Hoping that no one will notice (except the developers—excuse me the “stakeholders”—who stand to benefit the most from it), our all-Republican Loudoun Board of Supervisors returns from its well-earned two-month recess this week with a plan to slip through as its first order of business—without such petty annoyances as debate, discussion, public comment, explanations, etc etc—another of its long promised payoffs to the development industry that installed them in office.
This time it’s the revival of the last very-developer-friendly Republican Board’s “Zoning Ordinance Review Committee,” a permanent board that, packed with representatives of the development industry (excuse, me “stakeholders”), would be empowered to propose continual new variances, exceptions, changes, amendments, and alterations to the county zoning plan that was approved in an open democratic process.
It’s all part of the larger strategy of hijacking the mechanisms designed for good government—professional expertise and advice, citizen representation, and “reform”—as a way to undermine the public process and let regulated industries quietly and out of sight regulate themselves, especially when the regulated industry in question gave half a million bucks to elect Republican candidates to local office. This way our elected representatives needn’t stick their necks out and conduct contentious public hearings to propose zoning amendments to favor their buddies; they simply can say that they are merely adopting the recommendations of this wise, impartial, technical “Action Group” composed of citizen representatives (so long as those citizens work for developers).
The new committee will have a fresh new name, the Zoning Ordinance Action Group (these guys really love that word “Action,” don’t they? sounds so manly and purposeful . . .), but it’s the same old thing. To avoid the annoyance of public comment when the proposal to establish the ZOAG comes up this Wednesday, the supervisors have included approval of the ZOAG in the no-debate “consent agenda” for that meeting. If all goes well, they won’t even have to utter the word “ZOAG” on Wednesday to make it so.
The ZOAG “stakeholders” have even proposed that the formation of their very active action group—intended “to advance commercial and industrial development throughout the County” and “send a message to the business community that the County is responsive to their needs and concerns,” in the words of our very developer-friendly Board—be made a part of the zoning ordinance itself, “so that the ZOAG could not be easily disbanded or altered by a future Board,” they explain. (They also explain that the ZOAG would “reduce demand on Staff resources”: yes, certainly no need for our public servants to worry their pretty little heads about their responsibilities when it’s so much simpler just to let the “business community” rewrite the zoning rules themselves whenever they prove inconvenient.)
Of course, the people who actually live here and whose interests as residents of a community zoning and zoning regulations are intended to protect and serve in the first place are not considered “stakeholders” in the process.