An area that takes up about 7 percent of the county’s land was once again the focus of the majority of the debate around the latest draft of Loudoun’s new comprehensive plan during a public hearing Wednesday night.
Loudouners got another chance to tell county planners what they think about work on the new plan, and once again the debate focused heavily on the future of the Transition Policy Area. It has served as a buffer between the county’s rural and suburban areas since its creation in 2001, and the Planning Commission’s work on the plan calls for expanding part of the transition area westward and allowing more residential and even light industrial development in the zone.
That proposal has faced sustained opposition from conservation groups, rural interests, and the leaders of Loudoun’s town governments.
“The citizens of Loudoun have demanded limited, managed growth focused on the Metro centers,” said former planning commissioner Al Van Huyck, who was also a member of the committee that helped write the first draft of the new plan and a co-founder of the Loudoun County Preservation and Conservation Coalition.
The members of the Coalition of Loudoun Towns, representing Loudoun’s seven incorporated towns, have also expressed strong concerns. Hillsboro Mayor Roger Vance said the proposed changes to the transition are “an affront to the original intent of the Rural Policy Area, and threaten the west.”
“Growth in Loudoun County is inevitable,” Vance said. “But what is not inevitable is that it must come at the expense of the open spaces, of the Transition Policy Area, or the land that fosters a robust agricultural and tourism economy that serves all Loudoun County.
Middleburg Mayor Bridge Littleton said the plan’s allowance of increased residential development will put a heavier strain on the county finances through the need for more roads and schools.
“Residential development is the number one county cost driver, not revenue driver … This plan will be looked at by the bond agencies and affect the county’s credit,” Littleton said.
After voicing their concerns to the Planning Commission during a meeting in September—and being challenged the provide an alternative to meet growing housing demand—the Coalition of Loudoun Towns this week sent the Planning Commission a letter proposing alternatives for development and infill based on work by the Berkley Group, a consulting firm for local governments.
During Wednesday’s hearing, planning commissioners also heard protest from groups like the Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy, the Loudoun County Equine Alliance, and the Piedmont Environmental Council.
However, some residents and one organization in particular—the Northern Virginia Building Industry Association—seemed happy with the latest draft of the comprehensive plan.
“We just want to thank you for your work on the 2040 Comprehensive Plan,” said NVBIA Director of Government Affairs Steven Marku. “We’re glad to see the attention you paid to housing affordability, which is a real crisis in our region.”
Likewise, representatives from the Loudoun County Chamber of Commerce and the Dulles Area Association of Realtors argued allowing more development in the transition area was necessary to help Loudoun tackle its affordable housing problem. Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Tony Howard said the county is “quite capable” of adding new housing in the transition area while simultaneously protecting the rural west.
Commissioners said they heard a lot of ideas at the public hearing, and have a lot of work left to do.
“The information in the draft is just that—it’s a draft, it’s going change,” said Commissioner Jeff Salmon (Dulles), who also served on the committee that helped write the first draft of the plan. But he said “the demand is there” for housing, and if Loudoun doesn’t address it through the transition policy area, the county could face even higher housing costs.
“The line is drawn at the Rural Policy Area,” Salmon said. “The demand is coming. Burying your head in the sand won’t change that.”
Likewise, commission Chairman Cliff Keirce (Broad Run) said increased building in the Transition Policy Area is the county’s only option.
“Not planning for more houses is the worst thing you can do for that transition policy area,” Keirce said.
When the county’s current general plan was updated in 2001, it created the Transition Policy Area to serve as “a separation between the suburban and rural policy.” It has become a defining feature of Loudoun’s land use planning. It comprises a bit less than 7 percent of the county’s area, and its western edge is the “Urban Growth Boundary,” beyond which centralized water and sewer service are not allowed except in or around towns, which have their own comprehensive plans.
The planning commission has scheduled a day-long work session on the comprehensive plan for Saturday.