The High Cost of Unfocused Development

Loudoun’s 2011 Debt Obligation Tops $175 million

Years of unsustainable land use decisions have left Loudoun with substantial debt. In the next fiscal year alone, Loudoun has a debt obligation of $175.5 million (which equates to 24.2 cents of the tax rate). This astounding figure is expected to peak at roughly $240 million in 2015.

How Did We Get Here? What Do We Do Now?

Past County Supervisors approved too many development proposals without fully considering the impact on existing and future residents. Necessary services such as roads, schools, libraries, and public safety all have a cost, and the County’s services have not kept up with rapid residential growth. To get Loudoun through 2016, for example, the County expects to build 8 more schools — 5 elementary, 1 middle, and 2 high schools.

Previous land use decisions can’t be undone –but as we go forward, we all need to stay involved and push for more sustainable growth. We can also encourage the Board of Supervisors not to mistake development approvals for economic development. As it stands, Loudoun has an oversupply of vacant and approved residential and commercial space. The numbers break down like this:

  • 39,858 residential units are approved but unbuilt. This represents a potential housing increase of over 35%, with no control over when new units are added which makes planning and paying for the needed services challenging.
  • 91,704,962 sq. ft office/industrial approved but undeveloped. For perspective, the Verizon office campus tops out at just under 2 million sq ft.
  • 7,478,461 sq. ft of retail are approved but unbuilt. In comparison, the Dulles Town Center is just under 2 million sq ft.

Smarter Growth, Better Planning, and a Strong Urban and Rural Economy

To help bring down costs, Loudoun needs to avoid repeating the mistakes of the past, and focus on smart and efficient growth going forward. Better comprehensive planning can help Loudoun determine when and where development makes sense, and help identify cost-effective transportation and energy solutions.

With Metro coming to Loudoun in 2017 we have an added chance to focus growth around mass transit. And by fostering partnerships such as the one between Moorefield Station and Digital Realty Trust Data Centers to utilize waste heat, the county could make our transit oriented development areas an attractive place for leading edge energy technology businesses to locate.

Meanwhile, we should continue to support Loudoun’s already tax-positive farming economy. According to the latest agricultural census for Loudoun, we have 1,427 farms and wineries. By purchasing fresh, local products we not only get to eat and drink well, we also help this vital part of our local economy.