At 9:19 p.m. Monday, the 26-member stakeholders committee that has worked for the past two years to draft Loudoun County’s next comprehensive plan permanently disbanded.
There was no formal vote to endorse the final version of its work, but there was the celebratory sharing of cake.
The panel’s work—the draft 2040 Comprehensive Plan and an updated Countywide Transportation Plan—will be formally presented to the Board of Supervisors next week. Then the Planning Commission will begin its review, expected to continue through the fall. Sometime in 2019, the Board of Supervisors is expected to adopt the plans.
When the stakeholders panel first convened in 2016, it was to take the initial steps in an18-month process that would create a new vision for Loudoun’s community development over the next two decades. The plan was expected to build on the arrival of Metro’s Silver Line with new visions of urban-scale development, as well as to continue efforts to preserve the rural countryside through the promotion of agribusiness enterprises—all while providing the jobs and housing to address long-term community needs.
Does the draft plan do that? For the most part, committee members aren’t sure.
It wasn’t even clear whether a majority would vote to endorse the final version in its entirety.
But during Monday’s wrap-up session many expressed confidence that the growth management policies would continue to evolve in the months ahead.
Committee member Al Van Huyck was perhaps the most consistently critical. An architect of the county’s current comprehensive plan while serving on the Planning Commission in 2001, Van Huyck said the stakeholders’ draft failed to meet the “basic test” of a plan in that it did not provide a clear vision for the future of the county, lacks teeth to adequately manage future growth, and was devoid of data analysis needed to understand the long-term impacts of the “extensive and unmeasured growth proposals.”
That said, Van Huyck also was among the members who expressed optimism for the plan moving forward. “There is no need to start again. The focus should be on building a sustainable, clear vision for the future of Loudoun that reflects the public’s priorities while providing a clear set of proposals for implementation based on the concept of a public-private partnership,” he said.
Gem Bingol, of the Piedmont Environmental Council, said the Envision Loudoun process did a good job of public outreach and engagement, but worried that that community input wasn’t well represented in the plan. “I think it can be better, everything can be better,” she said.
Alta Jones, a representative of the Rural Economic Development Council, said she wished the committee had pushed the envelope more and had more analytical tools to help understand how policy changes could impact future growth. “I think we could have pushed further. The plan is not visionary enough for me,” she said.
ButMichael Capretti, representing the Northern Virginia Building Industry Association, said the results of the panel’s work showed that early complaints that the stakeholders’ group had too many development interest representatives were unfounded. A fiscal impact report presented at Monday’s meeting projected that the new plan would result in only 8,700 more homes being built by 2040 than would be built under the current plan. That projection was reduced from earlier forecasts of 15,000 more.
“I think we did a great job,” he said.
However, the smaller-than-expected boost in housing was also a cause for concern, as some members questioned how the county could provide affordable housing and worried that workers would be forced to find homes in other counties, creating more problems on rural commuter roads like Rt. 9 and Rt. 15.
Last spring, a housing needs assessment prepared by George Mason University and a consultant predicted that by 2040 Loudoun would need to make room for 18,300 more homes than the current plan would permit.
“I don’t think this plan adequately addresses the housing needs in Loudoun County and in particular affordable housing,” said Packie Crown, appointed as a representative of the Northern Virginia Transportation Alliance.
While acknowledging the county has scored economic gains with the data center boom, Crown said, “In order to have a diverse economic base … the county really does need, I think, to pay attention to the housing needs and what it’s going to take to attract our young people to the county and allow them to live here. I say ‘allow’ them to live here because it is not affordable.”
There were a few issues on which most members agreed.
One was that the public should stay involved with the plan as the Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors continue to develop it. “I think what we’re doing is we’re turning the torch over to the citizens to go to meetings with the board to provide additional input,” Aaron Gilman, the Sterling District representative, said. “The data that we have gathered during this whole process has put us to a new lever where we can start trying to manage our future better.”
The second was to commend the county staff members who worked on the project and Planning Commission member Jeff Salmon (Dulles), who had the task of managing meetings of two dozen opinionated community activists.
“Jeff, I don’t know how you did it, but you kept us all together the whole time and it’s really commendable that you have gotten through this without ever losing your cool—well, maybe one time—so great job,” said Lars Henriksen, a representative of the Dulles Association of Realtors.
Salmon got emotional while addressing the group for a final time and recalling that it was intended to be Planning Commissioner Bob Klancher in the chairman’s seat, but he died unexpectedly just before the panel began its work.
“It was a great honor. I’m very happy we all came together,” Salmon said. “Did we come up with the best plan? No. Did we come up with the best plan we could? I think we did.”
Read the draft plan at envision-loudoun.org.