Op-Ed: Cluster Zoning is Out of Touch with Loudoun’s Priorities

By Eva Smithwick, Middleburg for Concerned Citizens Opposing Banbury Cross Reserve Housing Development

         Cluster zoning is allowed by right in rural Loudoun, permitting approximately three times the density as would normally be allowed. For example, AR-2, which governs much of southwest Loudoun, allows one dwelling unit per 40 acres. Cluster zoning allows one dwelling unit per 15 acres provided that 70 percent of the land remains as open space. However, there are no provisions governing “open space” and too often what is allotted to “open space” is the undevelopable areas such as wetlands or steep slopes, land which would not be useable by a developer anyway.

         Banbury Cross Reserve is one such cluster development slated for southwest Loudoun. Middleburg Land 1 LLC has purchased 500+ acres of farmland immediately east of Middleburg. Under base zoning conditions, these 500 acres could be subdivided into 12 small farms and under cluster development regulations, Middleburg Land 1 LLC has submitted an application to subdivide into 38 suburban-style residential units. Even considering the “open space,” this type of development would significantly alter the open farmland at the eastern edge of Middleburg.

         Between 2007 to 2012, Loudoun lost 7,660 acres, about 5.4 percent of its farmland. Only 31 farms shuttered in that time. “Losing 10 percent of your farmland every five years—there’s only one way that ends up,” said Loudoun County Farm Bureau president Chris Van Vlack.

         An ongoing petition has garnered almost 1,000 signatures from area resident in opposition to this cluster subdivision. Neighbors have planted yard signs and banners protesting the development. A Go-Fund-Me web page has been started to cover legal fees. As well, local leadership has weighed in against this type of development in rural Loudoun.

         Although cluster development is consistent with Loudoun’s zoning policy, that doesn’t mean that cluster development is consistent with the needs of the citizens,and our common vision of protecting community, agriculture, and open spaces.

         Clearly, as demonstrated by the Banbury Cross opposition, Loudoun’s zoning policy is out of touch with citizens’ priorities.

         As well, there are technical concerns. Cluster development considers the site individually, rather than holistically. For example, the hydraulic study considers only the project area, claiming the recharge is enough within the project boundaries, without consideration of the proximity to the Middleburg’s wells, intense irrigation needs of adjoining parcels, and the needs of an adjacent LCPS school site. Questions have been raised if the existing aquifer will support this level of demand. As well, there are concerns about protection of historic resources; Middleburg Land 1 LLC hired a consultant (CIRCA llc.) that does not meet the minimum state qualifications, bringing into question if 18th and early 19th century historic resources on the site will be adequately protected. The more recent article on CIRCA and their credibility ran on Oct. 24 edition.

         We will let you decide if they should be trusted with such important work. 

         Finally, there is the perennial problem of increased traffic, something that needs no explanation to anyone living in Loudoun.

         We ask the Board of Supervisors to reconsider cluster development when zoning regulations are reviewed early next year and to implement policies consistent with citizen values. While this important zoning review takes place, we ask the Loudoun staff to pause before moving forward with the Banbury Cross Reserve application. As development pressure moves west, this style of development will erode rural Loudoun’s remaining open spaces. We ask that you act before it is too late!

         Please get involved, learn more and assist us. For more information or to sign the petition, go here.

         To make a donation, please go to: 

         We welcome your assistance and please get involved by contacting us at ConcernedCitizensVSBBX@gmail.com

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