Editor: The Northern Virginia development industry is conducting a well-funded effort to justify a new onslaught of development in Loudoun County that citizens don’t want and the county can’t afford, as the county revises its Comprehensive Plan. This campaign appears to be warmly welcomed by Loudoun County’s Planning Department.
Industry members have sponsored and promoted spurious “surveys” and “research” in the past few years that first say how wonderful it is to live in Loudoun and how happy everyone is (as a campaign to create “demand”), and then produced an “analysis” that says there is a huge demand for new housing.
It is a much more sophisticated approach than the one citizens experienced during the 2004-07 Board of Supervisors, with Supervisor Steve Snow telling citizens to move to Canada if they didn’t like the Board’s votes to approve thousands more houses, as massive numbers of citizens protested against the onslaught of overdevelopment. (Snow and other supervisors were later investigated by the FBI, and were voted out at the next election.)
Here are some of the recent “surveys” and “studies.”
- A 2012 survey of “Best Counties in America,” which also put Loudoun at the top, was a “survey” that rated such few things as “new housing starts” as the definition of “best.” The survey was produced and promoted by a real estate blog.
- The SmartAsset.com website, which promotes the interests of housing developers, repeatedly has “ranked” Loudoun as happiest county for about three years—based on a slender and selective list of criteria (it’s primarily an assessment of wealth; it doesn’t include, for example, traffic congestion or citizen concerns about overdevelopment).
- The housing need study that the Planning Department has embraced was produced by the George Mason University Center for Regional Analysis, which has received more than $10 million from real estate/mortgage executive Dwight Schar (there is even an endowed chair named after him). Star’s company, NVR Inc., is the parent company of Ryan Homes. The parent and its child have massive interests in Loudoun, with at least 14 large housing developments (many near the Transition Area).
The study’s methodology is deeply flawed. It contains major technical errors and the Planning Department has not validated the inputs, checked the forecast for reasonableness, or examined its implications. It calls for total “build-out” of the Transition Area (which separates the suburban east from the rural west)—as a preliminary move to complete development of Loudoun’s rural area.
Citizens have forcefully expressed their opposition to this scenario. A scientific poll conducted recently by the University of Virginia shows that Loudoun’s citizens consider overdevelopment and traffic congestion their greatest concerns. That also was citizen’s overwhelming message during the Envision Loudoun public input sessions in 2016 and early this year.
If you are one of thousands of citizens who gave your time to tell the planning department about Loudoun’s future, you will be dismayed to know how little regard was given to your input. Here’s what happened: The comments were sorted robotically according to keywords (often perversely), and the first 144 characters of each were put into a spreadsheet. The Comprehensive Plan Stakeholders Committee (which has an overwhelming majority of development industry representatives), spent a total of 75 minutes in a perfunctory review of the thousands of partial comments and providing the county’s planners with several-word “ideas” that “captured” them. That’s it.
On May 3, the Loudoun County Chamber of Commerce, which is closely aligned and funded by the development industry, is hosting an event promoting the GMU study’s call for tens of thousands more houses in the Transition Area.
If you are concerned about overdevelopment and congestion in Loudoun, and do not want its quality of life and beauty destroyed, it is time to sit up and pay attention.
Martha Polkey, Lucketts