Letter: Emily Houston, Paeonian Springs

Editor:  I recently attended a meeting where Deputy County Administrator Charles Yudd spoke about the draft of the new Comprehensive Plan, developed through the controversial Envision Loudoun process.

At that meeting, Mr. Yudd explained that both a fiscal impact and a transportation impact study of the new Plan would be done, with results presented to the Stakeholders’ Committee at their final meeting on July 9.

Mr. Yudd said the baseline—the starting point—for the analysis of the impact of the new plan is by-right development in the existing Comprehensive Plan. This analysis will determine if the new Plan would have a positive, negative, or neutral effect on the county’s fiscal health and transportation situation.

As a resident of the Rural Policy Area (RPA), my concern with this method is that the existing plan already allows an additional 7,500 houses to be built in the RPA. The new plan may or maynot add more density in the RPA, but the starting point by which it will be judged already has us already absorbing the effects of those 7,500 homes.

What are the effects?

VDOT estimates that each house generates 10 vehicle trips per day on our roads. Those 7,500 homes put 75,000 cars, delivery trucks, landscaping companies, garbage trucks, and everything else that services a home on our already congested byways each and every day.

The county estimates that each new single-family house built in the western part of the county has an initial cost to taxpayers of $31,007.  This amount covers the costs to the county of building new schools, fire stations, and other public facilities resulting from increasing residential density. Additionally, the county recognizes that each newhouse costs taxpayers money year after year, because each household continues to consume more in services than it pays in taxes.

(New houses built anywhere in the county are a cost to all county taxpayers, no matter which policy area you live in, due to both the initial costs for the services required, and the ongoing expenses of maintaining those services.)

By using the existing plan as the baseline, the new plan will likely be declared fiscally and transportation neutral in the Rural Policy Area if it doesn’t add density.  But what is missing in this analysis is that the RPA will already have been bludgeoned by the effects of the existing plan.

I’ve heard one of our political leaders refer to the fact that there have been “rumblings” about the proposed plan from the rural area, which this elected official didn’t understand because the RPA is being “left alone.” Those rumblings are a response to the damage already being inflicted on the rural area—the destruction of farmland, the degrading of our unique and historic rural road network, the squeezing out of the equestrian industry, the overloading of the major transportation arteries, the crowding in schools, just to name a few of the consequences of unchecked growth.

Citizens beware. Envision Loudoun (the process creating the new plan) is a growth plan. Remember that the criteria by which it will be judged—the impact studies under way now—do not account for thegrowth with which we have already been saddled.

Emily Houston, Paeonian Springs

6 thoughts on “Letter: Emily Houston, Paeonian Springs

  • 2018-06-08 at 11:44 am
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    As always, the folks in Western Loudoun have great statistics to show why growth should not happen in the rural area. What I don’t understand is exactly what they wanted from the new 2040 Comprehensive Plan. If one actually reads the plan, one will find that there is no additional density in the Rural Policy Area. And, the 7,500 by-right houses that Ms. Houston mentions were not touched, since the people in the west told the Board of Supervisors “not to change anything in the RPA.” The Stakeholder Committee made very few recommendations for the west–those that show up in the draft were around parks, trails and the like. There was no increase in density proposed in the draft. And, those rutty, rough gravel roads that westerners are so proud of were not touched, either.

    Looking at growth in the east as the purveyor of more traffic and congestion on western roads–is that not what many in the west want? The Loudoun agribusiness that is touted has to have customers to survive. Most of the farms in the rural area sell to local clients. With more farms catering to new clients, there will naturally be more cars on the road to get to the stands, wineries and wedding venues. Where do these buyers come from–Eastern Loudoun, of course. You can’t have it both ways: Customers to buy the farm-produced goods and no new traffic.

    I observed the last 8 months of the Stakeholder Committee meetings. I was surprised at how many constraints that the committee members put on new growth recommendations in the county. They were conscientiously trying to meet the wishes of the Board while trying to accommodate residential market demand created by new businesses in the county. It frankly dismays me to hear people talking so disparagingly about this committee. The committee was made up of citizens of various backgrounds and represented many organizations in Loudoun. From my observations, I did not find that any particular group (e.g. developers) dominated the proceedings.

    The 2040 Comprehensive Plan is not perfect. But, it is a great foundation on which to base inevitable growth in the county.

    • 2018-06-08 at 10:58 pm
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      My point in this letter was not to criticize the new Plan but the standards by which it will be judged, as they apply to the Rural Policy Area. Using the complete build-out allowed under the current Plan as the starting point for determining the impact of the new Plan neutralizes the impending effects of the increased residential development that is already allowed. I hope citizens of western Loudoun will understand that even if the new Plan is declared neutral in its fiscal and transportation impacts on the Rural Policy Area, we will be living with the consequences of the by-right development created by the current Plan for many years to come.

  • 2018-06-08 at 3:15 pm
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    Growth in this area is inevitable and that is a good problem to have. Much better than trying to manage economic decline.

    That said, the one part of this letter that I agree with Emily on is that new housing units cost the county more in services than they generate in taxes. Loudoun really needs to put the brakes on ALL housing development until our infrastructure is able to support the CURRENT population and we have enough growth in jobs paying at or above the median wage to justify more housing. Putting in local retail stores is NOT job growth. Building more homes just keeps Loudoun as the bedroom community for Fairfax and DC – they get the business revenue, we get the school and service expense.

  • 2018-06-09 at 12:11 am
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    Galluponover should look at the overall economic problems facing Loudoun, not launch into a pro-growth diatribe. Ms. Houston talks about 7,500 new houses the county assumes will be built in the west. The real issue is the countywide expectations – a total of 29,000 new houses, 21,500 built east of the rural area – that can be built under existing zoning. He might not be familiar with the county’s Capital Intensity Factor, usually called the CIF. Earlier this year the Supervisors approved a new CIF which says that the county will have to absorb average costs in excess of $40,000 for each of those 29,000 houses. Those are both official county numbers, and how badly do we taxpayers get hit? Over $1 billion, with a “b.” Before proposing any new residential growth, anywhere, the county needs to solve this catastrophe. The answer is downzoning. Thinking that new commercial projects will bail us out is a pipedream since each of them bring employees who want to live here, further aggravating the deficits.

    It’s really a lot more than $1 billion anyway. Even the Supervisors say that houses cost more than they pay in taxes. By 2040, Envision’s timeframe, this will amount to hundreds of millions more.

    One last thing for Galluponup. The draft plan was actually prepared by the planning staff under pro-growth director Ricky Barker, who has since moved elsewhere. Even though the Stakeholders were dominated by real estate interests, they made little difference – much like yapping chihuahuas. It was planning staff and some unnamed consultants who foisted this growth plan on us. The Supervisors should put the proposed on pause until there is an answer for our budget crisis, and it better not be a solution that depends on more taxes for its citizens.

  • 2018-06-09 at 8:12 am
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    As a life-long Loudoun resident, I couldn’t disagree more with Emily’s “no growth” propaganda. First off, what makes the Envision Loudoun process controversial? Because Emily and other “no-growth” advocates say so? The County and Envision Loudoun committee bent over backwards to listen to the residents, and to show deference to the amount of development in the RPA. I believe the Envision Loudoun plan helps keep the RPA (west) more rural by concentrating the growth along the Dulles Greenway corridor. If people who work in Fairfax or Loudoun can’t afford a house in Loudoun (supply and demand) they will just live in Clark County or West Va. or Maryland and STILL clog our roads. Also, don’t let “no-growth” advocates like Emily try to convince you they care about your taxes –THEY DON’T. If they did, they wouldn’t have opposed the True North Data Center which will bring millions into County’s coffers each year with no impact on the environment, schools or roads.

  • 2018-06-09 at 7:51 pm
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    MoreHousingGrowth can’t get his issues correct.

    Let’s ignore the Envision thing, which all three Loudoun newspapers have blasted. Let’s don’t talk about the west. Let’s don’t talk about roads. In short, set a new table for an economic debate.

    I used County numbers to examine the CIFs in detail, as well as the distribution of the additional 29,000 houses that can be built by right. If 7,500 are in the west where the CIF is lower, the CIF cost there is over $230 million. Then add in the 21,500 houses planned in suburban areas (which have a much higher CIF) and our problem grows to $1,250,000,000. That’s a lot of taxes. But wait! I understand that the Envision project, which county officials privately said was “off the rails,” proposes an additional 15,000 houses above the 29,000 in the pipeline. All 15,000 would be east of the rural area with a very high CIF ($47,500 per house,) and thus Envision proposes adding another $700 million to our taxes.

    Anybody can do the math: houses in the pipeline plus more houses in the east (44,000 new houses in total) equals two billion taxpayers’ dollars! We don’t face a housing crisis, we face a financial catastrophe.

    By the way, homebuilders normally make a 15% average profit on what they construct. Since new homes in Loudoun probably average over $600,000, that equates to $3,960,000,000 in profits for them. Maybe they’ll kick in half of that money and cure the enormous deficit.

    Right.

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