Loudoun’s Board of Supervisors plans to vote as soon as June 20 on an update to the countywide Comprehensive Plan, which will have a profound impact on residents. The draft plan is based on accepting more growth than the county should accept given the changing market, regional goals, and traffic impacts in Loudoun.
Even though the county already has about 45,000 houses on the books that have been approved but not yet built, the draft plan would add thousands more. The houses with the most negative impact on the transportation network are the thousands proposed for the Transition Policy Area. The TPA is a two- to three-mile-wide corridor in the shape of an L wrapping across the county’s southern boundary and then northward to an area between Route 15 and Beaverdam Reservoir.
While some supervisors are talking about reducing the number of houses added to the TPA, others are still pushing for upwards of 6,800 additional houses. As a result, even more traffic would flow “downstream” or east through suburban neighborhoods including Broadlands, Ashburn, Arcola, Stone Ridge and South Riding to get to jobs. Loudoun is a “traffic funnel” due to the distance from most regional jobs and the presence of Dulles Airport – like a stopper in the funnel – so traffic flowing east to jobs can only use a few connecting roads. More houses in the TPA and rural area would mean more cars poured into the top of the funnel trying to squeeze through just a few roads like Route 50 and Route 7.
Loudoun need not and should not fuel this additional housing in the TPA, burdening Loudoun residents with additional traffic. For one thing, Loudoun projects a much higher rate of growth than the region or the commonwealth. For another, our region has committed to focusing most growth at Metro stations in walkable, mixed-use, mixed-income communities with a range of home types and jobs, and to better balance east-west regional growth. A recent analysis shows the region could even fit another 100,000 households on top of current forecasts at locations within the Beltway with great access to transit and much less impact on regional roads. Meanwhile, the demand to live closer to work and Metro, and the turnover of single-family homes in existing communities in Fairfax, from empty nesters to young families, will provide a growing supply of homes in the next two decades.
Loudoun should place its top priority in the new plan on mixed-use, walkable, transit-oriented neighborhoods around its Metro stations, with a range of home types and affordability. Growing close to Metro, with a walkable network of streets, means each new resident would walk, bike and use transit far more than any new resident of the TPA or rural areas.
Opening up the TPA to more housing would also divert county tax dollars for roads, schools and other services from existing communities like Sterling and Ashburn. In no way will proffers – contributions by developers – be either enough or legally permitted to address many of the traffic and other impacts of new development in the TPA. It’s also unlikely that houses being built on the rural edge of Loudoun will be affordable to families making much less than the county’s median income. Most Loudoun developers are not providing this affordability, and the combined housing plus transportation costs of the long commutes would crush most budgets.
Therefore, the Board of Supervisors should not approve any additional housing units in the TPA beyond those permitted by current plans and zoning, and should prioritize a range of housing types and infrastructure for Metro station areas. In addition, the county should focus its affordable housing initiatives on an expanded housing trust fund and on incentives to produce affordable townhomes, garden and mid-rise apartments close to transit.
Stewart Schwartz is the executive director of the D.C.-based Coalition for Smarter Growth.