Editor: At the Lovettsville Oktoberfest last week, one of the revelers who stopped by to chat at the Save Rural Loudoun booth asked an important question: are Save Rural Loudoun and the many other local organizations and individual citizens who wish to preserve our rural areas, by definition, “anti-growth?” The answer is an emphatic “no.”
There are of course different dimensions to this question. We can distinguish, for example, between different categories of growth, including population growth and economic growth. In addition, we can envision and seek to promote different patterns of growth. Population growth can be geographically concentrated or dispersed. Economic growth can be focused in a particular commercial sector or widely distributed across many sectors. These differences in the categories and patterns of growth matter tremendously for the welfare and well-being of Loudoun’s citizens.
Rural preservationists recognize there are a number of imperatives for continued growth in Loudoun County. We understand, for example, the need for increased population density around our new metro stations. Whatever one’s position may be on the initial decision to extend the metro system into the county, it is now critically important to encourage both residential and commercial growth around the new stations to increase metro ridership and generate as much revenue as possible to help pay for the system.
We also see the need for more and better-paying jobs within the county, particularly for entry-level workers and skilled trades-persons who struggle with the high costs of living here. Some form of economic growth is certainly necessary to create and improve the quality of those job opportunities.
There is nothing about rural preservation that is inherently inconsistent with these growth imperatives. To the contrary, rural preservation and economic growth can and should go hand in hand. Loudoun’s tourism businesses grew by 4.6 percent in 2017, exactly twice as fast as the US economy as a whole. Those small businesses, which have generated 17,500 jobs to date, depend heavily on the surrounding rural scenery to attract customers and increase their sales.
One of the county’s key selling points to global investors like Amazon is that top-notch workers will be attracted by Loudoun’s exceptional quality of life, providing investors with a world-class recruiting pool. Easy access to our rural areas is a key ingredient in that quality of life. In this sense, destroying what remains of our rural areas would be like killing the proverbial goose that lays the golden egg.
Does this mean we are in favor of any and all kinds of potential population and economic growth? Of course not. We certainly do not agree that growth should be completely unconstrained, as the county Planning Commission seems to believe. Their desire to see the county’s population grow by another 60 percent over the next 20 years is, in our view, arbitrary, unfounded, and unwise. This scenario would not only demand significant increases in population densities in Ashburn, Sterling and other parts of urban Loudoun, but would also require most of our remaining farms and other rural spaces to be converted into new residential developments. The impact on our citizens’ quality of life would be devastating.
Fortunately, we believe this scenario can be avoided if the county adopts practical policies that will shape future population and economic growth to the benefit of all our citizens. Material increases in the County’s support for local farms and agri-tourism businesses, direct support for both urban and rural conservation easements, and a county Transfer of Development Rights program would be a fine start. We look to the Board of Supervisors to overrule the Planning Commission and exercise strong and determined leadership to put these kinds of policies into action.
No, we are not anti-growth. But we do want to make sure we enjoy the right kind of growth.
John Ellis, Save Rural Loudoun