As the Board of Supervisors prepares for the final leg of writing the county’s new comprehensive plan, the Loudoun County Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday brought together Planning Commission, education and business leaders to talk about what that plan could mean for businesses in the county.
Planning Commission Chairman Fred Jennings (Ashburn) and immediate past chairman Cliff Keirce (Broad Run) reported on the work the panel did on the comprehensive plan before handing it off to the Board of Supervisors—work that focused on boosting the amount of housing in the county to try to increase the price range.
Keirce told a story of a house in his neighborhood that never made it to market. Instead, as soon as a few people got wind that it would be put up for sale, they swooped in to buy it up before it ever saw a real estate listing.
“This is what’s currently happening in the housing market in Loudoun County, in one of the most expensive housing markets in the country.” Keirce said. “So in my mind, you don’t need much more data than that to understand that there is a huge demand for housing in the county, and we’re not meeting the demand. We don’t have the supply to meet the demand.”
The Planning Commission’s work, which has called for greatly expanding the amount of housing in the county, especially in the Transition Policy Area buffering rural west from suburban east, has been the subject of much criticism and debate from competing interests in the county. But Keirce said if developers aren’t allowed to build more somewhere, eventually that growth will spill into the county’s rural areas.
“People will want to continue to come, so you’ll start to see growth where you don’t want it,” Keirce said. “… Pressure will be put on those landowners, the price will get high enough, they will sell, and the county won’t be able to do anything about it.”
Jennings said he is “not a fan” of the Transition Policy Area.
“It’s a great idea, and almost impossible to administer,” Jennings said. “Transition is in the eye of the beholder, and it makes it quite difficult.” He also said he would not like to see a split vote in the Board of Supervisors when the plan is adopted: “We need a collaborative environment, and we’re in a county that is quite frankly an icon on collaboration.”
Even in the business-friendly environment of a Chamber event, the two faced a question about development in the transition area, which Frank Blackstone said, “appears to be inconsistent with the surrounding areas, particularly on farmlands along Evergreen Mills Road.”
Kerice said “inconsistency is in the eye of the beholder,” pointing to existing development and industry in that area.
“I think very little of the Transition Policy Area developed as it may have initially been intended,” Kerice said. “One of the things that you’ll probably see as a successful development in the Transition Policy Area is the Willowsford community. How did the Willowsford community get developed? After the 2008 real estate collapse, it went bankrupt and was sold for pennies on the dollar. That’s what it took for that type of development to occur.”
Their presentation was followed by a panel discussion among Falcon Heating and Air co-founder and president Bruce Rahamni, Telos Corporation CEO and Chairman John Wood, and Loudoun County Public Schools Assistant Superintendent Kimberly Hough. All three spoke of difficulty finding employees, because of, at least in part to, housing costs. Wood said Telos, which is also impacted by a shortage of qualified cybersecurity professionals, has allowed more teleworking, even from outside the state or region.
“That doesn’t help the county, that doesn’t help Virginia, but that’s the practical reality of it,” Wood said.
Rahmani’s company, meanwhile, has done extensive work training and changing the perception of their profession, which with a few years of experience can yield six-figure salaries. His company also provides free transportation for its employees to get to work.
The breakfast event was part of the Chamber of Commerce’s PolicyMaker Series.