The Loudoun Planning Commission’s annual report to the Board of Supervisors showed a commission more circumspect about development than the county board.
In most land use and development planning applications, the Planning Commission makes a recommendation to the Board of Supervisors, which makes the final decision. And in many years, to a great extent, the Board of Supervisors and Planning Commission vote completely in line with one another.
Out of 42 applications the commission heard in 2020, the Board of Supervisors approved two developments and one set of land use policy revisions that the commission recommended denying, and conversely denied one application the Planning Commission had recommended approving.
One of those applications, MC Dean, proposed several zoning exceptions on an 11.4 acre lot at the corner of Rt. 50 and Pleasant Valley Road to allow building of an auto service station, retail space, restaurants and drive-throughs. County planners recommended denying the application, since it does not fit with the suburban mixed-use vision for the area and is expected to further exacerbate traffic congestion in the area. The Planning Commission recommended denying that application by a vote of 6-1-1-1, with Commissioner Jeff Salmon (Dulles) opposed, Mark Miller (Catoctin) abstaining, and Michelle Frank (Broad Run) absent. The Board of Supervisors went on to approve it anyway 7-1-1, with Supervisor Juli M. Briskman (D-Algonkian) opposed and Caleb E. Kershner (R-Catoctin) absent.
Another, JK Technology Park, proposed rezoning 71.6 acres on Arcola Mills Drive between Briarfield Estates and The Grange at Willowsford, from a mix of residential and general industrial uses to an industrial park, as well as increasing the allowable density and lot coverage. That was to permit up to a million square feet office, up to 3.1 million square feet of data centers, and open-ended other industrial uses so long as they did not exceed office space for traffic generation. County planners opposed that application, pointing out it was not consistent with the planning in that area for suburban neighborhoods. The application was narrowly voted down at the Planning Commission 5-4, with Commissioners Roger Vance (Blue Ridge), Frank, Miller and Salmon opposed, but easily cleared the Board of Supervisors 8-1, with only Briskman opposed.
And a comprehensive plan amendment to extend public water and sewer into the western Rural Policy Area, targeted at a new school site on Evergreen Mills road, was voted down in the Planning Commission but approved by the Board of Supervisors. The commission voted against it 8-1, with only Vance in favor, but the Board of Supervisors approved it 8-1 with Supervisor Tony R. Buffington (R-Blue Ridge) opposed.
It was the first time the county has chipped away at its rules limiting central water service, which is seen as a precursor to intensive development, since the water service area was expanded in 2004. That year, 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.
There was one instance where supervisors were more hesitant about development than the Planning Commission.
In the case of Goose Creek Overlook, a proposal to build 238 new homes on land along Goose Creek at the Sycolin Road bridge, supervisors at first agreed with the commission’s recommendation to approve, then reversed course and denied the application. All three votes were close – the Planning Commission voted 5-3-1 in favor, with Commissioners Ad Barnes (Leesburg), Jane Kirchner (Algonkian) and Roger Vance (Blue Ridge) opposed and John Merrithew (Sterling) absent.
Supervisors then voted 5-4 to approve the development, before at the next meeting Supervisors Michael R. Turner (D-Ashburn) and Tony R. Buffington (R-Blue Ridge) reversed their votes to defeat the application 6-2-1, while Supervisor Caleb E. Kershner (R-Catoctin) switched his earlier yes vote to an abstention.
More splits between the two panels could emerge; a number of applications the Planning Commission voted on in 2020 have not yet reached a decision point at the Board of Supervisors.