Debating Rural Zoning

Debating Rural Zoning

With his bushy beard, jeans and galoshes, Tom Donohue shuffled up to the podium to deliver his two-minute speech. As a commuter and horse owner living in western Loudoun, he can see both sides of the zoning argument. But, Saturday morning light glaring outside the windows of the Board of Supervisors meeting room, Donohue stood before the Planning Commission to defend the countyÕs countryside.

ÒIÕve never seen a development ripped down and replaced by a farm,Ó he told the commissioners quietly but firmly. ÒWe need time to breathe.Ó

MORE THAN 50 citizens turned out that morning to echo DonohueÕs sentiments. Last March, due to a technicality in which it was ruled that the county had not properly informed landowners of the impact of growth-control legislation that had been enacted two years prior, the Virginia Supreme Court threw out LoudounÕs stiffened zoning legislation for rural areas, which concentrated on low density. Open spaces, transportation and on-site septic, water and sewage services were also serious considerations of the policy.

Rules allowing 3-acre lot sizes Ñ A3 zoning Ñ that were in place before the downzoning were reinstated after the courtÕs decision.

Rather than simply re-advertising the old legislation and re-enacting it, the Board of Supervisors has decided to amend certain aspects of rural zoning in western Loudoun, relaxing lot size stipulations and rewording the clustering and subdivision policy, for example. Almost a year after the Supreme CourtÕs decision the county is still considering the contentious legislation and the Board of Supervisors is unlikely to put anything new into place until this June.

OUT OF THE overwhelming support that came from last weekÕs Planning Commission public input hearing for the amended zoning, the No. 1 plea was for speedy action. The citizens present were concerned about a Òland rushÓ Ñ a spike in requests for subdivisions by developers before the A3 legislation is replaced.

If A3 remained in effect the county would be open to more than 48,000 new houses, as opposed to approximately 19,000 with the amended rural zoning plans, said Blue Ridge District Supervisor Jim Burton, who supports the proposed legislation.

ÒThe difference in number of houses allowed is in the tens of thousands,Ó says director of the Campaign for LoudounÕs Future and Ashburn resident Andrea McGimsey.Ê

ÒIt's a huge issue for everyoneÓ in the county, she said, Òdue to the difference in costs to all of us Ñ traffic, water issues [and] taxes to build all the schools.Ó

And according to the Campaign for LoudounÕs Future Web site, ÒNew residents cost more in services than they pay in taxes, so adding thousands of houses to western Loudoun means either tax increases or greater county debt.Ó

HOWEVER, DULLES District Supervisor Steve Snow does not agree with down zoning.

ÒIt is amazing to me that the advocates of no growth argue for providing the quality schools, roads and amenities that make Loudoun an attractive place to live and yet fight against allowing people to move into this county,Ó Snow said in his January newsletter.

Supervisors Mick Staton (Sugarland) and Bruce Tulloch (Potomac) also disagree with the proposed amendments.

Staton and Tulloch are concerned that the new legislation will once again take away the rights of landowners.

The initial vote by the Board of Supervisors on the amended zoning was 5-4.

Nearly 200 lawsuits were filed against Loudoun County by property owners and developers after the growth control measures were enacted in 2003.