As Loudoun planning commissioners work to develop the county’s new comprehensive plan, they are contemplating doing away with one of the hallmarks of the current plan: the Transition Policy Area.
When the county’s current general plan was updated in 2001, it created the Transition Policy Area “that will serve as a separation between the suburban and rural policy areas and that has a transition of uses, incorporating elements of both suburban and rural design to create truly unique country-side developments.” It has become a defining feature of Loudoun’s land use planning. It covers about 36 square miles, and divides the county from north to south around Leesburg and runs along the county’s southeastern border. It comprises a bit less than 7 percent of the county’s area. Its western edge is the “Urban Growth Boundary,” beyond which central water and sewer are not allowed.
It has also been the site of some of Loudoun’s mostly hotly contested development proposals, such as the county supervisors’ recent split vote to allow a data center complex in the Transition Policy Area next to Goose Creek and Sycolin Road.
“Ever since the Transition Policy Area was created, it’s been nothing but a battle, and an argument, and a fight for the county,” said Commissioner Chairman Cliff Keirce (Broad Run) during a Sept. 6 work session. “And I would just prefer to see that name go away.”
Commissioner Fred Jennings (Ashburn) said the Transition Policy Area “has been hijacked for various uses, political or otherwise.” And he worried the current draft of the county’s new comprehensive plan too much resembles the current transition policy area.
“In order to meet my concern, I think you’re going to do some work to re-word—engineer—a lot of the plan that refers to the Transition Policy Area because it sounds exactly like it is today, and that will only cause more pain and havoc and confusion going forward,” Jennings said. “So if we could diminish, change, neuter transition policy to something else and just detune it, I think that would be a great first step.”
Commissioner Kathy Blackburn (Algonkian) said she has “waited a long time for this discussion.” She said the area “has been nothing but a political football.”
“It doesn’t have a solid definition,” Blackburn said. “It was originally meant for a holding pattern for future development, but it was really more of smoke and mirrors and became a buffer between the east and the west, and so it would be great if we could get rid of it.”
Other commissioners, however, worried that doing away with the Transition Policy Area, which has come to be both a practical and symbolic edge between the county’s suburban and urban development and its rural west, may be politically unrealistic.
“What we lack is a uniform definition that is as broadly accepted in both the planning and political portions of our jurisdiction,” said Commissioner Jim Sisley (At Large). “So if the word ‘transition’ is the crux of the matter, I wouldn’t mind changing the word, but I don’t think that’s it. I think the deal is you take the existing naming convention and you put a hard definition on it.”
Ultimately, commissioners voted 6-2 not to delete the Transition Policy Area from the new plan. Keirce and Blackburn supported doing away with it.
But while commissioners ultimately decided not to ditch the Transition Policy Area, changes are coming to the zone. The new plan is based largely around “place types,” which move away from geographically separating different types of land use. Instead, place types emphasize a cohesive vision for building an area, with more flexibility about what is actually inside the buildings. They reflect a move away from office parks and suburban sprawl toward integrated, mixed-use developments.
The Transition Policy Area also is slated for much more construction, with commissioners and county planners targeting parts of the area for industrial or residential growth.