As county planners work to finalize the draft of the new comprehensive plan in advance of Planning Commission review, a panel of industry experts say the Envision Loudoun exercise is on the right track in planning for a wider variety of housing types over the next 20 years.
The Loudoun County Chamber of Commerce put a focus on the plan status during its May 30 Policy Makers Series forum, attended by about 150 business leaders at the Belmont Country Club.
Deputy County Administrator Charles Yudd, who has been supervising the plan’s development in recent months, provided a detailed overview of the nearly two years of public outreach and work by a Board of Supervisors-appointed stakeholders committee. That panel will wrap up its duties with meetings on June 18 and July 9. After that, the plan heads to the Planning Commission for formal public hearing and review. Yudd said the current schedule calls for the Board of Supervisors to take up the document by early December.
A hallmark of the plan is the push to promote urban-scale development in the Silver Line corridor and along Rt. 7 near the Rt. 28 interchange, with few changes in the Rural Policy Area or in the county’s low-density Transition Policy Area. Overall, the plan would allow for construction of about 15,000 more residential units than would the current plan, adopted in 2001.
The Stakeholder Committee is still waiting to review transportation and fiscal modeling to evaluate the impacts of those proposed planning changes.
“The initial fiscal impact looks like it is fiscally neutral to positive, but perhaps less positive, because there are 15,000 more units than the Revised General Plan,” Yudd said.
The existing plan envisions a total of 180,000 residential units at the county’s full buildout. As of 2017, the county had 133,000 built, with another 29,000 already approved. That leaves about 18,000 additional units that could be approved under current planning policies. The draft new plan would increase that cap to 33,000 over the next two decades.
The chamber’s program included a panel discussion featuring Melissa Bondi of Enterprise Community Partners; Jeannette Chapman, deputy director of the Stephen S. Fuller Institute at George Mason University; and Ellen Harpel, founder of Smart Incentives, about the impacts of the proposed planning policies.
“There are some really good things in the Envision Loudoun plan draft that reflect some of the best practices that are being looked at [around the country],” Bondi said. “It really is saying, what are our transition areas? How do we look at a mix of uses in a different way than we have before? And the connectivity, the relationship, between land use and transportation, which is critical. And then also looking at a diversity of housing types.”
Harpel also highlighted the importance of providing a broad range of housing types as an element of communities’ economic development strategies. “Because talent is such an important part of business development and even business attraction, where everyone lives has become very important in a lot of communities,” she said.
“Part of that is a variety of housing options because the target industries that most places have—and I think this is true of Loudoun County as well—they need a lot of different types of people. So there need to be regionally but also locally … this variety of options just to keep your businesses running,” Harpel said, adding the whole region needs to address the issue to continue to attract the talent businesses need.
“We’re losing our young workforce now. It is harder to get them back in their 30s. People don’t move as much,” Chapman said. She noted that millennials are now moving to Loudoun, but not as members of a young workforce as much as young families entering their next lifecycle phase. “I think the more interesting conversation is in 20 years when we’re talking about Gen Z or whatever name we give them, what they will be doing and what their options are. Because they’ll be the young 20s that we’ll be trying to think about—what’s going to be on the ground for those to choose?”