The last time the very developer-friendly Loudoun Republican Party ran things (back in 2003–2007, when they had a 5–4 majority on the Board of Supervisors), they were notorious for mocking and deriding anyone who dared to suggest that there might be things in Loudoun worth preserving—such as its Civil War and Revolutionary War history, its farmland, or what’s left of its unparalleled natural beauty.
(The late unlamented Stephen Snow, one of the more triumphalist of the 2003–2007 GOP supervisors, derisively suggested that the “tree huggers” who opposed unbridled development ought to move to Canada.)
The new bunch that swept into office this January on our new all-Republican Board of Supervisors have been trying very hard to be smoother in their outward mien. But they still can’t help showing their true selves. At a recent meeting, Supervisor Ralph Buona (R-Ashburn) derisively dismissed the entire rural economy of Loudoun, suggesting that since it produces a mere $60 million in revenue, it would not even “move the dial” of the tax rate. He meanwhile has been spearheading the effort to make the county more “business-friendly” by eliminating current limitations on big box stores (which currently require a special exception hearing and the chance for citizens to be involved in the approval process).
Even leaving aside the fact that just possibly the people who actually live here might be willing to pay another fraction of a cent on their property tax rates to preserve the things they value about living here, and even leaving aside the fact that the No. 1 factor pushing our tax rates up is the rampant residential development approved by previous Republican boards, Buona is off by a factor of 20 or so in the actual monetary value of Loudoun’s historic, scenic, and rural attributes.
In fact, tourism is a $1.4 billion a year business in Loudoun and creates 16,000 jobs: the county is among the top three in the state in tourist dollars coming in. (Full statistics are available from the Virginia Tourism Corporation here. Note that the economic impact calculations they provide only include overnight visitors, so is if anything an underestimate.)
Here’s a hypothesis worth considering: the visitors who come here and drop $1.4 billion each year are not hoping to see another Super Wal-Mart or Home Depot. They are hoping to visit wineries and farms, hike on the Appalachian trail and view the Blue Ridge, visit Civil War sites, and in fact enjoy the things that make Loudoun different from all of the other places that have given over their souls to the developers in the false promise of economic benefit from an industry that destroys more than it creates and leaves residents footing the bill for the future.