Significance of Board’s Direction on Housing, Transportation Underscored at Strategic Plan Review

Significance of Board’s Direction on Housing, Transportation Underscored at Strategic Plan Review

In the middle of a wide scale comprehensive plan review, Loudoun County Board of Supervisors Chair Phyllis Randall (D- At Large) knows the board’s directives have far-reaching impacts beyond the three years remaining in its term. By the time the next board takes office in January 2020, the county’s direction will have already been shaped for the next several decades.

“It was vitally important that we get this right,” Randall said.

Because of this, Randall called a special session with the board to go over the comprehensive plan, the ensuing zoning regulations and other major challenges facing the county’s future. Originally scheduled as part of a regular business meeting, Randall said the board needed the additional time to assure it was making the right decisions.

The March 3 session is a follow up on the board’s strategic planing retreat from last fall. The board previously identified five distinct macro-level focus areas — transportation, economic development, the comprehensive plan, community needs and growth management — the county needed to take on to prepare itself for the future. The five areas often overlapped, and the board worked through dozens of more specific subjects during its work session.

Chief among those was housing, and in particular, the county’s availability to supply affordable housing in one of the nation’s richest jurisdictions. Already facing a potential future housing shortage in a jurisdiction increasingly concerned about further development, supervisors are focusing on ways its county’s work force can afford to live in Loudoun. Randall said affordable housing in Loudoun transcends traditional stereotypes of low-income earners and extends to workers in retail, nursing and even public services. About 27 percent of Loudoun’s career firefighters live in other counties, in large part because of the cost of living.

“These are people who work in Loudoun, contribute to Loudoun, spend tax dollars in Loudoun, but have to go somewhere else to live,” Randall said. “Affordable housing is key.”

To solve that, Randall said county leaders are working with developers for proffering initiatives and identifying government departments to best handle the situation. The board will also organize a housing summit this summer with community leaders like executive director Kim Hart of the Windy Hill Foundation, a private, nonprofit housing assistance program.

At the special session, housing also tied into transportation, particularly changes from Metro. Loudoun’s Supervisors will have an unprecedented opportunity to designate zoning for new urban-styled, high-density residential and commercial developments surrounding the county’s new Metrorail stations. The new rail system will bring significant changes to not only development near the stations, but the county’s transportation infrastructure. Loudoun is still working through several major projects on its major highways like Rt. 7, Rt. 9, Rt. 50 and Rt. 15, and now it will need to take those projects, and their financing, into the larger perspective of developing a countywide multimodal transit network.

In response, Randall said the county will hold two additional summits this year to work on the county’s transportation plans. One will focus on roads and sidewalks while the other will focus on rail, bus and rideshare services.

“We have to get it right,” Randall said. “This is not something we can make a mistake on and try to correct down the road,”

Randall, who worked more than 15 years as a mental health therapist, has also championed mental health and substance abuse issues during her term and at the March 3 meeting. The county has seen the effects of mental health problems, especially in its schools, and has not been immune to the growing trend of national drug abuse, particularly opiates. In response, the board has directed staff to further support drug treatment programs in the county’s jails and equipping first responders with ways to deal with drug overdoses.

“If we don’t start addressing some of these issues, we’re going to start paying the price for that in constituents’ lives, constituents’ health and constituents’ money,” Randall said.