Throughout the summer months, the Loudoun County Planning Commission was hard at work on some of the largest policy and land use issues that will be brought before the Board of Supervisors this fall.
Split into four subcommittees, the commission tackled the implementation of the Rt. 28 Comprehensive Plan amendment; utilities in the Joint Land Management Area around the county’s towns; regulations on in-home child care businesses; and the transition of data centers to by-right uses in some zoning districts. By next week, the full commission is expected to have taken up each of the subcommittee items, and sent final recommendations on to the Board of Supervisors.
This Zoning Ordinance amendment seeks to make data centers a by-right use in the districts zoned for industrial park and office parks provided they meet certain performance standards.
The biggest issues at debate in the commission were those that would potentially impact existing residents living next to the PD-IP or PD-OP land. The commission is recommending that the decibel level be limited to 55 at the property line, with a test to be done before the county issues the occupancy permit and to be tested again on a complaint basis. The commission recommended that tests be done mimicking the facility at full capacity, and with enough generators to take care of 50 percent of the data load.
There was debate about increasing the setback of the data centers to 200 feet from the property line, at the request of residents and some commissioners, but ultimately the commission decided to leave the setback as laid out currently in the zoning districts. Commission Chairman Bob Klancher (Ashburn) said if the setback were increased dramatically—it is now 50 feet and 75 feet in the two districts—that would likely cause some of the exterior machinery to be moved in front of the building, placing it closer to the residents, and likely creating more noise. With a smaller setback, the machinery can be placed behind the building, providing an additional sound barrier.
The commission did increase the required buffering between data centers and residential property from a Type 2 buffer to a Type 4 buffer, which requires more shrubs, more evergreen trees and a substantially wider area. In addition the buffer would require a 6-foot berm, which subcommittee chairman Jeff Salmon (Dulles) said “was a big mitigating factor in handling” the data center impacts on residents.
Salmon said there was discussion about allowing data centers by right in the general business and general industrial zoning districts. The commission rejected both out of concerns of the limited land for general business and the need for general industrial zoning to support the airport. A lot of PD-GI land is along the Rt. 606 corridor.
“It is there for the purpose of expanding cargo capacity,” Salmon said. “If we let the PD-GI go to by right for data centers all that land might be taken up quickly by data centers and there would be no land for the airport cargo capacity.”
A landowner could still submit a rezoning application to build a data center in those districts, but it would go through the full Planning Commission and board public review.
Utilities In The JLMA
Spurred by questions that arose over utilities to serve the planned sheriff’s station outside of the Town of Round Hill, the Planning Commission was tasked with reviewing requirements for utilities in the Joint Land Management Area around the county’s seven incorporated towns.
The subcommittee, made up of commissioners that represent the parts of the county that include the towns, focused on ensuring that the towns were given final say in whether a project would be hooked up to public water and sewer or if it would use on-site well and septic.
Under the staff recommendation, the Couny Zoning Administrator would be the final say in determining whether there is availability in a town’s water and sewer system to accommodate a new development project. The Zoning Ordinance requires that if the public system has availability that the project be hooked in. However, the subcommittee is recommending that the availability be left to the individual town’s determination.
But the question remains: Does availability mean the town system has capacity available, or that the property is close enough to the town system to make hooking in a reasonable prospect? The subcommittee believes that question needs to be answered and agreed up by the county and the towns.
“[We] have determined that a sound understand needs to be confirmed between the towns and the county on those terms,” Commissioner Charles Douglas (Blue Ridge), who headed the subcommittee, said. He said the subcommittee has suggested a letter be sent to the board suggesting a meeting between the county and the towns be set up to finalize the matter.
The subcommittee has recommended that if a town agrees to hook a new property into its public system, the water or sewer line must be within in 300 feet of any new building. Douglas said the commission also worked to ensure that any county projects did not get preference under the zoning ordinance over private projects.
“We want to ensure that there is consistent treatment between public and private,” he said.
The full commission was scheduled to meet this week, after this paper’s deadline to further discuss the subcommittee recommendations and make final referral to the Board of Supervisors.
Rt. 28 CPAM
With the extensive work of the county’s planning staff over the last few years, the Planning Commission subcommittee on the implementation of the Rt. 28 CPAM focused mostly on clean up on the zoning regulations, according to subcommittee chairman Kevin Ruedisueli (At Large).
“We did not change the tone of the work that was done,” Ruedisueli said of the plan to improve development opportunities and economic development along the Rt. 28 corridor.
Under the new policies, property owners will have three ways to work through the development process. They can develop under the regulations for their existing zoning district, or they can apply the requirements of the overlay district on their property. There are four different overlay districts in the corridor: industrial, office, business and mixed-use. The industrial area is concentrated toward Dulles Airport, and is the lowest density district. The mixed-use overlay is the only one that allows residential development and is allowed in three nodes along the corridor—one southern, one northern and one central.
If a property owner chooses to use the overlay district there is both a standard method and an alternative method, Ruedisueli said. The alternative method has options that would give a landowner the opportunity for a higher density of uses.
The full commission is expected to take up the Rt. 28 regulations at its Oct. 8 work session.
Also on the full commission’ agenda for Oct. 8 is changes to the regulations over in-home child-care businesses.
After discovery that the county’s regulations put many child care businesses who have received approval from the state are not in compliance with local ordinances, the Board of Supervisors initiated a complete review of the policies. Proposed changes include increasing the maximum number of children permitted from nine to 12 and changing the age of the children included in the calculation from under the age of 14 to under the age of 13, both of which have been supported by the three-commissioner subcommittee.
Child care home businesses are being defined, per the subcommittee, as those that care for five children who do not live in the home.
An amended provision by the subcommittee would require that businesses with more than nine children, including the provider’s own children, may only be allowed in single family detached homes with a minimum of 1,800 square feet. The subcommittee voted to eliminate any minimum lot size requirements.
The subcommittee also has supported a provision that will count the providers own children and any children living in the home in the final calculation—something that is not done by the state regulators. All providers also will be required to obtain a zoning permit, a Loudoun County business license and State Family Day Home License in compliance with the Virginia State Code, if the current draft language is maintained.
The subcommittee also has clarified who qualifies as a “neighbor” to the child care business for purposes of knowing whose objection to the business would force the provider to receive a minor special exception permit approval from the Board of Supervisors. The commission also will be considering a recommendation that would limit the day care hours from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. five days a week.