BOS adds 144 homes to TPA – ‘Buffer’ between suburban east and rural west melting away

By Andrea Gaines

As it closed out the 2020 legislative session, the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors voted 7-1-1 to add 144 new housing units to the Transition Policy Area.

Supervisor Kristen C. Umstattd (D-Leesburg) was the only no vote. Chair Phyllis J. Randall (D-Chair At-Large), Supervisors Koran T. Saines (D-Sterling), Juli E. Briskman (D-Algonkian), Michael R. Turner (D-Ashburn), Tony R. Buffington (R-Blue Ridge), Sylvia R. Glass (D-Broad Run), and Matthew F. Letourneau (R-Dulles) all voted yes. Supervisor Caleb A. Kershner (R-Catoctin) was absent. 

Suburban-style densities by legislative fiat

The BOS gave the Planning Commission fewer houses than it wanted in the Comp Plan. Then, just weeks ago, the Board approved an application known as Hogan Kent Greene (HKG), turning 38 acres planned for a mix of one home per acre, or one home per three acres – into to 26 houses, 42 duplexes, and 76 quadruplexes (19 units with 4 units each).
The result is a project with nearly four units per acre … more than five times the originally planned residential density.

The TPA’s 50 percent open space requirement was preserved, and, as County staff noted in recommending the change, the project includes 20 “Affordable Dwelling Units” (ADUs).

The ADU program was finalized after the Comp Plan, but, before the County’s upcoming rewrite of the zoning ordinance. However, “affordable housing,” a euphemism for higher densities, while centered in the suburban east and around new metro stops, is already popping up in the TPA. Recent Board votes have also moved TPA land into the Rural Policy Area.

Many a slip ‘twixt the cup and the lip’

When the County adopted the new 2019 Comprehensive Plan, that was just the beginning of the process for deciding how, when, and where Loudoun County would grow … and how we’d pay for it all.

The newly adopted plan retained the County’s big-picture suburban east, transitional middle, and rural west growth strategy, with the TPA, at least in principal, a lower-density and open space “buffer” between east and west.

But, there’s many a slip ‘twixt the cup and the lip,’ as the old proverb says. Throughout the three-year long Envision Loudoun process, the public lobbied strenuously to keep a lid on growth in the TPA. But, here we are.

We had no choice but to approve

Individual Board members gave illuminating reasons for their 144-unit, HKG vote.

Turning things over to Letourneau as soon as County staff finished its presentation recommending approval of the project, Randall said: “There [are] not a whole lot of ways to get affordable units if you don’t build homes … I’m good.”

Letourneau, too, seemed to say that approving the development was the only option. Citizens, of course, saw things differently during the three-year Envision Loudoun process, pushing for fewer new homes; period. But, while he expressed sympathy towards “folks in the immediate vicinity [of the development],” acknowledging they “are not thrilled with the application … The developers have addressed every concern the County had … from ‘U-turn’ dangers, to ‘parking.’ The … Applicant is not only meeting [Comp Plan] policy but exceeding plan policy … 50 percent open space is preserved … [and] While quad units were not contemplated by the BOS … Our choice here is really only to support it.”

ADU policy drives Comp Plan policy as individual Supervisors, acquiesce

The ADU program – and perhaps Comp Plan fatigue – seems to have given some Supervisors a reason to approve things not contemplated when the Comp Plan passed in 2019.

But, Briskman really didn’t like the HKG project. She noted that based on an AMI (Adjusted Median Income) of $126,000 for a family of four, the units to be built would not be affordable.
“I’m not going to fall on my sword,” she said, but “… according to staff, it really doesn’t address affordable units according to the general plan.” 

Buffington was on the fence, too, pointing out how long it had taken the Board to get through the HKG application. He also said he agreed with both Letourneau and Brickman’s comments. But, while voting to approve the rezoning, he also said he disagreed with the process, not liking addressing the affordable housing units’ issue through specific applications.
He favored addressing the affordable issue “holistically, and through the zoning ordinance process that we are coming up on … I don’t think the market is going to fix the problem on its own.” He continued, “I definitely look forward to the Board fixing this issue but not through this application …” Still, Buffington, as did six other Supervisors, voted to approve.

Umstattd said, “I just can’t pass up the opportunity to be very predictable in my statements … As you have all heard before, I continue to be concerned about the impact of more residential units on the year-to-year operating cost of schools. Even when there is room in neighboring schools, you still cannot pay for the impact on the schools of this large a residential rezoning … Unfortunately, I’ll have to oppose this.”
No other Supervisors spoke to the application, even while voting to approve the rezoning. 

Randall, others show Comp Plan fatigue

Randall closed the vote session by praising the work everyone had done on the KHG rezoning application, now, a done deal.

This is when she said, “There is not a whole lot of ways to get affordable units if you don’t build homes … there’s just not … I always wish there were more units … you don’t get affordable homes if you don’t build homes … it just doesn’t happen.

“The first thing you always ask is ‘What can the infrastructure absorb?’ … All of us … all of us … push developers to make sure that the development does not impact the infrastructure … but, unless we say we’re not building more homes, we are building more homes … [and] at some point we have to decide what we are doing here …”

After the very exhausting Comp Plan process, there is probably some truth to the idea that everyone is a little frayed at the edges.

Letourneau elaborated on that issue by discussing how there was some ambiguity about how large, or not, new residential units should be, seeming to intimate that the, developers were doing the best they could.

“If we didn’t have this kind of compact housing, large townhouses would have been built here, townhomes such as those in “Dulles South.” The bottom line to Letourneau – this housing is cheaper, even it not affordable. But he said, “This is what we’ve asked for.” 

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