Editorial: Upsetting the Balance

While potentially delivering a victory to developers in other jurisdictions, Gov. Terry McAuliffe and the General Assembly this week may have dealt a serious blow to economic development in Loudoun County.

It will take many months for the full impact of Virginia’s proffer limitation law to be felt, but the chilling effect already is in the air. It has turned the clock back on three decades of compromises that have allowed one of the nation’s fastest growing communities to maintain a high quality of life for its residents while also providing fertile ground for homebuilders and commercial developers. In many ways, the county government and developers shared common goals in building a community that offered the types of housing and new job centers demanded by the growing population. They also recognized that without functioning roads and adequate schools neither could be successful. Proffers played a major role in building that success.

Now, it is unclear whether that balance can be maintained under state laws that dictate how localities can manage growth.

The creation of a sophisticated conditional zoning system in Loudoun resulted from the lack of other alternatives available to address the physical and fiscal impacts of rapid growth. For the most part, developers had a seat at the table as those policies were created. And just as not all of them viewed the county’s expectations for infrastructure contributions favorably, neither were all supervisors convinced that proffers came close to justifying the density increases developers sought.

The state action also is poorly timed for Loudoun. Many of the current planning priorities—maximizing the land along the Silver Line corridor and new mixed-use centers, for example—will require rezonings. If supervisors find that the new proffer restrictions result in development proposals with too high of public cost, those efforts will likely stall. Developers will have fewer avenues to address those concerns. The stalemate will benefit neither.

Given the history of their cooperation and the high stakes involved in Loudoun’s economic growth, there may be ways the government and the development community can carve out mutually beneficial deals despite the General Assembly’s action. They’ll be working to fix a system that wasn’t broken until the governor took his pen in hand.


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