Supervisor Ron A. Meyer Jr. (R-Broad Run) is worried that a board vote to allow more townhouses around Loudoun’s future Silver Line developments will cost the county more than it can afford.
“It breaks the bank,” Meyer said. “It’s going to bankrupt the county.”
On Nov. 29, the Board of Supervisors revised its plans for development around the Silver Line to allow townhomes in urban residential zones, which are meant to be high-density, walkable communities surrounding the tallest, densest areas of mixed-use development around the Ashburn station. The board has also contemplated allowing townhouses in mixed-use areas for special cases, and has asked the Planning Commission to give both ideas a closer look.
Previously, the planning staff recommended allowing condominiums, senior housing, apartments, and urban-style townhomes in urban residential areas. Buildings would be expected to be three to six stories with minimal or no setbacks and vehicle access by rear alleys to encourage a walkable environment. The Transportation and Land Use Committee, on a motion by Meyer, recommended removing townhomes from urban residential areas, but the full Board of Supervisors voted to keep the townhomes in.
Meyer worries that adding more townhouses into that mix—beyond the roughly 1,500 townhouses that are already permitted in the area—would put a big strain on county infrastructure and schools.
“A majority of supervisors, who don’t live in the area, are basically telling our area that we have to add townhouses to pay for Metro, which just doesn’t make sense in any sort of basic realm of fiscal responsibility,” Meyer said. “Townhouses, as we know from our data, have generated way more children than we expected.”
Meyer also argued that while residential development is essential to attracting business, townhouses won’t get the job done.
“Townhouses aren’t the answer to bringing in more commercial to Loudoun County,” Meyer said. “If townhouses brought in more commercial to Loudoun County, then we’d have more commercial than we know what to do with.”
But planning staff members and other supervisors say the townhomes around Metro wouldn’t be like those elsewhere in the county.
“The townhouses that are being built in the county are like 2,500 square feet, and it’s attracting people who have families,” said finance committee chairman Supervisor Matthew F. Letourneau (R-Dulles). He said around Metro, he imagines an urban townhouse, with a cap on square footage and number of bedrooms. “It sounds like that’s something we can do, in which case, it’s almost a matter of semantics whether you call it a townhouse, or multifamily, or two-over-two or whatever.”
And making sure there’s enough infrastructure, said Planning and Zoning Director Ricky Barker, is part of approving a new townhome.
“It’s very important to look at our key infrastructure and the services to provide for this growth,” Barker said. “So we have, within the plan, said, ‘here’s what the potential needs are.’ And we will need to evaluate each development case as it comes in to ensure as it gets proposed that we have the infrastructure and services in place to accommodate that.”
While acknowledging the importance of carefully examining the impact of any new development, Barker said the impact of new construction is evaluated on a case-by-case basis.
“During the case review, that’s when we evaluate the transportation system, as well as the capacity of the schools, and say, ‘OK, is this an appropriate time for this?’” Barker said. “…It’s very responsible planning, and that’s what Loudoun’s known for.”
“I think that there is overall a sense of wariness and frustration in the public about the rate of growth, and the fact that growth has outpaced infrastructure in the county,” Letourneau said. “And I completely agree with that. That has created a feeling that we need to be careful about what we’re adding.”
Meyer has also questioned the scale of Loudoun’s Metro ambitions.
“If bringing Metro here means we have to build the Reston Town Center in Loudoun, no one would have supported it,” Meyer said. “…There’s no doubt that we want an active Metro and an active town center, but people move to Loudoun for a reason. We have to build Metro stations that are in the style of Loudoun’s values.”
But long-term conceptual plans for the area closest to the Ashburn station are urban, with 10- to 15-story mixed-use buildings laid out in a grid, and homes in 400- to 1,000-square-foot apartments.
“I think the key to this development is to make sure that it’s phased in over time while infrastructure is being added with the appropriate amount of residential and business together,” Letourneau said. “The community we’re talking about is going to be like Reston.”
Meyer recently moved to a single-family home at One Loudoun as he and his wife start a family. He said there is a huge demand for townhouses, but the board can’t automatically respond by allowing supply, because taxpayers will have to foot the bill.
“We have to be welcoming of more people, but we also have to make sure that we do it in a way that doesn’t break our budget and overcrowd our schools,” Meyer said. “We have to find a happy medium.”
This article was updated on Dec. 3. at 1:47 p.m. to correct an error about past votes on townhomes.