By Roger Vance
The mere fact that a day after a big snowstorm–with roadways still dicey—some 350 people turned out for a “Rural Summit” hosted by Board of Supervisors Chair Phyllis Randall and joined by Supervisors Tony Buffington, Geary Higgins and Kristen Umstattd, speaks volumes about the importance Loudoun residents attach to the subject. Even more impressive was the level of the discussions, the composition of the attendees—including old farm families and young rural entrepreneurs—and the sense of urgency that permeated the summit.
Preserving the asset that is rural Loudoun is not a partisan issue. Throughout the day it was heartening to see the civility and sincere pursuit for unity and resolve.
Ensuring the preservation of rural Loudoun will require dedication and determination, thoughtful—but bold—leadership, innovativeness, and the authentic desire and a large capacity to work with collegiality to formulate equitable solutions that will work for all.
It is tragic that just days before the Rural Summit Loudoun lost Malcolm Baldwin, a man who exemplified just those qualities of leadership. Yet, the spirit of Malcolm and the unanimous admiration and shared sorrow both weighed heavily and uplifted those in the meeting hall, forging a greater sense of unity and clarity of purpose among those assembled.
We all knew that Malcolm would have been an active participant raising his voice to challenge each and every one there to reach higher, be bolder, be more creative and be unwavering in our perseverance. He would have insisted that we all share the responsibility to conserve and to protect Loudoun’s priceless rural assets for current and future generations. And, he would hold all of us—and himself—accountable to turn our words and our commitments into actions and outcomes.
Malcolm would have been proud of the day’s dialogue, the engagement, the creativity, lessons shared and the aspirations that were voiced by farmers, rural entrepreneurs, local leaders—of which he was one—and government officials and elected officeholders.
Indeed, on this day powerful policy concepts that heretofore have been given little consideration, or have been outright dismissed, were placed squarely on the table and earned widespread support. Extremely encouraging is the renewed enthusiasm for a bold initiative to create a transfer of development rights (TDR) program and the wholehearted support for Supervisor Buffington’s proposal to financially support individual landowner’s efforts to put land into permanent conservation easements.
Presentations by planners from neighboring Clarke and Montgomery counties made it plain that impactful public and private programs for encouraging land conservation is not “pie in the sky” and not too late to have an impact, but rather constitutes the most fiscally responsible approach for managing growth in Loudoun today. We need not reinvent the wheel, as a wealth of expertise and experience is at our doorstep—and now is the time to open the door.
Furthermore, gaining traction is the call for creative housing redevelopment in areas where infrastructure is in place and public services already available—a smart growth strategy that will strengthen and revitalize suburban communities, incorporate much needed affordable housing options and protect open spaces in the county’s Transition Policy Area buffer zone and Rural Policy Area.
Beyond land use policy considerations, the summit offered an extraordinary opportunity for a robust discussion about how the rural economy works and how modest investments in educational options and support for the next generation of emerging farmers and entrepreneurs in Loudoun can ensure that this sector thrives and meets its full potential. A successful and expanding agricultural economy in the west, in tandem with the technology driven urban centers planned for the east, offers a powerful symbiosis.
Is the ideation, good will and enthusiasm a portent for actions to come? Will we take the actions that could yield the most meaningful and effective tools yet for saving rural Loudoun? Will we make the policies that build and augment our rural economy? Can we head off sprawl and billions in taxpayer burdens, support revitalization in existing communities, address affordable housing and expand options for developers of the coming urban Loudoun?
At the summit, the leaders of Loudoun embraced the challenge and saw the opportunity as the right course for all of Loudoun.
Malcolm Baldwin was ever hopeful and optimistic but felt a strong sense of urgency. Even in his final days he was engaged and passionate about what he and his wife Pamela have dedicated themselves to for decades and what we now can and must do: Preserve and protect the irreplaceable rural land and heritage of Loudoun.
Roger Vance is the mayor of Hillsboro. His column, A View from the Gap, is published monthly in Loudoun Now.