Loudoun Supervisors Explore New Affordable Housing Strategies

A week after the Board of Supervisors’ finance committee heard a report on the Economic Development Advisory Commission’s ideas to get more affordable housing in Loudoun, the board’s Transportation and Land Use Committee on Tuesday heard a similar report from county planners and the Affordable Dwelling Unit Advisory Board.

The reports to the land use committee were longer and more far-reaching, but hit on some similar ideas to the finance committee report—such employing form-based zoning rules, a fundamental rethinking of how Loudoun regulates development. That code is regulates the size and design of buildings rather than the uses inside or the number of residential units allowed per acre, allowing more mixing of uses and sizes while requiring they be compatible.

Like the Economic Development Advisory Commission, county planners said that could encourage growth of the “missing middle,” small to midsize housing compatible with residential neighborhoods on a scale between large single family homes and apartments. The report describes duplexes, multiplexes, and courtyard apartments—each of which are permitted in a variety of Loudoun’s zoning districts, but which have seen little development. It also mentions townhouses, although townhouses are common in Loudoun and often expensive.

Planners also cautioned that form-based zoning rules are more successful in more densely-built areas, and in Loudoun may be only applicable to areas with urbanized planning such as near Metro stations.

They go on to encourage even smaller or cheaper types of housing, such as prefabricated manufactured housing and co-housing or single-room occupancy. The report says manufactured homes can be built for half as much and five times as fast.

“Once upon a time, people looked down their nose at that, but it’s amazing today what’s going on with prefabricated stuff,” said committee Chairman Geary M. Higgins (R-Catoctin).

Meanwhile, the Affordable Dwelling Unit Advisory Board came up with a range of ideas, such as making the requirement to provide price-controlled affordable dwelling units apply to developments of 20 or more homes, rather than 50, which is the current threshold. Under today’s requirements, that would mean a development rezoned to permit construction of 20 units could in fact build 24 units with three affordable dwelling units.

Senior Planner Kate McConnell said that lower threshold could encourage more affordable dwelling unit development, particularly in the county’s Transition Policy Area.

Other recommendations would ease the burden on developers, such as streamlining applications and permits for projects with affordable housing.

“How do we ensure that those savings are actually passed onto homebuyers rather than just pocketed as additional profit by the builder?” asked Supervisor Kristen C. Umstattd (D-Leesburg). “Do we assume that the market will sort that out?”

County Chairwoman Phyllis J. Randall (D-At Large) said she is unhappy with an exemption from affordable dwelling unit program requirements for buildings that are four stories or higher with an elevator. She said with most of Loudoun’s residential growth planned for urbanized areas around future Metro stops, that will miss much of the county’s development.

And while planners and the advisory board had a variety of suggestions, Supervisor Ron A. Meyer Jr. (R-Broad Run) questioned whether the program can be enough to attack Loudoun’s housing cost problems.

“A couple hundred of units here or there is not going to make a dent,” Meyer said. “Arguably even thousands would not make a dent.”

The Transportation and Land Use Committee will take the Affordable Dwelling Unit program up again at a meeting in September.

rgreene@loudounnow.com

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