Op-ed written by Tony Howard, President & CEO of the Loudoun County Chamber of Commerce
It was a lively scene at the first two Envision Loudoun community workshops that Loudoun County held in Leesburg and Sterling last week.
First in a middle school cafeteria, then a senior center, hundreds of Loudoun residents came together to learn more about this process for creating a shared vision for our community.
The workshops were filled with commuters, business owners, employees, community leaders and many young professionals. All wanted to learn more about this “comprehensive plan” and how County leaders use it to guide development, land use, housing and transportation policies.
They also came to offer their hopes and vision for the Future of Loudoun, and to discuss their ideas with their neighbors.
It wasn’t always pretty and was often quite animated. Which is exactly how it should have been.
Issues such as where to build roads, where to create infill development in crowded suburban areas, how to revitalize older neighborhoods and what to allow in Transition Policy Area aren’t easily decided.
But decided they must be, and with the full involvement of the Loudoun community.
Take the issue of housing affordability. Too often, this term evokes government programs for the poor or elderly, populations that are certainly deserving of attention.
I am referring to the affordability of housing for the workforce who teach our kids, keep Loudoun’s neighborhoods safe, serve our meals, take care of our elderly and work at our malls and outlets.
The dire shortage of affordable and available housing options for young workers or those in industries where the work is satisfying but the wages often below average in this affluent county is hurting our economy and our families.
It’s also sending an insidious message that is undermining our economic development strategy. In a County so reliant on public, retail, hospitality, nonprofit and health care sectors, what is our strategy for providing these hard working taxpayers decent, affordable housing near where they work?
Stefanie Dove, a young nutritionist with Loudoun County Public Schools, put it this way at the June 7th workshop in Sterling: “When there is little affordable housing available, it sends the message that you are welcome to work here, but not good enough to live here.
Stefanie showed up at the workshop after working all day because she knows she, and thousands more like her who find Loudoun a tough community to afford, are more than good enough to live here.
And so she gave up her evening to lend her voice make a difference on the issues that will define the future of the community where she works. And would like to live.
With at least 10 community meetings, online surveys and other means to offer input, County staff and the community stakeholders driving the Envision Loudoun process have done an outstanding job in offering everyone an opportunity lend their own voice to help shape the future of Loudoun.
Have you made your voice heard?
The final two Envision Loudoun community work groups will be held at these dates and locations:
Tuesday, June 13th, at Harmony Middle School (38174 West Colonial Highway, Hamilton) and on Thursday, June 15th, at Mercer Middle School (42149 Greenstone Drive, Aldie)