County supervisors have wrapped up work on a project that has come to define their term: writing the county’s new comprehensive plan.
During a work session Saturday, supervisors finished their work, setting the stage for a formal adoption Wednesday. The new comprehensive plan was one the first projects the board launched at the beginning of their its in 2016, and while the project was originally scheduled as an 18-month effort, it will now cap off board’s four-year term as supervisors enter the 2019 election season.
With most of the most substantial policy changes on housing already decided, supervisors spent their Saturday session tweaking some of their previous decisions, such as how tightly to regulate data center design. Previously they had decided that in the county’s suburban employment areas, data center development was to be a conditional use—requiring an application process that goes through Planning Commission review and needs Board of Supervisors approval.
Supervisors have now decided that that may be avoided. By a unanimous vote of supervisors present, they voted that data center developers can avoid applying for a special exception to zoning rules by meeting certain performance standards, which have not yet been developed but typically include design standards and screening to shield neighboring properties from the sight of and sound of the buildings.
Some supervisors cautioned that too strongly regulating the data center industry—which last year put more than $200 million into the county budget, the equivalent of reducing the county’s real estate tax rate about 23 cents—could chase it away, resulting in higher taxes for Loudouners. Supervisor Kristen C. Umstattd (D-Leesburg) said “we could lose them to other jurisdictions that are trying to compete hard for those.”
“Industry responds to public pressure just the way we do,” Umstattd said. “This industry has responded to public pressure and will continue to do so because they want to be good corporate citizens.”
But they did not decide to entirely trust in data center developers’ good will to minimize their impact on the county. Supervisor Ron A. Meyer Jr. (R-Broad Run), who first proposed requiring the special exception for data centers, supported the change. He said while there are some companies, such as RagingWire, that have built much more attractive complexes, “there are still some rather big companies who are not and continue to not, and are putting data centers in places that are very public.”
Supervisors adopted that change 8-0-1, with Supervisor Geary M. Higgins (R-Catoctin) absent.
Supervisor Suzanne M. Volpe (R-Algonkian) also led several changes to the county’s housing policies, opening up the possibility of accessory dwelling units—such as so-called mother-in-law suites or granny units—and ensure redevelopment and infill projects are compatible with surrounding development. She also suggested offering landowners the change to switch to updated zoning in the Rt. 28 Improvement District, which includes properties from its intersection with the Dulles Greenway near Dulles Airport to its northern terminus at Rt. 7. That change reflects Loudoun’s complicated zoning ordinances—there are three zoning ordinances in the county, reflecting updates in 1972, 1993 and the constantly-updated Revised 1993 Zoning Ordinance. Different properties are governed by different zoning ordinances. Upon finishing the comprehensive plan, county planners will set to work writing a fourth major revision to the county’s zoning.
Under board direction, county staff members will also work to incorporate a bicycle and pedestrian plan, which Meyer said will “be what separates us” from other localities in the region.
The Board of Supervisors also passed a symbolic resolution to “strongly encourage” future boards to revise the comprehensive plan every five years. While state code directs localities to update their comprehensive plans every five years, it is not common practice in many places. The current comprehensive plan work is the first major overhaul in nearly two decades.
County planners expect to finish a calculation of the impact of supervisors’ work on the comprehensive plan—particularly how much additional housing it will permit—before supervisors vote to formally adopt the comprehensive plan Wednesday, June 20.
Browse all of Loudoun Now’s coverage of Loudoun’s new comprehensive plan at https://loudounnow.com/category/compplan/.