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Blue Ridge Leader: Citizens and Mayors to Planning Commission: Please Don’t Destroy Loudoun 12/5/18

By Andrea Gaines

To the residents fighting to convince the Board of Supervisors to strike a balance between the growth and development that wants to come here, and the growth that is appropriate, the newly-designed Loudoun County government website must really pull at the heartstrings.

The website is polished, and clean. And, with exquisite photos of one-of-a-kind historic stone bridges, juxtaposed with kayakers and bright new athletic facilities, it is the perfect balance of old and new.

But the November public hearing of the Loudoun County Planning Commission showed the deep, ongoing controversy behind what is shown on that new website and the reality behind the scenes in the Envision Loudoun planning process – which is rewriting the zoning laws that will apply in Loudoun County between now and 2040.

Western towns speak out Speaking at that packed public hearing, Hamilton Town Council member Matt Clark may have said it best: “We are here to stand up for one of the most special places in the world, and we need your help.”

But, as last month’s public hearing showed, select members of the Planning Commission, including Chairman Cliff Keirce have a vision of Loudoun woefully out of sync with citizen sentiment and the image portrayed on the government website – and in perfect harmony with the industry-dominated Envision Loudoun Stakeholder’s Committee and pro-development groups.

The George Mason University housing study, and testimony from the Northern Virginia Building Industry Association at the BOS’s 2017 Housing Summit, advocating for policies that would add tens of thousands of new residential units – “everywhere” – continues to drive the conversation, now in the form of cheaper housing options for the workers needed for Loudoun’s growing economy.

Two western Loudoun economies As citizens and mayors of Loudoun’s western Towns made clear, there are two Loudoun economies, and two Loudoun qualities of life vying for the Planning Commission’s attention: a suburban, mixed-use residential/commercial/data center economy, which would take the Washington metro/suburban growth from east to west to its limit, and the modern version of western Loudoun’s economy, with agri-tourism, small towns and villages, and open space fueling the area’s livelihoods.

With respect to what should happen in western Loudoun, the Planning Commissioners heard this:

“My name is Joe LaFiandra. I live just outside the Town of Purcellville … my home and 134 other homes around Purcellville are located in the Purcellville JLMA and zoned JLMA-3.’’ This is area “intended to accommodate future Town growth,” LaFiandra went on the say, and “This provision of the proposed County’s General Plan is seriously flawed … Developed areas should not be included in a Town’s JLMA plan. It’s common sense that JLMA zoning should only apply to annexation of undeveloped land. How can you manage the use of land that has already been decided?

“I and all of the neighbors I’ve talked to, don’t want to be included in any plan that makes us part of Purcellville’s expansion. We don’t need the Town’s water and septic systems because we have our own … In terms of the ‘land management’ part of JLMA, we don’t want to be managed any further; the ‘management’ of our property was determined decades ago when our residential communities were approved by the Town and the County … This zoning error is a time bomb that will explode in our faces some time in the future.”

Coalition of Loudoun Towns: COLT Middleburg’s newly elected mayor Bridge Littleton also spoke out against both the County’s approach toward working with its western towns, as well as the fiscal impact of more and more growth, and more and more houses.

“We are deeply concerned about the elements in this plan that are going to expand growth westward in an ill-advised and unconstrained manner,” said Littleton. “There was a commitment to work with the towns on greenbelts, and a commitment to work with the towns on joint planning. Eighteen years later that has yet to materialize.

“We cannot continue to think that we will grow our way into prosperity through more residential development. Residential development is the number one County cost-driver, not revenue driver.”

On the issue of taxes and revenues, Littleton did not mince words. “In your Tischler report from the May version of the plan, it already says that there will be $400 million of net cost to the County, which is not accounted for in taxes …. Regarding the TPA, there is … $725 million net negative in cost to the County with four dwellings units per acre.”

Purcellville Mayor Kwasi Fraser likewise did not mince words.

“We recognize that a managed and assessed growth strategy is necessary for the continued vibrancy of the County, but are concerned with the conditions in the draft County Comprehensive Plan that meter the pace of future development in the County, particularly the higher velocity of that growth enabled by the current draft of the Plan. We understand that this version of the draft Plan is based upon the recommendations from the Stakeholders Committee, and not necessarily supported by County staff, but we are specifically concerned with the conversion of the three identified Rural Policy Areas to Transition Policy Areas.”

Speaking directly to the draft Plan’s suggestion that nearly 1,000 acres of rural land now be part of the TPA, which, itself, would also be developed at far greater densities, Fraser said, “The current draft states that the Transition Policy Area includes 937 acres of land designated Rural Policy Area in previous plans. The Plan does not provide any rationale behind the shift of Rural Policy Area to TPA, giving the appearance that many of the concerns voiced in the three rounds of community engagement, as well as much of the on-line feedback received to this point, have not been addressed … “ Fraser then said he wanted the County to provide a rational for this dramatic policy change.

“While the Stakeholders may have felt that the identified areas more naturally favor TPA characteristics,” Fraser said, “any further advancement of TPA into the RPA makes it difficult to ‘hold the line’ on westward encroachment, and results in loss of our valuable rural areas that define the character of Loudoun County … “ Here, Fraser made note of the True North Data Center, approved for a site adjacent to Goose Creek, one of the most distinct features of Loudoun County as an historic and rural place connected to hundreds of millions of dollars in rural business income.

“We recommend that any conversion of RPA lands be removed from the Plan,” Fraser said.

Failing to address the rural economy point all together was Eric Johnson, representing the Loudoun County Chamber of Commerce. The “limited supply of land remaining in the Suburban Policy Area,” and the “lack of diverse and affordable inventory of rental and owner-occupied housing” were forcing Loudoun’s graduates to leave the County, sending “the tax dollars we invested in their education” elsewhere. To the Chamber, the march of growth from east to west needs to be accelerated.

Hillsboro Mayor Roger Vance said that although the commissioners “asserted that the unspoiled land in the TPA constituted the only real alternative for filling the anticipated housing needs,” COLT submitted a detailed example of a potential area redevelopment in the Suburban Policy Area. COLT identified a 54-acre site, which is currently low-density flex service and industrial in a prime location near shopping, schools and transportation corridors. COLT felt the site could yield residential units, along with affordable units and office or commercial space along with open space.

Said Vance, “As this revised plan works its way forward, now is the time for bold and creative thinking … to ensure the TPA and RPA remain as the citizens and the seven towns of the County have requested – open and protected to encourage the economic engine of western Loudoun.”

Lovettsville Mayor Nate Fontaine noted that 69,000 residents make their lives in western Loudoun County. “Western Loudoun is a unique place,” he said, representing “communities that are quickly disappearing across the Commonwealth and the nation.” Western Loudoun is “The tourism engine” of the County, he said. He noted that it generates $1.8 billion in annual revenue, 18,000 jobs, and nearly $700 million in wages. This is “the definition of successful land use planning.”

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