Virginia Votes to Keep Rural Land From Being Overdeveloped

Loudoun County's board of supervisors votes to keep rural land from being overdeveloped in Virginia, with members of the Voters to Stop Sprawl sucessfully educating and informing residents on the dangers of urban sprawl.

| December 2001/January 2002

Legal Watch: Virginia's Voters to Stop Sprawl succeed in a vote to keep rural land from being overdeveloped in Loudoun County. 

Last summer Loudoun County, Virginia, a suburban/rural area south of Washington, D.C., passed a plan aimed to keep rural land from being overdeveloped. The county's board of supervisors passed the plan on a 7-2 vote, killing a planned Interstate through the area and axing 83,158 potential homesites. The plan also protects natural and historic sites from overdevelopment and will divide the suburban area of the county into four distinct communities with real town centers — not just shopping malls.

The plan was built from the ground up, with 11 public input sessions, two formal hearings and many roundtable discussions bringing together the residents of the county. But perhaps the biggest key to Loudon's success was a concentrated effort by voters' groups to educate and inform residents on urban sprawl. The Voters to Stop Sprawl evaluated and endorsed candidates for the board of supervisors, getting eight out of nine elected.

"It's a good victory for an area literally on the edge of a suburban area, and that's where the smart growth battle is waged," said Peggy Maio, Loudoun County field officer for the Piedmont Environmental Council. "Our rural landscape is going to remain a rural landscape — a working rural landscape."

The Slow Growth Movement has spread to nearby counties as well. Greg Gorham, a member of the Voters to Stop Sprawl in neighboring Prince William County, said his group's efforts were just an election behind Loudoun's. Gorham points to how Loudoun's branch managed to get Smart Growth candidates into office with very little money used against well-funded incumbents. "With voter turnout being so low, it doesn't take much to swing an election," Gorham said. "What's going to happen 20 years from now? Those decisions are being decided now."

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