Board Prepares Adoption in December Scoring Big Wins
This Op-Ed written by Loudoun Chamber President & CEO Tony Howard, will appear in Loudoun Now.
As the multi-year process of rewriting Loudoun’s zoning ordinance nears conclusion, it is worth recognizing the unprecedented partnership that County officials have offered the Loudoun business community, to work together and greatly improve this document.
That partnership, along with plenty of hard work by the Board of Supervisors, County staff, and business community, has produced a document that is ready to go to the public hearing and be considered for adoption.
If you are unaware, a zoning ordinance determines what can be built in Loudoun, and where it can be built. This includes commercial and residential development.
Over the last two months, Loudoun’s Supervisors, led by Chair Phyllis Randall, have invested countless hours meeting with the Chamber, and other industry community groups, to improve the draft zoning ordinance.
Since Labor Day the Board’s work sessions on the ordinance include input from representatives of the development, tourism, and conservation communities. This open dialogue allowed the Board to gain insights, in real time, as they worked on specific chapters of the ordinance.
That collaborative mindset has resulted in vast improvements compared to the ordinance’s first draft. These changes will help ensure Loudoun’s economy and our community remain healthy and strong over the next decade. In the summer of 2022, I could not imagine making that statement.
First, let me take you back to January 2020, when the newly elected Board took office and soon initiated the zoning ordinance update.
For two years, County staff, consultants, and volunteer stakeholders worked on the project, mostly behind the scenes.
By the Spring of 2022, the Loudoun Chamber and many others began to express concern about the content and direction of the project.
The process appeared irreparably broken, and the initial draft language seemed likely to hinder smart economic growth in Loudoun.
Last July, I wrote a letter to the Board of Supervisors, expressing serious concerns with the draft ordinance which has just been released to the public.
Those concerns were based on the expert conclusions of Loudoun Chamber members and partners with “deep expertise and specialized knowledge of zoning ordinances and land use regulations in Loudoun County and elsewhere,” the letter stated.
“Our collective analysis of the draft zoning ordinance has led us to the conclusion that the document, as written, lays out rules and guidelines that are inflexible, overly restrictive, difficult to understand and apply, and overall unfriendly to business.”
Six months later, when the project was handed to Loudoun’s Planning Commission, the attitude toward the draft ordinance had little changed.
The Loudoun business community let the Commission know that. Especially at a January 26th public hearing, where dozens of local business owners and land use experts detailed a litany of serious shortcomings with the draft.
Most Planning Commission members were open and receptive to suggestions to improve the document. But the volume and complexities of those improvements, and the brief time they were given to consider the draft zoning ordinance, limited how much good the Planning Commission could do.
In late July, the Board of Supervisors was handed the Planning Commission’s proposed updates.
With much work still to be done, and in the middle of an election season, many felt the prudent thing to do was to delay the process until 2024.
Instead, the Board chose to roll up its sleeves and invest the time and energy needed to get the job done, on time. Work sessions were scheduled, on top of the Board’s regular duties, throughout September and October.
Individual meetings were held with business community stakeholders. Several involved multiple Supervisors and were open to the public.
Adopted improvements include those that will make it easier to build attainable housing, allow future Boards to easily modify the ordinance and establish clear “grandfathering rules” for when the new ordinance applies to land use applications in process.
One of the most fundamental duties of local governments is to ensure consistent economic growth is in balance with a healthy quality of life for their communities.
As simple as that may sound, when it comes to land use and development, local governments and the private sector too often find themselves in adversarial positions.
That is why it is worth commending the Loudoun Board of Supervisors for their willingness to take a more collaborative approach.
While Loudoun businesses did not get every change we sought, the draft zoning ordinance the Board is expected to adopt in December is significantly improved over the version they received just 90 days ago.
That shows the value of collaboration and partnership.