The Virginia Senate on Tuesday passed a bill that Loudoun County supervisors and staff have fought since its introduction, and which would limit proffer agreements with developers.
Board members and county staff have made frequent trips to Richmond since this year’s session began to try to stop Woodstock Del. C. Todd Gilbert’s (R-15) House Bill 770, which was written by the Homebuilders Association of Virginia. That bill passed the House on Feb. 5.
Its Senate counterpart, Senate Bill 549, was introduced by Harrisonburg Senator Mark D. Obenshain (R-26) and Springfield Senator Richard L. Saslaw (D-35.)
The bills limit the scope of proffers that counties can ask or accept from developers hoping to rezone and build. Supervisors say it would put the kibosh on creative deals like having Brambleton developers build a library in exchange for higher housing density.
Seeing no hope of defeating the bills, county representatives have instead focused on pulling their teeth, creating exceptions in the bill that protect Loudoun’s highest priority interests, including an exception for the tax districts surrounding Metro stations. As the county that accepts the most proffers in the state, Loudoun is the most vulnerable to the bill’s impacts.
“Do they understand that we actually have current applications for proffers that would help fund a university campus here in Loudoun, willingly offered by the developer, that this would make illegal?” asked Supervisor Ron Meyer (R-Broad Run) in a board meeting before the General Assembly vote. “Do they realize that stopping a university campus on the Silver Line would fundamentally disrupt our competitiveness, not only in the region, but nationwide?”
Meyers referred to an application that would construct a campus of George Mason University near Broadlands on Mooreview Parkway.
Among local delegates, Dels. Kathleen Murphy (D-34), James M. LeMunyon (R-67), Jennifer B. Boysko (D-86), and John J. Bell (D-87) voted against the measure. Del. J. Randall Minchew (R-10), a land-use attorney, abstained, and Del. Thomas A “Tag” Greason (R-32) did not vote. Greason’s office said he was away on personal business, but intended to vote against.
Only Del. Dave A. LaRock (R-33) supported the bill. He said the bill had been adjusted to watch out for Loudoun’s interests and reached a balance. LaRock owns general contractor LaRock Builders.
“We don’t want to make it impossible to develop,” LaRock said. “I think proffers in some areas can go as high as $60,000 per lot, and it can really become prohibitive,” adding, “We need housing to bounce back.”
The bill’s senate counterpart was passed a few days later after intense debate.
“While some progress has been made to improve the bill, I’m disappointed that SB549 passed the Senate today,” said Leesburg Senator Jennifer Wexton (D-33.) “This legislation will limit Loudoun’s ability to manage growth and maintain our high quality of life, and will further increase the real property tax burden on Loudoun’s homeowners.”
Arlington Senator Barbara Favola, whose district includes part of Loudoun, has twice voted for the bill—once after amending it in the Senate Committee on Local Government, and again on the floor of the Senate.
“The bill is not perfect, but it’s something Loudoun could live with,” Favola said. “Could it be better? Of course.”
She said her votes are an ongoing strategy to fight proffers limitations.
“The reality is, I knew this bill was going to pass, and I wanted to be able to be a player at the table,” Favola said.
She plans to amend the bill further after Crossover Day, when the Senate and House each take up the other’s bills. Favola said she would like to include recreational facilities among its exceptions, and revisit the bill’s enactment clause to protect applications that have been filed but not completed. Then, she hopes to amend it again even after it is signed into law.
“I’m fully expecting that we’ll be back in 2017 with tweaks and changes and all that,” Favola said. “I’m trying to keep a good relationship with the homebuilders so they’ll be friendly to those changes.”
The two bills must now be reconciled before being sent to Governor Terry McAuliffe to be signed into law.