Loudoun Supervisors Battle Bill to Cut Proffers

Loudoun Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Phyllis J. Randall (D-At Large) and Vice Chairman Ralph M. Buona (R-Ashburn) spent the past few days in Richmond pushing back against bills that would “hamstring” Loudoun’s ability to keep up with its explosive growth.

“It hamstrings us—and the developers—because with a county that’s growing as fast as Loudoun County, and as we develop the Silver Line corridor, we may not know exactly what we need,” Randall said.

Woodstock Del. C. Todd Gilbert (R-15) introduced House Bill 770 to restrict proffers that localities can request or accept from developers. The bill, written by the Homebuilders Association of Virginia, prohibits “unreasonable” proffers that do not address “an impact that is specifically and uniquely attributable to a proposed new residential development.”

In other words, any proffer that doesn’t address a problem directly created by that development and doesn’t directly benefit that development would be illegal. In addition, if a developer takes a locality to court over a proffer dispute and wins under these rules, the government would automatically be responsible for the developer’s court costs and attorney fees.

Harrisonburg state Sen. Mark D. Obenshain (R-26) and Springfield Sen. Richard L. Saslaw (D-35) introduced an identical bill in the Senate, SB 549.

Loudoun has relied heavily on proffers to keep up with roads, schools, and other needs as the county continues to grow faster than anywhere else in the state. Under this bill, supervisors say many proffers would be prohibited.

“We’ve gotten a lot of amendments that make the bill more palatable to us,” Buona said. “That said, there are still some issues that we are not happy with in this bill.”

Buona and Randall have worked with delegates in the House Committee on Counties, Cities and Towns to extend the exceptions to the bill. The latest version of the bill no longer prohibits transportation projects, public safety, parks, and the Metro tax district, but notably still stops proffers like stormwater management, community centers, or libraries—such as the Brambleton Library, which was built through a proffer agreement.

“I think the developers want to pay their fair share when they do a rezoning for an impact that they create,” said Homebuilders Association of Virginia Vice President Ryan Flogale, who represents the association in Northern Virginia. “They just don’t want to do more than that.”

Flogale said that developers sometimes end up paying more than their fair share by agreeing to do work not directly related to their development.

“Ultimately what it does is increases the cost of the home and makes it unaffordable,” Flogale said.

Flogale said the bill would help protect a beleaguered housing industry, which still feels the effects of the 2008 recession.

He also disagrees that the bill would hamper Loudoun’s ability to keep up with growth.

“Any proffers that are brought forward that directly impact their subdivision, they’re willing to pay for, as far as roads and so forth,” Flogale said. He argues the bill would keep housing affordable and stimulate economic growth.

Loudoun opposes the legislation outright, but Randall and Buona both say there is no chance of defeating it entirely.

“At this point, we’ve moved the bill as far as we can to our liking in the House,” Buona said. “We now have to go focus on the Senate side.”

Randall said the county doesn’t yet know what the bill’s impact will be on Loudoun. “It could only be a negative impact,” she said.

Loudoun is especially vulnerable to the bill’s effects, since it relies so heavily on proffers and takes them so often.

“Let’s face it, nobody takes proffers more in the commonwealth than Loudoun County,” Buona said. “The vast majority of jurisdictions don’t take proffers at all.”

“In the Commonwealth of Virginia, in the past year, Loudoun has had over half the proffers,” Randall said. This impacts us more than any other county in Virginia, because we are the fastest growing county.” However, she added, other counties may start to feel the bill’s effects as they grow, too: “I think it would behoove other counties to look up.”

Del. Jennifer Boysko (D-86), who serves on the House Committee on Counties, Cities and Towns, voted against the bill.

The amended bill is headed to a vote by the full House this week.