PEC Comments on Loudoun’s draft Zoning Ordinance Rewrite

On August 30, PEC submitted comments to the Loudoun County Planning Commission at its first public hearing regarding the draft Zoning Ordinance Rewrite, a document that provides specific details on how the County can accomplish the vision outlined in its 2019 Comprehensive Plan.

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, and prioritizes smart growth and environmental conservation. 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.

Loudoun’s zoning ordinance was previously updated in 2003, which means many changes are needed to reflect current growth and development trends. In the last 20 years, Loudoun’s population and number of households have doubled, a new Urban Policy Area was added with metro access coming soon, housing affordability has become a much bigger problem, and the County is recognizing a responsibility to address equity issues and climate impacts.

If you’d like to make your voice heard during this process and learn more, visit the County’s Zoning Ordinance Rewrite webpage. Read PEC’s email alert on the Zoning Ordinance Rewrite →

“Chair Hayes and Commission Members:

I’m Gem Bingol, representing the Piedmont Environmental Council for our comments on the first part of the Zoning Ordinance Rewrite. Staff’s hard work is evident, and we are thankful for all they’ve done to listen to the public and incorporate the many perspectives.

I will speak tonight in generalities but am also submitting a spreadsheet of specific issues to expand on tonight’s comments and make them easier to track.

Our concerns include natural resource protection, sustainability, climate and energy aspects of the draft, and ways to improve the county’s resilience. Other top issues include signage, enforcement and questions about the new Pre-Review process which hasn’t had any public discussion to date. The spreadsheet also includes one-off elements in the draft. 

The zoning ordinance is a key tool to direct how Loudoun will adapt to a rapidly changing environment, and shift toward greater sustainability and resilience. We appreciate that staff have incorporated many ideas toward that end, and yet we can and must do more. Natural systems clean our air and water to the extent that we conserve, preserve and enhance those systems. That happens with greater protection for mature native trees and other native plants and eradicating invasives in existing vegetation with development. With new landscaping plans we suggest that a majority of plant materials (we say 80%) should be native and no non-native invasives. 

The ordinance must also direct development to work with nature to take advantage of the natural function of plants. We can avoid creating disruptive conditions such as lighting that challenges insect and bird survival, or planting plans for which maintenance requires lots of toxic poisons, acres of mowing and tons of greenhouse gas emissions.

The Facilities Standards Manual (FSM) must also be updated concurrently so that further guidance is available as soon as possible.

Increasing bikeability and walkability will also help to reduce climate and energy impacts, while providing alternatives for more people. Among other things, that means having the connections and space for bike parking as an alternative mode of transportation.

The ordinance must also ensure that Loudoun has the infrastructure to transition away from gas guzzling vehicles which means being proactive on EV parking and charging stations, both at county facilities and as part of development, and providing for car-sharing to reduce auto-dependency.

Besides environmental issues, signage is an area that needs more attention in the draft. Unlimited, more and bigger signs aren’t better, especially now when most rely on their GPS systems to navigate.

Complaint-based zoning enforcement is always a challenge, and has been a particularly hot topic for the rural area. While it’s up to the Board to adopt effective enforcement policies to implement through ordinance and staffing, we encourage you to consider and recommend steps that the Board can take to improve enforcement.

The proposed new pre-review process for the Board of Supervisors is intriguing but raises many questions that should be addressed to ensure that the intent is effectively implemented. [NOTE: See pages 106 and 107 of the draft. The new process would allow the Board of Supervisors to provide early input to the applicant, staff and Planning Commission regarding proposed applications in a public hearing.] 

You have a big job ahead. While you’ve been prepping for this over the past months, now you’re faced with another tsunami of input to sort through. We are ready to answer any questions and elaborate on recommendations in our submissions. Thank you for your service!”