Post written by Brian Fauls, Manager of Government Affairs, Loudoun County Chamber of Commerce
To learn more about the PolicyMaker series and the Public Policy initiative within the Loudoun Chamber, click here.
For the first time in about 15 years, Loudoun County is working on a new Comprehensive Plan, and this is a big deal for the future of Loudoun County. But what exactly is the Comprehensive plan and why does it matter?
In bureaucratize, or bureaucrat-speak, the Comprehensive Plan is “a community-based vision for the county’s future and serves as a land use policy document and a guide for decision-making.” In plainer English, it’s a blueprint. Much like architectural blueprints show a builder exactly what kind of house to build, the Comprehensive Plan, basically tells the residents of Loudoun County what kind of community we’re going to build. This is important for the same reason it’s important to have blueprints when building a house, because making changes, and identifying and fixing potential problems, is much quicker and cheaper on paper then in real life.
For example, imagine you want to build your dream house. You’ve thought about everything from the retro-chic game room to the old-fashioned porch swing. You know there are a ton of details in building a house, but you find a contractor and say “just start building and we’ll tackle the issues as they come up.” The end result, the fancy bowling alley you absolutely HAD to have, ends up on the 3rd floor above your master bedroom, and you’re one crashing bowling pin away from shipping your kids off to military school. If you’d had a blueprint from the beginning, you would (hopefully) have seen that the bowling alley was in a bad place and rearranged things to put it in the basement where it belongs.
So, exactly like a blueprint tells us what our future house is going to look like, once finished, our Comprehensive Plan will tell us what our future community will look like when it’s finished. But, it’s important to remember that blueprints, and our Comprehensive Plan, have limitations too. Both only paint very broad strokes. For example, the blueprint might tell tells us things like the kitchen will go in the northwest corner of the first floor next to the garage or that the library will go on the 3rd floor next to the master bedroom. In the case of the kitchen it might even tell you where the appliances will go. But, the blueprint won’t tell you the color of the appliances, or whether the cabinets are oak or cherry.
Our Comprehensive Plan is the same way. It will tell us that, as a community, we want shopping centers to go here and farms to go there, but, it won’t tell us whether that farm is a pig farm, a horse farm or a vineyard. That level of detail will be decided between a business owner and the county later in a development application. But knowing that a farm can go in x, y or z place first, saves a lot of time, money and aggravation.
There’s another equally important reason for updating our Comprehensive Plan, circumstances change. From 1840 to about 1905 ornate Victorian-style houses were very popular. Today, the gingerbread and scroll work of the Victorian house have been replaced with cleaner lines and stonework. Formal dining rooms have largely disappeared in favor of open floor plans. Circumstances, tastes, styles change. So, today, if I were a builder, unless the client really, really wants a Victorian-style house, it just doesn’t make sense for me to build a Victorian-style house. But, that’s the only kind of house I’m going to build if I only have blueprints for a Victorian-style home.
The same is true for our community. The old Comprehensive Plan envisions office parks, suburban neighborhoods and strip malls. That kind of compartmentalized thinking doesn’t work today. Today’s market and today’s tastes demand mixed-use communities where commercial, retail and residential are clustered together. Likewise, 15 years ago transportation was all about the car. While the car is still paramount, today people want other options too, like bike lanes, walking trails, buses and metro. Circumstances change.
Loudoun County needs to catch-up with the times, and if we get out new Comprehensive Plan right, we will; and we’ll be in a great position to keep Loudoun County a great place, to live, work and play.
Community input and involvement in the development of the Comprehensive Plan is vital. To receive updates and announcements on the development of Loudoun County’s New Comprehensive Plan and how you can participate in the process, click here to join the County’s mailing list.
photos via www.leesburgva.gov; www.visitloudoun.org; Google Images