These are certainly different times… Whether on issues pertaining to health and safety, economic fallout, or simply the operations of government, we are living through major changes and unprecedented experiences due to COVID-19.
Here at PEC, we are doing our best to alert you to the ongoing changes to the public process and actions by our local governments. Below, please find a number of recent and upcoming actions taken by Loudoun County:
Emergency Ordinance Adopted on March 25
On Wednesday, March 25th, the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors held a special meeting to adopt a 60-day Emergency Ordinance (click to download) that will guide the Board’s actions during the previously adopted local State of Emergency. This measure will allow the Board more latitude to legally take actions as necessary for the purpose of continuity of government. This means they are limited to actions that are essential to keeping the government going – most decisions on land use proposals will be suspended during this time. The County is encouraging all of the towns to adopt similar measures. We expect them all to follow suit.
The Emergency Ordinance modifies legal compliance with open meeting regulations due to the dangers of public gatherings in relation to transmitting the disease.
The Board of Supervisors will hold a public hearing on April 15th during which public comment on the Emergency Ordinance will be heard. They will then adopt the Emergency Ordinance for a period of up to 6 months, at which time it will expire (if not suspended earlier). If a longer time frame is required, the board will have to take another action.
In addition, the Board of Supervisors has suspended all citizen advisory boards and commission meetings through the end of the school year. The only Boards that are able to meet during the disaster, besides the Planning Commission, are the Board of Zoning Appeals and Board of Equalization.
Additional Guidance on March 30
Effective immediately, Loudoun County will only provide face-to-face services on a modified basis on the main floor of the Government Center. The first floor service counters for the Commissioner of the Revenue and the Office of the Treasurer will continue to serve the public with social distancing measures in place.
Land development application drop off or permit pick-up will be available on the first floor and coordinated with appropriate staff. There will be secure drop boxes for the departments of: Building and Development; Planning and Zoning; Health, Human Resources; County Attorney, Mapping and Geographic Information, Procurement Division.
County Department staff are available for contact by phone or email. Contact information for each department is online at loudoun.gov. The main number is 703-771-0100.
More on the Emergency Ordinance
The Emergency Ordinance reference above allows for the suspension of deadlines applicable to the Board and any Public Entity and its officers (including constitutional officers) and staff during the COVID-19 disaster. The Public Entities have the discretion to postpone non-emergency public hearings that require action during the COVID-19 disaster.
During the disaster, it also lays out the provisions for legal meetings as follows:
- Real-time electronic means for any Public Entity of County Government are legally approved to hold a meeting without a quorum physically present in one location. These electronic means include audio, telephonic, video or other practical electronic mediums, and
- That the the Public Entity shall provide public notice of at least three days in advance of any such electronic meeting, except for emergency meetings, identifying how the public may participate or otherwise offer comment; and
- A statement to the compliance with the Emergency Ordinance will be included in the electronic meeting agenda and at the beginning of any such meeting of Public Entities. It will also identify the Public Entity members present in person or electronically, who is responsible for receiving public comment, and provide notice for the public to access and participate in such electronic meeting; and
- That electronic meetings of the Public Entities shall be open to electronic participation by the public and closed to in-person participation by the public; and
- For matters requiring a public hearing, public comment may be solicited by electronic means in advance and through some type of electronic means during the course of an electronic meeting.
- All public comments will be provided to the Public Entity members at or before the electronic meeting and will be part of the record of the meeting.
- Meeting minutes shall meet legal requirements, describe how the meeting was conducted, who participated and what decisions were made. Meeting minutes may be approved by the Public Entities at a subsequent electronic meeting and once again in a regular or special meeting after the emergency and disaster has ended.
PEC will share more information as it becomes available. We are waiting for more clarity on what business the Board and other Public Entities (i.e. the Planning Commission) will conduct.
Currently the Planning Commission is scheduled to hold its previously cancelled March 24th public hearing on April 9th, and their April 9th work session on the same night has been cancelled. As currently planned, there will be a quorum present physically, but most staff, applicants and public are expected to participate remotely. Future physical/online arrangements will likely also be discussed at that time.
Please let me (or my colleague Evan McCarthy) know if you have additional questions and we will try to find you answers!
Loudoun Field Representative
The Piedmont Environmental Council
540-347-2334 ext. 7041