Editor: The headline “Supervisors: Incoming County Board Sees Developers as Partners, Not Adversaries” was wrong on both counts.
Loudoun has been fortunate that the developer community including engineers, planners, and lawyers with their land investors have been generally a quality team who have worked honorably to advance their interests. Nonetheless, those interests while legitimate are still private interests. As such they should not be considered “partners” or “adversaries” by county supervisors.
The assumption citizens make when voting for their supervisors is that they will represent the public interest along the Planning Commission, and the county staff.
There are real differences between the public interest and private development interests that must be recognized including:
- Velocity of Land Development: Developers who have invested in a property wish to develop it as soon as possible for any use that will provide an acceptable rate of return in their private interest. The public interest is to achieve the quality and type of development that the General Plan recommends even if the market is not ready to support this development in the short term. This is why the development community seeks to rezone commercial and industrial land to residential use.
- Existing versus future populations: The public interest focuses on how to achieve a high quality of life at an affordable cost for the existing county population. The private interest’s priority is to provide for new populations and land uses even if there are negative side effects to the present citizens.
- Cost allocation: The private interest attempts to pass on development costs to the public when possible. The public interest seeks to keep development costs with the private sector. When land is re-zoned to higher uses enormous land values are created to the benefit of the private owners. But when the property is developed are the proffers fully recovering the public costs?
- Quality of development: The private sector seeks the most freedom to set development standards and regulations that permit the widest range of development options at the least cost. The public interest rests with maintaining standards that will attract quality development with adequate transportation and services while maintaining Loudoun’s environmental assets (clean air, water, steep slopes, and heritage).
- Long term versus short term: All of these issues underlie the basic point that the private development interest is in building the projects, selling them, and moving on. While the public interest rests with the creation of communities with affordable operating costs, taxes, and services for the long term.
The role of the development community is essential to the future of Loudoun County. We will need more housing and economic development in the future. But let us not fall in the trap of thinking what is good for the development community is necessarily good for the citizens of Loudoun County. There are real differences between the private interests of developers and the public interest of citizens. Developers have a positive role to play in the future of Loudoun but should never be seen as a “partner” or an “adversary.”
The development community works best when implementing the public interest as defined in the General Plan. That is why the review and revision of the General Plan in 2016 is so important for all of us. It is the public’s best chance to define the future of Loudoun. We still have a great place to live and work, and we need to be vigilant that it is not lost to short term private interests.
Alfred P. Van Huyck, Round Hill
[The writer served on the Loudoun County Planning Commission from 1996 to 2003.]