Loudoun Supervisors Adopt New Comprehensive Plan

The years-long effort to write a new comprehensive plan—the document that guides the county government’s policies on growth, transportation, development—has come to close with the adoption of a new comprehensive plan Thursday night.

Work on the plan formally launched in April 2016, but wheels had been set turning before then. Originally scheduled as an 18-month process, work began in a 26-member stakeholder steering committee, which ended up working on the plan for two years. During that time, the project manager over the plan and the former director of planning and zoning both left the county. Deputy County Administrator Charles Yudd was put in charge of getting the work back on track, newly hired Planning and Zoning Director Alaina Ray dove into the project, and the committee wrapped up work in June 2018.

The Planning Commission then began its work on the plan, foregoing its annual August recess to keep the project moving. The commission focused on getting as much new housing into the plan as it could, which commissioners and development interests argued was necessary to create more affordable housing in the county, but generating strong protest from other interests.

Under the previous comprehensive plan, more than 29,000 new residential units are expected to be built in the county by 2040. The Planning Commission’s draft would have almost doubled that to more than 56,000. And more than half of that would have been in the 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. It amounted to about 19,000 new homes allowed in the transition area—over 15,000 more than the old plan.

County planners and supervisors, upon receiving that plan in May, immediately began work to cut back that new housing. County staff recommendations were expected to allow only 6,800 new homes in the transition area, and supervisors made major revisions to the plan to more closely match that number.

But exactly what they did in the final version of the 500-page document is still being figured out.

After previous drafts of the comprehensive plan were completed, county staff members and consultants calculated how many additional houses those policies would allow in different areas of the county. That work is still not complete on the comprehensive plan supervisors adopted Thursday.

Supervisors were working on a clock: Under state code, they had 90 days from the day the Planning Commission adopted its version of the plan to ratify the document.

Some supervisors publicly wondered what would be the consequences for exceeding that timeline. There are no consequences laid out in state code for exceeding that limit, any more than there are for exceeding the requirement that the comprehensive plan be updated every five years. The previous plan, although constantly updated through individual amendments, was adopted in 1991 and was last overhauled in 2001.

County Chairwoman Phyllis J. Randall (D-At Large) was adamant that the Board of Supervisors would not exceed the 90-day limit.

Supervisors also stirred controversy by changing up decades of policy on new central water and sewer hookups in the Joint Land Management Area around Leesburg, the planned growth area to the east and south of the town. Historically, it was planned cooperatively between the town and county, and was planned to eventually be annexed into the town, with the town getting first dibs on extending utilities to new development in the area. Citing complaints from developers in the area about working with the town, and the expectation of being annexed into the town, supervisors have instead given Loudoun Water first chance to serve those projects, extending the utility’s potential reach into new areas.

That drew protests from the Leesburg Town Council and Leesburg Supervisor Kristen C. Umstattd (D-Leesburg), who said the action undermined years of planning with no forewarning, and could put the town utility in a tough spot by upsetting the assumptions under which it planned its investments.

Supervisors also planned for new design standards for data centers near homes and major roads.

While the new plan carries over many policies from the old plan, it has been completely reformatted, written around the concept of “place types.” The new comprehensive plan lays out types of neighborhoods, developments or open spaces across the county, focused on the character of those areas and laying out basic guidelines for compatible uses there. But where before the comprehensive plan focused on specific uses—such as types of businesses or residences—the new plan focuses more on fitting development into the context of its surroundings.

It is similar to form-based code, zoning ordinances that also focus less on the specific uses in an area than the buildings’ outside appearance and fit with their surrounding area.

The new plan also introduces an entirely new policy area. Loudoun’s planning has been characterized by its three distinct policy areas: rural, suburban and transition. With the advent of major urban developments and Metrorail service in Loudoun, a new Urban Policy Area has been added to the plan around the county’s future Metro stops.

Although no supervisor liked everything in the plan, they approved it on an 8-1 vote, with only Supervisor Kristen C. Umstattd (D-Leesburg) opposed, objecting to the changes in the Joint Land Management Area. She also said the plan does not do much to address the cost of housing in Loudoun

“Most of all, though, I would complain about the fact that under state law, we have 90 days,” Umstattd said. “And I know most of my colleagues—and I agree with them—are tired of working on this, but we needed at least twice that long to take a deep dive into these issues.”

“One way you know that you struck a balance is when everybody’s kind of mad at you, and I think that’s where we are right now,” said Supervisor Matthew F. Letourneau (R-Dulles).

Supervisor Ron A. Meyer Jr. (R-Broad Run) said the plan was a “compromise document” that “doesn’t pretend to solve our housing affordability crisis, but it does take some steps to do so.” He also said it sets the stage for Loudoun as a job center rather than a bedroom of community, tilting the center of gravity in the Northern Virginia economy away from Washington, DC and Fairfax.

“It’s not perfect for people who wanted no growth, it’s not perfect for the Planning Commission and the development community who wanted us to try to solve the housing affordability crisis in the Transition Policy Area, but it is a monumental step forward for the economy and the quality of life in Loudoun County,” Meyer said.

“While no plan is perfect, and this one certainly is not perfect, I do think that there is probably more good in this plan that there is bad,” said Supervisor Tony R. Buffington (R-Blue Ridge), citing comments from a coalition of rural preservation and business groups that, while offering major changes to the plan, said there is much good about it.

Board Vice Chairman Ralph M. Buona (R-Ashburn) agreed it strikes a balance, arguing there cannot be affordable housing without some new housing: “The existing houses don’t suddenly go down in value.”

“Sometimes you hold your nose and you vote yes, and this is one time when I think everybody on the board needs to put on their big boy pants and just vote yes on this for the sake of everybody in the county,” Buona said.

Supervisors also thanked the many people who, over the past three years, have contributed to the work on the plan, particularly Yudd and Ray.

The work is not over. The comprehensive plan is a policy document, and while it is used as a reference point in evaluating zoning and development cases, it is not a law. Supervisors also want to continue to focus on affordable housing. Next, the work begins on an Unmet Housing Need Strategic Plan, followed by writing the new zoning ordinances to reflect the policies and vision laid out in the comprehensive plan and housing needs plan.

Download the new comprehensive plan from the county government website here and read all of Loudoun Now’s coverage of the new comprehensive plan at LoudounNow.com/compplan.


9 thoughts on “Loudoun Supervisors Adopt New Comprehensive Plan

  • 2019-06-21 at 4:23 pm

    Congrats to former Mayor and Supervisor Umstaddt. It should not be about how long bureaucrats took to compile a plan the developers would like or how long the current Supervisors had to approve or change it. What should this all be about? How does the long term plan resolve known problems like traffic, higher taxes than the rest of Virginia, a school system which is unable to control its budgetary aspirations or even document the financial justification of its capital decisions (like turf fields)? It does not mitigate problems but openly exacerbates them. Wouldn’t the current traffic debacle and $1.3 Billion and expanding LCPS costs justify “REDUCING” the number of approved student generating, tax hiking homes? If this makes sense to you then please consider ALL the candidates running for Chair of the BOS not just the ones with “prepaid by developer” stickers on their foreheads!

    • 2019-06-24 at 12:54 pm

      Even if the houses themselves cost more than the tax collected directory from them those house also spur additional economic activity such as retail, restaurants, and business such as home improvement contractors and landscapers which has to be included in the total cost benefit analysis. Do you have the numbers to show that even with this additional increase in economic activity is included further development isn’t a net positive revenue wise?

      Reduced housing supply and increased housing costs, which would follow a reduction or freeze in available housing, are also not exactly the type of thing to lure employers in or keep them in Loudoun. In addition the increased property values which would follow a reduction in market size means that property taxes would go up as valuations increase. In the long run property owners may be able to make that up when selling but until they cash out their tax burden will increase.

      Please go back to repeatedly posting comments tilting at the windmill that is taxing the parking lots at Dulles Airport, an economic engine of the county that has spurred economic development in Loudoun way above what would have been paid in taxes, and drop out of the race for BoS Chairman. You clearly have no real understanding of the trade-offs that must be balanced when making these types of decisions.

  • 2019-06-23 at 6:04 pm

    This Board’s action to strip the town of Leesburg from being the prime water and sewer provider in the areas south of town (known as the JLMa) is one of the most arbitrary and capricious actions against this town that I have every seen. Through a comp plan amendment at June 5 work session — without notice to the town or anyone — the Board committed the worst political mugging of Leesburg EVER. Unless the town can demonstrate it has an agreement with Loudoun Water or the County that Leesburg is the service provider in the JLMa, this sets up a situation where two municipal utilities departments will be in competititon with each other. Leesburg has invested millions in pipes and other intfrastructure to serve that area. Loudoun Water now has to run pipes three miles in. The result could be higher water and sewer rates for everyone. I am shocked Ms. Umstattd could not sway Mr. Buffington to support the towns because the sovereignty of Hamilton and Purceillville to sell water in JLMAs could be affected, too. I appreciate her voting against the plan but that’s the easy way out. Now, Leesburg is playing catchup by filing an annexation petition — which is a hostile annexation, meaning it will take years. Why the Town Council didn’t just submit one years ago is anyone’ guess, but the town plays paddy cake with the county but reads the riot act to developers who need the water and sewer — its either come into the town and pay in town rates and the town tax or stay out of town and pay the high out of town rates, but no town tax. Leesburg Town Council also fell asleep at the switch here, too.

    • 2019-06-24 at 1:05 pm

      Ken Reid, you served on the Leesburg Town Council for many years yet claim to not know why they didn’t submit a petition for annexation? While on the council did you ever introduce a motion to do so?

      It’s no secret why the town never submitted a petition to do so. At the time the cost of supporting services for the residential areas of the JLMA was more than the tax revenues that would come from the JLMA. The town didn’t submit a petition for annexation because they wanted the county to bear the burden and cost of providing those services and building out the JLMA until such time as tax revenues exceed the costs and then the town could swope in and annex it. It was a dangerous game and now the town is paying the price for playing it.

      “the Board committed the worst political mugging of Leesburg EVER”. The town council have acted as a poor partner to the county for the last several years with decisions like the refusal to open Kincaid Boulevard. Again another dangerous game they are now paying the price for. I have no sympathy for them or the town.

      • 2019-06-25 at 10:17 pm

        I never heard that the town did not wish to annex due to the cost of delivering services as the town doesnt provide the really tax-resource intensive services like schools and social services. Besides, the area the council wanted to annex during 2007-10 were the Pederson Tract, and other undeveloped areas. As best as I can recall, the annexation effort was overshadowed by the county’s opposition to our out of town surcharge on water and sewer, which was subject to litigation at the time by residents of River creek, red rocks, etc. who were not part of the area we wished to annex. That litigation was not settled (in the town’s favor ) til 2011, i think. Nobody wanted to submit a hostile annexation petition. Umstattd, then mayor, was opposed to annexation and always was, especially in 2002 when the landowners wanted to be annexed. lost opportunity. THe Council wanted to resurrect annexation in 2013 wehile I was on the BOS and Umstattd went to scott york behind the council’s back to arrange a joint BOS meeting to kill it again. But you are correct any one of us could have offerd a motion to do a hostile annexation but I was not the lead on that.

  • 2019-06-24 at 6:25 am

    Bob, couldn’t agree more.

    Our paid for politicians ignore the plan every time their bosses they are beholden to say so (Higgins, Meyers, Buona, Randall, Buffington…) On the other hand, when the Average Joe would like to use their property, it is a tool quickly used to say “no.” (code for, “you haven’t paid me enough to say yes”). Hoping you will also work to overhaul runaway spending, reduce government redundancy and waste, and uphold the rule of law?

  • 2019-06-24 at 2:17 pm

    Concerned citizen – thank you for posting constructive input. Loudoun has been “talking” about the need to balance residential with high quality job producing commercial to allow property taxes to drop closer to the Virginia average for over 2 decades but proxies for developers love to post how much we need more retailers, convenience business operations, pubs and fast food. Is that really the target of the comprehensive plan? Its not just the obvious tax drain of student generating, high density residential but what is being built doesn’t lend itself to helping the new entrants to the job market which was the adroit observation of former Mayor now Supervisor Umstaddt. She is exceptional.

  • 2019-06-25 at 7:53 pm

    So, Ken Reid is shocked at what happened. Funny, coming from someone who has managed to alienate every elected official he has worked with, on both the Town Council for Leesburg and the Board of Supervisors. His reputation is cemented in place – a person no one could work with. And on top of that, a failure. For his four years on the Board of Supervisors, he did absolutely nothing to improve Route 15 North, and yet, Supervisor Umstattd, working with the rest of the Board, got funding, construction approvals, and things are happening, all within the first year of her term, up to now. Maybe Ken Reid can try a dose of reality when he comments, and stops living in a fantasy world.

  • 2019-06-26 at 5:02 pm

    It’s funny that our pro-growth friends are also anti-tax. As the County tries like mad to keep up with the growing population, its expenditures have grown by 7.5% per year for the past 20 years and the County budget is now triple what it was in 2000 (not counting inflation). Capital investment in roads was $7 m in 2010 and is over $800 million now (up 11,000%). And now VDOT is taking us off the state dole.

    Like a drunken gambler, we’re counting on building more data centers to feed our growth habit. But we’re running out of space to put them in and that industry’s heyday may be coming to an end soon. Yep, we could pave over the transition and rural areas too, including the massive new highways that would be needed to handle all the traffic. But when we don’t have an inch more to build on, how are we going to come up with the billions needed to pay for all the infrastructure for super-sized Loudoun? Raising taxes is the only way. It’ll be time to pay the piper.

    I guess some folks are just hoping we can pass that bill along to our kids, along with the ballooning Federal debt. And, sorry kids, no more beautiful countryside. Too bad.

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