How Can County Help Business?

How Can County Help Business?

EDC targets 'business friendly' goals.

Loudoun County should be more “business friendly” and give economic development projects higher priority. That was the message from an Economic Development Commission (EDC) interim report.

“How do we help the county help us?” said Joe Paciulli, chairman of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, a subcommittee of the EDC.

The subcommittee studied the impact the new zoning ordinance has had on the county’s land development process, reporting on the initial findings at the May 2 EDC meeting. The Board of Supervisors adopted the zoning ordinance in January one-and-a-half years after approving the Revised Comprehensive Plan, which guides county development for the next 20 years. The zoning ordinance provides “regulatory strength of the goals in the comp plan,” Paciulli said.

The subcommittee interviewed private developers, property owners and county staff to obtain comments on the new zoning ordinance. The subcommittee found that since the ordinance’s adoption, few applications were submitted for review under the ordinance’s provisions, making it premature to determine the impact the provisions have had on land development. However, the subcommittee did find that the ordinance “impacted the development potential and certainty of commercial parcels countywide,” primarily through the overlay districts, as stated in the report. The question of how the ordinance applies to parcels has created financing and development problems, the report said.

“Now is the time to fix the problem,” Paciulli said. “We didn’t feel we were getting comments from a bunch of whining developers.”

THE COMMENTS pointed to the Comprehensive Plan’s creating more confusion than the zoning ordinance’s adoption and the county staff applying the Comprehensive Plan as if it were an ordinance. “The current zoning ordinance, subdivision ordinance and Facilities Standards Manual are the regulations they must enforce, not policies or guidelines in the Comprehensive Plan,” as stated in the report.

“These are not comments on the merits of the general plan,” Paciulli said. “This is about how to help the county implement predictability. … We wanted to prepare something that would be a useful tool [with] specific recommendations.”

Subcommittee member Deborah Rochkind mentioned some of the recommendations and goals outlined in the interim report. “Economic development projects should be given higher priority. Delays cost landowners and developers money,” she said, adding that county staff should be given clearer direction on the application review process; the application process needs to be more accountable; and the Comprehensive Plan and zoning ordinance need to be under continuous review. “You have to foster business … from the beginning to the end of the process.”

Committee chairman Dave Parker said the purpose of the report is “to clean up the confusion, so businesses can go on.”

The subcommittee suggested the EDC present a final report to the Board of Supervisors. In the meantime, the interim report listed the following recommendations for the county:

* Process land development applications that support economic development by following clear and predictable time lines.

* Provide staff resources to handle the applications.

* Conduct supervisory and administrative reviews of the applications in eastern Loudoun “to prevent unnecessary interpretations of rules that hinder the timely review of these applications.”

* Create a team to oversee and review applications.

Also an EDC subcommittee would be tasked to conduct reviews of the projects.

The subcommittee suggested holding a forum within the next two months between the EDC and the Board of Supervisors, the Planning Commission and county staff to discuss implementation of the report’s suggestions.

“We indeed want to be business friendly,” said Supervisor Eleanore Towe (D-Blue Ridge), who attended the meeting to serve as liaison for the full board. “We know our economic development is our key, our key to success.”

"I will do my part to make sure the processes are not encumbered ... and people get through," said Board of Supervisors Chairman Scott York (R-At large) at the May 5 board meeting.

IN OTHER BUSINESS, the EDC voted unanimously in favor of creating an Entrepreneurial Resource Center, which will be housed at the Loudoun Small Business Development Center. The resource center will provide resources and materials for small business entrepreneurs not available elsewhere in the county, along with direct counseling and one-on-one assistance with market research and competitive analysis. The center will have available trade journals, financial analysis software and other difficult-to-find materials.

“The future is based on how we grow and nurture the small business community,” Parker said.

The committee approved providing $15,000 from the EDC’s Fiscal Year 2003 budget for the center.