Another Rural Vote Delay

Another Rural Vote Delay

Residents will have to wait at least another month before they learn what will happen in Loudoun's rural west.

The Planning Commission voted to send the Rural Policy Area Comprehensive Plan amendment (CPAM) back to a work session before it makes a recommendation to the Board of Supervisors.

The decision came after a joint public hearing held by the commission and the board Monday, July 24, where more than 100 people spoke out about the proposed plans to downzone the western two-thirds of the county.

If approved by the board, the CPAM would restore a large amount of the 2003 zoning, which was overturned by the Virginia Supreme Court in March 2005, was more restrictive and required lower densities than the current proposal. Following the court's decision, the Rural Policy Area reverted to its pre-2003 zoning of A-3, which allows for one dwelling unit per three acres.

The proposal in question 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.

THE JULY 24 public hearing was scheduled after the supervisors decided at their June 20 work session on the proposed policies not to accept the Planning Commission's recertification of its recommendations and to send the proposed CPAM back to the commission. The Planning Commission's original recommendations for approval came March 20 and the board needed to take action by June 18 in order to avoid recertification. Since the June 18 lapsed without a vote, the board decided to readvertise the downzoning and hold another public hearing rather than risk making themselves vulnerable to lawsuits. Since it chose only to send the CPAM back to the Planning Commission, the board continued to work on zoning ordinances, or regulations, and other policies, completing its work at its work session July 5.

The only issues left for the board was whether to include a grandfathering clause in the policies. Under state law, all subdivision applications that have received preliminary plat approval are vested under the original zoning. Supervisors could vote to include grandfathering, which would allow applications in earlier stages to continue under the A-3 zoning after the downzoning is adopted.

There have been 220 subdivision applications at the A-3 zoning since the court's decision in 2005, as of June 23. The applications propose approximately 1,264 lots that cover approximately 9,745 acres. Of those applications, only 40 have been approved. Sixteen others have been rejected because they did not meet the minimum submission requirements and 159 are still active.

It is the 159 active applications that would be affected by the board's decision on a grandfathering clause.

Supervisors had scheduled a special meeting Thursday, July 27, to take action on the Rural Policy Area, but the meeting was canceled following the Planning Commission's decision to include another work session.

The government bodies go on August recess at the end of the week, making the earliest possible date for the commission's work session Monday, Aug. 28.

The board directed the commission to make a final recommendation to the board no later than Sept. 15.

THE PLANNING COMMISSION'S decision came after a series of failed motions.

Commissioner Lawrence Beerman (Dulles) made an original motion to send the proposal to a work session, stating there was a great deal of information he wished to review before making a final recommendation.

The newest commissioner, Nancy Doane (Catoctin). made a motion to forward the proposal with no recommendation, an idea that was opposed strongly by other commissioners.

"I can't support that because I have worked too hard on this thing," Chairman Teresa White Whitmore (Potomac) said.

Commissioner John H. Elgin (Leesburg), who made the motion that finally passed, said making no recommendation would show the commission was "derelict in our duty."

It was only following the failure of motions to recommended denial and approval that the commission was able to agree to a September work session.

Commissioners Helena Syska (Sterling) and Suzanne M. Volpe (Sugarland Run) came out strongly against the proposal and were the only two members who supported recommending denial.

"I am not hearing anything new here that would lead me to supporting the Clem-Burton proposal," Syska said. "This is morally reprehensible if we do not stay with original zoning."

Elgin's motion only passed 4-3-1-1, after Syska opted to abstain from the vote. Commissioners J. Kevin Ruedisueli (At large), Doane and Volpe voted against the motion and Commissioner Robert J. Klancher (Broad Run) was absent for the meeting.

SUPERVISORS EXPRESSED disappointment in the Planning Commission's decision, most of them stating they had come Monday evening prepared to vote.

"I had every confidence in these bodies that we would be able to come to the conclusion before the August recess," Supervisor Lori Waters (R-Broad Run) said. "I think that we have failed the public."

"I was so hoping we would be done with this in some way or another by the 27th," Chairman Scott K. York (I-At large) said. "Hopefully, come September, we can put this to bed."

Since Monday's public hearing was held only for procedural reasons, many supervisors did not understand what the commission hoped to do in their work session.

"There is not one thing you could debate and recommend to the board that will change the vote on this dais," Supervisor Bruce E. Tulloch (R-Potomac) said. "You are wasting your time."

While upset over the direction the meeting took, some supervisors said spending more time looking at the proposal could not hurt in the long run.

"I don't have a problem with the Planning Commission deliberating on this more," Supervisor Eugene Delgaudio (R-Sterling) said. "I would have liked to have voted on this tonight, but I think the more time spent on this the better."

During her comment, Waters added that she believed it was important to resolve the Rural Policy Area, in order to free county staff to work on other projects.

"We're never going to get to [other projects] unless we finish something," she said. "I hope that we can reach a resolution on this because this has gone on long enough."