While many Loudouners were enjoying a sunny Saturday morning at Leesburg’s Flower and Garden Festival—or other festivals and events in Hillsboro, Purcellville, Waterford—nearly 100 signed up to spend their morning continuing the push on the county’s new comprehensive plan.
A Wednesday evening public hearing had seen more than 130 people sign up to speak to county supervisors about work on a new county comprehensive plan. The majority of feedback on the latest draft of that plan, which is designed to guide development and land use policies in Loudoun for the next two decades, was critical of the plan. In particular, that plan’s proposal to allow much more growth—and to allow it bordering the county’s rural areas—drew protests.
Representatives from villages associations, preservation and conservation groups joined Loudouners from across the county calling on supervisors to scale that back to a plan that reflects the public input they received over the three years the new plan has been in the works.
“We are very tired of coming in front of you, or sending you emails, or checking the newspaper and all that stuff,” Oya Simpson said. “I could not convince my husband to come—he said, I went to all those workshops, we have to go again and again? It’s a moving target. Your job is to listen to the public.”
The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s latest Census 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.
“We say we want to protect the rural west, but we need to do better,” said Michelle King, vice president of the Loudoun County Equine Alliance. “Loudoun 2040 was our chance to do so, but until now it was a missed opportunity. I am pleading with this board not to let this opportunity slip away.” She said the county would need specific strategies and policies to protect the county’s rural area, not “broad statements about a desire” to do so.
“We advance no one’s interest other than developers by putting forward a plan to build a massive number of new homes in the county with only a small percentage of those going in along the Silver Line,” King said.
The plan did win support from some organizations at the hearing, such as the Northern Virginia Building Industry Association, the Dulles Area Association of Realtors and the Loudoun County Chamber of Commerce.
Those groups have argued that allowing more homes in Loudoun would push the cost of housing down.
“We all know that renting and buying a home in this county is expensive,” said DAAR Government Affairs and Communications Manager Brenda Morton. “It is up to you as our leaders to imagine the possibilities that could be achieved in 20 years. This plan is not perfect—it’s not quite as bad as some think, and it’s probably not quite as good as others think—but it does strike a balance.”
But other Loudouners—who have seen two decades of skyrocketing housing costs alongside booming residential construction—weren’t sold.
Loudoun County Conservation and Preservation Coalition Executive Committee Chairman Al Van Huyck chaired the Planning Commission that wrote the county’s current comprehensive plan.
“You’ve heard the story line: ‘we need all this extra housing because we will build affordable housing,’” Van Huyck said. “Well, my Planning Commission bought this line in 2001, and we’ve had a flood of 60,000 new houses since, but only a trickle of affordable housing, so let’s not fall for that one again.”
He said his group supports building the tens of thousands of new homes already allowed for in the county’s current comprehensive plan—but not the more than 25,000 beyond that proposed in the latest draft of the new plan.
“There is nothing in the that makes any of these thousands of more homes affordable,” said Unison Preservation Society president Tara Connell. “There is nothing innovative, clever or smart in the plan’s idea of affordable housing. It thinks more equals cheap. It doesn’t.”
Supervisors will hold their first work session on the new plan Wednesday, May 1 at 6 p.m., focusing at that meeting on the county’s urban areas. Supervisors aim to have their work done by June 21. Chairwoman Phyllis J. Randall (D-At Large) said the board may need to schedule additional meetings on top of the five work sessions planned so far.