The Leesburg Town Council broached a challenging topic during its Monday night work session: how to provide more affordable housing within town limits.
The town entered into a memorandum of agreement with Loudoun County in 2009 to administer the Affordable Dwelling Unit program in town. The program offers newly constructed, affordable rental and for-sale housing units for income-eligible residents. However, to date the town with 16,000-plus households only has 30 such units. Another 14 potential units are on the books for future development, according to Planning and Zoning Department Director Susan Berry-Hill.
The town’s program was limited for years because the original MOA capped the number of ADUs the county would administer within the corporate limits to 30. As the town approached the 30-limit mark, the application of the ADU ordinance in town had to be temporarily suspended, according to a staff report. A March 2018 update to the town-county MOA increased the in-town ADU cap to 120. To date, residential projects that have proffered ADUs include PMW Farms, the Church and Market project in the downtown, and the White Oak subdivision on the Rogers Farm property.
“After all these years 44 units doesn’t sound like a lot,” said Vice Mayor Marty Martinez.
Several council members pointed to the missed opportunities of providing more affordable housing in some of the larger residential projects that were approved in recent years when the ADU cap was still in place, including Leegate, Crescent Place, and Crescent Parke.
“It needs to be an initiative of this town, of this council,” Councilman Ron Campbell said of affordable housing. “Things happen because we push for them to happen.”
Others questioned what additional tools the council could use to provide affordable housing in town. Berry-Hill suggested looking into a Zoning Ordinance change that was undertaken by Round Hill to allow for accessory structures on residential lots that can be used to house elderly or millennial family members, or provide homeowners with rental income to offset their own mortgages.
Councilwoman Suzanne Fox found support for having a future work session discussion on whether such a change could work in Leesburg. Martinez also suggested the staff consider what kind of incentive or program could be provided to have more town staff members reside in the town limits.
Perhaps the larger question for the council is whether affordable housing should be a priority.
“One of the things I have realized is development and affordable housing are mutually exclusive. You can’t have one and have the other at the same time,” Fox said. “I have a feeling we’re going to have to decide as a town which way we want to go. It’s going to have to be one or the other for it to work.”