A narrow swath of land between eastern and western Loudoun County dominated the discussion as the Board of Supervisors wrestled recently with the wording of the vision statement for a new comprehensive plan that will guide development in the county for decades to come.
On May 2, six months into the 18-month process of creating the plan, supervisors began discussing a draft vision statement and goals that had been developed by a committee of stakeholders after a period of public input.
Most of the discussion focused on the “transition policy area,” which was zoned to serve as a buffer between rapidly developing eastern Loudoun and the rural west. Supervisors disagreed over whether the vision statement should include the word “transition” as one of the primary types of land areas in the county, along with “rural, suburban and urban.”
Al Van Huyck, a member of the stakeholders committee, raised the issue during a part of the meeting set aside for public comment.
“If the board leaves out that word, it’s going to act like it is already agreed to by the board . . . that the transition area is gone, and I think that would be a mistake,” said Van Huyck, a longtime advocate for rural preservation.
Aldie resident Don Goff emphasized the importance of the transition area, telling the board that it serves as a “stress-release valve” by providing an escape from places with higher density.
“In essence, the transition policy area is much like Central Park for the rest of Loudoun County,” Goff said.
Supervisor Matthew F. Letourneau (R-Dulles) said that the word “transition” did not belong in the vision statement.
“Ninety-nine percent of the public . . . has no idea what the transition policy area is,” Letourneau said. “But they do understand what rural, suburban and urban mean.
“I’m not advocating for getting rid of the transition policy area, but I don’t think we have to tattoo it on ourselves every time we do anything, and it really does not belong in a high-level statement like this,” he said.
Supervisor Tony R. Buffington Jr. (R-Blue Ridge) disagreed, saying people in western Loudoun were concerned about the board’s level of commitment to the transition area. He said they would notice if it were not included in the vision statement.
“As far as saying something is a transition setting, I’m not sure what that means in the English language,” Supervisor Ron A. Meyer (R-Broad Run) said, adding that people would wonder, “What is a transition area? Does it have to do with someone’s gender identity?”
Supervisor Suzanne M. Volpe (R-Algonkian) said that Loudoun is “the only county in the lower 48 states that has a transition policy area” and that people who are unfamiliar with the term might wonder whether it refers to transitional housing or housing for people with Alzheimer’s disease.
“I very much doubt if anyone would think that means transitional housing or transgender,” responded board Chair Phyllis J. Randall (D-At Large). “I think people have more common sense than that.”
Letourneau proposed replacing the words “rural, suburban and urban” with “a variety of settings” rather than adding the word “transition.”
“That way we haven’t used anybody’s code words, and we’re not worried about whether we’ve included the policy areas or not,” he said.
Buffington said “the stark contrast between those who are supporting the transition policy area and those who say it doesn’t work” demonstrated the need to include it in the vision statement.
“It’s a perfect place to once again say that the transition policy area is important to us,” he said.
Buffington’s comments drew a heated response from Letourneau.
“This is not about somebody’s bona fides, whether they support the transition area or not,” Letourneau said. “I support the transition policy area, always have, but I still think we should look at it . . . not because I’m trying to eradicate it, but because I think it could be better.”
A majority of the board voted to accept the more general language proposed by Letourneau.
Supervisors will revisit the vision statement and goals at its meeting Thursday. Another round of public input sessions on the comprehensive plan is scheduled for early next month.