A key component of Loudoun County's ambitious land planning program may soon be delayed or killed, scuttling officials' efforts to adopt a package of measures designed to avoid suburban sprawl.
A proposed ordinance encouraging creation of villages similar to existing rural Loudoun settlements -- an experimental alternative to standard grid subdivisions -- is under fire from both developers and preservationists.
The ordinance has ignited fears among some residents of western Loudoun that it will permit excessive development and bulldoze their pastoral way of life. Some residents support clustering new homes and surrounding them with open space, as the measure would allow, but say it would bring too many new homes..
The proposed village ordinance "will be the demise of this county," Lucketts resident John Adams told the Board of Supervisors last week. "We will go in the same direction as Fairfax."
Meanwhile, some developers say proposed density bonuses and shortcuts for the project approval process are not enough incentive to make villages worth their additional investment.
On Tuesday, the supervisors will consider abandoning the measure or referring it to a new committee of western Loudoun supervisors and Planning Commission members to try to reach a consensus. The proposal is a key element of a land planning program, called Vision, that the supervisors began three years ago.
With a major budget deficit and election-year politics expected to dominate public debate this year, a lengthy delay in the village proposal could doom it, some officials say.
"There are too many people out there who are not willing to give a little in order to get a little," said Supervisor James F. Brownell (R-Blue Ridge), adding that "the village ordinance for all practical purposes is dead."
From Dulles International Airport and Sterling Park to the Blue Ridge Mountains, Loudoun experienced the area's fastest population growth in the 1980s, increasing 50 percent to nearly 90,000. Regional planners say it will continue to absorb a major share of area growth in the next two decades.
The current Board of Supervisors was elected to a four-year term in 1987 with a mandate to control growth. Under Virginia law, counties are severely restricted in how they can alter the pace and style of land development.
Early Loudoun proposals to restrict building densities were assailed by farmers and developers as an attempt to undercut their rights and land values. Officials went back to the drawing board, saying they would balance landowners' rights with preservationists' concerns.
The ensuing process has pleased few in the county as fears escalated on both sides, making consensus increasingly difficult, some officials say.
Loudoun is not alone in its land-planning woes. In Maryland, Howard County recently lifted some growth controls earlier than planned because of the stalled economy after the election of a new county executive. In Fairfax County, an updating of the comprehensive land plan last year ran into strong citizen opposition.
The Loudoun Vision concept, which has drawn interest from other communities across the country, is designed to provide landowners and developers with attractive alternatives to carving up vacant land into straight-line streets and homes, as in suburban subdivisions, or dotting rural hillsides with new houses built on subdivided farms.
Many residents say such development could ruin the county's visual appeal and pollute its ground water because of the heavy dependence on septic tanks in rural Loudoun. Typical zoning for Loudoun farm and timber land tends to encourage lot sizes of three to 10 acres.
The village ordinance, a voluntary measure designed to permit as many as 300 homes in clusters surrounded by large, permanent open spaces, would use community sewage treatment plants. These package plants could lead to unlimited growth in rural areas, some residents say.
A similar measure, limited to so-called hamlets of five to 25 houses that would be served by individual septic systems, was approved by the supervisors last June.
Some residents of western Loudoun "expect that developers are going to come in droves" with village after village if the measure passes, said developer Hobie Mitchel, an official of the Artery Organization. Mitchel said his firm is one of the few seriously considering using the village measure if it passes.
Although the hamlet law and a farm subdivision measure have passed, the village proposal and the entire Vision program for eastern Loudoun -- where most county residents live -- are bogged down. Officials, civic activists and developers say the limited Vision program now in place is better than nothing but is far short of its promise.
"We've spent far, far too much time on it without much in the way of results," said Supervisor Steve W. Stockman (R-Broad Run).
"The county is in the unfortunate position of trying to plan for what's needed today," said Bruce DeAtley, vice president of Intergate Investment Builders.
Eleanor Towe, president of the Round Hill Area Citizens Association, said the supervisors shouldn't pass the village measure just to try to salvage the Vision program in an election year. "It would almost be better to say, 'Look what we've started,' " she said.