Envision Loudoun’s series of public Listening & Learning workshops – part of the County’s 18-month process to rewrite the Comprehensive Plan – wrapped up Jan. 11. The interactive website is now also officially finished with this initial learning phase. According to the Envision Loudoun website, citizen participation in the effort has been very good; “generating over 4,500 unique ideas and opportunities.”
So, now what?
If you’ve ever been involved in a planning charrette, or work session or public hearing, you know; When you ask people’s opinions on a subject, you have to show how and why you acted on those opinions. So, how will citizen comments inform the nitty-gritty planning details that determine how land is used and developed in Loudoun County?
If you asked the children who participated in Envision Loudoun workshops by “drawing” their future, you’d see both the positive and the unknown. Animals and trees and buildings live in harmony with each other. Large, unknown structures sometimes dominate the landscape. Parks and swings are everywhere, as are bright colors and favorite stores. And, you’d know you are being lobbied – for more parks, more shopping, more space between houses, a healthier environment, even for lower rents.
For the professionals trying to direct the process – all of whom have preferred Comprehensive Plan outcomes and policies of their own – the picture emerging from Envision Loudoun will be much more complicated.
The County’s planning consultants – the Ohio-based consulting firm of Planning Next – are focused on collecting, documenting and organizing all Envision Loudoun input with the goal of getting their client to the endpoint; a new Comprehensive Plan.
The real test will be how to translate the hours and hours of input, and stacks and stacks of maps, drawings, letters and suggestions into something that reflects Loudoun County, the long planning journey that has gotten it to this point and what kind of future it wants.
For some, the three part Rural, Transition and Suburban Policy Area strategy – focusing suburban development in the east … maintaining a protective, lower-density buffer in the middle … and preserving the rural west – is Loudoun County’s zoning bible. For others, this three-part strategy is not “trendy” enough. Said a consultant who helped the County launch the Envision Loudoun process, “Mixed-use in all its forms is really the rage right now …”
But, despite what is seen as modern and new, the continuous planning discussion Loudoun County has engaged in has focused not so much on the latest trends as the similarities between newcomers and people who have been here for generations. People stay in Loudoun and come to Loudoun, often, for the same thing.
Envision Loudoun’s most powerful developer interests, including builders, real estate investors and their consultants occupy key positions on the Stakeholder Committee and ZOAG – the Northern Virginia Building Association, Bowman Consulting and the Dulles Association of Realtors, for example.
Community, historic preservation and wildlife conservation champions are represented, too – the Loudoun County B & B Guild and PEC, for example.
Businessman Mike Turner, appointed to the Stakeholder Committee by BOS Chair Phyllis J. Randall (D-At Large), sees the Comp Plan review as “a tension between what is and what will be.”
But, it may be the people in the middle – everyday Loudouners new and old – that will determine where Envision Loudoun takes us. If they speak loud enough.