More than 130 people signed up to speak to the Board of Supervisors during a public hearing Wednesday night on the latest draft of the proposed new county comprehensive plan, and the vast majority were not satisfied.
“I’ve never in my life been to a public political event, but seeing what was going to happen with all these increased houses got me here,” said John Bonsee. “And I think there’s probably a great number of your other constituents that have that same visceral reaction.”
The debate around the new comprehensive plan continues to center on housing—and around the Planning Commission’s proposal to allow much more in Loudoun than previously planned. The current plan is forecasted to bring more than 29,000 new residential units into the county by 2040; the Planning Commission’s draft, almost double that to more than 56,000.
The Transition Policy Area, which buffers rural west from suburban and urban east and is about 7 percent of the county’s area, would absorb more than half of the difference in housing between the plans.
In addition to the speakers that night—and half as many already are signed up to speak at another public hearing Saturday—Katie Patru, of Willowsford, brought supervisors a petition with more than 1,000 signatures opposing increased development density in the transition area.
But while the majority of concerns stemmed from proposed changes to the transition area and a perceived threat to the rural area, they stretched beyond the county’s open space to its congested roads.
I’m asking you to re-look at this plan,” said former Planning Commissioner Gladys Lewis, who helped write the county’s Choices and Changes General Plan in 1991, and spoke of planning development to match the limited-by-road capacity. “Throw out the growth that is going to require a 10-lane roads, and all other kinds of bad things.”
Michael Myers, executive director of the Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy, said he and his wife are both young professionals working for nonprofits.
“In many ways we are the epitome of the type of resident that I keep hearing Loudoun County wants to attract, and yet the reality is we will probably never be able to afford to buy a home here in Loudoun County,” Myers said. “But that doesn’t mean we need to sacrifice our open spaces for more homes and data centers, just because developers say there is a demand.”
The hearing began with comments by the mayors of all seven Loudoun towns, who through the Coalition of Loudoun Towns, have drafted a coordinated response to the draft plan, “The Loudoun Way.” It outlines 10 principles for planning in Loudoun, such as tempered growth to catch up on infrastructure and other needs, realistic housing goals, the permanent protection of the Transition Policy Area—and losing no more farmland.
A recent report by the U.S. Department of Agriculture found that Loudoun had lost 10 percent of its farmland—about 20 square miles—from 2012 to 2017, faster both than the state at large and than the previous five years.
“You have the exciting privilege to do what few boards have done before you, a once in a lifetime chance to create a plan that can make Loudoun a place of international acclaim,” said Middleburg Mayor Bridge Littleton. “You can set the principles of truly smart growth.”
Several speakers criticized the plan for what they saw as a lack of vision and creativity.
“It is difficult to support a plan that, rather than being comprehensive and bold, setting ideals in place to direct the way that Loudoun develops, is devoid of creativity or imagination,” said Hillsboro Councilwoman Laney Oxman, “a plan that is so based on growth, that it has really lost its place.”
She added, “as an artist, I simply don’t start creating a piece without a vision of what I want to create.”
The input Wednesday reflected a trend across the three-year process of writing a new comprehensive plan so far. At each opportunity for public input, the majority of comments have come from people asking the Board of Supervisors to limit growth, protect green spaces, or catch up on infrastructure such as roads.
But some people spoke up in support of the plan’s proposal for more housing, and for extending the county’s industrial areas into the transition zone to accommodate data centers there.
As both residential construction and housing costs have skyrocketed over decades in Loudoun, some argued allowing more housing will bring more affordable housing into the county. That included representatives from the Loudoun County Chamber of Commerce and the Dulles Area Association of Realtors.
“We believe the Loudoun 2040 plan advocates for sensible policies that will help address the cost, diversity and availability of housing for Loudoun’s workforce,” said chamber President and CEO Tony Howard. “To ignore this issue is to increase the suffering that housing costs impose on Loudoun’s seniors, young professionals, teachers, public safety workers, even the disability community.”
“Our housing costs are making it impossible for businesses to pay their employees what it costs to live here,” said DAAR CEO Christine Windle. “If we can’t attract the talent, they may be pushed out of the county.”
One such business owner is Tony Stafford, of Ford’s Fish Shack. He told supervisors across his three restaurants, he is still short 40 employees, which he put down to many of his staff members being unable to afford to live in Loudoun. He said hiring those 40 people would increase his revenues over 20 percent.
“As you can see, this lack of housing in Loudoun County has a direct impact on my business,” Stafford said.
Others included the residents of the Goose Creek Bend neighborhood, who, along with the owner of the nearby Holyfield farm, have asked that their land be rezoned to allow data centers.
The hearing, which ended just before midnight, outlasted many Loudouners who had come to speak, along with three supervisors, Vice Chairman Ralph M. Buona (R-Ashburn), Tony R. Buffington (R-Blue Ridge) and Matthew F. Letourneau (R-Dulles).
During the session, supervisors also voted to rename the plan, which was titled Loudoun 2040, to the Loudoun County 2019 Comprehensive Plan, upon a motion from County Chairwoman Phyllis J. Randall (D-At Large). Supervisors voted 6-0-3.
The Board of Supervisors will hold one more public hearing on the proposed comprehensive plan this Saturday, April 27 at 9 a.m. at the Loudoun County Public Schools Administration Building, 21000 Education Court in Broadlands.
See the current comprehensive plan and the latest draft of the county’s new comprehensive plan at loudoun.gov/compplan.
An earlier version of this article incorrectly reported only two supervisors left before the hearing ended.