Between 2003 and 2016, a total of 5,500 new residences were built in Loudoun County’s Rural Policy Area (RPA) — an increase of 75%. The County projects that 7,500 additional more residences will be built there by 2040. Based on the County’s current “by-right” zoning, a total of 11,000 additional residents could ventually be built in the RPA.
The Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) estimates that each residence generates an average of ten car trips per day. Rapid development over the past decades has already created serious congestion and local conflict. The projected 7,500 new residences in the RPA would generate 75,000 additional trips per day on the County’s roads, adding exponentially to this already severe problem. The controversy and conflict surrounding the potential destruction of unique economic, environmental, historic and quality of life assets resulting from the proposed expansion of Route 15 north of Leesburg illustrates the consequences of continued rapid, unplanned population growth in isolated rural areas.
Loudoun’s Unique Character and Quality of Life
Much of Loudoun County retains a unique character that blends our Nation’s earliest history with an active farming economy and the natural beauty of our scenic ridges and waterways. Residents of the more densely populated eastern parts of the County have easy access to fresh, locally grown farm products, rural wineries and breweries, biking, hiking and equine trails, Bed and Breakfasts, historic sites, and other predominantly rural attractions. Residents of the rural areas have easy access to high quality shopping, dining, cultural events and other predominantly urban amenities. The reason Loudoun is such an attractive place to live is that we offer the best of both worlds. This, in turn, attracts global investors who need to offer an appealing living environment to highly qualified employees they seek to recruit.
The extremely rapid population growth and urban development of the last few decades, however, increasingly threatens to destroy this unique balance of urban and rural attractions, with serious implications for the quality of life of all Loudoun residents. The following sections outline those implications in more detail.
Loss of Farmland
Since 1987, Loudoun has lost 72,000 acres of farmland to residential development — a decrease of one-third. A critical mass of farmland and active farming operations is essential to support farm equipment, feed and fertilizer, and other rural businesses. At the same time, farming in Loudoun would not be commercially viable without those services. Local farms also provide the foundation and backdrop for Loudoun’s vibrant agri-tourism businesses, which creates thousands of local jobs and generates millions of dollars in County revenues.
Cost to the Taxpayer
The need to provide new roads, schools, utilities, emergency response, and other public infrastructure and services to dense residential populations means that the costs to the County resulting from over-development of rural areas far exceed the tax revenues generated. County taxpayers must pay the difference.
The County currently estimates that 7,500 more residences will be built in the County’s “Rural Policy Area” by 2040. Based on the County’s own fiscal cost models, County taxpayers would have to come up with more than half a billion dollars above their current tax burdens to cover both the operating and capital costs that would be associated with that level of development.
This figure does not include the cost of building roads, which already consumes over half of the County’s capital investment budget. The County’s FY 2019 budget provides $2.7 million to improve and expand rural roads over the next five years. Considering current road congestion, that number would inevitably increase if current rural growth projections hold true.
Threat to Rural Tourism Businesses
Loudoun’s tourism businesses grew by 4.6 percent in 2017, exactly twice as fast as the US economy as a whole. Those small businesses, which have generated 17,500 local jobs to date, depend heavily on the unique beauty and ambiance of the surrounding rural countryside to attract customers and increase sales.
Many of the hundreds of new residential developments that have been completed in recent years have been built on hilltops, ridgelines and along Loudoun’s scenic byways. They are an increasingly prominent feature of the landscapes viewable from our wineries, breweries, Bed and Breakfasts, wedding venues, hiking and biking trails, and other valuable tourist destinations. This over-development of our rural areas threatens to “kill the goose that laid the golden egg.