Who’s Nuts Here?

Today’s Washington Post online chat with columnist Marc Fisher has some commentary on Jim’s water ferry post that’s immediately below this one.

There was one exchange in the chat that reminded me of a comment someone made here some time ago–there are still dirt roads in Virgnia:

Chantilly, Va.: Hi Marc: I don’t know how closely you pay attention to goings-on in lovely Loudoun County, but you might find it amusing that homes costing close to a million bucks a pop are going up just west of South Riding, and the only access to those developments is Braddock Road, which is STILL UNPAVED out there!

Most people probably think of Braddock Road as a major, multi-lane highway, but it gets narrower and narrower as you move west, and by the time it ends at Route 15 it probably looks just like it did when British General Braddock used it to fight Indians back in the mid-1700s.

You will soon be hearing frenzied traffic reports from such heretofore obscure intersections as Braddock Road at Pleasant Valley Road. This county is nuts.

Marc Fisher: And there’s a lot more coming through the pipeline. If the Loudoun board gets its way, the county will maintain its position as America’s fastest growing for quite some time to come.

I’m wondering if it’s the county that’s nuts for allowing developments off a dirt road like this or if it’s the buyers who are nuts.

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  1. Oh my god!!! This proves my point:

    Development comes, whether we build roads for it or not.

  2. Laszlo Avatar

    It is hard for me to believe that the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors did not include Braddock Road in their VDOT Six Year Plan for improvements. If, as you say, they are building million homes there, the Board Supervisor for that District has been sleeping at the wheel. Build it and the road will come. I think Barnie lives on a dirt road(unpaved for VDOT), but it is a long way from the Meadows of the Dan to Braddock Road in more ways than one.

  3. Anonymous Avatar

    He’s not sleeping at the wheel, the board is allowing the developer to construct the homes without requiring the proper improvements. Rather, they will wait until someone screams and then demand the improvements as a proffer from whatever developer is unlucky enough to be applying at the time the wheels start to squeak. Unlucky may not be the proper term however as it will ultimately be the purchaser of homes and neighboring residents who will ultimately pay the freight either through inflating housing costs or higher taxes based on higher assessments based on the inflated sales price of the new homes.

    Look to several editorials in last weekends Washington Post Weekend Section and last weeks Gainesville Times (not all available electronically) by Time Horn and Robert Weir for what comes to pass several years down the road.

  4. Laszlo Avatar

    If the Loudoun Board is doing buiness the way you describe, you need to vote them out.

  5. Wow. This comment (from the chat)is indicative of how people will mindlessly support transportation:

    Ferry service on the Potomac is a great idea. New home development in the Belvoir/Lorton area has gone crazy (town homes in our subdivision that sold for $400K new two years ago are now going for $600K)! There are many who’d look forward to another commuting choice into downtown D.C. Hopefully there’ll be a ferry stop in our area.

    Come on….does this person really think Ferry service will be a great option?

    People will support anything that they imagine will take other cars off the road. They just won’t USE it.

  6. Ray Hyde Avatar
    Ray Hyde

    I’m familiar with that part of Braddock Road. I bought used farm equipment and sold hay there recently. I guess those days are about over, but million dollar homes sometimes have horses, maybe I’ll still have some customers.

    It wasn’t that long ago that Braddock Road was two lanes to the Beltway, and Robert’s Road near GMU was a dirt road with summer cabins. In those days Fairfax was big on its slow growth plan.

    In Fauquier county there was a major uproar when the state wanted to pave a piece of prized dirt road. I guess one way to reduce VMT and not increase taxes is to just let the pavement go to hell.

    Looking at the dirt roads in Fauquier as I often do, I find it just hilarious to see a constructions site adjacent to the road all carefully surrounded by silt fence to prevent runoff. Where is the silt fence (and the inspectors) for the unpaved roads, the barren horse and cow paddocks, and the plowed fields?

    Another factor in the inflated prices of new homes that affect us all.

  7. Olivia Avatar

    Here’s a whacky idea for the Loudoun BOS:

    If developers want to develop & build houses, then they need to develop roads to get to those houses.

    Loudoun is heading down the same path of PWC in the 80s and 90s (albeit with more expensive homes). But down the same path nonetheless.

    And there will be a time to pay the piper, just like in PWC. You think everybody in Loudoun is griping about taxes NOW – just wait until you have to spend big money 10-15 years from now to try to fix this mess.

  8. Ray Hyde Avatar
    Ray Hyde

    Actually, short haul, high frequency service could work. It is going to take more tha a half million dollars to get it off the ground though.

    Probably more pleasant than rumbling through a tunnel standing up. Just don’t expect it to relieve congestion.

  9. Ray Hyde Avatar
    Ray Hyde

    Olivia, you should be careful with that idea.

    1) If you turn over development of roads to developers as a condition of building, you may lose all control over planning.

    2) If builders agree to step up and provide all the roads and infrastructure, what argument will you use to prevent sprawl?

    3) You think developers profits are obscene now? Just add on all the profits from infrastructure completion,too.

    4) All the costs, plus overhead, profit and G&A will be added to new homes and immediately reflected in the assessment of your home which reflects none of the benefits.

    5)Cars and people from over there will use your roads, your shopping areas, and your golf club too.

  10. Olivia Avatar


    I don’t get what you mean exactly. I’m talking about proffers. Funds being provided by developers to expand roads, add turn lanes, etc.

    If the land is already zoned to allow homes, what leverage does a jurisdiction have but proffers?

  11. Ray Hyde Avatar
    Ray Hyde

    Suppose you live in a village with a hundred identical homes valued at $1000 and your tax rate is 0.1 so you pay $100/year tax. Everyone is happy here and no homes have been sold for years.

    A developer comes in and says you all look so happy, I’d like to make ten more people happy, and build ten new homes similar to yours.

    That means the town needs 10% more infrastructure and it’s going to cost 10% more to operate it. The new homes and new infrastructure have to be built at today’s prices so 10% more infrastructure costs 20% more and the new homes cost $`1200 instead of $1000.

    You borrow the 20% for new infrastructure for 20 years at 10% interest, so it costs everybody a dollar a year. What with one thing and another, the new tax budget for the year is $11,110 per year where it was previously $10,000.

    Now the new homes sell and there is something to revaluate the old homes, but they are still older so the assessor figures the old homes are now worth $1020 and the new ones $1200. The toal valuation of the town is now $114,000 and the new tax rate is 0.097. New homes pay $116.94/year and old homes pay $99.40/ per year.

    But some idiot is upset, “Why should I pay for the infrastructure for the newcomers, let them pay it.” So the developer provides the infrastructure, tacks on his 10% for costs and profits and adds it to the cost of the new homes, which are now $1420. The old homes look the same, so the assessor applies the same differential for age as before – $180 so the old homes are now assessed at $1240. The new total town assessment is $138,200 and the new tax rate is 0.080. New homes pay $114.15/year and old homes pay $99.68 per year.

    In total, the older homes are paying a disproportionate share of the costs. In real life it’s a lot worse than that because the proffers are higher and the age differential is smaller. Proffers and impact fees are an unadvertised, back-door, hidden tax on existing homeowners.

    Why would anybody do this? BECAUSE WE DON’T WANT NEW HOMES AROUND US or the NIMBY’s dont. We think if we increase the up-front costs we can discourage them from coming. But they are in a different economy from us, with a different future in front of them, so they borrow the money and come anyway. The developer made money, so everybody’s happy, right?

    (Things they don’t teach you in high school.)

  12. Ray Hyde Avatar
    Ray Hyde

    It’s even worse than that, a three bedroom home is roughly equivlent to another three bedroom home, evenif the new one is a little larger, or has hidden features like granite counters.

    If you want to have some fun, take this exercise and iterate it over ten years until the village is 200 homes.

  13. Ray Hyde Avatar
    Ray Hyde

    I realized while sleeping on the train this morning that there is an error in the scenario above, but it doesn’t change the logic of how this phenomenon works.

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