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Slow Growth Taking Over In D.C. Metro Area

The so-called “slow growth” movement has been building steam for the past several years in the Northern Virginia/Suburban Maryland region Yesterday, that movement received a significant boost as three separate counties passed measures that will limit the growth of housing:

The map of land available for new homes in the Washington area shrank yesterday as officials in three suburban counties took major steps toward restricting development in the strongest statement yet of the anti-growth sentiment that has seized the region.

In Virginia, the Prince William Board of County Supervisors voted for a one-year freeze on most subdivisions to protest the lack of transportation funding from the General Assembly. And in Loudoun County, the Board of Supervisors approved a long-debated move to restrict new housing in the rural western section.

In Maryland, Montgomery County’s new council president introduced legislation to impose a temporary moratorium on most large developments to allow for an assessment of land-use policies that some say have become too pro-business.

Together, the actions underscore that the pendulum of public sentiment has swung strongly against development in one of the fastest-growing metropolitan areas in the country. Local governments that only a few years ago boasted of their burgeoning economies are now billing themselves as guardians of open space and eliciting howls from builders, some of whom may challenge the measures in court.

I wrote about the Prince William moratorium both here and at The Liberty Papers on Monday, and it appears that the Board of County Supervisors backed down somewhat from what was originally proposed:

Prince William County supervisors, in an effort to spur Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D) and the General Assembly to take action to ease gridlock, unanimously approved a radical plan yesterday that halts construction of residential development for a year in the state’s second-largest county.

The board, made up of five Republicans and two Democrats, voted for the proposal from Supervisor W. S. Covington III (R-Brentsville) to freeze any approval of rezoning requests for new houses in the coming year. More than 15 people spoke against the proposal, and one person spoke in favor of it.

“This vote signifies that Prince William County, to the maximum extent possible under Virginia law, will manage the pace of growth in order to ensure that the demands of growth do not outpace the capacity to provide the necessary services and infrastructure,” Covington said. All board members will be up for reelection next year.

This is less than what Covington was originally proposing, which would have blocked all new home construction in the county regardless of whether developers would need to obtain permission to rezone a property. The effect, however, is the same both in terms of the blatant denial of property rights that this measure accomplishes, and in terms of the economic impact that a ban on construction will have for the county.

Over in Loudoun, meanwhile, they’ll let you build, but only if your lots are at least five acres:

The Loudoun County Board of Supervisors took the final step yesterday to curb residential growth in the county’s rural west, ending more than a year of bitter debate by replacing sweeping building restrictions thrown out by the state Supreme Court in March 2005.

The result left few satisfied. By a 5 to 4 vote, supervisors approved a plan that reduces the total number of new homes that can be built in Loudoun’s western two-thirds from 37,000 to roughly half that. But it falls far short of the original restrictions, which would have allowed no more than 10,000 homes.

“I am honestly starting to believe that there will be peace in the Middle East before there is consensus on the western downzoning,” said Supervisor Mick Staton Jr. (R-Sugarland Run), whose compromise proposal prevailed yesterday. “Nobody is getting everything they want. But it’s my belief that everybody’s getting something they can live with.”

Opponents disagreed. They said the Staton plan replaced a true compromise crafted more than a year ago that would have limited most average parcel sizes to 10 and 20 acres. Staton’s plan allows average parcel sizes in most cases of five and 15 acres. The vast majority of the hundreds who spoke at public hearings supported the more stringent restrictions.

The economic impact of a proposal like this should be obvious. Housing in Loudoun County will become less affordable both because there will be less of it available and because what is available will be more expensive because the increased lot sizes will require increased purchase prices.

Finally, the slow growth poison is making its way across the Potomac to Maryland:

The new president of the Montgomery County Council signaled her intention yesterday to quickly move in a different direction, calling for a freeze on dozens of large residential and commercial projects for the next seven months.

So much for finding anything affordable in Montgomery County anytime soon.

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3 Responses to “Slow Growth Taking Over In D.C. Metro Area”

  1. GATC says:

    Timely story. I just drove by my old townhouse in Germantown, MD (that we barely got out of with our shirts back in 1997 for $110K). It recently sold in the mid-$300s. Having grown-up in “rural” Prince William Co, VA in the 1960s and 70s and now living in MD, I can tell you that the slow growth thing is all well and good but will make no difference as long as we do not limit immigration. Spend a few hours in the shops along Rockville Pike and hope you have a universal translator along with you.

  2. Greg L says:

    There is no halt to residential construction in Prince William County. There is a one year moratorium on rezoning decisions by the Prince William County Board of Supervisors.

    Big difference.

  3. Greg,

    There is only a difference of semantics. When you’re talking about a moratorium that will prevent the construction of at least 6,000 homes, as you noted in your own blog post this morning, the consequences to the market as a whole cannot be understated.

    And then there’s the little problem of Corey Stewart and the Board thinking they have the right to tell people what to do with their property.

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