Loudoun supervisors have planted a “wrong way” sign in front the committee currently shaping revisions to the county’s comprehensive plan.
“I think the conversation that’s happening on the stakeholders committee is on a completely different planet than what it was at the Envision Loudoun meetings, and what we hear from the public virtually every day,” said Supervisor Matthew F. Letourneau (R-Dulles) during Tuesday’s board meeting.
He was not alone.
The 26-member stakeholder steering committee, which is tasked with revising the county’s comprehensive plan, is considering several scenarios for the county’s transition policy area. That area, designed as a buffer between suburban east and rural west, is often described in terms of protecting the west from development and sprawl.
Although the vast majority of feedback at public input sessions across the county favored leaving the transition policy area as-is—with policies that primarily allow low-density residential development—there has been very little support for the status quo on the stakeholders committee. Instead, the committee is exploring two other scenarios—one, recommended by the county staff, that would allow 12,000 more homes, and one developing in the committee that so far would allow 18,300 more. Those would both also allow around 30 million square feet more industrial space and 1 million additional square feet of retail.
If no changes are made, the transition policy area allows 2,800 more homes, 700,000 more square feet of industrial space, and no more retail space.
“I’m kind of curious and baffled as to how the only three scenarios on the table are one that’s the status quo—a 2,000-unit scenario—and then one that jumps up to six times that volume, and then one that jumps up to nine times that volume,” Letourneau said. His district includes a swath of transition policy area along the county’s southern reaches, and two of the county’s famously congested east-west corridors, Braddock Road and Rt. 50, pass through his district. Those two roads are major points of access for people living in the transition policy area.
Letourneau said anyone who thought the area could handle that kind of additional growth has “never been there during rush hour.”
The stakeholders steering committee has looked at adding housing to the transition area as a way to create opportunities for more affordable housing in the county.
Supervisors didn’t buy that, either.
“Frankly, affordable housing comes from affordable land,” said Supervisor Geary M. Higgins (R-Catoctin). “That’s the biggest driver in the cost of a house, and there’s not a lot of affordable land in the county.”
Loudoun’s housing needs are a moving target. A county-commissioned study from George Mason University found the county could come up short 18,300 homes by 2040 on its current track. But the county is planning major policy changes—not least the very comprehensive plan the stakeholders committee is revising.
In a separate report, the Loudoun Department of Planning and Zoning found the county on track to keep up with demand. And neither the county nor GMU’s studies account for the county’s ambitious plans to create urban settings around its future Metrorail stops.
County Chairwoman Phyllis J. Randall (D-At Large) saw a mismatch in putting most or all of that extra capacity in the transition zone.
“I’m very glad that this is preliminary, because I agree with what’s been said by several of my colleagues, that we’re way off track here,” said Supervisor Tony R. Buffington Jr. (R-Blue Ridge), whose district, along with Higgins’ Catoctin District, encompasses most of the county’s transition area. “And I’m concerned that we’re not listening to the public.”
The stakeholders committee has also discussed adding an area of rural policy area south of Leesburg between Evergreen Mills Road and the Dulles Greenway north of Sycolin Creek to the transition policy area, although the Board of Supervisors’ charter for the comprehensive plan rewrite leaves little leeway for tampering with the rural policy area.
The stakeholders committee plans to finish its first draft of the new comprehensive plan policies by the end of the year, with another round of Envision Loudoun public outreach in January. The committee is scheduled to finish its proposal for the new comprehensive plan by June of 2018, after which the Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors will work on the plan.