Changes Are Coming

Changes Are Coming

Drive down any of Loudoun's main roads and it is easy to realize that the fabric and face of the county is changing. There are new neighborhoods popping up, businesses moving in, roads being worked on and people settling into Loudoun almost every day.

Since 2000 the county's population has grown from 169,599 to almost 242,000 in 2005. In the past decade the number of people working in businesses in the county has risen from 51,795 in 1995 to 119,993 in 2005.

As more families move into the county and more companies set up offices, Loudoun's landscape has been forced to adapt to the growing needs, bringing both benefits and challenges.

New residents and businesses boost the county's economic and cultural development, but also require the construction of new roads and buildings to support them.

Continued development is the largest issue facing the county, with the Board of Supervisors poised to make decisions that will set the course of Loudoun for decades to come.

"This area is probably going to undergo its biggest changes in history over the next couple of years," Dulles South Business Alliance president Bill Dean said. "This area is going to be developed and then it will probably be 50 years before it is redeveloped."

THE BOARD OF Supervisors and the Planning Commission are in the process of working on three major Comprehensive Plan amendments (CPAM), which will set the standards for residential and business development along Route 50 in the southern portion of the county and throughout the rural western part of the county.

The Route 50/Arcola CPAM would allow for additional residential, business and retail development along the area often referred to as the "gateway to Loudoun." In May, the Planning Commission recommended the Board of Supervisors approve the CPAM, without the originally proposed residential development near Dulles Airport. The commission also removed a proposed lifestyle hub, or an area designated for shopping and dining in an outdoor setting, from the plans over concerns of its proximity to the airport.

"I am a supporter of mixed use, but I just don't think that this level of high-density residential belongs in this area," Commissioner Nancy Hsu (Blue Ridge) said at the time of the decision.

The commission also recommended the Board of Supervisor approve the Transition Policy Area CPAM, which spans north and south of Route 50 and is immediately west of the Route 50/Arcola CPAM.

After weeks of smaller committee meetings, the Planning Commission recommended increasing the residential density throughout the transition area to four dwelling units per acre, with the denser development being towards the east and feathering out towards the west.

The Planning Commission is also recommending a large buffer at one unit per acre along the western side of the transition area up to the Rural Policy Area. Under the proposed densities, there would also be a buffer south of the area to the Prince William County border, with a 500-foot natural buffer and 1,300 feet of the one unit per acre density.

"While we wanted some higher density development, we also wanted to keep some transition," commission chair Teresa White Whitmore (Potomac) said.

"[The commission] wanted to define transition," Commissioner Lawrence Beerman (Dulles) said. "Higher density in the east and lower density towards the west."

In the next couple of months the Board of Supervisors is expected to make a decision on both the Route 50/Arcola CPAM and the Transition Policy Area CPAM.

BY FAR, the largest debate in Loudoun County is over the fate of the Rural Policy Area, the western portion of the county. In 2003, the previous Board of Supervisors adopted a zoning that was restrictive and required lower densities throughout rural Loudoun. The 2003 zoning was overturned by the Virginia Supreme Court in March 2005. After the court's ruling the area reverted to a zoning that allows one unit per three acres.

The current proposal supports AR-1 zoning, which allows for one house per 10- or 20-acre lot, in the southern portion of western Loudoun and AR-2 zoning, which allows for one house per 20- or 40-acre lot, in the northern portion.

At the beginning of June, the Board of Supervisors held two public hearings on the issue where more than 250 residents voiced their opinions on the proposed plan.

Many of the people who spoke at the public hearing were in favor of the proposed plan and protecting the rural west.

"Loudoun's rural economy will be protected and growth will be controlled so that farmers will not be driven out of the county," Tony Horkan, whose family owns the 1700-acre Cleremont Farm in Upperville, said at the hearing. "Loudoun's growth and smart rural land policy are equally important and should not be seen as mutually exclusive."

Some landowners, however, believed that the responsibility of conservation should be placed squarely on them and they should be able to decide what is done with their land.

"I own the vista that everyone here wants to preserve," Edna Cross, who owns a 300-acre farm, said at the hearing. "It is not fair to treat farms as if they were publicly owned and privately run. I think the good people of Loudoun should step aside and let us think for ourselves."

In order to give them more time to work on the proposed policies, the Board of Supervisors voted to begin the process again and send the Rural Policy Area CPAM back to the Planning Commission. A joint public hearing has been scheduled for July 24, at 3 p.m., and the Board of Supervisors is expected to make a decision July 27.