A consultant review of Loudoun’s current zoning ordinances has led to—perhaps predictably—recommendations that the county’s land use rules be streamlined and simplified.
Loudoun’s idiosyncratic zoning is known not only for its four geographically separated policy areas—rural, transition, suburban, and urban—but also for its three coexisting ordinance documents, with different parcels governed by each. They are the 1972 Zoning Ordinance, the 1993 Zoning Ordinance, and the Revised 1993 Zoning Ordinance.
The consultant, Montréal-based WSP, recommended the county consolidate and simplify the rules in Loudoun zoning as the county moves ahead with the Zoning Ordinance Rewrite, the work to codify the policies in the new 2019 General Plan into law.
For example, the firm counted 61 zoning districts in Loudoun and 402 land use definitions. Of those definitions, said Deputy Director of Planning and Zoning James David, many describe essentially the same thing, with minor tweaks. The firm counted only 281 actually separate uses.
The firm also recommended making the new ordinance more user-friendly, such as by putting the most useful information up front, along with process improvements and development standards that emphasize environmental sensitivity, preserving historical resources, and incentivizing affordable housing.
Loudoun planners are also pushing to move toward form-based code, which governs based on the appearance and impacts of a development rather than the specific uses inside. Supervisor Kristen C. Umstattd (D-Leesburg) raised concerns from her own experience.
“When the Town of Leesburg got into that kind of planning over a decade ago, the original proposal was that we didn’t care what the use was, we just cared how it looked,” Umstattd said. “So the initial proposal was, this is about aesthetics. What it ended up doing, though, was imposing aesthetics on top of regulating uses.”
David said that discussion continues among the county’s planners.
“Oftentimes people try to go for the design, not care about the use, but then they end up saying ‘well, you know what, we do care about the use too,’ and then it doesn’t really translate as true form-based code,” David said. But, he said, form-based code could be a good fit for urban areas “where you want that kind of maximum flexibility, in the uses around transit-oriented development.”
The consulting firm has also already built an online platform for browsing the county’s zoning ordinances, although that platform is not yet publicly accessible.