Keep Zoning Debate Open

Rumor and The Washington Post's editorial ["Silence in Loudoun"] and article ["Loudoun Looks at Settling Lawsuits," Metro] of July 27 suggest that some members of the county Board of Supervisors are considering revising the county's rural zoning to deal with outstanding lawsuits.

Perhaps they are proposing going from 20-10 to 10-5 or the old A3? And changing 50-20 to 20-10? The fact that the board members did not rush to a premature decision on this after their executive session Tuesday provides at last a hint of hope that care may be taken in dealing with what is inherently a complex issue.

It is clear that the county is continuing to grow. Population and average densities currently allowed for in the west may be exceeded. There are sensible ways to deal with this, and the present zoning would have to be modified. But to use a simplistic change from the existing 50-20 acre and 20-10 acre zoning to say 20-10 and 10-5 or the old A3 (a minimum lot size of three acres per house and, potentially, one house for every three acres of buildable land) would be clumsy, economically and fiscally unsound, technically unjustifiable and environmentally destructive.

A "one-size-fits-all" solution of this kind would be just about as dimwitted as it gets. Dumb for the developer who could get a more marketable and profitable product with a more subtle form of zoning linked with other development instruments and incentives of the kind already used in other jurisdictions where both developers and communities prosper. Dumb for the landowner. Expensive for the taxpayer. A disservice to the entire community. (It might be fine for the hit-and-run dirt turners and builders who live outside the county, but that is not what I mean by "developer.")

To deal with growth and to improve existing zoning calls for serious technical work, tough analysis and dialogue with the public, not a behind-closed-doors decision under the guise of a need for an executive session because of lawsuits.

Hopefully, a majority of the board will recognize this and ensure that the analysis and fresh thinking that is needed gets done in open consultation with the community and the development industry. To fail to do so would signal a lack of at least two features of good governance -- intelligence and integrity.

John D. Herbert

Paeonian Springs