Starting next week, the general public will get a peek at the future of Loudoun.
That’s the one where young professionals ride their hoverboards to the office down the street from their apartment every morning and then stay out late choosing from an abundance of neighborhood entertainment options each night.
That may not be exactly be the vision developed over the past year by platoons of county business leaders, but it’s close. Members of the Nighttime Economic Development Committee delved deep into planning and zoning concepts in their efforts to attract young workers needed to grow their companies and to provide the resources required to attract other businesses to the county.
Yes, the phrase “Loudoun nightlife” may be considered something just short of an oxymoron by some. However, the county’s roll-up-the-sidewalks-at-night reputation increasingly is an economic development hurdle. The trend is for young workers to choose to live in the urban environs of Arlington or Bethesda, only to seek Loudoun roots when they are ready to raise their families. Without a shift, local businesses will be challenged to import a greater portion of their workforce from the east, or to move closer to where their employees live (not in Loudoun).
The package of recommendations assembled by the study task force will ask county supervisors to push the boundaries of Loudoun’s traditional development philosophy. That’s OK. Similar shifts in the past gave rise to the traditional-style town center communities that are so popular with families today and to the rural enterprises that have come to define western Loudoun as a regional destination.
Specifically, there will be a push to allow more high-density residential development in more places in eastern Loudoun. Areas long planned for office and commercial centers will be eyed for the development of concentrated mixed-used nodes—intended to take the live-work-play concepts championed in places such as Lansdowne, the Village at Leesburg and One Loudoun to new levels. While the nighttime economy group comes to that recommendation from a workforce development viewpoint, county government leaders will hear similar comments from landowners and developers as the broader efforts to revamp the Silver Line corridor development policies and revise the General Plan move forward this year.
Supervisors will have to wade carefully through the policy recommendations to determine which ones advance the county’s long-term economic development goals and which are aimed at providing spurring development beyond the community’s needs or capacity.
Done right, the exercise will set the stage for sustained business growth. The wrong decisions not only could undermine that effort, but also jeopardize the long-term economic health of the county. This should be viewed as a business plan, not a development plan.