Supervisors Remain Skeptical of Housing Needs Assessment as Larger Decisions Loom

Supervisors Remain Skeptical of Housing Needs Assessment as Larger Decisions Loom

Coming during the county’s first large-scale comprehensive plan review in more than 15 years, a housing needs assessment warns the Board’s actions, or lack thereof, could have major impacts for decades to come.

Presented at the Board’s Feb. 23 meeting, the report, based off unconstrained job growth projections, says in the next 25 years the county is facing a significant housing gap between what future residents will demand and what the county has planned to accommodate. In light of the report, initial reactions show the Board is largely reluctant for sweeping changes to its current zoning policies and is similarly resistant to large-scale development in the largely rural western part of the county. In the past two decades, the west has widely opposed growth while the eastern part of the county became one of the fastest growing regions in the country. Residents countywide have also expressed concerns over the rapid development, and supervisors are keenly aware of the demands from their constituents.

“Being that this was unconstrained, one reality that we as board members have to keep in mind as we’re moving forward is that we are constrained by the will of the people who already do live here,” said Supervisor Tony Buffington (R- Blue Ridge), who’s district includes much of the county’s western portion. “One of the things we know about the will of the people is they’re upset with the growth currently.”

Supervisor Matt Letourneau (R-Dulles) also pointed out the report couldn’t take into account the impact of the coming Metrorail stations. Despite the transit system’s well-publicized struggles, the county’s new stations, set to open in 2020, will create an unprecedented potential for more dense, urban-styled development. The Board is already working on land use plans to optimize the land within a mile of the two new stations coming to Loudoun.

Board members are hoping these new developments, not fully accounted for in the report’s projections, will take on some of the housing burden. Along with billions of dollars in new road construction projects that have started and are slated to begin, the Metrorail itself is expected to fundamentally alter the transportation network in and out of Loudoun, and with it, the county’s housing patterns.

“I’m pretty skeptical.” Letourneau said. “What this doesn’t capture is those changes, which I hope will occur and I think really is a board policy that it will occur.”

There seemed to be more weight placed on the housing types the assessment said the county would need to prepare for. Board vice Chair Ralph Buona (R-Ashburn) said the report validated Supervisors’ efforts to create more single family and townhomes, particularly in areas further outside the new Metro stations.

While the new urban setting in Loudoun is anticipated to attract younger residents, the housing assessment’s projections say the county will still continue to attract middle-aged, higher-income earners with larger households that include children. Suzanne Volpe (R-Algonkian), who chairs the county’s Transportation and Land Use committee, agreed.

“Once (younger people) get married and start having babies, they’re going to want to live in that townhouse or that single family home with the swing set and the backyard,” Volpe said.

The Tribune first reported the assessment on Jan. 3. Commissioned by the county more than a year ago and conducted through a partnership between George Mason University and housing market analytics firm Lisa Sturtevant & Associates, the report said Loudoun would continue to rapidly attract new jobs, particularly in high-income business and technical industries.  The assessment said because of the size of the job growth and the type of jobs the county would attract, Loudoun would need 18,000 housing units more than it had planned for by 2040. While the county would have a surplus of multifamily units, it would also face a shortfall of more than 30,000 single family and townhomes.

The report further warned that the failure to facilitate more housing could deter future investment from businesses, which increasingly consider employee’s quality of life before opening, and further raise housing prices in one of the nation’s most expensive jurisdictions.

Before presenting to the Supervisors, representatives from Sturtevant & Associates gave a walkthrough of the report to the county’s Housing Advisory Board. Because of the magnitude of its findings, as well as the sheer size of the more than 250-page report, the Housing Advisory Board decided to delay offical presentation to the Supervisors in part to help all parties better understand its implications.

Ahead of the presentation to the full board, Supervisors pointed to the county’s own numbers as a counter to the dire projections given in the assessment. The Sturtevant Report took an unconstrained approach, meaning it looked at the maximum possible housing demand given projected job growth in the next 25 years. The county’s figures, presented previously to the Washington Area Council on Governments, took into account limitations enforced by land use policies. The unconstrained report also didn’t consider more than 25,000 units that had already begun or been approved to being construction.

The opening phase of the two-year comprehensive plan review has concluded with thousands of public comments. As county staff condenses citizen’s concerns, Loudoun’s elected leaders will have to determine how much weight to give those considerations, as well as projects like this unconstrained housing needs projection. Then they will have to determine how they might use it to adjust its current zoning and land use policies when it finalizes the new comprehensive plan in 2018.

“If we were unconstrained and we had to accommodate all this housing, now is the time for the Board to deal with it because we’re considering land use right now,” Buona said. “I think this is a tremendous influence for us on the comprehensive plan update, as well as the Metro comprehensive plan update.”