About 50 western Loudoun residents crowded into the auditorium of the Waterford Old School on Wednesday night to learn more about the future of the county’s scenic countryside.
The Waterford Foundation, the Waterford Citizens Association, the Taylorstown Citizens Association, the Lincoln Community League, Journey Through Hallowed Ground and the Piedmont Environmental Council held a community meeting to discuss the draft Loudoun 2040 Comprehensive Plan and how it will affect growth during the next two decades.
Gem Bingol, a field representative for the Piedmont Environmental Council in Loudoun and Clarke Counties, led the meeting, with guest speakers Al Van Huyck, a former county planning commissioner, and Owen Snyder, a committee member of the Unison Preservation Society. Loudoun County Planning Commissioner Cliff Keirce (Broad Run) was also in the crowd.
Bingol began the meeting by asking attendees who they were, finding that about 20 people lived in Loudoun for more than 20 years and that all but one of those in attendance lived in rural Loudoun.
In noting that Loudoun grew from about 25,000 to 402,000 residents in the past 50 years, Bingol pointed out that while there are now more than 134,000 housing units in the county, 48,000 more units can still be developed under current policies. She said that of those, 30,000 have already been approved for construction. “Loudoun County can still grow—quite a bit, actually,” she said.
Keirce, a 22-year county resident, said that he hopes the additional 18,000 units will never be built. He said that he enjoys having the ability to travel west a few miles to visit horse country. “I hope that never changes,” he said.
Bingol also mentioned that the new comprehensive plan could convert 937 acres from Rural Policy Area, which covers 227,904 acres, to the Transition Policy Area, allowing more intense development. She said that sort of incremental change can lead to more of the same down the road. “It’s very hard to stop it,” she said.
Van Huyck mentioned that when he bought his 50-acre farm near Round Hill in the 1960s, it was the smallest lot in the area and was surrounded by 10 homes within a half-mile. Now, it’s the largest lot and is surrounded by 98 homes.
Aside from the concern that Loudoun might become a mirror image of Fairfax County, with thousands of suburban homes in the western part of the county, some key concerns among attendees related to increased traffic and concerns about their water supply.
One resident, a USGS geologist, said that she was skeptical about western Loudoun’s water sources being sufficient to sustain increased growth. “Water levels are way down from what they used to be,” she said.
When Snyder presented the findings of the county’s three public input sessions, he said that, while residents do want to see growth, they want it to be better controlled. He also said that residents want better transportation, government accountability and a preserved quality of life that protects the county’s unique features. “They really wanted to know what was going on,” he said.
Robert Ohneiser, a former school board member, said that there’s an invisible hand shaping the county’s future that nobody’s talking about—the state government.
“The state enforces its wishes on Loudoun County. It harvests money from Loudoun County,” he said. “The game is rigged for the state—we don’t control our destiny.”
Van Huyck said that the county would have to choose between two options moving forward—opt for maximum growth in response to market demand or recognize that Loudoun is a “special place” with assets that need to be protected.
Although multiple community organizations have planned public input sessions on the Envision Loudoun plan, the county is not formally taking that input into account.
According to a Feb. 12 press release, “meetings that are organized by non-county organizations are not part of the county’s official process for revising the comprehensive plan.”
The county’s Planning Commission is set to hold its final planned meetings on the plan this month before sending its recommendations to the Board of Supervisors on March 21. The board will then work through the plan from April to June, with public hearings on April 24 and 27. The current schedule calls for a vote adopting the plan on July 2.
Bingol urged residents to provide the county with their input by contacting the Board of Supervisors, by sharing information from Wednesday’s presentation, by asking their HOAs to get involved and by signing up for Piedmont Environmental Council updates.
“Engagement is really key to ensuring that we have the kind of community that we want,” she said.