Loudoun’s Zoning Ordinance Rewrite – Weigh in on the New Draft

The following text was sent out via email on January 23, 2023. Sign up for PEC email alerts →

An aerial view of a transmission line cutting through forest on left side of the photo. A large block of forest on either side of goose creek running through the middle of the photo. A suburban housing development can be seen on the right side of the image.
An aerial view of Goose Creek near a subdivision in Loudoun. The Zoning Ordinance impacts how natural resources like streams are protected. Photo by Hugh Kenny/PEC

Dear Supporter,

As I’ve mentioned in recent alerts, 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. Of particular relevance, the Zoning Ordinance impacts how land use is managed and how natural, agricultural and historic resources are protected – affecting the livability and sustainability of Loudoun in the coming years.

At the end of August, the Loudoun County Planning Commission held the first of two public hearings focused on a subset of the Zoning Ordinance. Since then, the Commission has been working through key issues identified by county staff, as well as concerns raised by the public, including native plant requirements in landscape plans and the adequacy of parking standards and sign regulations.

This Tuesday, Jan. 24, the Planning Commission will hold its second public hearing covering the rest of the Zoning Ordinance Rewrite.

If you are unable to sign up to speak at the public hearing, we encourage you to submit written comments online or via email with any feedback or concerns you have about the Zoning Ordinance. Your written comments this week and over the next few months will help the Planning Commission understand the general sentiment of the community and can help guide its recommendations for the draft.

Planning Commission Public Hearing

Tuesday, January 24 @ 6 p.m.
Board Room of the Loudoun County Gov. Center at 1 Harrison St. in Leesburg
Livestream available at loudoun.gov/meetings

The County’s Zoning Ordinance Rewrite page includes links to a “clean” and a “redline” version of the draft chapters with changes since April 2022. Chapters of the ordinance covered in this public hearing will include:

  • Zoning Districts (Ch. 2) – Outlines each district and the amount and type of development allowed there.
  • Uses (Ch. 3) – Land uses that are permitted and allowed without review by the Board of Supervisors.
  • Use Specific Standards (Ch. 4) – Some standards apply for all land uses, while other standards are specific to the particular land use and impacts it generates.
  • Overlay Districts (Ch. 5) – Provide more environmental and noise protections in specific geographic areas.
  • Natural and Environmental Resources (Ch. 6) – These are general environmental protections that apply in all cases.
  • Development Standards: Open Space (Ch. 7) – The other standards were addressed at the last public hearing in August 2022.
  • Attainable Housing (Ch. 9) – Gives specific regulations for the amount of various housing types that must be incorporated into new developments. 
  • Procedures (Ch. 11)
  • Definitions (Ch. 13)

Our Concerns

Unfortunately, the County was late to release the “redline” draft of the Zoning Ordinance Rewrite, so we’ve had less than a week to comb through hundreds pages of text and analyze the proposed changes. We are continuing to review all of the details in the draft, but below are a few of our initial concerns:

  • Some definitions for new and existing terms in the Zoning Ordinance are missing, and some need more clarity.
    • The lack of specific definitions for terms such as “Farm,” “Native Plant,” “Mature Forest,” “Business/Technical School” and “Mountain Overlay District” impacts the County’s ability to precisely implement the vision of the Comprehensive Plan. For example, using the currently proposed definitions of “farm” and “bona-fide agriculture,” many existing productive operations will no longer be recognized as farms. On the other hand, some businesses (such as rural event venues) will be able to call themselves farms even if they don’t directly contribute to Loudoun’s agricultural economy.
  • Some uses permitted within River and Stream Corridor Resources (RSCR) areas (i.e. buffers along rivers and streams) are inconsistent with the Comprehensive Plan; more clarity is needed.
    • The Comprehensive Plan seeks to limit the impacts that development has on major floodplain RSCR by only allowing active recreation and stormwater management facilities in minor floodplain RSCR. However, the draft Zoning Ordinance specifies uses in the RSCR buffers that are inconsistent with the distinctions made between the major and minor floodplains.
    • The Comprehensive Plan permits raised boardwalks in the RSCR buffers, but strangely, this use is stricken in the latest draft of the Ordinance.
  • Many use standards are inadequate for limiting offsite impacts from development. The term “use” refers to the specific type of land use being proposed, e.g. data centers, solar facilities, event centers.
    • Data centers have a huge impact on climate, the environment and neighboring properties, but the county has few regulations that address them, and they are mostly aesthetic in nature.
    • Some standards have been added for utility-scale solar, but they still need more detail to protect soils, forests and limit stormwater runoff.
    • High intensity uses that regularly host events (such as rural breweries) should have more regulation to reduce out-of-scale impacts to neighbors, such as noise, lighting and traffic. 
  • Greater protections are needed for Natural, Environmental and Heritage Resources (NEHR) (defined in Chapter 3-2 and Chapter 3-3 of the Comprehensive Plan), which include some of the County’s most important rivers and wetlands, wildlife habitat, ridges and mountainsides, farmland, historic sites and scenic resources, to name a few.
    • For example, it should be required that resources are identified and located as part of development site plans and conservation farm plans.
  • Better, proactive enforcement of use standards is needed when there are offsite impacts.
    • Enforcement of the use standards and requirements in the county is reactive, complaint-driven, and not spelled out in the ordinance, but is dependent on county policy.
      • There is widespread frustration with the inadequacy of this process. 
      • We will be asking the Planning Commission to make a recommendation to the Board of Supervisors to improve this process. A policy change could be to add proactive enforcement in the rural area on use types that regularly have the highest offsite impacts (e.g. traffic, lights, noise). 

We will post the detailed comments we’re submitting to the Planning Commission after the public hearing, but in the meantime, please send the Commission a note about your interests and concerns.

Next steps 

The Planning Commission has been working through the topics that were part of the August public hearing and will continue those work sessions. It will have work sessions on February 9 (evening) and February 25 (all day) with additional work sessions that may be added beyond regularly scheduled meetings to address the additional chapters. 

We expect the Zoning Ordinance Rewrite to move to the Board of Supervisors by the summer, with more opportunities to weigh in at that stage.

Thanks for your attention to this matter. Please reach out if you have any questions about the chapters.


Gem Bingol
Loudoun County Field Representative
(540) 347-2334 ext. 7041