“A Brilliant Idea”

By Charles Houston

Byne Rood was catching up on emails late in the day when her husband Robert returned from work with his usual “Hey, babe.” 

“Hey yourself,” she returned his greeting and then added. “What’s that smirk on your face?”

Robert grinned, “I had a brilliant idea!”

“You always have good ideas, so what’s brilliant about this one?”

“You remember last week when that guy pulled out in front of you on Route 7?” Robert asked.

“How could I forget! He was coming from Blue Ridge Mountain Road – that’s right at the top of the mountain. He never looked, and just pulled out right in front of me. I slammed on my brakes, and bet I came within two feet of wrecking. I think he had been drinking at that brewery. A lot.”

Robert nodded and said, “I think breweries are becoming a problem. I worry that western Loudoun will become commercialized, maybe become a drink-and-drive destination.”

Byne said, “A lot of people think they add to life here, but maybe they’re too much of a good thing. Just their regular traffic is a problem, and alcohol makes safety a real concern. Dabney lives close to one on Route 9, and she complains that the racket goes on until the wee hours.”

Robert continued, “I thought about how to prevent more breweries. They are popular, though, and I doubt that the zoning ordinance could be changed to put a halt to them now. For one thing, changing anything related to zoning is a long process, and worse, I don’t think the supervisors would go for it at this time. Then I grasped the answer – the key word is ‘now.’”

Byne looked quizzical.

“Here: Have a new provision in the zoning ordinance so that certain uses – like breweries – are permitted but only for a specified period of time, say one year or two years after the zoning is enacted. At that point a sunset clause kicks in and new ones would not be allowed anymore unless the Board of Supervisors renews their permissive status. If breweries are not seen as a problem then, the Board would logically let the brewery use continue. However, if there are too many breweries and they’re causing problems, the Board could let the sunset provision remain and no new breweries could be started.”

“Brilliant.” Byne cheered. “What are you gonna do with the idea?”

“Well, I wanted to bounce it off someone closer to things than I am, especially about the politics that could be in play. I called the paper and explained to the publisher what I wanted and she gave me the number. Then I called Charles Houston.”

“Why do I recognize that name? Byne asked.

“Because he writes a column we read. By the way, he goes by ‘Charlie’ and he pronounces his last name ‘House-ton.’ Anyway, he thought the idea was great and could be a winner. Enacting Sunset Zoning could be done as part of the zoning rewrite that’s going on now. That means there would be no need to start a new zoning process. Supervisors, Houston guessed, would rather have anything controversial come up for Board review in the future rather than dealing with such things right now.”

“Kicking the can down the road,” Byne interjected.

“That’s one way to put it,” replied Robert. “Also, people who wanted to start breweries would have to hurry up and get them permitted before the new zoning takes effect with a sunset provision. You might worry that a bunch of them would suddenly pop up, but Houston and I don’t think that would happen. People in the west should really like Sunset Zoning and people in the east shouldn’t care since we’d keep the breweries that we have now. Existing breweries should support the idea since it would mean less future competition.”

Byne smirked.

“We then talked about the staff at the Department of Planning and Zoning. Houston says that zoning codes lock things in almost permanently and are very difficult to modify, but Sunset Zoning would add new flexibility that Staff should like. They also should like kicking controversial cans down the road, as it were. Sunset Zoning itself shouldn’t be controversial.

“He then asked me how I’d like to publicize my idea. I said that I didn’t need to get credit for it. He said the same thing. Houston’s on the Zoning Ordinance Committee that’s helping working on a new ordinance and I thought he would present it there. He had a better approach – he’ll share the idea with Staff and let it become their idea. We Googled ‘sunset zoning’ and similar terms and could not find any instance of its being been used. Loudoun ‘s Staff could get professional recognition for it. That’s our plan.”

Byne smiled but also pointed something out, “You didn’t talk about lawyers. Would Sunset Zoning pass legal muster?”

“I think so. Counties can down-zone as long as there are public hearings and such, and this might not even be considered a down-zoning. With lawyers you never know, so that’s a good point. Let me call Houston. Maybe he should take the idea to a supervisor who would then give it to the planning staff … and also tell the lawyers that their job is to make it happen.”

“Did Houston know who you were?” Byne asked her husband.

“Nope, but we’re having lunch next week. He said he’d buy.”

Charles Houston developed office buildings in Atlanta, and has lived in Paeonian Springs for over 20 years.

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