CPAMs: Onward and Upward

CPAMs: Onward and Upward

Despite concerns about staff resources, supervisors pass discussion of developer-initiated comprehensive plan amendments to the Planning Commission.

Deep into hour three of the Board of Supervisors' continued work session on Tuesday, Chairman Scott York (I-at large) had an idea.

"I move that we go home," he said.

York's half-joke came during a work session that was at times contentious and confused, a marked departure from the board's prior meeting on Sept. 9 to prioritize the county's issues, where a moderator helped guide the supervisors. This time around, the most controversial issue — what to do with the 20 developer-initiated comprehensive plan amendment (CPAM) applications — was also the most drawn-out and circuitously decided upon.

In the end, supervisors voted to uphold the usual process for dealing with CPAMs — allowing planning staff to draw up a preliminary report on each and forward them to the Planning Commission, which will then decide how to "bundle" the CPAMs to make working with them more feasible. The commission could bundle them by region or by theme.

HANDING THE DECISIONS over to the Planning Commission was unacceptable to Supervisor Jim Burton (I-Blue Ridge.)

"To me, that is a very big mistake on the part of this board," he said. He maintained that such a large policy change for the county — in total, the CPAMs propose up to 45,000 new housing units over 10,065 acres — should be handled by the board, not the Planning Commission.

Other supervisors welcomed the opportunity to get the CPAMs "vetted" by another entity, as Supervisor Stephen Snow (R-Dulles) put it.

Snow, whose district contains 11 sites for proposed CPAMs, supports the developers' ideas on changing the comprehensive plan.

"There is no way we can fix the transportation problems that we are faced with unless we do some innovation," he said.

"Yes, we have a lot of CPAMs," said Supervisor Mick Staton (R-Sugarland Run), who noted that he himself had taken only a "cursory" look at a couple of the applications. "I have a lot of faith in the Planning Commission."

Unless the Planning Commission encounters resource issues in addressing the CPAMs, the applications will not come before the board again until a public hearing. The Planning Commission's investigative process into the CPAMs could take a year or more.

THE NUMBER of CPAMs presents an unusual situation for the county. County Administrator Kirby Bowers estimates that the 20 applications will burn 25,000 staff man-hours before December 2005.

Currently, the staff just isn't prepared to handle that.

"If any of the new projects were to be accepted by the Planning Commission and the board, we don't have the staff to accommodate that," said Julie Pastor, director of planning.

The planning staff has six initiatives in process right now, and to take on another with current resources would mean dropping one of the six, according to Pastor.

"We just can't do them all," she said.

The staff is able to handle the preliminary review for the CPAMs, which is due to be finished by the middle of October and passed on to the Planning Commission. It's what happens next — the grunt work of a more in-depth look at each application — that will tie up resources and eat hours.

Each applicant, for example, gets an approximately 45-minute presentation to the Planning Commission — then multiply that by 20.

Since 1983, when CPAMs were first accepted, the county received just a handful a year.

"We have never had that many in the history of having plan amendments," Pastor said.

ED GORSKI, Loudoun County's land use officer with the Piedmont Environmental Council, started working up more than two dozen spreadsheets on the CPAMs' potential impact on the county as soon as the applications came in on Sept. 1.

He estimated up to 45,000 new housing units with 110,000 to 125,000 new residents including 20,000 to 25,000 students requiring 15 new elementary schools, four new middle schools and four new high schools.

Total capital facilities cost to the county would be approximately $680 million, plus a $120 million annual operating deficit for schools. The new residents would require 150 to 160 paid fire and rescue personnel, plus 245 to 250 sheriff's deputies and staff. New Loudouners would need 235 more athletic fields to play on and 600 acres of parkland to walk on, according to Gorski's calculations.

He warned against buying into the developers' promises that proffers would offset the cost to the taxpayers.

"They have some innovative ideas for capital construction financing," Gorski said. "The applicants are at least acknowledging that they have some responsibility to the bricks and mortar. The proffers aren't going to cover operating costs."

In response to Gorski's statistics, former Planning Commissioner and Board of Supervisors chair Dale Polen Myers urged the board to stick to its pro-growth ways.

"Let's step back and take the time to look at the CPAMs," she said. "Do not get caught up in name calling and politics. Do what's right for the people who are here already as well for the children who aren't here yet."