After more than a year in a process that both county leaders and a committee of citizen advisors have worried has veered off course or gotten bogged down, Loudoun supervisors yesterday adopted a new calendar to make sure Envision Loudoun gets done by the end of their term.
The work to rewrite the comprehensive plan will guide future decision about Loudoun’s growth, and the first, foundational phase of that debate played out in more than 130 hours of meetings of the 26-member stakeholder steering committee. That committee’s work has lasted long beyond its original schedule, but county supervisors and the planning staff hope a change in leadership in the committee’s staff support can get it back on track. Deputy County Administrator Charles Yudd—the second-highest-ranking staffer in Loudoun’s government—has been put in charge, and newly hired Deputy Director of Planning and Zoning Alaina Ray is the new project manager.
The committee now also has a new timeline that has it wrapping up in June. Some stakeholders have said that’s still too little time to finish their work; others, like Northern Virginia Building Industry Association representative Michael Capretti, say it’s a good call.
“I think the schedule is a great schedule,” Capretti told supervisors last night. He said the committee has studied the issues and made its recommendations. “… I think this plan needs to get into the public and the planning commission and the board, because there’s a lot more heavy lifting to do.”
There will also be another round of public input in the second half of May. After the stakeholders committee has finalized its recommendations, that work will go to the Planning Commission and then the Board of Supervisors. County planners now hope to have their work done and submitted to the Virginia Department of Transportation for their review in March 2019.
Yudd said the county has learned from the lesson of planning around Loudoun’s future Silver Line Metro stops. That work got bogged down in the Board of Supervisors’ Transportation and Land Use Committee before ultimately being folded into the stakeholders committee’s work.
“I do need to be very frank with you that we would not like to replicate what occurred with the Silver Line review, because a great amount of time was spent, and when that time is spent, when you look at the calendar that we’re dealing with, that time will be gone,” Yudd told supervisors.
Supervisors were unanimously supportive of the new schedule. Vice Chairman Ralph M. Buona (R-Ashburn) pointed out even after the Envision Loudoun process is done rewriting the county’s comprehensive plan, the county must still update its zoning ordinances to match the new policy direction.
“If we don’t move on quickly, forget all the zoning changes—just getting Envision Loudoun done in this board’s term is going to start become a challenge,” Buona said. “And I think all of us would at least like to get that far during our four year term, at least, and so in a very polite way, it’s time that the stakeholders go out of business.” He said the stakeholder’s recommendations have “gotten to where they’re going to get to.”
Some supervisors, like Supervisor Tony R. Buffington (R-Blue Ridge), are still troubled by some of the committee’s recommendations—such as to redesignate two areas of the county near Leesburg from Rural Policy Area to Transition Policy Area.
“I know that was against the charter that we sent to the committee, I don’t know why they came forward with something that they were not told to do,” Buffington said. “I know staff does not support that, and I know the public does not support that.”
In particular, the committee is proposing to move approximately 844 acres—about 1.3 square miles—from Rural Policy Area into the transition area—498 acres between the Dulles Greenway and Evergreen Mills Road south of Leesburg, and 347 acres west of Evergreen Mills near Ryan Road. That change could add 275-320 more homes in the transition area, according to the report.
The current transition area is 22,813 acres in total, or just under 36 square miles.
Buffington also objected to allowing industrial uses into the Transition Policy Area, echoing a recent vote in which the Board of Supervisors approved a data center complex on the banks of Goose Creek.
But as Supervisor Geary M. Higgins (R-Catoctin) pointed out, “these recommendations from the stakeholders are just that.”
The stakeholders’ recommendations cover every area of the county, starting with setting priority areas for growth. Based on the availability of infrastructure, and the difficulty of redeveloping or revitalization projects, they propose growth should go first to the areas near the future Metro stops, and be least encouraged in the Transition Policy Area between rural west and suburban east.
In that area, the committee has also recommended a number of protections, such a greater emphasis on parks, trails and open spaces.
The suburban east, the committee has recommended more flexibility in planning and allowing for urbanized, transit-oriented and mixed-use areas, updating planning for trends already apparent in Loudoun at developments like One Loudoun and Loudoun Station. It also recommended designating areas for revitalization and redevelopment.
The rural west, per the charter drawn up and approved by the Board of Supervisors, remains largely unchanged.