The group of residents and industry stakeholders guiding the county’s comprehensive plan revision has had a crack at George Mason University’s housing needs study, and it raised even bigger questions than the 18,300 additional homes the study forecasts for 2040.
“Loudoun needs to decide what they want to be,” said Packie Crown, principal at land use firm Bowman Consulting, referencing a wealthy area Fairfax County: “Do they want to be the Great Falls of the region? And if they want to be Great Falls of the region—for the entire county to be the Great Falls of the region—then that means we can’t have affordable housing and workforce housing and some of the other nice things that we all talk about wanting and needing and being a part of a very vibrant community.”
Crown represents the Northern Virginia Transportation Alliance on the committee.
As the group guiding work on the comprehensive plan, the stakeholders committee has to grapple with just those kinds of questions. And although the GMU study’s results are based on a set of assumptions that don’t incorporate major policy and demographic shifts planned for the Silver Line and possibly comprehensive plan, all of the county’s various looks at housing have a few things in common. One of them is a lack of affordable housing.
If people working closer to D.C. can’t find affordable housing, said developer B.F. Saul Vice President Todd Pearson, they won’t get new jobs—they’ll just find cheaper housing west of Loudoun and commute through it.
“So guess what?” Pearson said. “You still get all the traffic, all the road miles.” And without building enough housing, he said, there’s no way to bring prices down. Pearson represents the county’s Economic Development Advisory Committee on the committee.
Other members during Monday night’s work session saw the projected need figures as a prescription for change.
“In my opinion, the current plan, we’re in a big transition here,” said Joe Paciulli, president and CEO of the engineering consulting firm Paciulli, Simmons and Associates. “We’re changing the direction because of the different demands on the county, but also because of the reality of the market and the reality of what consumers want.” Paciulli represents the Board of Supervisors-appointed Zoning Ordinance Action Group.
Century 21 Redwood Realty Executive Vice President Lars Henriksen pointed out the significant number of single family homes the report predicts will be needed. That’s one of the trends county leaders are trying to shift away from with plans around future Metro stops for urban, walkable development.
“If we’re assuming the higher number to work with, then that changes things like the transition policy area,” Henriksen said, referencing the lower density buffer area between the suburban east and rural west in county policies. “It changes how we regard western Loudoun County, which, that would tick off a lot of my friends in western Loudoun County.” Henriksen represents the Dulles Area Association of Realtors.
Among all those debates—like affordable housing or the balance between rural and suburban or urban land in the county—the committee is now grappling with what direction to take the county overall.
“My frustration has been that we’ve talked all about wanting these wonderful things, and workforce housing, and all of these things, but when you get right down to it, we want to be Great Falls. And I think that’s OK, if that’s what people want in Loudoun County, but I think we need to be honest about it, and I think we need to show what the ramifications of that policy direction are,” Crown.
However, Crown said, putting “everything in one basket” has “failure written all over it at some point, too.”
“We are either going to set the course now for Loudoun County to become more expensive, more exclusive, more exclusionary, or we are going to create in the county an environment where we have more diversity,” Crown said.