The following text was sent out via email on August 26, 2022. Sign up for PEC email alerts →
The next couple of months are a busy time for zoning updates! As I mentioned in my last alert, Loudoun is in the midst of updating its Zoning Ordinance, which is a key document for regulating land use and development as outlined in the Comprehensive Plan.
County staff have received over 3,000 public comments on the first draft of the rewrite. Input from local residents, businesses and developers has been incorporated into a second draft, part of which is now available for review.
Due to the large size of the Zoning Ordinance and due process requirements (e.g. timing and public notice, among others), the County is releasing the second draft in two parts, each with a dedicated public hearing by the Planning Commission. The first of these public hearings is scheduled for August 30 and the second one will likely be in October.
Planning Commission Public Hearing
Tuesday, August 30 @ 6 p.m.
Board Room of the Loudoun County Gov. Center at 1 Harrison St. in Leesburg
*Livestream also available at loudoun.gov/meetings
The public hearing will cover:
- Development Standards, including Site Development; Tree Planting, Replacement, and Preservation; Landscaping, Buffers, and Screening; Light, Noise, and Vibration; Parking; Transportation; Utilities; and Owners Associations (Chapter 7)
- Signs (Chapter 8)
- Nonconformities and Adaptive Reuse (Chapter 10)
- Procedures (Chapter 11)
- Officials, Boards and Commissions (Chapter 12)
- Interpretation of Zoning Ordinance; Interpretation of Maps and District Boundaries; and Definitions (Chapter 13)
- Acronyms (Appendix B)
- Land Development Application Fees (Appendix C)
The proposed language for part one of this latest draft is available in both a clean version and a marked-up version to compare the first and second drafts.
If you’re interested in more background information, the County has just released additional information for the public hearing, including the staff report, a summary of the key changes (including public input themes, Zoning Ordinance Committee and staff recommendations), and a list of new, revised and deleted definitions.
PEC is working to ensure that the final version of the Zoning Ordinance protects the health, safety, welfare and quality of life of all those who live and work in the County. While developers are keen to avoid limitations that may impact their bottom line, residents and businesses have to live with the long-term outcomes of the adopted regulations.
Here are a few of the outstanding issues we noticed in part one of the current draft text:
- Not enough protections for mature trees – Tree cover credits and incentives for developers should prioritize maintaining mature native trees for their much higher value in providing life-sustaining oxygen and other critical ecological, climate, economic and social services. Mature native trees clean the air, reduce runoff and provide much more habitat than the immature, and often non-native, trees that are installed as replacements. Native trees should be the standard, with replacement trees consisting of at least 80% native species. (Chapter 7.03)
- Inconsistent design/construction standards between the Zoning Ordinance and Facilities Standards Manual – The Facilities Standards Manual (FSM) applies specific design and construction standards and guidelines for land development. It supplements the provisions of existing Federal and State regulations and County codes and ordinances. To fully realize the benefits of new changes to the Zoning Ordinance, concurrent changes should also be made to Loudoun’s FSM. (Chapter 7.04.07)
- Not enough language to describe landscaping with native plants in new developments – The draft proposes that 50% of plant material be native, but we suggest that number should be 80% to help reduce lawn areas and runoff, and improve wildlife habitat. The use of native grasses and herbaceous plants in median strips, on slopes and in wetter areas also simplifies maintenance. We’re pleased to see new prohibitions against the use of invasive non-native species and some requirements for invasive species removal during the first four years after development. We think requirements to remove invasive species should be broadened and continued on a permanent basis after development. (Chapter 7.04.07)
- Loosened provisions on number and size limits for permanent signs – Given that people increasingly use GPS as their main means of finding destinations, signs are less critical. The number and size limits for permanent signs should not be increased in any zoning district, particularly in any zoning district in the Rural Policy Area where sign clutter reduces the rural aesthetic. (Chapter 8)
- Too few restrictions on temporary/incidental signs – Within the temporary/incidental categories, signs along road frontages should be restricted to a smaller size and limited in number. These types of signs (i.e. real estate and political) are often redundant and result in roadside clutter. In particular, we are concerned that there are no limits on the number and size (up to 4’x8’) of temporary signs, which are currently permissible anywhere in the county. (Chapter 8)
- Inadequate and ineffective enforcement of zoning violations impacting neighbors – Chapter 11 details the processes and expectations involved in various types of permitting (i.e. site plans, rezonings, special exceptions, and more). It also outlines enforcement procedures for violations of any kind. Right now, zoning enforcement is complaint-driven and complaints must be submitted in writing through the County’s Loudoun Express Request (LEx) System. The public has expressed a desire for enforcement changes to more effectively and proactively address zoning violations, specifically in the Rural Policy Area. The Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors should be made aware of these concerns so adequate provisions can be incorporated into the final version of the Zoning Ordinance. (Chapter 11)
Please plan to attend the upcoming public hearing on August 30 and sign up to speak either in person or online. You may also provide comments on the Zoning Ordinance Rewrite through the County’s online form, by calling (703) 777-0246, or by emailing the Planning Commission at firstname.lastname@example.org.
We anticipate that the public hearing on the second part of this draft of the Zoning Ordinance will occur sometime in October. It will include many more topics of concern to residents like standardizing use-specific standards for venues with offsite impacts (i.e. lighting, noise, parking), natural resource protections, energy and sustainability development standards, and more detailed requirements for future data centers, to name a few. We’ll be reviewing part two of the draft once it’s available and will keep you informed of other concerns.
Prior to that, I’ll be in contact about a separate Planning Commission public hearing expected on September 27, 2022, for the Prime Soils and Cluster Subdivision Zoning Ordinance Amendment (ZOAM), which regulates the protection of prime soils when cluster subdivisions are built in the rural zoning districts. Prime agricultural soils are an important natural resource that enables efficient farming for food production. Since Loudoun has lost significant acreage of prime agricultural soils to development, this ordinance is intended to limit further losses and support greater local food security.
If you have any questions or want to discuss particular issues of concern related to these topics, please don’t hesitate to reach out!
Loudoun County Field Representative
(540) 347-2334 ext. 7041