The Board of Supervisors took the first step last week towards finalizing its plan for the county's rural west. Wednesday, Sept. 6, in a continuation of the Tuesday business meeting, Supervisors approved what some members consider a compromise on the allowed residential density of western Loudoun, but voted to send amended zoning ordinances back for another public hearing. The hearing is expected to be scheduled for some time this November.
The decision once again delays the final vote on the future of the western two-thirds of the county.
At the board's Tuesday, Sept. 5, business meeting, Supervisors came prepared to vote on the Comprehensive Plan amendment and zoning ordinances, known as the Clem-Burton proposal, which would plan the growth in the rural west, but Supervisor Mick Staton (R-Sugarland Run) brought new amendments, which caused the board to table the issue and schedule Wednesday night's meeting.
THE CLEM-BURTON proposal 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 A-3 zoning, which allows for one dwelling unit per three acres.
The proposal supports AR-1 zoning, which allows for one house per 10- or 20-acre lot, in the northern portion of western Loudoun, and AR-2 zoning, which allows for one house per 20- or 40-acre lot, in the southern portion.
Staton's amendments were what he considered a compromise, allowing cluster development at a density of one residential unit per five acres in the northern portion and cluster development in the southern portion that allows for one unit per 15 acres. In addition, Staton's proposal provided an option for landowners to subdivide in either 10- or five-acre parcels.
Until the final approval is given by the board, the rural west will remain zoned at one unit per three acres.
TENSIONS WERE HIGH at Wednesday's meeting, with Supervisors openly challenging each other and the new proposal. Although five Supervisors expressed support for Staton's plan, there was hesitation to give final approval without public input.
"I do believe that without public process we would be challenged in court and it would be overturned," Supervisor Jim Burton (I-Blue Ridge) said. "All I am trying to do is prevent the long-term existence of A-3."
Staton, however, said there was no need to readvertise the modified ordinances, stating they were within their rights as a board, even though the new plan could add as many as 4,000 additional houses to Clem-Burton plan.
"[Some supervisors] have concerns about changing the ordinance without public process without telling you they did the exact same thing in 2003," Staton said.
Board Chairman Scott K. York (I-At large) said the state code is very clear about making changes in density that are more intense than what was originally advertised.
"There is no flexibility in state code," he said. "I wish the language in itself gave the leeway to say or to clarify to say if the intensity is more than what is on the ground, but it doesn't."
York added that he believed it was wrong not to get the public's input on the amended plan.
Supervisor Sally Kurtz (D-Catoctin) could not hide her anger at the creation of a new plan that she said would leave her entire district as close to the current A-3 zoning as possible.
"If I believed that Mr. Staton had a long-term vision for the rural economy I would be voting for it, but I am not, I don't support it," she said. "You want to know what it is going to look like, go down to western Fairfax."
SUPERVISORS BRUCE E. Tulloch (R-Potomac) and Jim Clem (R-Leesburg) both voted to accept Staton's modified proposal, but voted to send the ordinances back through the public process.
Clem said he did not believe it was necessary to send the ordinances back through the public process, but supported the motion anyway.
"I believe that the modification of the Clem-Burton plan was a good one," he said.
Tulloch said he did not believe the changes to the original plan would yield as many houses as the build-out suggested and he believed the compromise was a good one.
"I think the rural area of Loudoun county is far better tonight than it was 15 months ago," he said.
As one of the creators of the Clem-Burton proposal, Clem took heat from other Supervisors for his support of the amended plan, but he said the changes altered little from the original plan.
"Make no mistake, I believe in the Clem-Burton plan," he said. "I have listened to a lot of rhetoric tonight about what has been changed. Show me what has been changed save cluster development down to five acres. This is not an east-west issue. This is a Loudoun County issue."
The board also denied a motion made by Supervisor Stephen Snow (R-Dulles) to include a grandfathering clause, which would allow any subdivision applications that have been accepted by the county to continue under the A-3 zoning. Only Snow, Staton and Supervisor Eugene Delgaudio (R-Sterling) voted for amendment, but since the proposal for the rural west has not been finalized a grandfathering clause could still be included in the plan.