County planners have proposed drastic reductions to the Planning Commission’s controversial recommendation for increased housing in the county’s Transition Policy Area.
The Board of Supervisors saw those recommendations during Monday night’s work session on the draft comprehensive plan.
Under current planning policies, more than 29,000 new residential units are expected to be built in the county by 2040; the Planning Commission’s draft, almost doubles that to more than 56,000.
Under the commission’s recommendation, the 36-square-mile Transition Policy Area, which buffers rural west from suburban and urban east and is only about 7 percent of the county’s area, would absorb more than half of the difference in housing between the plans. That amounts to about 19,000 new homes allowed in the transition area—over 15,000 more than the current plan.
But county planners cut that recommendation for new transition-area residential development back to 6,800, only 3,060 more than the homes that can be built in the transition area under existing policy. Their markups to the Planning Commission’s draft focused on fewer houses, lower densities, a greater variety of housing types, and more protection for watersheds.
Director of Planning and Zoning Alaina Ray noted that under the current plan, there are still 5,086 homes that can still be built in the transition area—2,600 of which are already permitted and could start construction at any time.
In particular, county staff members removed much of the potential for townhomes in the transition area, focusing instead on single-family homes or duplex, triplex and quadruplex housing. They also put work into one of the Planning Commission’s more well-received recommendations, phasing development. Development in certain areas of the county would be discouraged under the new plan until the infrastructure—such as roads and schools—is in place to support it.
Staff members also reduced the area targeted for new data center development in the transition area, from around 1,200 acres of new light industrial development down to 200 to 250 acres, Ray said. Although other types of business are allowed in light industrial districts, in practice, in recent years Loudoun has seen data centers squeeze out most other business in those districts by paying top dollar for available land.
Some land could be moving into more suburban districts, however, a move that has met opposition from rural and conservation advocates in the past. County staff members have retained a recommendation predating the commission’s work to move approximately 844 acres near Evergreen Mills Road and Leesburg—about 1.3 square miles—from Rural Policy Area into the transition area. But, while the Planning Commission recommended both residential and light industrial development in that area, county planners recommended only residential development and at a lower density. Moving that land into the transition area would also allow public water and sewer connections.
Similarly, some areas along Braddock Road in the eastern transition policy area also could end up moving into the county’s Suburban Policy Area—which Supervisor Matthew F. Letourneau (R-Dulles) would only reflect the reality on the ground.
“That is all suburban development,” Letourneau said. “I mean, who are we kidding?”
Some supervisors have also pressed for stricter design standards when developers request to upzone property in Loudoun, but county staff members cautioned their legal authority to do so is limited—and conflicts with the board’s own past discussions.
“I think the staff recommendation on this would come down to: how strong do you want your design guidelines to be?” said Deputy County Administrator Charles Yudd. “And we can tell through the experience we’ve had in working with the board to date in the review of the plan that there’s a concern about being too prescriptive and telling people what design must look like. So probably the best way to handle it is just to refine an overarching statement stating the expectation for a rezoning in these areas.”
He also cautioned that specific standards are better suited for the county’s legally enforceable zoning ordinances, which will be updated after the county finishes writing the new comprehensive plan.
“The design guideline statements in the plan are very general, as they should be in the plan,” Yudd said. “But when it comes to the zoning ordinance, there are limitations as to what we can regulate regarding design. Design you can regulate mainly in a historic district.”
With many supervisors absent for the meeting, the Board of Supervisors held no votes on the transition area during Monday’s meeting. They are expected to start making their edits at a meeting May 29.