Notes for protecting prime soils in Loudoun’s Zoning Ordinance

Approximately 25 speakers gave comments at the Planning Commission’s Nov. 14, 2022 public hearing on the draft Prime Soils and Cluster Subdivision Zoning Ordinance Amendment (ZOAM).

The purpose of the ZOAM is to implement protections for prime soils that have been envisioned in successive Comprehensive Plans since 2000, but which have never actually been implemented in the Zoning Ordinance with regard to cluster subdivision development.

The Planning Commission is scheduled to discuss the draft language and address the key issues of contention at its work session on Thursday, Jan. 12, 2023. The major outstanding issues are:

  • What percentage of prime soil must be protected during design and development of cluster subdivisions?
    • County staff recommend 70%, but would consider 50% if the Planning Commission recommends it. 
    • PEC has recommended 85% protection for prime soils and no less than 70%, since it is easily achievable within the existing open space requirement.
  • What should be the minimum Farmland Preservation Lot (FPL) size?
    • In the draft, the minimum size for FPL lots has been reduced to less than the base density.  
    • PEC does not support this reduction; FPL lots must be at least equal to the base zoning in order to offset the bonus density the County is offering developers.
  • How can HOA limitations on farming be avoided? 
    • The County attorney says Loudoun doesn’t have the authority to limit HOA covenants, but it could consider requesting legislation from the General Assembly that would provide such authority in the future. 
    • PEC recommends excluding the Farmland Preservation Lots and Cluster Rural Economy Lots from HOA control, supports future legislation that would exempt cluster lot owners from farming restrictions and supports other measures to encourage farm-friendly covenants.
  • Where should cluster subdivision lot drainfields be permitted? 
    • County staff want to preserve the right to put drainfields on open-space lots to avoid limiting residential development 
      • They may consider reducing the allowable percentage of offsite drainfields. 
    • PEC supports on-lot septic fields; there is adequate space for septic fields on site. 
      • Onsite septic fields are more easily monitored and maintained, avoiding health hazards resulting from failing systems.
  • What should the maximum cluster lot size be? 
    • It has been reduced to two acres to preserve the ability to get the full allowable density.  
    • PEC supports this. 
  • Are the county soils maps out of date?
    • Staff have confirmed the validity of county mapping information; they still recommend submission of a preliminary soils study from the developer of any parcel at the start of the development process.
    • PEC supports requiring submission of a preliminary soils study to demonstrate prime soils goals are being met. 

Protecting Loudoun’s prime soils is essential to long-term food security for the region. Development applications for cluster subdivisions are the norm in the rural area and continue to be submitted, chipping away at our valuable prime soil resources, open space and potential for young farmers to be successful.

This ZOAM is projected for completion/adoption in March 2023. You still have time to share your thoughts with the Planning Commission before its final recommendation on this topic. Write to the full Commission at, and copy the Board of Supervisors at

PEC will keep you informed about the Planning Commission recommendations and vote as the draft continues to move through the public process toward a public hearing.  Please contact Gem Bingol at or 540-347-2334 ext. 7041 if you have any questions.