July 26, 2002
Red dirt piles and construction equipment along roadways and in new developments point to the fact Loudoun has moved up from the third to the second fastest growing county in the nation, as ranked by the U.S. Census Bureau.
This should come as no surprise.
The population nearly tripled from 57,484 in 1980 to 169,599 in 2000 and continued to expand to an estimated 185,879 in 2001, according to information provided by the U.S. Census and the county government. By 2010, the population is expected to nearly double to more than 300,000.
THE COMPREHENSIVE PLAN
The Board of Supervisors adopted a revised Comprehensive Plan in July 2001 with smart growth in mind. The Comprehensive Plan outlines the county's growth plan for the next 20 years by reducing housing and preserving the county's natural, environmental and cultural resources. The plan decreases by 41 percent the number of new homes that can be developed from 186,700 units, as outlined in the 1991 plan, to 109,000 units. Zoning densities are reduced in the west, while the suburban densities in the east are kept the same. "The work this board is doing will have an impact on managing growth in the future. But in the near term, we're subject to the market because of past rezonings by previous boards," said Chairman Scott York (R-At Large), referring to the 36,900 homes already approved for development.
The Board of Supervisors plans to implement the Comprehensive Plan through several steps, including developing suburban policy areas for eastern Loudoun. The county held three of four planned community input sessions in spring 2002 to begin developing detailed community plans for the suburban policy areas. Residents identified priorities for implementing the plan in Dulles, Ashburn and Potomac Falls. The meeting for the Sterling area was canceled due to lack of interest. The policy areas are located where most of the residential and commercial growth has occurred in the county during the past 15 years.
Also in the spring, the board assigned focus groups to provide public input on remapping and zoning ordinance revisions. The focus groups served in an advisory role on different aspects of the revisions, including rural economic development, conservation design, overlay districts, suburban districts and the Town Joint Land Management Areas.
In 2003, the Board of Supervisors plans to use nearly $1 million of the county's lodging tax to help support the Purchase of Development Rights program. PDR is a land conservation program initiated in early 2000 to protect open space, natural resources and farmland from development. The county purchases development rights from property owners who do not already have the conservation easements.
The program's funds will come from the undesignated portion of the Tourism Occupancy Tax (TOT) charged at lodging facilities and will be coupled with another $3.6 million the county has set aside for the program. The funds replace a bond referendum that would have added to the county's current debt load
CAPITAL IMPROVEMENT PROGRAM/ BUDGET
The county's Capital Improvement Program (CIP) delays several county and school projects outlined in previous CIPs and reduces new school construction by 12 schools. In April, the Board of Supervisors adopted a $729.2 million CIP for 2003-08.
"Staff felt we didn't have enough funds to take on all those projects," said Supervisor Jim Burton (I-Mercer), committee chairman of the Finance and Government Services Committee.
The CIP includes:
o Land purchase for the Center for Rural Innovation in fiscal year 2004 to build a research agricultural campus to educate farmers on new farming and marketing methods and on new techniques in agriculture.
o Construction of public safety centers combining fire, rescue and law enforcement services in Broadlands, western Loudoun, South Riding, Brambleton and Lansdowne.
o Renovation of the 16 existing volunteer fire and rescue facilities.
o Expansion of the animal shelter in fiscal year 2007 and of the Juvenile Detention Center a year later.
o Opening of the Ashburn library in fiscal year 2003, renovating the Rust Library in fiscal year 2003 and conducting preliminary work on the Dulles South library in fiscal year 2006.
o Construction of recreation centers at the Claude Moore, Broadlands and Philip A. Bolen Memorial parks.
The county's operating budget for fiscal year 2003 is $866.1 million. Of that, $563.4 million is allotted for the School District, $270.6 million for the county and the rest for other funds. The board decreased last year's tax rate from $1.08 to $1.05 this year for every $100 of assessed value.
Loudoun County Public Schools plans to build 12 schools, including 8 new elementary schools, one middle school and three high schools, as part of its CIP. Five schools from previous CIPS are scheduled to open in fall 2002, including River Bend Middle School in Sterling, Harmony Intermediate School in Hamilton and Heritage High School in Leesburg, along with Forest Grove and Hutchison Farm elementary schools.
The district's 51 schools served 34,589 students during the 2001-02 school year. With the new schools opening, the district expects to accommodate another 2,786 students in 2002-03. Enrollment is expected to continue to increase by 7.5 to 8.4 percent through 2008, when another 20,000 students will be added to the enrollment figures.
The CIP for fiscal year 2003 includes several county and school projects. A November 2002 referendum question regards bond financing for $118.8 million worth of school projects, including the construction of two high schools in the Brambleton and South Riding communities and a renovation and addition project at Broad Run High School. A second ballot question seeks support for $8.8 million worth of bonds for designing, constructing and equipping the Dulles/Route 28 fire and sheriff station.
Several transportation projects are under consideration for Loudoun County, including Metrorail along the Dulles Greenway, the expansion of Route 28 by two lanes and several new roadways. However, the region did not meet Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) standards for air emissions by the 1999 deadline required in the Clean Air Act. The EPA granted the region an extension to clean up the air by 2005 before the state could begin putting sanctions in place, such as cutting federal highway funding and requiring stricter emission offsets.
"Numerous transportation projects in the region are being jeopardized including the full Route 28 PPTA [Public-Private Transportation Act], so we need to resolve this as quickly as possible," said Art Smith, principal transportation planner for the county's Office of Transportation Services.
The Route 28 expansion project includes building 10 interchanges and adding two lanes from Route 7 in Loudoun to Interstate 66 in Fairfax. To fund the project, the PPTA originally combined the efforts of the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) and the Route 28 Transportation Taxing District of commercial properties along the corridor, including Washington Dulles International Airport.
When a bond-rating agency gave a low bond rating to the project, Loudoun agreed to join Fairfax County in issuing a 30-year moral obligation bond for six of the interchanges. The bond requires the two counties to fund a portion of the project if debt services fail from the Route 28 Transportation Taxing District. The two counties agreed to issue $90 to $95 million in bonds through the Fairfax County Economic Development Authority, providing $84 million toward the construction fund and $6 to $11 million in reserves.
The Board of Supervisors approved a new Fire and Rescue Charter in May 2002. The charter allows the fire and rescue chiefs from 17 companies in the county to continue overseeing daily operations, while assigning a new fire chief to manage operations systemwide. The charter, which forms a new commission and replaces the current charter, partners volunteer fire and rescue companies and career staff employed by the county's Department of Fire and Rescue Services.
The county hired consulting firm EMSStar Group, LLC in October 2000 to develop a model for fire and rescue services and to update the county’s current fire and rescue system. The model recommended changes to the system by establishing a single countywide fire department with a fire chief in charge and organizing an advisory commission of volunteers, residents and board members to advise the chief. Prospective commission members submitted their applications in June.
"This would be a policy-setting group for the systemwide operations," said Robert Griffin, chief of the Department of Fire and Rescue Services and assistant county administrator.
The current commission will continue serving until the new commission is selected.