Impacts on Residential Densities
The County’s projection that approximately 11,000 more residences may be built in Loudoun’s rural areas is based on the County’s current zoning regulations for by- right clustered subdivisions. Potential changes to those regulations may increase or decrease the total potential residential population. The County plans to re-write the entire Zoning Ordinance in 2020 and 2021.
Currently, the Zoning Ordinance allows developers to build one new residence for every five acres in a cluster subdivision property in the northern part of the County’s Rural Policy Area (often referred to as “five-acre zoning”). This allows for four times as many new houses to be built compared with the “base density” of one house for every 20 acres established in the County’s 2019 Comprehensive Plan.
Save Rural Loudoun advocates for significant reductions in the number of houses that may be built in rural cluster subdivisions. This is the most reliable way to ensure that the total number of additional houses that may be built in the Rural Policy Area will be significantly less than the currently permitted total of 11,000.
Impacts on the Rural Economy
A recent study by the American Farmlands Trust found that Virginia farmland adjacent to “low density residential” development — in other words, a clustered subdivision — is seven times more likely to be urbanized than farmland surrounded by other farmland. Clustered subdivisions fundamentally change the character of rural land in ways that eventually destroy the rural economy.
Among other impacts, they fragment the land in a way that makes it more difficult and expensive for farmers to monitor and manage their fields. Heavy farm equipment must be moved around on congested public roads, raising both cost and safety issues. In addition, farmers come under increasing pressure from non-farming neighbors who object to the unavoidable sounds and smells of an active farming operation. As the number and size of farms decreases, the cost of providing fertilizers, chemicals, machine maintenance, and other farm services rises. Some service providers have already moved out of Loudoun, making it even more difficult for local farmers to procure the services at affordable prices.
The Rural Economic Development Council (REDC) has written to the County Board of Supervisors to express concern about the impacts of clustered subdivisions on the County’s vibrant rural tourism and farming businesses. The REDC emphasizes, in particular, the importance of preserving high quality farmland and prime agricultural soils (see below for additional details).
Click here to read the REDC’s letter.
Save Rural Loudoun advocates for a range of zoning, taxation, and other enabling policies – including the preservation of prime farmland – that encourage the sustainable development and growth of the County’s farming and rural tourism small businesses.
Impacts on Farmland and Prime Soils
The County’s 2019 Comprehensive Plan and the Zoning Ordinance state that one of the main policy purposes of clustered subdivisions is to preserve rural land for farming. However, County regulations do not require that developers preserve the soils that are best suited for farming (prime soils) and, as a result, County staff are unable to enforce the County’s policy.
It is generally most economical for developers to build clustered subdivision houses, sewage drain fields, driveways, and other residential infrastructure on top of prime agricultural soils. In practice, therefore, most recently-developed subdivisions destroy the bulk of the available prime farmland on their properties.
The recent application for a by-right cluster subdivision called “Millers
Reserve” is a typical example. In the subdivision map shown here, the
areas in brown are prime agricultural soils. The group of small lots in
the upper left are where the developers plan to build a cluster of “luxury
homes,” septic fields, access roads, and other residential infrastructure.
This will permanently destroy the majority of the prime soils located on
this property, making it impossible to farm. The proposed subdivision is
at the corner of Route 9 and Purcellville Road, about one mile east of
Click here for an expanded view of the Millers Reserve subdivision map.
Save Rural Loudoun advocates for regulations in the County Zoning Ordinance or other relevant regulations that will require clustered subdivision developers to preserve a specified portion of the available prime soils for farming.
Impacts on the Character of Rural Landscapes
Clusters of large, monotonous buildings on hilltops and ridgelines that have been cleared of all trees and natural vegetation destroy viewsheds that are critical for Loudoun’s rural tourism businesses and citizens’ quality of life.
Save Rural Loudoun advocates for regulations that will require developers to design clustered subdivisions in such a way that the residences and other infrastructure harmonize with the surrounding rural landscapes.