Dinner for Four

By Charles Houston

“What are you going to serve them?” Robert Rood asked his wife.

“Barbecue. Collard greens. Black eyed peas. Pecan pie from Mom’s,” Byne answered. “They served us a Lyonnaise salad, consommé, lamb chops in cognac, leeks …There’s no way I’m trying to match that. Let’s eat outside. You go set the table.”                          

‘That’ll work,” said Robert as he went to do his chore.

A half hour later, border collie Belle barked and dashed to the front door. The Rood’s guests had arrived and Robert went to greet them. Christoph de Graffenreid and Guy Blackwell smiled as Robert waved them inside.

De Graffenreid was elegant in expensive-looking clothes, tall and aristocratic. In fact, he was a true aristocrat – is grandfather was the sixth Baron of Bern, Switzerland. Christoph’s father had moved to the States to establish an investment business, and soon Christoph was born in New York. Despite summers back in Switzerland, Christoph was thoroughly Americanized and a proud citizen. After an MBA he joined his father’s firm, did well, and finally persuaded his father to let him establish a Middleburg office.  

Blackwell was fine-featured and model-looking. He wore pressed and creased jeans and a tight-fitting polo shirt. He grew up around horses in Aiken, South Carolina where his father had been a noted trainer. Guy started young, was an adept with horses and an accomplished rider who soon became a sought-after trainer in his own right. He, too, moved to Middleburg. 

“Welcome,” Robert Rood greeted then men with a grin. Byne gave them hugs. The four decamped to the sunroom for pre-prandial conversation.  

“What’s new with you two?” Byne asked, “You’re tan!”

“We just got back from St. Barths,” answered Christoph. 

“We’re envious,” allowed Byne. 

They touched on farms, horses, dogs, mutual friends … all casual talk. Byne then turned to a more serious topic – land use in Loudoun County. Sprawl was her main concern. Christoph loved the openness and rolling hills; Guy was taken by the manicured farms, and the classic simplicity of old Quaker villages and cottages. They were passionate advocates for rural protection and diligent followed of land use issues here. There was one concept, though, on which they disagreed.

That issue was Affordable Dwelling Units. “We’ve been arguing about ADUs.” Guy looked at Robert and Byne and said, “As involved as you two are, I’m sure you have some opinions about them.”

Robert answered judiciously, “Yeah. I’m not sure. I can see some merit, but I bet that there’d be unforeseen consequences.” 

“Okay, Guy and Christoph, you debate and I’ll judge.” Byne pleasantly directed.

Christoph began, “The goal is a scenic, historic, prosperous county. Good education and healthcare, good shopping and entertainment. Environmentally conscious, sustainable. Diverse and inclusive.”

“Brainwashing,” he means, interjected Guy, “Starting in kindergarten.” “Besides, I though we were talking only about affordable housing.”

“Well, I was laying the foundation for it because providing ADUs has its roots in egalitarianism. Shouldn’t the less-well-off have decent housing? It’s a moral issue.”

Guy rolled his eyes. “Don’t they live somewhere now? Or if they have long commutes, why’s that our problem?

De Graffenreid made his closing argument, “If we have the full spectrum of housing, then businesses can hire the workforce they need to grow, there’ll be more good jobs, less poverty. Loudoun will be a more attractive place to live, and all of that makes everybody better-off.” 

He then explained his economics: “Working people would pay less for housing. The money they save goes into restaurants, gas stations, car dealerships, clothing stores and so on. Those businesses become more profitable, hiring more workers. In business terms, the people who get ADUs have more money left over, it goes into the economy and the multiplier effect kicks in. Plus, people in ADUs pay more sales tax, property tax, income tax. The county is prosperous, and prosperous for more of its citizens. It’s not just fair, it helps everybody.”

Guy demurred, “I think you’d need an econometrician to figure out what would actually happen. You stated only benefits and didn’t look at costs. And you’d need an environmental planner to project what the county would look like. Traffic engineers.” Guy’s face was getting flushed. “I want the county to be the way it was a while ago. No more people. Less traffic. All of western Loudoun would be horse country. Or cattle or crops.”

“You’re a troglodyte, Guy! It’s the moral thing to do!” Christoph said loudly. “You want it to look like a rural Beverly Hills.”

Guy countered, “And you want it to look like Frogmore, South Carolina! (Author’s note: A real place.) I just don’t get why people make such a big deal about ADUs.”

“Guys, I think there’s a compromise,” Robert offered. “Try this: First, the goal is adequate housing for some of our people, right? What’s wrong with decent apartments? Adjust zoning so multifamily housing picks up the slack, rather than building a lot of cheap single-family houses and using up our land. Focus on people who need affordable housing and get them the money, instead of trying zoning requirements – or zoning incentives – for homebuilders you hope will build cheaper houses.

“I think the County already has a housing trust fund. Use it to make grants or loans directly to lower-income people, who use the money to rent or buy where they wish. Actually, if they use their subsidy to buy a place, that helps instill all sorts of values. When they sell the house, then the county gets paid back and it and the profits are split. The better they keep up the property, the more money they end up with. That way they decide what they get, and where, rather than depending on government and builders deciding. You could fine-tune the program, say with more assistance for homes in redevelopment areas. This could work.”

Robert’s right, fellows,” Byne opined.

She continued. “Robert mentioned apartments. Heck, I lived in apartments until I was almost thirty. (The three other heads nodded their own experience.) We were at one Board of Supervisors hearing and someone griped that his daughter, who was getting out of college, couldn’t afford to live in Loudoun. That was ridiculous. She could have moved back home and saved money, or gotten an apartment and a roommate. He acted like the county owed his daughter a house. Jeez.”

“You know,” Robert said, “Whatever the county does, there’s a great way to fund it: Impose a fee of $1.50 per square foot of building area on all new construction – houses, data centers, retail, everything. That would help however the county used the money.”

The idea resonated with his three-person audience:

“Yeah.”

“I like it.”

“Good idea.” 

Christoph de Graffenreid changed the topic, “Byne, you said something about barbecue.”  


Charles Houston developed office buildings for an Atlanta-based firm. He lives in Paeonian Springs.       

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