Additional Information: Prime Soils Zoning Ordinance Amendment

How will the ZOAM impact me?

The Board of Supervisors has made it very clear that the ZOAM would not reduce – or downzone – the overall density allowable under Cluster Subdivision regulations. As such, property values will not be impacted.

To clarify confusion on the issue, the ZOAM will not impact landowners who want to put their land in conservation easement. Conservation easements are charitable contributions partially offset by tax incentives and credits, and this ordinance will not interfere with that process.

What’s in the ZOAM?

The Planning Commission made many recommendations to the Board of Supervisors when the draft ZOAM was forwarded along in December, many of which PEC supports. (Read the staff report here.)

Items to support:

Recommendation in the ZOAM: 70% of prime soils on any tract to be subdivided should be protected.

Why we’re supportive:

  • This provides additional requirements to preserve 70% of open space within any cluster subdivision.
  • This allows for most of the prime soils located on a subdivision site, along with steep slopes, floodplains, wetlands and historic features to be protected from development.
  • We’re specifically advocating to preserve prime soils when there are at least five acres of prime soils on-site (whether contiguous or not), because soils that may lie between non-contiguous acres are also be farmable, even if they are not quite as high-quality. 

Recommendation in the ZOAM: Prime farmland soils should be primarily located on Farmland Preservation Lots (FPL).

Why we’re supportive:

  • These lots would be put under conservation easement to protect their viability for farming in perpetuity.
  • These lots will be used primarily for farming and land-based agriculture; PEC supports county staff’s proposals for permitted uses that focus on these soils.
  • Farming in Loudoun is changing but can become even more fibrant
    • Farms have shrunk in size, but are growing in number.
    • Loudoun’s farmers are leading the Commonwealth in 11 different agricultural sectors including equine, vegetable production and goat farming. We are also first among all Virginia counties for the number of beginner farmers.
    • New, young farmers often can’t afford large tracts of land, but the land and soil preserved through this ordinance allow for a wide diversity of direct market farming operations that serve nearby high-value markets.

Items of concern:

Recommendation in the ZOAM: “Savings clauses” in which the Zoning Administrator may approve a reduction of the required percentage of prime soils to be preserved within Preservation Farm Lots to as low as just 30%.

Why we’re concerned:

  • Since these clauses cannot be legislated and are not reviewed by the Board of Supervisors, they need to be administered with strict guidelines to avoid a built-in loophole for developers to avoid conserving prime soils during the development process – which would undermine the entire effort behind this zoning ordinance amendment.

Recommendation in the ZOAM: Drainfields may be located on the lot they are serving or within Open Space Lots, where agriculture can happen.

Why we’re concerned:

  • This flexibility for developers to locate drainfields offsite would be difficult to administer effectively, and we question whether it is necessary.
  • Onsite drainfields are more easily monitored and maintained than offsite ones, thus avoiding health hazards resulting from failing septic systems.
  • Drainfields preclude farming activities from occurring on top of them.

Recommendation in the ZOAM: No provisions for HOA restrictions on farming.

Why we’re concerned: It is important to protect Prime Farmland Lots from HOA restrictions on farming, as such, the County should develop and offer an approved HOA template to developers operating in the Rural Policy Area. The ZOAM does not include any provisions for this.