Two Western Zoning Plans Advance

Two Western Zoning Plans Advance

Supervisor Jim Clem is the swing vote.

Supervisor Jim Clem (R-Leesburg) holds the swing vote in the county's decision on western Loudoun density.

At a June 1 work session, it at first appeared that a compromise plan co-sponsored by Clem and Supervisor Jim Burton (I-Blue Ridge) would move forward as the county-sponsored plan to rework western Loudoun zoning.

But at the end of the night, Clem supported advancing both his and Burton's plan as well as a plan by supervisors Bruce Tulloch (R-Potomac) and Mick Staton (R-Sugarland Run) that would allow more dense housing in the rural west — although nothing approaching eastern Loudoun density.

Three hours of debate then ended in stalemate as both plans moved forward.

EARLIER this year, the Virginia Supreme Court threw out the strict-growth, pro-agricultural business zoning enacted in 2003. Since then, it's been a scramble as supervisors sought to remake western Loudoun's building future.

Supervisors Burton and Sally Kurtz (D-Catoctin) and Chairman Scott York (I-At Large) were authors of the 2003 downzoning, which changed the west from zoning that allowed one house per three acres (A-3) to one house per 10 to 50 acres (AR-1 and AR-2).

A new Republican majority took office in 2004, leaving Burton, Kurtz and York stranded in a minority. The six Republican supervisors had run against the 2003 Revised General Plan, but they wouldn't have to dismantle it themselves: the Virginia Supreme Court did it for them.

In March, the court found that the county had not provided sufficient public notice of the downzoning. The zoning map reverted to A-3 — a move that could have allowed the by-right suburbanization of rural western Loudoun.

With the exception of Supervisor Eugene Delgaudio (R-Sterling), supervisors both Republican and otherwise said they did not support A-3 in the west. But how much building would be allowed was where supervisors split.

Burton, York, Kurtz and Supervisor Lori Waters (R-Broad Run) supported maintaining the rural character of the west. Waters, who represents a swiftly-growing suburban district, in particular spoke out against clustering small subdivisions surrounded by agricultural businesses.

"If you allow a suburban neighborhood right next door [to a farm], you are setting up people with suburban expectations to complain about the animals, farm smells, tractors or other rural uses right next door," Waters said at a work session in May.

CLEM AND BURTON'S proposal would have put AR-1 and AR-2 at a base density of one unit per 20 and 40 acres, respectively, with rezoning possibilities of one house per 7.5 or 15 acres.

The proposal also allowed for individual spin-off lots.

"I want to make sure that there are provisions ... that we can have the lots that we can give to our children because they are the ones that are going to stay around and help me run the farm," Clem said.

He added, "This is the rural area. This is not in downtown Leesburg. This is not going to be a heavily populated area because we do not have the resources out there to provide water and sewer."

The plan put forth by Tulloch and Staton, meanwhile, would create new districts called AR-10 and AR-20 that would allow one unit per 10 or 20 acres, respectively. There would be a cluster option.

"When you zone land ... you are denying the living choices of someone's property," Staton said. "The question we're being asked to decide is, how strictly, how severely are we going to limit people's rights in Loudoun County?"

Burton, believing his five votes were in place, had moved to cancel the last zoning work session. His motion was denied.

As an author of the 2003 strict zoning in the west, Burton had been stunned by the court's decision. He, and his minority colleagues, had pushed for readvertisement and re-enactment of AR-1 and AR-2, something he knew he didn't have the votes to accomplish.

So he singled out Clem, the swing vote, and hashed out a new plan.

"I wrestled with this an awful lot," he said. "It's a compromise."

One or both of the western Loudoun zoning plans will advance to public hearing later this year.