Planning Confusion

Accusations among members of the [Loudoun County] Board of Supervisors were flying at the last board meeting. The discussions were lively at best and ill-tempered at worst. While no one else may admit it, I was confused several times during the meeting.

First, the board agreed 6 to 3 to form an ad hoc committee -- James G. Burton (I-Blue Ridge), Scott K. York (I-At Large) and Sally R. Kurtz (D-Catoctin) voting against it -- to assist the Planning Commission with its annual review of the zoning ordinance. This is a process that is completed annually, but for some reason six board members decided the Planning Commission needed assistance to accomplish a task it specifically was appointed to do. I'm confused.

As reported, the last time such a committee was formed was in the early 1990s when the previous zoning ordinance was being developed. Is this Planning Commission really undertaking the development of a new zoning ordinance?

Second, the proposed membership of this new committee was not shared with other board members, never mind the public. It appears that the roster includes mostly private-sector planners, engineers and land-use attorneys. The committee, however, is being called a citizens committee. A citizens committee? I'm confused.

This type of committee is typically referred to as a technical committee because these people bring technical expertise. But these people also bring a conflict of interest since they could financially benefit from changes made to the zoning ordinance. These people can't wear two hats.

If the Planning Commission needs expert assistance, appoint experts but also appoint those who will represent the citizens' interests. And call the committee by an appropriate name. (It appears that something similar is happening with the Route 50 Task Force, where one-hat citizens are not well represented.)

Finally, it is undisputed that the filing of 21 Comprehensive Plan Developer Amendments (CPAMS) last month is unprecedented in Loudoun County history. It is estimated that the CPAMS propose up to tens of thousands of new housing units, greatly impacting every Loudoun resident in terms of schools, traffic, environment and taxes. The board, however, voted to pass all 21 CPAMS onto the Planning Commission for consideration and recommendation. Is this the same Planning Commission that needs outside expert assistance to review the zoning ordinance? Does this mean that the same board members who didn't have confidence that the Planning Commission could handle the annual review of the zoning ordinance now have faith that the Planning Commission is capable of deciding the consideration and possible bundling of 21 CPAMS? I'm confused.

Wait a minute. Are some members of the board intentionally trying to confuse the citizens?