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Frequently Used Planning Terms

We hope this page will unlock some of the mysteries of the Loudoun County planning process!  Is there a word or term you'd like to see added to the page?  Please email us.

Other good places to look are the county's website, which has extensive information, and the Must-Know Lingo article in the Loudoun Newcomers' Guide, published by the Loudoun Connection.

Administrative Approval Process
By Right Use
Comprehensive Plan
Comprehensive Plan Amendment (CPAM)
Development Application
Induced Traffic
Legislative Approval Process
Special Exception
Transition Area
Zoning Concept Plan Amendment

A-3: A zoning district that allows one house per three acres.  Example: Developments along Route 9 West and Route 15 North of Leesburg; most of Great Falls, VA (some areas are five acre zoning).

Administrative Approval Process:  This process is handled by County staff and does not require a public hearing or review by the Planning Commission or Board of Supervisors. The public may comment and discuss issues with the staff, but the process will not result in complete denial of a development project.

AR-1: A zoning district that allows one house per 20 acres.  AR-1 zoning is most appropriate for rural areas.

AR-2: A zoning district that allows one house per 50 acres.  AR-2 zoning is most appropriate for rural areas. 

By Right Use:  Uses or structures that are allowed under a particular zoning district classification without the need for [a special exception] legislative approval by the Board of Supervisors. County staff administers the approval process.

Comprehensive Plan ("Comp Plan"): A public document that serves as a long-range guide (20-30 years) for growth, land use, and development decisions in the county.

A comprehensive plan helps direct the county in decisions about if, when, and where new growth should occur. To be effective, the plan should not change with each political election or incremental development decisions.  The comprehensive plan is implemented through zoning decisions.

Every locality in Virginia is required to have a comprehesive plan; however, the state does not require that land use and zoning decisions be consistent with the plan. 

Comprehensive Plan Amendment (CPAM):  A change to the county's comprehensive plan, or long-range growth plan.  Because the comprehensive plan is a long-term tool designed to shape land use in the county over time, constant amendments to the plan undermines and limits its effectiveness.

Before adopting an amendment, Virginia law requires that two public hearings be held, one with the Planning Commission and one with the Board of Supervisors.  The Planning Commission may also hold work sessions to discuss the amendment details, and often public comment time is available during these sessions.  The final decision to adopt the amendment is made by the Board of Supervisors. 

Development Application:  All development projects (i.e. rezoning, special exception, zoning concept plan amendment, subdivision) require an application to be submitted and approved by the County. Approvals may be legislative or administrative. The approval process has a required timeframe for action or decision by the County depending on the type of application (i.e. 1 year for a rezoning application to 60 days for a subdivision application). The actual time until a decision occurs may be considerably longer based on the applicant's response timeframe to issues raised by the County.

A development application differs from a proposed change to the County's Comprehensive Plan or Comprehensive Plan Amendment (CPAM). There is no specific timeframe for action or approval with a CPAM by state or local law.

Induced Traffic:  Also called generated traffic.   Any increase in travel resulting from a transportation improvement (such as building or widening a highway) which would not have otherwise occurred.  This phenomenon is marked by the phrase "if you build it, they will come."  Efforts to reduce peak traffic congestion through roadway expansion are rendered ineffective.

Induced traffic is both short term and long term.  In the short term, new transportation improvements cause drivers to change their habits.  Shortly after the new lane or road is opened, drivers may take more or longer trips, switch commuting routes, forgo carpools or public transit, or change their departure times.

In the longer term, the improved roadway capacity stimulates new development, bringing more traffic on the road network.  As drivers move farther from work and shopping, the total induced travel can rise up to 50 to 100% of the roadway's new capacity.

Legislative Approval Process: This process requires at least two public hearings with review and comment by the Planning Commission and the Board of Supervisors. This process may result in the denial of a development project.

Ordinance:  The local law that sets forth regulations to guide development. The Zoning Ordinance provides broad development guidelines for the uses that can occur in each zoning category (i.e. residential or commercial). Other ordinances such as the Subdivision Ordinance set out very specific standards for how development is to occur (i.e. road and grading requirements).

Proffer:  A voluntary promise or commitment given in writing by a developer to construct certain improvements, to make certain donations, or to develop property subject to specified conditions to mitigate the impacts of the proposed development and to develop the property in accord with the Comprehensive Plan.

Proffers are often made by developers as part of a rezoning request, to "sweeten" the deal for the county.  A proffer might be a donation of land to the county for public use (such as a library or school site), construction of public facilities (such as widening a road or building a school), or cash.

Several concerns about the proffer system have been raised. 

Proffered improvements are generally tied to the development schedule of the project. So a developer may not build a new school or widen a road until the project is completed, though the demand for the infrastructure improvements starts much sooner than that. 

Also, proffers typically make up only a minor portion of the overall costs for infrastructure needed by a new development.  A recent calculation by Loudoun County showed that developer proffers currently amount to about 35% of the total costs of their developments.

Rezoning:  A request from a landowner to change the zoning of his property.  The Board of Supervisors can either approve or deny the rezoning request.  For example, a developer may request that a parcel of land be rezoned from industrial/office use to residential in order to build new houses instead of office buildings.

Special Exception:  A use or structure that is permitted in a zoning district after an assessment process, with legislative approval granted by the Board of Supervisors. The approval process requires that the use or structure complies with all the conditions and standards specified in the Zoning Ordinance and/or imposed by the Board of Zoning Appeals and/or the Board of Supervisors at their discretion.

Subdivision:  The division of a parcel of land into two or more new parcels. County staff administers the development approval process. 

Transition Area:  A county planning district designed to be a separation of, or a transition between, the suburban and rural areas of Loudoun. The Transition Area is also designed to protect the region’s drinking water supply in the Beaverdam Reservoir. The county’s growth plan calls for new development in the Transition Area to be moderately dense, clustered development (less dense than suburban, more dense than rural).

The Transition Area extends over an area of 22,813 acres, about 6.8% of Loudoun County’s total area.  The western boundary of the Transition Area starts below Route 7 and extends along Sycolin Creek and Evergreen Mills. The eastern edge extends along Goose Creek, the Beaverdam reservoirs, and the alignment for Route 659 Relocated. The southern boundaries are Route 620/Braddock Road to the north, the Fairfax County line to the east and the Prince William County line to the south.

Zoning Map Amendment (ZMAP):  An application to make a change in a zoning district and consequently in allowed land use or allowed intensity of land use for a given parcel or group of parcels of land.  See also rezoning.

Zoning: An ordinance that regulates land use by dividing an area (such as the county) into different districts or zones.  The land in each zone is assigned a specific use, either "by right" or as a "special exception." 

Land can be zoned for residential, business, commercial, industrial, agricultural, open space, etc uses.  Within each district, the intensity of land use can vary.  For example, an area zoned residential could include townhouses, apartments, and single family detached houses.

Zoning is also used to ensure that land uses in a certain area are appropriate and compatible. For example, an area zoned as residential prohibits land fills, factories, etc that would be undesirable neighbors for the residents. Also, environmentally sensitive areas can be zoned for uses that won't threaten a drinking water supply or crucial wildlife habitat.

Zoning Concept Plan Amendment: This is a process used to make changes to concept plans that specified the details of a previous rezoning. These details were proffered as a legal commitment by the developer. Legislative approval is required by the Board of Supervisors after assessing the impacts of the proposed change.



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