Editor: Loudoun has found itself on two diverging paths: Do we allow up zoning to occur in the east, or do we open up the west to development. Both of these options have their pros and cons, but one thing is clear. Loudoun cannot inhibit development.
Growth occurs whether we want it to or not.
If Loudoun chooses to sit at the fork in the road, indecisive, growth will shift further west into our neighbors. If this happens, Loudoun will bear the brunt on its infrastructure. As traffic increases on Rt. 7, Rt. 9 and Rt. 15, Loudoun and its towns will have to front the resources to improve these corridors. Even if development is capped in western Loudoun (without upzoning), Loudoun’s roads will ground to a halt.
This brings us to a paradox: What do we do then? If we allow development in western Loudoun, our rural landscape and economy will be decimated. If we block development in western Loudoun, all it will do is push development out further into other counties, crushing Loudoun’s infrastructure network. What do we do? We have a proven, effective solution in upzoning.
Upzoning is exactly what the name implies, increasing the density of areas, allowing for a greater number of dwellings per acre. Upzoning will provide great benefits to solving the current housing crunch that Loudoun is facing. The greater density of houses will allow for a natural affordable housing stock to be created, without any government interference. It will also decrease the demand for development in general, preventing Loudoun from sprawling west.
Now, there are a couple arguments against upzoning, each of which are completely valid. First, traffic. Won’t increasing the amount of housing, especially dense housing, cause traffic to increase? The answer to that is both yes and no. It seems counter-intuitive, but denser development actually has a decreasing effect on traffic (if done right, of course). Since services are typically clustered in one area, there is little need to drive to services as they are within walkable/bikeable distances. Also, many of Loudoun’s potential upzoning corridors are within close distance to transit lines, allowing new residents to take the metro into work, rather than driving, decreasing the pressure on Loudoun’s road network. Another valid concern is, “Won’t increasing development urbanize Loudoun, turning Loudoun into a crazy hectic place?” Once again, the answer to this question is ambiguous, yes and no. Dense development doesn’t need to be 30 story high rises. Look at areas such as old town Alexandria, they have just as much density as some areas in Arlington, but without the large, towering apartment buildings. You can create peaceful spaces in denser developments.
Loudoun is tasked with a once in a lifetime decision. Do we go the path of upzoning, bringing sustainable, economically sound development patterns to eastern Loudoun? Or do we choose to sit there and do nothing, watching our neighboring municipalities exploit Loudoun’s infrastructure and cause our fragile Western landscape to fizzle away?
Ethan Van Berkel, Leesburg