- The Washington Times - Friday, August 17, 2001

Last month, when her aggressive plan for preserving Loudoun County's countryside was passed by the Board of Supervisors, Planning Director Julie Pastor was proud to see the county move to restrain the growth some had come to think
of as inevitable. But now that Loudoun one of the nation's fastest-growing counties has cut the number of homes that can be built there by 44 percent, Ms. Pastor is hearing many would-be homeowners and developers wondering: "Where do we go now?"
Good question.
With buildable lots close to the region's employment centers in short supply, growth is foremost on planners' and developers' minds.
"You'd think the sky was falling," said Ms. Pastor, who added that the county wrestled with the plan for a decade. "They think we're supposed to solve the housing shortage for the whole region."
For years, Loudoun's rural expanses stood as a kind of backup plan to the rapid growth in Fairfax and Arlington, just as Frederick and Anne Arundel served the District and Rockville. Today, families looking for first homes costing less than $200,000 must go as far as Calvert County in Maryland or Fauquier County in Virginia. Same goes for luxury homes with sought-after acreage.
"What are the hot areas of growth?" quipped Jim Williams, executive vice president of the Northern Virginia Building Industry Association. "Take Interstate 95 North from Quantico up, following the Potomac River right up through Harpers Ferry and beyond."
"And beyond" seems to be the new-home builders' battle cry. Builders who in the past rarely strayed from the Beltway are developing around towns such as Haymarket and Gainesville in Virginia and Leonardtown and California in Maryland's St. Mary's County.
"From Garrett County to the southern ends of the Eastern Shore, all of our builders are extraordinarily busy with very little end in sight," said Katie McHugh, spokesman for the Maryland State Builders Association in Annapolis. "The market is really tight. Little towns in virtually every county are experiencing growth."
Developers have spent a decade nibbling around the edges of these towns. Now future growth depends on their open spaces. And while that growth frequently sounds "sprawl" alarms, builders say they are simply responding to demand.
"Look at all the people who are under 25 who have gone away to college, maybe, but now they're coming back to this area looking for housing," Mr. Williams said. "They're not going to be buying single-family homes, but they're looking at the town-house market. And where do you think they're going to go?"
Many are likely to be commuting.
"There's a serious crunch of developable space close to the cities," said Kevin Carney, president of the Home Builders Association of Maryland in Baltimore. "We're under more and more pressure to build in Cecil, Calvert, Harford and St. Mary's counties. We don't care how far out it is. We'll build wherever the customers are."
Sales manager Sue Martinez said her company, Edgemoore Homes, is opening two high-end developments in eastern Loudoun County but will soon be moving west to Leesburg and Triangle.
"It's farther out in drive-time," she said. "But our buyers' employment centers are moving out, and we're moving out, too."
And they're moving out in style. With luxury developments such as Beacon Hill, an equestrian and golf community near Leesburg, and Piedmont in Prince William commanding top dollar, more developers have followed suit.
"Once the beachheads for that kind of community are there, then other communities grow around them," Ms. Martinez said.
Of course, people won't pay a half-million dollars for the same amount of house they could buy in Fairfax, she said.
"You have to give them a reason to drive," said Ms. Martinez, who is marketing 10-acre lots in Haymarket. "Whether it's wooded lots or more acreage or a sense of community. The customer still wants a reason to go out that far."
Everyone from developers and real estate agents to environmentalists and land planners lament the rising cost of land and the need to build farther afield. Mr. Carney said he would like to see the next areas of development be the oldest ones. Revitalization, like that in some metropolitan Washington and Baltimore neighborhoods, has become an increasingly popular focus for builders. But with a prohibitive price tag that frequently doubles that of new construction, he said government needs to step in to help.
"If you want it to be moderately priced, you need the help of government," Mr. Carney said. Others are waiting to see whether major road construction projects will shorten commutes before projecting the next areas of development.
"People are worried about urban sprawl," said Fairfax Realtor Jack O'Donohue, chairman of the Board of Directors for the Northern Virginia Association of Realtors. He has lobbied boards of supervisors throughout the state, asking them to institute plans that maximize growth along established transportation corridors.
"People get into our offices and find out they're facing a 45 minute to hour-and-a-half commute, and they're not happy about the situation," Mr. O'Donohue said. "But then they go to Clarke County and find a house they can afford."
For his part, Mr. Carney doesn't mind driving an hour to Calvert County to build homes that people can afford. Single-family, detached homes in the 190-home subdivision he is working on will sell for $170,000 to $185,000.
"You can't find that in Montgomery or even Anne Arundel," he said. "You'll be seeing more of that kind of thing all over the place. People are thrilled with it.

More info:

Online
www.smartergrowth.net.The Coalition for Smarter Growth is made up of more than 40 organizations working to fight sprawl and promote livable communities and transportation choices in the Washington region.
www.co.loudoun.va.us/index.htm. This is the Web site for the Revised Comprehensive Plan adopted by the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors. It includes the General Plan and the Countywide Transportation Plan, which will guide development of the county for the next 20 years.

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