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Testimony by President & CEO Tony Howard before the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors

Testimony by President & CEO Tony Howard before the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors

April 24, 2018, Loudoun County Government Center, 1 Harrison Street S.E., Leesburg

RE: Loudoun 2040 comprehensive plan update

Good evening Madam Chair and members of the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors. My name is Tony Howard and I am the President of the Loudoun Chamber of Commerce.

It is a privilege to address you this evening on behalf of the 1,200 businesses and other employers that are Loudoun Chamber members.

I will preface my comments by stating my remarks on the Loudoun 2040 Plan before you represent the collective input offered by hundreds of our members, many of whom were active throughout the Envision Loudoun process.

This includes those who served on the Stakeholders committee, who attended community input meetings or who offered their comments throughout the process.

In fact, there were so many comments from Chamber members that it commanded an entire section within the Stakeholders Advisory committee’s final report.

Though these Loudoun taxpayers, residents, business owners and community leaders come from diverse backgrounds and perspectives, all felt passionately that our shared vision for Loudoun’s future must focus on sustaining our economy and the quality of life for all residents, employees and visitors.

Based on that perspective, our Board of Directors adopted a policy statement that focuses on four chapters of the draft Plan.

Economic Development
The first is economic development. We know that Loudoun is a world class place in which to live, work and raise a family because of our strong business climate and because the County value businesses and their investments in our community.

It must remain your top priority to keep Loudoun a welcoming destination for commercial investments, business expansion and job growth, while ensuring the fruits of prosperity are enjoyed by all citizens.

That is why the Loudoun 2040 plan must continue and strengthen the County’s customer-focused approach that views businesses as partners in Loudoun’s success.

Loudoun’s economy is strong because of our skilled workforce. Envision Loudoun must prioritize workforce development, by addressing the housing and infrastructure challenges that make workforce attraction and retention difficult.

The lack of available workforce housing and the need for land use policies that must become more responsive to changing market conditions, while preserving Loudoun’s natural heritage, must be the top priority for Loudoun 2040. 

Speaking of housing, there is no doubt that Loudoun is facing a housing affordability crisis. We believe the Loudoun 2040 plan advocates for sensible policies that will help address the cost, diversity and availability of housing for Loudoun’s workforce.

To ignore this issue is to increase the suffering that housing costs impose on Loudoun’s seniors, young professionals, teachers, public safety workers, even the disability community.

A household that pays more than 30% of its pre-tax income on housing is considered cost burdened. Paying more than that means there too little money left over for food, medical care, clothing and our families’ other necessities.

Here in Loudoun, nearly 1/3 of all households are cost burdened. For families earning less than $70,320 annually – a generous salary in any other part of the country – 78% are cost-burdened, as are most renters.

A limited housing supply is making this situation worse.

The County’s own expert analysis shows that by 2040, Loudoun’scurrent plans would leave us 19,000 housing units short of meeting our workforce’s needs.

Sadly, a lack diverse and affordable housing choices is impacting our newest and future workforce the most.

After investing billions of taxpayers’ dollars into their public education, Loudoun’s lack of a housing strategy is driving our students and the investments we made in their education out of the County. That must change.

Concerning transportation, this Board is to be praised for making record investments in a transportation network that will support economic growth, create vibrant, safe communities and protect our natural resources.

Because Loudoun’s economy depends on our access to a workforce, customers and suppliers, the Envision Loudoun plan must advance this Board’s investments by addressing the constant gridlock on Routes 15, 9 and 50, while envisioning new connections to Maryland and Prince William.

Within Loudoun, our investment in Metro must be supported with improved roadway access to our new train stations, and other top employment and activity centers, including Dulles Airport.

Land Use
Moving to land use, Loudoun must have policies that allow for creative, flexible and market-aware thinking that will create great places and communities where businesses and employees want to locate.

  • Urban Policy Areas: The Chamber strongly supports the proposed Urban Policy Areas that target denser transit-oriented, mixed-use developments around Metrorail stations and other transportation assets.

Compact urban style development at future Metrorail stations and at other transit-accessible locations support our economic development goals, particularly when they provide diverse housing choices for workers and residents at different incomes.

When done correctly, urban-style activity centers can provide the type of entertainment, dining and interactive experiences our residents have told us they want.

  • Transition Policy Area: The limited amount of developable space in the urban and suburban areas demand new and more thoughtful approaches in the Transition Policy Areas.

With the right strategies and safeguards, Loudoun is quite capable of adding a reasonable and limited amount of desperately needed housing units in the transition area, while protecting our rural policy area from the impacts of suburban development.

That is why the Chamber supports the proposed strategy to target specific areas of the TPA for higher density residential and mixed-use development that create affordable and diverse housing options in compact communities.

When the 8,800 homes in the TPA areas south of Braddock Road, homes even the Planning Commission should not be allowed with adequate roads, water and sewer infrastructure, the Loudoun 2040 Plan proposes a modest increase of homes in  the Transition area by less than 9,000, with open space requirements and design features that are environmentally and fiscally responsible

Finally, allow me a word on the proposed design guidelines included in the Loudoun 2040 plan.

To their credit, the Planning Commission and County staff have advocated for more flexibility and responsiveness to changing market demands within the text of the Loudoun 2040 plan.

But there is legitimate concern that the support for flexibility is too easily undermined by proposed policies that would make the plan less flexible.

For example, under the Quality Development section of the land use chapter, the plan proposes a new policy that advocates for “flexible design guidelines in all policy areas,” then, without taking a breath, advocates for “more specific design guidelines that encourage innovation.”

Policies that are contradictory and add ambiguity, confusion and throttle down on innovation are the last thing Loudoun’s economy needs. We know that critical areas, such as the proposed urban policy areas around Metro, need more market innovation to succeed, not arbitrarily imposed guidelines that limit the flexibility and innovation that the plan’s authors have otherwise said they wish to advance.

Again, thank you for the opportunity to address you this evening and thank you for your service to our community.