Planning Commissioners Debate Ditching Loudoun’s Transition Area

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.

7 thoughts on “Planning Commissioners Debate Ditching Loudoun’s Transition Area

  • 2018-09-07 at 3:47 pm

    Thousands of citizens stepped forward and gave hours of time and thoughtful input to the Envision Loudoun public input process over the past two years. Citizens overwhelmingly stated strong support for the retention of the Transition Area, sharp controls on growth, with added housing be put around the new Metro Stations.

    The Planning Commission appears to have no intention of heeding public opinion.

  • 2018-09-07 at 5:08 pm

    As former President of CPR
    I HAVE TO LAUGH AT COUNTY GOVERNMENT AND THEIR SMART GROWTHERS. I recently rode down that transition area and what a mess
    Lots of houses and no no nice facilities
    Just houses and traffic no overall plan
    Congrats smart growthers
    Keep up the great work

    • 2018-09-08 at 3:17 pm

      ?? As I live smack dab in the middle of the TZ, I have to say you have no idea what you are talking about. The TZ is the perfect balance between easy access to the rural west and conveniences of the east. Take a walk in the open fields of Banshee Reeks and then drive 10 minutes to have a fuffy latte. Can’t beat the combination.

  • 2018-09-08 at 12:35 pm

    This guy is a loose cannon. He ran for Supervisor some years ago and his biggest donors were development types. Figures.

  • 2018-09-08 at 3:14 pm

    Anyone suggesting the elimination of the Transition Zone needs to have their seat at the table eliminated.

  • 2018-09-09 at 6:44 am

    If Blackburn would leave the transition area alone and quit trying to pave over every piece of property that is not in the flood plain the transition area would not be a political football any longer.

  • 2018-09-09 at 9:44 am

    Dear Jack,

    What you failed to realize during your visit back is that we’re a better place without you. CPR is a medical procedure. You guys were just of bunch of pretend farmers driving shiny tractors rocking new red bandanas who liked causing Tea Party like disturbances at BOS meetings. You contributed nothing to the process and as soon as you sold the remnants of your land that you couldn’t figure out how to make money on to those who did Loudoun became a far more interesting and diverse place to live and visit.

    When you guys come up in conversations it’s like remembering the ridiculous fad that we can’t believe some people fell for. Or do you have a Beeny Baby collection?

    Saying you were a member of CPR will either cause curiosity (most people have no idea of your so brief flash in the pan) or ridicule. The ones who aren’t dead are pretty close, kinda like you?

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