In November, Loudoun voters tipped the balance of power for political parties on the county board dramatically, reversing a 6-3 Republican majority on the Board of Supervisors. What will change as the government shifts to Democratic control?
“People should not expect really drastic difference,” said re-elected County Chairwoman Phyllis J. Randall (D-At Large).
The incoming board formally met for the first time last Saturday as part of a briefing by the county staff on what to expect when they formally take office Jan. 1.
Randall will continue to chair the board, run meetings, rule on parliamentary matters and appoint committee members. “A county board is a board that does zoning, and land use, and the county budget, and all those things that we already do. We will continue to do those things, and I am kind of a believer in ‘steady as she goes,’” she said.
Randall also pointed out there will be more continuity on this board than in many previous boards. Loudoun is prone to dramatic swings on its Board of Supervisors, seeing a changeover of most—once even all—of its county supervisors every four years. This year, despite the dramatic shift in the party balance of the board, the slim majority of supervisors will be returning for the first time since voters in 2008 brought back five of nine previous members.
This year, Randall is joined by fellow incumbents Kristen C. Umstattd (D-Leesburg), Koran T. Saines (D-Sterling), Matthew F. Letourneau (R-Dulles) and Tony R. Buffington (R-Blue Ridge). Letourneau will be the longest-serving current member of the Board of Supervisors, entering his third term.
But Randall said there will be some changes, especially a renewed emphasis on nonprofits and community health. Among those initiatives are plans to create a new legislative liaison in her office, focusing on community and behavioral health, with Volunteers of America Residential Services Coordinator at the Loudoun homeless shelter Sarah Tuggle expected to step into that role. Randall said she also plans a large mental health and nonprofit symposium during the first two years of her new term.
She said she will also be encouraging other board members to get involved in the National Association of Counties and Virginia Association of Counties, which track and lobby on state and national issues affecting localities.
Along with a new vice chairman, following the retirement of Supervisor Ralph M. Buona (R-Ashburn), two of the county’s three standing committees will also have new leadership.
Although Leesburg District supervisor and former Leesburg mayor Umstattd is the supervisor with the most experience running meetings of an elected body, she will not be the new vice chairman—a move, in fact, Randall says Umstattd requested.
“I called all the board members and asked them what did they want, and that didn’t mean I could give them anything, but I asked them what they wanted,” Randall said. “And I certainly asked Mrs. Umstattd would she be interested in the vice chair position.”
Instead, Randall said, Umstattd requested the co-chairman seat on the Joint School Board/Board of Supervisors Committee, which brings together members of both bodies and meets quarterly, or as needed. In 2019, the committee met only once. Umstattd will lead alongside a School Board representative.
The Board of Supervisors’ new vice chairman, serving as chairman in Randall’s absence, will be returning Supervisor Saines. And Randall said the next term will be different from this one, in which Buona served as vice chairman for all four years.
“It’s very likely that year-to-year, we will change vice chairs, which I think is an appropriate thing to do, because I think everyone getting the experience of running the meeting is very important,” Randall said.
Meanwhile, the board’s Transportation and Land Use Committee will be led by a new face on the board: Ashburn District Supervisor-elect Michael R. “Mike” Turner (D), who served on the stakeholder steering committee guiding the first phase of writing the county’s new comprehensive plan. As chairman of the land use committee, Turner will likely play a big role in one of the biggest jobs the next board will face: implementing the vision of the new county comprehensive plan into a set of legally binding zoning regulations.
“Those terms and all the ordinances and acronyms are very familiar to him, and the new comprehensive plan is very familiar to him, and so he was natural choice,” Randall said.
Turner said the coming Zoning Ordinance overhaul will indeed be the top priority for his committee.
“I think it’s absolutely critical,” he said. “I think right now the county’s operating under, effectively, three different zoning ordinances, so we need to align a single zoning ordinance with the new comprehensive plan, so that’s a lot of work and that’s going to take top priority.”
Parcels in Loudoun County are governed variously by the 1972, 1993 and Revised 1993 Zoning Ordinances. Some eastern Loudoun properties continue to be regulated under old zoning rules because they are subject to older proffer agreements. Under state law, localities are limited in changing uses and development densities where those deals have been struck.
Turner also said the county needs to make sure infrastructure keeps up with new housing development—”We don’t want to build houses without the needed infrastructure, so we went to break that loop that we’ve kind of gotten into over the past couple decades.”
And among those infrastructure projects is a network of bike and pedestrian paths connecting the county, such as depicted in the Emerald Ribbons proposal from a variety of rural and green advocacy groups. That project would, among other things, connect many of the county’s existing trails and linear parks. Turner described the W&OD Trail on weekends as a “superhighway” of bike and pedestrian traffic.
“There’s no reason we can’t have a much broader and more integrated network that can use the W&OD as a spine,” Turner said.
He will also be focusing on infill development, he said. Rather than filling up pockets of undeveloped or redeveloped land with more townhouses, he said he wants to “create community gathering places.”
And he said zoning in and around the county’s new urban policy areas around its future Metro stops will be “critical.”
“They should be bi-directional portals to Loudoun County that serve Loudoun County tourism, and revenue needs to be going both directions,” Turner said. “But for them to reach their maximum potential, people in Loudoun County have to be able to flow freely back and forth in something other than a car.”
He gave the example of biking to a Metro stop, catching a train into the city, then coming back and biking home.
Turner said the committee will also get one more change: a regular meeting schedule, which he said will make things easier both for county staff members supporting the meeting and members of the public who want to attend.
While Finance/Government Operations and Economic Development Chairman Letourneau finds himself newly in the party minority, he will continue to lead that committee.
“There are things in process right now that we’ve been doing in the finance committee that, if we don’t have to change those things, we don’t need to,” Randall said. “Mr. Letourneau’s done a good job as finance chair, and there is no reason to change him just because we have the majority. Campaigns are over, and now it’s time to govern, and I believe he’s the best person to be the finance chair.”
The new board’s term will begin with a ceremonial swearing-in at 10 a.m. Jan. 4 at the National Conference Center, followed by a black-tie-optional gala that evening at 6:30. Tickets to the gala are expected to be $40, and Randall said any money raised beyond the cost of the event will be contributed to the YMCA, the Commission on Women and Girls, the Dulles Area Food Pantry and Loudoun Hunger Relief.