Editorial: Forming a Platform for the Debate

The horses are finally catching up with the cart as far as Loudoun’s multifaceted planning process is concerned.

The first elements of the county’s housing needs analysis are trickling out, with the final numbers expected to be presented later this month. The studies will provide a critical foundation on which to build the new vision for Loudoun’s future.

While teams of consultants and county staff members work to assemble that data, decisions about new development policies are advancing on several fronts. Zoning changes are in the works to allow more mixed-use centers in eastern Loudoun—allowing more residential units on land previously envisioned for office and commercial uses. The Silver Line comprehensive plan is aimed at laying the groundwork for urban-scale construction, while spurring a side debate over whether more townhouses represent a community opportunity or a fiscal threat. In the early community discussions of the Envision Loudoun effort to revamp the countywide comprehensive plan, a full range of residential topics has been raised, including whether to open the transition area to higher density subdivisions. Lately, there’s been an emphasis on providing housing designed to attract millennials and retain empty-nesters.

There are a lot of balls in the air, and that juggling is occurring without a firm understanding of how previously approved developments meet or fail to meet the county’ short-term county needs, much less an analysis of the number, type and location of houses that will be needed over the next two decades. Are county planners overlooking an impending dearth of land-intensive single-family detached houses that long have been the backbone of the county’s housing industry? Is that demand going away?

That’s why the housing needs analysis is so important. If planners today get the balance wrong, they could be setting up the county leaders of tomorrow for big challenges. These decisions will influence housing affordability, the community’s fiscal strength, the capacity of the transportation network, and the adequacy of classroom space, to list some of the outcomes of good—or poor—planning.

Once that report is finalized, there will still be plenty of assumptions and conclusions to debate, but it will provide a better platform for the discussion than is currently available.