Back in June, our highly efficient all-Republican Loudoun Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to begin the process of amending the county’s zoning ordinance to eliminate the annoying requirement that the public get to have a say — or even learn in advance — about where new public schools will be built.
Under the current zoning rules, a hearing before the Planning Commission is required. This makes simple sense, especially when it comes to building new schools in the more-rural parts of the county: a school can have a considerable impact on traffic, water use, and noise and light in areas not always well equipped to handle those impacts.
Keeping the site selection process in the open is also a deterrent to some of the dubious financial dealings and cozy relationships that have marked some previous land purchases in connection with Loudoun’s rapidly expanding public school system.
But a funny thing happened on the way to the bum’s rush: the Planning Commission last month balked at the supervisors’ idea of allowing new public schools to be built “by right” nearly everywhere in the county, and seemed inclined instead to retain the current requirement for a “special exception” hearing in each case.
However . . . don’t think that’s all there is to the story.
Tucked away in the supervisors’ October 16, 2013, report on its ongoing follow-up to its very exciting September 2012 “Strategic Planning Retreat” (our favorite bedtime reading), is a little passing mention of the fact that the supervisors are also planning to soon introduce a zoning ordinance amendment (“ZOAM”) that would similarly allow private schools to be built “by right” throughout the county.
And not only that, but to help expedite the process, the Board plans to use your tax money to hire an outside consultant to help with speeding this little amendment along.
Here is what the Board states:
In reviewing the balance of ZOAMs in queue, the ZOAM that could benefit from consultant services would be the Private Schools by Right ZOAM. Staff is scheduled to begin work on this item, after the completion of the Public Schools by Right ZOAM. Staff has not begun any work on this item and anticipates (based on the outcome of the Public Schools ZOAM) that further public outreach and consulting services may be beneficial. Since this particular ZOAM spans between zoning and planning staff, use of a consultant may free staff to work on other tasks. Consultant’s services could be used to conduct the background research, including regulations from other jurisdictions.
Presumably, giving private schools the right to build wherever they want, without any chance for public comment or participation, is a little gift to the Christian right that this Board counts on for loyal support?
In any case, it would be a dramatic departure from current zoning rules and another example of the all-Republican Board’s determination to shut public participation out of government decisionmaking: except that is for the many “stakeholder” groups it keeps creating, “stakeholders” being limited to those who are in a direct position to make money out of changes in the zoning rules.