Planning Commission Splits on Grandfathering

Planning Commission Splits on Grandfathering

Recommendation Favors Low Density

Last week's recommendation by the Loudoun County Planning Commission that the Board of Supervisors allow for grandfathering in the Rural Policy Area would allow for any applications submitted before the board adopts the new rezoning policy to finish the process under the current zoning. Without the clause, only those applications that were previously approved would be allowed to continue under the current policy.

The clause came as part of a larger recommendation that focused on restoring a large amount of the 2003 rezoning. The 2003 zoning, which was approved by the previous Board of Supervisors, was more restrictive and required lower densities than the current policy. The 2003 downzoning was later overturned by the Virginia Supreme Court in March 2005.

Following the court's ruling, the Rural Policy Area reverted to the original zoning, which allows one house per 3 acres. The current Board of Supervisors asked for a compromise between the current high-density zoning and the 2003 plan.

The commission's recommendation supports AR-1 zoning, which allows for one house per 10- or 20-acre lot, and AR-2 zoning, which allows for one house per 20- or 40-acre lot.

The grandfathering clause was passed by a 5-4 vote by the Planning Commission. The commissioners who supported the clause were concerned about those people whose applications were in process, but would not be complete in time for the board's vote.

"It is a matter of fairness," Commissioner John H. Elgin (Leesburg) said. "So many people were talking about how much they would lose if there was not a grandfathering clause."

Commissioners who were opposed to the clause felt that it was too open-ended, allowing for a land rush as people raced to submit their application before the board's vote.

"Some consideration should be given to the people that already have applications submitted," Commissioner J. Kevin Ruedisueli (At large) said, "but we don't want to open the door to everybody who wants to parcel off their property at the last minute."

NO ONE CAN predict what will actually happen to the 227,000 acres that make up the Rural Policy Area. During the discussion of the clause at the March 20 meeting, the commission was split as to what it thought the results of the clause would be.

"This opens up the period between now and the adoption by the board of the new zoning regulations, which is not likely to be before June, to an additional flood of applications for subdivisions under the present regulations," Commissioner John D. Herbert (Catoctin), who voted against the clause, said.

Commissioner Lawrence S. Beerman (Dulles), who originally made the motion for the grandfather clause, said he does not believe there will be any sort of land rush.

"We are only talking about being three months away from an action of some sort," he said.

Elgin, who supported the clause, said the number of extra houses is nothing like some people have predicted, although he also said there is no way to know the exact number.

"At worst it will probably be around 1,000 houses," he said. "That's a proverbial drop in the bucket."

Ruedisueli, who said he would have been more comfortable with a vaguely-worded clause, also agrees there is no way to know how many houses or applications will result from grandfathering.

"I heard that there are 85 subdivisions already in progress, so the number could end up be anything," he said.

THE TRUTH about what is to come would seem to lie in the numbers. The number of applications received by the county since the March 2005 court ruling could tell the tale of just how many people might rush to put in applications now that an end date is coming.

"The next few months will really tell the tale," Ruedisueli said.

Director of Planning Julie Pastor said that there were 87 new subdivision applications between March 1, 2005 and Feb. 24 of this year. The applications generated 555 new lots.

The numbers were put together by the Department of Building and Development and the department's Michael Seigfried said a map based on the numbers was present at a recent commission meeting.

IN ADDITION, to the grandfathering clause, the Planning Commission also made recommendations to the board that there should be a requirement of 70 percent open space within AR-1 and AR-2 zoning for consistency throughout the Rural Policy Area. The commission also recommended that there be no lot maximum in cluster subdivisions and that the minimum number should be dependent on the type of water and sewer provided to the individual lots. Following a motion by Commissioner Nancy Hsu (Blue Ridge) the commission voted to recommend that rural villages be allowed with the Rural Policy Area. The commission also recommended that the board eliminate the requirement for an applicant to submit a hydro-geologic report and well digging prior to approval of a preliminary plat, or blueprint of the land, which would give developers more time to work on their application to be accepted under the grandfathering clause.

The Board of Supervisors will discuss the Planning Commission's recommendations for the Rural Policy Area at its April 4 meeting and make plans for any further action.