for our county,” Randall said.

The board’s strategic initiatives cover five broad areas: transportation; economic development, which include the rural economy; the new comprehensive plan, under Envision Loudoun; community needs and quality of life; and growth management. The county has also set out dozens of tangible work products to be completed by the end of this board’s term at the end of 2019.

One of those was met with skepticism from Randall: finding options for locations for a future Potomac River crossing east of Goose Creek. The county is awaiting consultant and committee reports. But Randall said a new bridge is “not a viable thing at this point.”

“We can keep it in here, but it’s just words on a paper at this point, because it’s not viable,” Randall added. “And we can disagree or agree or have any feelings around that that we want to have, but we can also just be realistic about that right now.”

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