Loudoun Board Looks to Public Lands for Affordable Housing

At their housing summit last year, Loudoun supervisors asked for ways to use county-owned land to encourage affordable housing—and heard they may have to get creative.

An inventory of all county-owned land in Loudoun found 277 parcels adding up to almost 7,530 acres. But most of those are already in use—county staff members found only 10 vacant tracts, adding up to 50 acres assessed at $7.5 million. But they found that even those parcels are unsuitable for building homes because of zoning rules or physical constraints.

“Currently, there are not many opportunities to use these county-owned parcels for affordable housing development, so the question becomes: what now?” said Affordable Dwelling Unit program supervisor Brian Reagan at a meeting of the Board of Supervisors Transportation and Land Use Committee Tuesday, June 19.

The answer may involve trying some things Loudoun has never done before. First, staff members will take an in-depth look at land transfers from developers that are still in process. But then they’ll start looking at other types of public-private partnerships that could put some houses in places they’ve never been in Loudoun before.

“The cost of land, particularly in Loudoun County, constitutes a large percent of a development’s overall cost,” Reagan said. “… When a locality can provide no- or low-cost land to a developer, both parties can benefit if the land is used to provide affordable housing.” That could mean following the example of other DC-area jurisdictions, putting housing on county parcels already in use for fire stations, community centers, and government administration. County staff members provided the examples of co-located homes elsewhere, such as houses, a restaurant and a bar on top of a fire station in DC and homes and retail next to a fire station on land donated by a developer in Alexandria. Elsewhere, public-private partnerships in Alexandria put housing on the site of a community center; in Fairfax County put homes at the Fairfax County Government Center; and in Montgomery County, MD, put an 11-story apartment building together with a new library, with financing from a number of state and federal sources and non-governmental organizations.

Loudoun Chairwoman Phyllis J. Randall (D-At Large) also raised the question of adaptive reuse of existing properties.

“The idea of adaptive reuse comes up over and over again, and when I have asked that question in the past, what I’ve been told is we don’t have spot zoning in Loudoun,” Randall said. As the county rewrites its comprehensive plan—and subsequently the zoning law that makes that plan reality—Randall said it may be time to look at spot zoning, in which a jurisdiction puts a small area of land in a different zoning district than the surrounding properties.

“We do have maybe not land that is county-owned, but we do have land that is sitting here … that can be redeveloped or reused for homes,” Randall said.

She also wondered, given Loudoun’s history of battles over allowing housing in the high-noise zone around the airport, whether there would be a problem putting homes over a fire station.

County staff members will prepare a report to bring back to the board’s Transportation and Land Use and Finance, Government Operations and Economic Development committees.

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