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Planning Loudoun’s future Silver Line development

Over the next few weeks, months, maybe years, conversations about the comprehensive plan for developing land around Loudoun's two Silver Line stops, set to open in 2018, will likely shape the future economic development and culture of the county more than any decision since the airport came to Dulles.

What might those Loudoun Silver Line Stations look like in 20 years? Will they look like the Vienna station, a series of garages and open space. Will it be like Ballston, a thriving hub for young professionals?

The Board of Supervisors began planning discussions last October with four main points of focus they wanted any proposal or plan to address.

-Prompt realization of tax revenues to support future Metrorail operations
-Maximizing future employment generation
-Achieving the desired land use pattern
-Minimizing demands on the county’s transportation infrastructure

Weighing each of these concerns against often-conflicting interests will be the job of the board ultimately, but hours-long meetings have already been devoted to figuring out the balance that delivers the "highest and best possible use" to Loudoun's citizens.

Land use
A stakeholder ad hoc committee was devised and the Urban Land Institute, a nonprofit organization with a focus on land planning and growth, has presented a study to the board, in what is likely just the beginning of a long process.

Since the post World War II era Loudoun has been set up as a series of agrarian or suburban drivable neighborhoods.

There are no regionally significant urban walkable areas in the entire county, according to the study presented by ULI to the board in May.

Is the area near the train stations the appropriate place for such an urban walkable environment?

The 10-member panel from the Urban Land Institute seemed to think so in May when they laid out the advantages of mixed-use development.

The ULI study mentioned that millenials have a preference toward living in walkable, more urban locations.

Employers also prefer more urban environments because they can more easily access the younger labor force.

Investors and developers of projects are more interested in mixed spaces because they can more easily make money from those project types.

How do we build residential at the risk of it costing the county in new schools, fire and rescue buildings, transportation and other costly infrastructure projects?

One suggestion ULI proposed was to have the county work on filling in the transportation infrastructure it needs, in some cases before proffers are in place with developers.

The board has taken a fairly hardline stance against converting land zoned for commercial use into residential, but some supervisors are open to the right mixed-use plan around the stations.

"I'm not saying that mixed-use doesn't make sense," said Supervisor Shawn Williams (R-Broad Run). "I'm amenable to figuring out the right mix of uses."

Williams went on to say he is open to some creative solutions that are out there.

"There's a point where everybody wins enough that it works," said Michelle Frank, a member of the Silver Line ad hoc committee who is presenting the EDAC's recommendations to the board.

Some developers want a market study done to decide if there are types of residential the county can allow without having the same infrastructure costs as the current single-family dwellings do.

An important distinction the Urban Land Institute made between the type of housing in Loudoun and more dense housing like in Arlington is that residential growth in Arlington has not meant a huge growth in school age kids, lowering the burden for more schools.

It costs more than $12,000 a year to send a child to school in Loudoun County.

Other studies like the broad market study the Economic Development Advisory Committee strongly encourages for the area around the Route 606 station could be a backbone for future decision-making.

Members of the community are quite interested in engaging the board and other stakeholders, according to Frank.

A market study could look at the feasibility of a convention center, sports facility or civic arts spaces.

Frank doesn't want the county to lose sight of the Route 772 station though.

"We don't want anybody to forget that 772 warrants looking at for a refresh. The market changes, and there is a desire to revisit things there," said Frank.

Commercial space

The ULI panel also addressed a shrinking of the demand for commercial office space in the county, which the county needs in order for the commercial tax base to increase.

One of the major changes in the way office space is used today has changed. With technological advances, books and files that once took up entire rooms now can be held on a single hard drive.

According to a study from the General Services Administration the amount of office space needed per employee has reduced by one-third, meaning the projections ULI would have going forward for commercial office space demand would be more conservative.


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