Board Starts Over on Rural Policy Area

Board Starts Over on Rural Policy Area

It seems that county residents will have to wait even longer to learn the fate of Loudoun County's rural west.

Tuesday, June 20, at its first work session on the Rural Policy Area, the Board of Supervisors voted not to accept the Planning Commission's recertification of its recommendations and to send the proposed Comprehensive Plan amendment (CPAM) back to the commission.

The board has set a joint public hearing with the Planning Commission for Monday, July 24, at 3 p.m. After the joint hearing the board may vote on the CPAM, other policy changes and the new zoning for western Loudoun.

The Planning Commission's original recommendations came March 20 and the board needed to take action by June 18 in order to avoid recertification. Since the June 18 deadline lapsed without a vote, the board decided to readvertise the downzoning rather than risk making the county vulnerable to lawsuits.

The CPAM in question would restore a portion of the 2003 zoning in the area. 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 A-3 zoning, which allows for one dwelling unit per three acres.

As of June 23, there have been 220 subdivision applications at the A-3 zoning since the court's decision in 2005. 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 impacted by the board's decision on grandfathering, or allowing applications to continue under the A-3 zoning, after the downzoning is adopted.

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.

Since only the CPAM portion of the proposed downzoning needs to go back to the Planning Commission, the board will continue working on zoning ordinances, or regulations, and other policies during its scheduled work sessions.

DURING ITS work sessions, the board discussed proposed policy changes recommended by the Planning Commission, county staff members and Supervisors themselves.

One of the most discussed issues was a single lot's accessory dwellings.

Supervisor Mick Staton (R-Sugarland Run) made a motion to strike the policy that calls for a "variety of residential unit types and accessory apartments."

"The problem is that we are limiting the number of lots but we are not limiting the number of homes that could be built on a single lot," he said. He added that allowing accessory dwellings could potentially double the number of houses in western Loudoun, half of which could never be sold as a separate property because additional dwellings would be part of the original parcel.

"We could be creating a permanent rental class," he said. "That doesn't seem to me to be the sort of thing we want to encourage if we are trying to limit residential development."

Some Supervisors, however, said they believed allowing tenant dwellings fit in line with the board's desire to make western Loudoun affordable.

"I see that as a bit of an inconsistency," Supervisor Lori Waters (R-Broad Run) said. "You want to stand up for the common man, but God forbid you are allowed to rent."

Other Supervisors said tenant dwellings only supported "agricultural servants."

"I will not vote for servant quarters," Supervisor Eugene Delgaudio (R-Sterling) said. "I recommend we have a policy that encourages ownership."

Land ownership was stressed by both Delgaudio and Supervisor Stephen Snow (R-Dulles) throughout the discussion on accessory dwellings.

At the June 26 work session, Supervisors also debated the acreage a resident must own before they would be allowed accessory dwellings.

"Right now you are permitted an accessory dwelling on any lot that is 10 acres or more as long as it meets the minimum lot size of the district," Zoning Administrator Melinda Artman told the board.

Landowners would be allowed one accessory dwelling unit for parcels under 10 acres under the proposed policy. An additional dwelling unit may be built for parcels up to 25 acres and for every additional 25 acres another dwelling unit may be built.

"This is an opportunity for people who have businesses out there to employ people to help them run some of these facilities," board Chairman Scott K. York (I-At large) said.

AT ITS JUNE 26 work session, the board decided all bed-and-breakfast categories should be combined under the simple name "bed and breakfast" to avoid complications. The Planning Commission had recommended that both banquet facilities and bed and breakfasts be allowed as by right or permitted use in the Rural Policy Area.

Many Supervisors, however, felt there were too many variables to simply approve facilities based on performance standards.

"Every site is different and every site is unique," Supervisor Jim Burton (I-Blue Ridge) said. "I don't think a list of performance standards is enough."

In a straw vote, the board also voted to keep country inns and private clubs and lodges as special exceptions.

"We need the opportunity to examine the site and the conditions and set the conditions as necessary," Burton said.

The board also voted in a straw vote to increase the setback of outdoor events from existing homes from 500 feet to 2,000 feet.

"I think there needs to be some fundamental distance between loud music and someone who might be trying to have a peaceful weekend," Supervisor Sally Kurtz (D-Catoctin) said.

IN ADDITION, Supervisors voted to increase the allowed lot coverage from 8 percent to 11 percent, except in parcels smaller than 40,000 square feet.

"This will help ensure at least some variability of houses," Waters said. "It will prevent those 'McMansions' on tiny little lots."

The board also voted to maintain a minimum 20-acre requirement for subdivision and voted against the Planning Commission's recommendation that the maximum number of lots allowed in a cluster, currently set at 25, be eliminated.

For the July 5 work session, Supervisors instructed staff to come back with more information on the issue of open space, which is currently set at 85 percent. The Planning Commission recommended reducing the percentage to 70, but Supervisors wanted to know which percentage would allow for a greater variety in lot sizes. Supervisors also wanted a clear definition of adult entertainment so they can prevent gentlemen's clubs from being considered under the private club or banquet facility policies.

Staff was instructed to provide more information about the square-footage limitation for accessory dwellings and guest houses in rural residential areas and the number of accessory units that would be allowed based on parcel size.

The board will hold its next work session for the Rural Policy Area Wednesday, July 5, at 6:30 p.m.