Planning is Everything – Loudoun’s Comprehensive Plan

Planning is Everything – Loudoun’s Comprehensive Plan

By Scott K. York.

Recently our County Board of Supervisors initiated a strategic plan to create a new General Plan and Countywide Transportation Plan. The current Revised General Plan has guided zoning and development in Loudoun for the past fifteen years. Notwithstanding numerous amendments to that document over those years to keep up with changing circumstances, this initiative is an important one. It is the right time to have a robust discussion on how we build on the County’s successes and move forward with foresight.

The General Plan is a guide to long-range general development of the county, not a de facto rezoning of the County. It is intended to be both prudent and aspirational, to help our current and future leaders enact policies and approve development that serves the greater good of our County and its citizens.

As with other initiatives of this type, this one is already stirring up concerns about opening up the County to more residential development, particularly in the so-called “transition policy area”. There are those who believe the Board should shut the gate to most residential development and throw away the keys, those who want the Board to bless the current plan, and those who want much more.

Also noteworthy, this initiative comes at the same time the county is working on the Silver Line Comprehensive Plan Amendment (CPAM). This CPAM was initiated in March 2016 and will most likely be completed and adopted before the General Plan initiative is done. This planning exercise is looking at the land areas around Loudoun’s metro stations at Rte. 606 and Rte. 772, and may lead to higher non-residential density and as many as nine thousand new residential units.

The mandate to localities contained in the Code of Virginia is specific with the intended purpose of a General Plan: “To encourage localities to improve the public health, safety, convenience and welfare of its citizens and to plan for the future development of communities to the end that transportation systems be carefully planned; that new community centers be developed with adequate highway, utility, health, educational and recreational facilities; that the needs of agriculture, industry and business be recognized in the future growth; that residential areas be provided with healthy surroundings for family life; that agricultural and forestal land be preserved; and, that the growth of the community be consonant with the efficient and economical use of public funds.”

“Plans are nothing; planning is everything.” – Dwight D. Eisenhower

When I started my first term as the Board’s Chairman in 2000, I had the honor of leading the effort to review and revise the previous General Plan. We initiated that review with some urgency because rapid residential growth was having a dramatic impact on the County budget, schools, transportation and the rural economy. We wanted to enhance the protection of our environment and historic areas, and to discourage residential development on land that was planned for commercial uses. While not perfect, that Revised General Plan has served the County well.

It’s important to keep an open mind going into this new initiative. No one has a monopoly on good ideas, nor is there a crystal ball to tell us the future. However, with my experience on both the Board and Planning Commission, and as a citizen of Loudoun County, I offer some suggestions as the planning effort moves forward:

  • Focus on areas where the current plan is not in step with known challenges and opportunities;
  • Ensure that any changes to land use and density can be supported by existing or planned infrastructure, including schools, transportation, libraries and other County services;
  • Listen to everyone and build consensus, but don’t confuse consensus-building with trying to make everyone happy; and
  • Fully understand the budget implications of any proposed changes.

I wish the Board, the Stakeholders Steering Committee, the Planning Commission and County staff well as they move forward. This is not an easy task but it is a necessary one – and one that, for better or worse, will leave a mark on Loudoun County for years to come.

(Scott K. York served as Chairman of the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors from 2000-15, and previously served as Sterling District Supervisor and Planning Commissioner.)