Loudoun County's newly elected Board of Supervisors yesterday took its first steps toward making good on a promise to slow growth and preserve the county's rural character, voting 8 to 1 to review the plan that acts as a framework for future development.
Meeting for the first time as sworn officials, board members yesterday agreed to consider several immediate growth management tools and to identify long-term ways to slow the rate of rural residential growth and protect historic and environmental resources. Board members said their efforts will include both changing existing local policy and lobbying lawmakers in Richmond to expand the power of local jurisdictions to control development [Related story, Page 3].
"We believe there is no time to waste, and we're able to jump out of the gate full force," Chairman Scott K. York (R-At Large) said in an interview. "I want Loudoun County to look like Loudoun County, not Fairfax County. Not that there's anything wrong with Fairfax--but if I wanted to live there, I would."
In a move that York said shows the board "means business," supervisors also yesterday voted to earmark $1 million from the county's general fund to support the "smart-growth" agenda. The majority of the funds will be used to pay for legal assistance in case the board's actions are challenged in court.
"I want this county to be in the position that our county attorney is well backed up," York said. "The only way that money will be spent is if the development community thinks it's king."
Added Supervisor J. Drew Hiatt (R-Dulles): "We need to demonstrate our resolve to protect the taxpayers' and the homeowners' interests. We ought not to be bullied or intimidated."
York said about $3,000 of the $1 million will help pay for a lobbyist who will work for Loudoun and other jurisdictions in the Virginia Coalition of High Growth Communities that support slow-growth measures that will be considered by the General Assembly. Supervisors said they also will immediately begin revising county policy to help them shape Loudoun's growth. Yesterday, they were presented with a report by York's transition team titled "A Citizens' Strategy for Smart Growth in Loudoun County" that will serve as a guide.
The 52-page report recommends changes to the county's zoning ordinance and General Plan, and suggests ways to protect the rural landscape and promote tourism.
Supervisor Eugene A. Delgaudio (R-Sterling) cast the only vote against the motion to review the General Plan, saying he was concerned about the costs of pursuing the review as well as the possibility of implementing some transition team recommendations. "I can't support something that I don't know how much it will cost," he said. The board yesterday unanimously approved one of the team's recommendations--to eliminate the fast-track process that allows for expedited review of some rezoning applications, except in cases where a quick review is needed to "ensure the public health, safety and welfare of Loudoun County citizens."
Supervisors asked county staff to review some other recommendations and said the report helps the board identify areas to begin their work.
"Already I've detected a change in direction," said Supervisor James G. Burton (I-Mercer). "I spent the last four years trying to convince supervisors we needed to do something about growth. . . . Instead of talking about the problem, now it's time to do something about it."
The task force, headed by Paul Ziluca, former chairman of the Loudoun Republican committee, held three public input sessions and met with community groups, Voters to Stop Sprawl and the Piedmont Environmental Council. The task force also met with representatives from development interests including the Northern Virginia Builders Industry Association and the business community [Related story in Metro].
The task force recommendations include:
* Changing the county's policy on proffers paid by developers--money used to build schools, parks and other public services.
* Revising guidelines that prescribe high-density development at sites where public facilities such as roads, water and sewer lines are already in place to call instead for development that is similar to surrounding neighborhoods.
* Allowing Loudoun's towns more input in shaping the development around their boundaries.
* Revising the General Plan to encourage the development of small farms and homes on large lots instead of the current preference for rural villages--homes clustered with supporting public facilities.
* Amending the county's Hamlet ordinance to require that the small, clustered residential neighborhoods--intended to concentrate development and preserve open land--have at least 30 acres of open space instead of the 10 acres now required. The report also recommends that commercial uses, such as golf courses or bed and breakfasts, be prohibited in hamlets.
* Ensuring that residents are aware of proposed developments early in the planning process by requiring applicants for rezonings or special exceptions to hold a public input session within 60 days of filing an application with the county. The input sessions would occur before county staff and the planning commission review the application so public concerns can be considered.
* Establishing a county Department of Natural Resources to help minimize the environmental impacts of development.
York stressed that the recommendations are simply a guide but said that the report allows supervisors to "get a running jump as we take office." York and other board members said while they hope to move forward quickly--completing the review of the general plan this year--they also will move cautiously.
"What we are about to do is really monumental . . . to change the direction this county is going significantly," Burton said. "We have to make sure it will stand up to challenges because there will be challenges."