In recent debates over Loudoun’s draft Comprehensive Plan, those who want to keep the pedal to the metal on the county’s breakneck growth rates have maintained that current zoning rules adequately protect Loudoun’s rural areas from excessive development. As more rural land vanishes every day, this claim requires a whole new definition of the word “protection.”
Let’s look at the facts. Over the past 20 years, 5,500 new houses were built in Loudoun’s Rural Policy Area, all in full compliance with the County’s current zoning rules. As a result, we lost 67 square miles of prime farmland.
Under the same zoning rules, which the draft Plan would leave unchanged, County staff projects that 7,500 more houses will be built in the Rural Policy Area and another 10,000 houses will be built in the County’s Transition Policy Area by 2040.
This would result in the cumulative loss of another 70-80 square miles of farmland, converting more than half of Loudoun’s rural areas from farms, tourism and other rural businesses into commuter bedroom communities. And, incidentally, those new households would add another 175,000 vehicle trips per day to our already heavily-congested road system.
By leaving the current zoning in place and continuing to claim that the new County Plan “won’t touch the west,” County supervisors appear to be endorsing this disastrous outcome. This sends a clear signal that they just don’t consider rural preservation to be a high priority.
It isn’t that we don’t have reasonable choices. Advocates for managed growth and rural preservation have presented supervisors with a range of practical rural preservation tools that Clarke, Fauquier, and many other Virginia counties have successfully adopted – such as Purchase of Development Rights (PDR) and Transfer of Development Rights (TDR) programs.
For apparently political reasons, however, a majority of the Board of Supervisors appears to reject these common-sense options. One has even gone so far as to describe them as “an assault on the east,” as if the citizens of Ashburn don’t give a hoot if Loudoun becomes a twin of Fairfax County over the next twenty years.
It’s not too late to do the right thing. Most supervisors probably understand that preserving Loudoun’s rural character is critical both to our citizens’ economic well-being and quality of life. Some may not be aware of how rapidly our rural areas are disappearing and may just take it for granted (despite all the evidence to the contrary) that they will survive while the County government stands on the sidelines.
For our own sakes and for the sake of our children, we hope they will look carefully at the facts, set aside any political posturing, and establish a lasting legacy of responsible public management.
On behalf of the Board of Directors, Save Rural Loudoun