Supervisors have voted to create an exception to a long-standing rule prohibiting central water from the eastern side of the county extending into the western Rural Policy Area.
The change is targeted at farmland along Evergreen Mills Road where the county government has 173 acres under contract to purchase for a new middle school, with a due diligence period ending Dec. 16 and closing planned in January. The school system envisions a large school complex there eventually, adding a high school, elementary school and, potentially, the county’s first indoor track facility.
The amendment to the county comprehensive plan approved Tuesday, Dec. 1 allows central water and sewer service to publicly owned properties in the county’s western Rural Policy Area, but adjoining the central Transition Policy Area. But it was a process that raised concerns not only for rural preservation advocates who were worried by the prospect of central water service in the Rural Policy Area, but also neighbors who now find themselves surrounded by central water and sewer service but not allowed to connect. For example, Fleetwood Farm Winery, which is across the street from the Transition Policy Area, is surrounded on its other three sides by the new county property—completely surrounding the business with water service, to which it may not connect.
Supervisors also voted to launch another comprehensive plan amendment that could fix that.
Supervisor Tony R. Buffington (R-Blue Ridge) attempted to limit the area where public water service could be extended to just parcels south of Red Hill Road. Evergreen Mills Road in that area marks the boundary between rural and transition policy. Supervisors voted that down 7-2, with only Buffington and Supervisor Kristen C. Umstattd (D-Leesburg) in favor.
The move by Supervisors Matthew F. Letourneau (R-Dulles) and Michael R. Turner (D-Ashburn) to launch a new, holistic review of whether that whole area should be in the Transition Policy Area—revisiting a debate from the last term’s work on the county’s 2019 General Plan, and something that the Planning Commission asked for when it recommended against creating the exception—passed 8-1, with only Umstattd opposed. Buffington noted it was nearly identical to a motion he attempted to make at a public hearing in November.
Umstattd said it would open the door to yet more land being moved out of the rural policy area, following the decision during the last term to move some other parcels into the transition area.
“So this will now theoretically open it up for a third part of the Rural Policy Area to just be brought into the Transition Policy Area,” Umstattd said. “We’re eating away piece by piece at the Rural Policy Area.”
Buffington, meanwhile, supported that move, but not allowing water and sewer service into the Rural Policy Area without his additional constraints.
“The notion that the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors is going to decide to acquire a piece of property and then site a public facility there without any kind of public discussion or approval is honestly preposterous,” Letourneau said.
There is already some limited central water and sewer service available in the Rural Policy Area, where towns have extended their systems beyond their borders. There is also an existing exemption to allow central service to address public health threats to existing rural communities.
The last time the water service area was expanded was in 2004, when supervisors voted to permit central water service in the Transition Policy Area, which divides the Rural and Suburban Policy Areas; before that, it was allowed only in the Suburban Policy Area.
Allowing water and sewer service has long been seen as a precursor to more intensive development, and prohibiting that service in most of the Rural Policy Area has been treated as a way to protect the rural west from development.