Loudoun Supervisors Continue Industrial, Residential Proposal Cuts in New Plan

County supervisors on Saturday continued their work cutting back recommendations for vastly more development in the area buffering Loudoun’s rural areas from its suburban east in the draft Comprehensive Plan.

Over two meetings, supervisors have been revising policies around the Transition Policy Area, a strip of land dividing Loudoun’s suburban east from rural western Loudoun and rural Fauquier and Prince William Counties to the south.

That includes a large swath of largely undeveloped land south of Braddock Road in southeastern Loudoun, reaching from Auburn Farm Road all the way to the Fairfax County border.  The Planning Commission had recommended that be planned to develop into compact neighborhoods, at a density of four to eight residential units per acre. Taking into account a requirement to preserve half of the land as open space, that could mean neighborhoods with eight to 16 residential units per acre. Commissioners also recommended that area not be developed until infrastructure is in place to support it.

Supervisors on Saturday voted instead to plan for larger-lot neighborhoods, with one home per three acres, again with the requirement that half of the land be left undeveloped.

“If you go down to those land bays, you really realize, one, how rural they are; two, how little infrastructure they have; and three, there’s just not road network down there,” said County Chairwoman Phyllis J. Randall (D-At Large). “I mean, there are one-lane bridges and such down there.”

Those lands are surrounded by densely populated subdivisions such as Seven Hills and, to the north of Braddock Road, South Riding, in one of Loudoun’s fastest-growing areas. The roads there see regular, serious congestion during rush hours. And district Supervisor Matthew F. Letourneau (R-Dulles) said after discussions with the state Department of Transportation, he doesn’t believe big changes will be coming there soon.

“I’m not thrilled about essentially 800 by-right homes going into these landbays, but the type of densities that were envisioned by the Planning Commission—albeit with transportation caveats—would just gridlock the area,” Letourneau said.

The Loudoun County government, which routinely builds roads where the state government falls behind on its responsibilities, is limited in its ability to fix traffic jams in southeastern Loudoun. The county can only build inside its own borders—and the traffic jams near South Riding reach into Fairfax County, which has been unwilling to take on projects like widening Braddock Road.

Supervisors decided against moving more land from the county’s Rural Policy Area to its Transition Policy Area—specifically about 421 acres, about two-thirds of a square mile, between Evergreen Mills Road and Greene Mill Preserve south of Leesburg. Part of Willowsford Grant is in that area, and much of the land there is owned by the Willowsford developer.

It is surrounded on all four side by land with public water and sewer access—on three sides by the Transition Policy Area, where that is allowed, and by Greene Mill Preserve to the west, which also is served by public utilities.

Board Vice Chairman Ralph M. Buona (R-Ashburn) said “those people deserve to have utilities if they want them.”

“All we’re doing is denying people utilities because its going to have a T [as in transition] in front of it instead of an R [as in rural] in front of it,” Buona said. “It’s such a falsehood, and it’s a principled argument not backed up with facts, and if I lived there I would like to be on central system,” Buona said.

Letourneau hinted the Board of Supevisors has also been discussing a public use for that land in the future, but declined to elaborate publicly.

But a slim majority of supervisors voted to keep that land in the county’s Rural Policy Area, with Letourneau, Buona, and Supervisors Ron A. Meyer Jr. (R-Broad Run) and Suzanne M. Volpe (R-Algonkian) voted to move it.

Letourneau pointed out that the vote, in fact, supported  higher-density development—while the land was considered for one unit per 20 acres in the transition area, it is planned for one unit per three acres in rural area.

“So you all just voted for more density,” he said. “That’s brilliant. I love it. And I love all the rhetoric we get up here sometimes about the environment, and we’re going to force well and septic into an area with more density.”

“The reason is, when we provide water and sewer to this area, the next board will up-zone it,” said Supervisor Tony R. Buffington (R-Blue Ridge).

Much of the board’s work centered around technical edits to the plan, or adjusting the future layouts of some roads. Randall suggested, and supervisors adopted, a policy that the county pursue a connected system of parks and trails when considering rezoning applications.

County planners will calculate how many houses will be allowed in the transition area after supervisors’ votes, according to county spokesman Glen Barbour.

Supervisors also made minor changes to Rural Policy Area policies. At the suggestion of Supervisor Geary M. Higgins (R-Catoctin), they requested an update to the county’s rural business strategy, which was last updated in 2013. Randall noted that the predominantly black villages of Unison, Willisville, Howardsville and Conklin were excluded from a list of historic villages in Loudoun, and saw the first three added in.

However, some supervisors were outraged to see a Transfer of Development Rights program recommended in the comprehensive plan, inserted by county staff members.

“You know that this a matter of controversy on the board, you know that we directed you to bring back information” Letourneau said. “…And yet you took it upon yourself to put that language in the comprehensive plan anyway, and that, to me, is not appropriate, because that is something that we are discussing right now.”

Transfer of Development rights is a program used in surrounding counties to allow rural landowners to sell the rights to develop their land to landowners in targeted areas, allowing rural landowners to profit from their lands development potential while simultaneously protecting that land from development. Developers in other areas can purchase those rights to build more densely than their lands’ underlying zoning.

Opponents of the program, including Letourneau and Buona, argue it would amount to packing that density into eastern Loudoun without negotiating proffers to pay for the associated increase in demand on public services.

Supervisors will discuss a chapter on housing at their meeting June 5. Randall said an additional meeting before the scheduled June 20 adoption of the plan is likely.

rgreene@loudounnow.com

3 thoughts on “Loudoun Supervisors Continue Industrial, Residential Proposal Cuts in New Plan

  • 2019-06-03 at 5:09 pm
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    Ralph Buona, referring to land that was restored to the Rural Area, said “those people deserve to have utilities if they want them.” How can he explain that everyone – thousands of homes – in western Loudoun are doing just fine on private wells and septic systems? In fact, I can shower every day!

    There are key points about Transfer of Development Rights that might persuade Matt Letourneau to change his mind: There would be no density packing of more houses; transfers would be houses in the rural area to commercial projects and data centers in the east, in precise areas deemed acceptable by the Board. No County money would be needed. TDRs would be a boon to the County budget – more commercial tax revenue, less housing expense.

  • 2019-06-04 at 7:00 pm
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    It is nice to point out two board members, but where do you fit in any criticism about board members and their votes concerning the draft comprehensive plan, without including Chair Randall and Supervisor Koran Saines. Those two voted to do the Texas Two-Step by grabbing land from the Rural part of Loudoun County, and dragging it into the Transition area, while claiming they are preserving Rural Loudoun, and maintaining the Transition area, and substantially increasing the possible number of houses in the Transition area, all with a straight face. And, one would guess, hand held behind them to take in developer money, probably disguised as PAC money.

    • 2019-06-05 at 8:56 am
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      It’s true Chair Randall could have kept her promise to leave the rural area unaffected by the Comp Plan Review. It makes no sense to me why she didn’t, her argument for moving the line was the classic argument for encroachment, it’s just a little bit, the area is next to x, y, and z, etc. The same argument can and will be applied to many more parts of the rural area. And it’s very unpopular, no one wants less rural area or increased housing density anywhere in the county. So why did she do it? The answer might be in her campaign finance reports. She received $30,000 from a PAC called Better Together. Who is better together? Developers and Democrats on the board?

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