Supervisors Reorganize Zoning Ordinance Committee

As they prepare to write the zoning ordinance that will put into law the visions laid out in the 2019 comprehensive plan, county supervisors have voted to disband the committee that would lead that work and reorganize it.

The 15-member Zoning Ordinance Action Group advises the Board of Supervisors on changes to zoning laws, often presenting supervisors with proposals for changes to county zoning. Its membership includes representatives and senior leadership from land planning firms, Realtors, the building industry, conservation and preservation interests, the Chamber of Commerce, the Economic Development Commission, and other groups. Its members are appointed by county supervisors, and it currently has several vacancies.

But Supervisor Michael R. Turner (D-Ashburn) said it’s time to rethink that committee’s structure.

“The zoning ordinance rewrites are going to take place over the next two years, and they are absolutely critical,” Turner said.

He proposed the new, 16-member Zoning Ordinance Committee, which has a similar role but many changes.

While the ZOAG has always worked with county planners and the Planning Commission, the new committee also reports to the Planning Commission rather than making its recommendations to the county board.

Current members of the Zoning Ordinance Action Group will serve out the rest of the term on the new Zoning Ordinance Committee, temporarily swelling the committee’s ranks to 19 seats until those terms expire.

While before supervisors appointed every member, now they appoint two at-large citizen members and two subject matter experts in architecture and land use planning and the rest of the seats on the committee are held for organizations that select their own representation. Those include the Planning Commission, the Loudoun County Chamber of Commerce, the commercial real estate developers’ association NAIOP, the Northern Virginia Building Industry Association, the Dulles Area Association of Realtors, the Coalition of Loudoun Towns, the Farm Bureau, the Rural Economic Development Council, the Loudoun County HOA Coalition, the Economic Development Advisory Commission, the Piedmont Environmental Council, and the Loudoun County Conservation and Preservation Coalition.

It also establishes for the first time the requirement that its members be Loudoun County residents, limits the number of terms they can serve to two, and limits members to serving on no more than one other county committee. Some members of ZOAG also serve on several other county committees, in addition to regularly interacting with the county government in their organizational or professional roles.

And while not required, it is recommended members have at least five years of experience in their field.

Supervisor Juli E. Briskman (D-Algonkian) worried the committee does not have specific representation for residents in the east.

“We have five from the business community, three to five explicitly representing western Loudoun, and I still don’t see where eastern Loudoun is really represented here at all,” Briskman said. “And that’s where a lot of the redevelopment, revitalization and maybe infill development is going to be happening in future years.”

With supervisors in the previous term committed to not making major changes in western, rural area policy, much of the focus in the 2019 comprehensive plan was on guiding development in the east.

“The whole idea behind this is that we reduce the consolidation of decision making in the county, and that we have a more diverse membership on all of our boards and commissions,” Briskman said.

Chair Phyllis J. Randall (D-At Large) also said the new committee may get further tweaks after it is in action for some time.

“At any point we may come back and make adjustments to something,” Randall said. “I imagine we probably would, because there’s a lot of changes happening right now. … New things are a little scary sometimes, and they’re hard, and change is not always comfortable.”

The Loudoun County Chamber of Commerce, which has a seat on both versions of the committee, cautioned supervisors as they worked to create the new committee.

“The county has numerous policy advisory committees which provide ample opportunity for citizens with a passion and desire to serve to engage in shaping our government,” the Chamber wrote. “It’s important that ZOC is consistent with ZOAG’s unique mission to serve as atechnical advisory committee, rather than purely just policy advisoryThis type of first-hand technical expertise is critical, especially today, as we’re looking at the largest overhaul to the County’s Zoning Ordinance in over 20 years.”

But the Chamber proposed the idea of requiring at least five years’ experience among potential members, and applauded its inclusion.

Supervisors voted to create the new committee 7-0-2, with Supervisors Tony R. Buffington (R-Blue Ridge) and Matthew F. Letourneau (R-Dulles) absent, on Oct. 6.

The project is the latest example of supervisors doing their work over email, rather than in a public meeting of the board or one of its committees. While work on the proposal also happened in the Transportation and Land Use Committee, before coming the full Board of Supervisors, Turner gathered votes on suggestions over emailed straw polls, crafting the new committee that was adopted Oct. 6.

County staff members have gone as far as to take guidance from and act on straw poll votes during the General Assembly session, decisions that would later be ratified by formal votes in public meetings only after the fact.

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