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Board To Alter Planning Process

By Michael Laris
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 3, 2005; Page LZ01

The Loudoun County Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday to take more control of a previously little-used planning process that in recent months has come to shape much of the county's development debate.

A series of votes on what are known in county planning jargon as Comprehensive Plan Amendments, or CPAMs, effectively derailed the controversial Western Transportation Corridor, which the board revived last year after taking office.

Supervisors also voted to eliminate a developer-initiated proposal to build a town center-style housing and commercial development in Ashburn and proceed with a county outreach effort to determine community sentiment toward such a development.

They also suspended the next opportunity for developers to submit CPAMs, scheduled for September, to give themselves time to catch up on proposals already submitted.

The moves marked a modest change of course by the board.

Many of the board's more pro-growth supervisors had welcomed a coordinated rush of proposals from developers last year that called for changes in the Comprehensive Plan that could add tens of thousands of new homes across the county.

After 20 such proposals were submitted in time for last September's deadline, a majority on the board voted to let the county's appointed Planning Commission decide which to consider. The commission, disregarding the advice of county planners, accepted most of the proposals for review.

Some supervisors have become increasingly critical of that decision. They argued that leaving the Planning Commission in charge of those proposals, without clear policy choices by elected leaders, was an abdication of the supervisors' responsibility to shape growth in the county. Some supervisors said the proposed amendments were backdoor attempts to change the county's zoning rules, which were forged by the previous board over three years of often raucous debate.

Proponents of leaving the CPAMs up to the Planning Commission cited efficiency and previous practice.

Supervisor Lori L. Waters (R-Broad Run) is among those who have called for changing how the board manages the proposals. In a far-reaching debate on the matter Tuesday, Waters suggested abandoning the town center proposal in her district and launching a wider, county-backed look at the desirability of such a proposal.

"I want to do a community plan, where we first go out to the community and ask, 'Do you want a town center?' " Waters said. "Maybe the residents decide it should go to a different spot."

Her motion passed, effectively killing One Loudoun Center, a 362-acre development proposal at Loudoun County Parkway and Route 7.

The supervisors also voted to discontinue work on the Middle Goose/Criswell proposal, which would have allowed increased housing densities on the north side of Ryan Road and east of Evergreen Mills Road. Some supervisors said the area was somewhat isolated and didn't deserve to be a priority.

Supervisors dropped their own CPAM for the Western Transportation Corridor because they said state officials had failed to attract firms with an interest in building it. Proponents of the north-south highway hoped it would eventually run through Prince William and Loudoun counties and across the Potomac River into Maryland, serving as the western arc of an outer beltway to promote economic growth and shorten commutes. Opponents said it would spur scattered development and do nothing to solve regional transportation woes.

The supervisors also voted to proceed with a group of major development proposals in a 23,000-acre area of the county known as the transition zone, which stretches from Leesburg to south of Dulles International Airport.

Those plans will be considered by the Planning Commission and the county's planning staff in the coming months. They would allow tens of thousands of new homes and have been the focus of intense debate on the future, and nature, of the county's growth.

Proponents of the projects say the area is a good spot for new building that could address a big demand for housing. Critics say the area lacks sufficient roads, schools and other infrastructure and services that would be expensive to provide.

Vice Chairman Bruce E. Tulloch (R-Potomac) raised the prospect that those plans could be affected by new county policies being put into place that will govern how developments are financed.

Tulloch said the county was developing a policy toward Community Development Authorities (CDAs) -- a method of development financing that imposes a levy on residents in a new subdivision -- that would have "teeth." Although he did not offer specifics, he said such a policy was being fashioned in response to comments he and other officials heard on a recent trip to New York to speak with bond rating agencies.

Last year, Loudoun obtained a Aaa bond rating from one of the agencies, Moody's, and officials say they are eager to maintain the rating, which saves the county large sums when it borrows money. Exactly what effect restrictions on CDAs might have on far-reaching development proposals that rely on such financing remains unclear.

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