ARLINGTON COUNTY — Gov. Glenn Youngkin wants local governments to adopt “developer friendly” land-use plans and zoning regulations to expand the supply of affordable housing and provide homes for workers in new businesses the state is working to attract.
Speaking at the Virginia Governor’s Housing Conference here, Youngkin said the state is not increasing the number of new homes and apartments it needs to meet the needs of homebuyers, who also are frustrated by rising prices because of inflation and higher interest rates.
The governor did not outline the specifics of the legislative package he intends to introduce in the next General Assembly session, but he said his administration is pushing localities to review their land-use and zoning laws and speed permitting processes to expand housing supply.
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“We also have to have more developer friendly local regulations and processes, and we also have to respect the rights of landowners,” he told the conference audience at the Hyatt Regency Crystal City.
Youngkin’s pitch for pro-development local land-use policies could spark a political battle, especially in Northern Virginia, where he lived before moving to Richmond as governor. He still owns property in the Great Falls area of western Fairfax County.
Northern Virginia localities, such as Loudoun County, have been battlefields for disputes over land development and preservation for decades, as the Washington suburbs have expanded into outlying parts of the region.
“We agree with the governor that we need more housing, but we need it where it makes sense — in our cities, our towns and walkable, transit-oriented suburbs, said Stewart Schwartz, executive director of the Coalition for Smarter Growth, who attended the governor’s conference.
“We shouldn’t pave over all of our countryside and damage our environment in the process,” said Schwartz, who lives in Richmond’s Church Hill neighborhood.
Youngkin said he’s trying to strike a balance between economic growth and environmental protection. For example, he wants to protect wetlands and streams from development, but provide more credits and a faster process for builders to compensate for damage to environmentally sensitive areas.
“The goal here is to shrink the timeline and make it more dependable in order to increase the supply,” he said.
Youngkin signaled his approach to addressing the need for affordable housing in his remarks to the General Assembly money committees in August, when he outlined a $1.9 billion revenue surplus from the previous year and called for additional cuts in taxes.
“If we are serious about the rising cost of living in the commonwealth ... then we are going to have to get serious about the cost of the places in which we live,” he said then. “The solution to this problem is not more subsidies or loan programs.”
“Instead, we must tackle the root causes: unnecessary regulation, overburdensome and inefficient local governments, restrictive zoning policies and an ideology of fighting tooth and nail against any new development,” he added.
On Friday, Youngkin again decried “bureaucratic overstep” in reducing the supply of new housing by thwarting landowners’ efforts to develop their property.
“It’s their property — they want to do with it what they want,” he said.
Schwartz, at the Coalition for Smarter Growth, said, “It sounds like he wants to remove all limits to development.”
“If we turbo-charge sprawl in Virginia, it will come at a huge fiscal and environmental cost,” he warned.
But Youngkin described what he called “a sense of frustration” among Virginians who cannot find homes they can afford.
Inflation has increased the difficulty of finding affordable housing and so has the Federal Reserve Board’s aggressive efforts to reduce prices by raising interest rates, which makes borrowing more expensive for home mortgages.
As a result, “their dreams of owning a home are out of reach,” both now and in the future, the governor said.
Youngkin said the lack of affordable housing also undercuts Virginia’s efforts to attract new and expanding businesses to grow the state economy.
“If you want economic growth, you need a workforce,” he said. “If you want a workforce, you need to have someplace for them to live.”