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.