Letter: Malcolm F. Baldwin, Lovettsville

Editor: Is Loudoun Informed About Amazon HQ2? The short answer:  No.

In deciding to give an incentive bid, our Board of Supervisors lacked comprehensive information on the costs and benefits of Amazon’s presence (in Loudoun and Fairfax). Now, as Loudoun is on Amazon’s shorter list of locations, the county is on track to pursue an agreement with Amazon without the requisite information. It would be irresponsible for Loudoun’s Board of Supervisors to approve any agreement with Amazon for its second headquarters without a substantial analysis of its costs and benefits that’s been neglected so far.

If a federal agency needed to approve a development like Amazon’s before any decision it would assess its significant economic, social and environmental impacts with a publicly available environmental impact statement.  Why not the same rigorous and public analysis by the board before any approval of a huge development like Amazon’s?

Amazon seeks a location for a second headquarters of 50,000 employees, with average $100,000 salaries, and $5 billion in capital investment. It seeks a place with adequate transportation by air and roadway, schools and universities, recreation and other opportunities for “quality of life.”

Under Loudoun’s existing Comprehensive Plan—now undergoing its once-a-decade revision—nearly 30,000 houses are authorized in Loudoun by-right, but whose economic, social, and environmental impacts have not been analyzed. Now the Amazon proposal offers a whole new level of growth pressure in Loudoun.

Questions the board needs to answer include:

  • Will school crowding increase and what new schools will we need?
  • What additional traffic congestion can we expect, and what new costs will be required to reduce it?
  • Will housing costs rise rapidly in Loudoun’s east as in Amazon’s Seattle, and with what effects?
  • Will Amazon’s presence add to eastern Loudoun’s already unmet needs for more recreational opportunities like parks, trails and playing fields?
  • Will new development pressures threaten efforts to protect the farming and rural economy that benefits Loudoun in profound fiscal, social and environmental ways?

These and other costs, and benefits of Amazon’s development ought to have been understood by the board and by the public when the county submitted its incentive package to Amazon. But its analysis was limited to what met county incentive guidelines by relying on limited economic input-output models. No public disclosure resulted because the county employed the exemptions within Virginia’s Freedom of Information Act.  Its fiscal impact model is largely limited to a new business’s contributions to property tax revenue.

Now, as Amazon’s short list ups the chances for a Loudoun-Fairfax location, good government requires plans for a comprehensive analysis of all significant impacts before any Amazon decision. This must be made public, as well as disclosure of Loudoun’s incentive package, following Maryland’s example.

Loudoun’s citizens need and want a wise county decision on a development that will indelibly shape Loudoun for generations to come, or longer. No county decisions regarding its next Comprehensive Plan and county growth projections make any sense without a publicly available analysis of Amazon’s impacts, pro and con.

Malcolm F. Baldwin, Lovettsville

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