Loudoun County is in the process of adopting a new Comprehensive Plan for the first time in 15 years to help navigate the future of one of the nation’s fast growing regions. Initiated earlier this year, the planning process is still in its early stages but has already garnered widespread public interest as residents work with county officials to consider planning guidelines that could impact Loudoun for decades to come.
The county has been soliciting public input through online efforts as well as a series of in-person community workshops. Four were originally scheduled, but high demand resulted in the scheduling of two more, on Dec. 5 and Dec. 8, respectively.
Loudoun has won national awards for previous incarnations of its general plan, and at times the planning process has been controversial. While the current plan, adopted in 2001, has been amended numerous times, Loudoun continues to face major socioeconomic and infrastructure demands that the current process is seeking to address. Before the current plan, the last plan was adopted in 1989, when Loudoun was mostly rural and had one-quarter of today’s population.
Among the most significant factors this planning process will have to address is the coming of Metro — specifically, the areas around the two planned Metro rail stations in the eastern part of the county. By connecting Loudoun to the nation’s second-most ridden subway system, county planners are expecting an increased influx of new residents and businesses.
This will carry over to future construction projects, road designs, school needs and other issues — some that the county hasn’t faced before.
Spurred in part by the construction of Dulles International Airport and other infrastructure, Loudoun has gone from a population of 25,000 in 1960 to an estimated 375,000 in 2016. In decades prior, the county had prepared for massive suburban-style residential growth, but now must give more consideration to urban style development.
Urban style development will result likely result in narrower streets and more densely populated residential areas around the Metro stations, but there could be urban rezoning in other previously suburban areas too, said Community Planning Program Manager Chris Garcia.
Many of the suburban areas of the county are more than 50 years old, and may require revitalization. Additionally, there’s been a major shift in recent years away from homogeneous office parks and suburban style residences and towardsmixed-use, walkable residential-retail configurations. Loudoun has some experience with these types of developments, including One Loudoun, and Garcia said the county may look into more projects like those in the future.
Garcia also said many of these ideas are still in their very early phases of development. Much of the final decision-making will come down to the collective input of community stakeholders and, finally, the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors.
One major consistency from community members and county officials alike has been the desire to preserve the rural policy area in the western part of the county. Both the Board and the public at large have, for the most part, advocated for preserving the rural integrity of the west and preventing large-scale development like in the east. This continues the longstanding divide, as Loudoun looks to balance the needs of the mostly rural western part of its geography with the future creation of a more densely populated, urban based east.
“They represent some challenges, but I think it’s very interesting that people have that opinion of preserving that dichotomy and I think it’s a good thing for the county,” Garcia said.
While most residents appear to be supportive of preserving the west, there has been less consensus on the county’s Transition Policy Area (TPA). Located between the suburban environments of Sterling and Ashburn to the east and the undeveloped portions of the county to the west of Leesburg and Goose Creek, the Transition Policy Area was designed to serve as a buffer between the two. With increased demands for new commercial and residential space, and with much of the east already developed, there has been increasing strain on that area to provide opportunity for the growth of the County.
The fate of the TPA, as well as the rest of the county under the new Comprehensive Plan, is still a year or two away, as county officials will spend the next series of months working with the community to determine the best guidance document for Loudoun’s future. Following the final workshop of the first phase on Dec. 8, there will be two more public input sessions in 2017 to help residents better understand and contribute to the plan, then more work to follow.