What generally comes to mind when you think of Loudoun County and new homes may be large lots, open spaces, farmland and cul-de-sacs.
But developers of the One Loudoun community have a decidedly different image in mind for their mixed-use project: urbane.
In what they call the first-of-its kind project for the largely rural county, developers Miller & Smith are establishing a “new downtown” — aimed at becoming a self-contained community where people would live in walking distance to work, shopping and restaurants.
Developers on Saturday plan to introduce a residential portion of the project — brownstone-styled houses with design features that are antithetical to what you might expect in Loudoun: The single-family houses are on small lots on a grid. The garages are detached and in the back of the homes off alleyways. The neighborhood includes sidewalks to encourage people to get around on foot and shed their vehicles.
“People in Loudoun County are used to typical suburban community houses with a lot of yard space and cul-de-sacs,” Douglas Smith, president of McLean-based Miller & Smith, said in an interview.
“What this does is take a more urban design and street planning and bring it into Loudoun County,” Smith said, adding that the houses were inspired by architecture in Chicago’s Lincoln Park. “Density is a little higher. With increased density, you have increased access to downtown.”
Inventory for existing houses in Loudoun is tight — down 30 percent from a year ago, according to the Metropolitan Regional Information Systems (MRIS), which the firm says could drive demand for new construction.
MRIS spokesman John L. Heithaus said inventory is low in part because low interest rates have spurred a spike in demand, foreclosure properties have rapidly moved out of the system, construction has curtailed and underwater homeowners who want to sell have been forced to hold on to their properties.
“They bought at the top of the market and can’t afford to put their houses on the market” for fear of being unable to earn enough to pay off their mortgages, Heithaus said.
“I’m sure builders are thinking, ‘I’ve got myself an opening,’ and they have a real recipe for success,” he said.
One Loudoun is a 358-acre planned community in Ashburn. Developers rolled out their plans in 2007 — just as the housing market tanked. They put the project on hold, then resumed construction last year.
Plans call for more than 3 million square feet of office space, 700,000 square feet of retail, 750 hotel rooms and more than 1,000 housing units.
Three commercial buildings downtown, containing a movie theater and other retail outlets, are scheduled to open in May. Nearly 100 homes in another portion of the development are under construction; 35 are occupied.
The interior design of the “new downtown” houses are somewhat unconventional. The houses contain no living rooms; instead the kitchens and open spaces around it are the focal point.
They also include an undefined area that can be used as a dining room or library.
“The customer wants a lot more open space in the main living area. They recognize they don’t use living rooms and are willing to get more open space in the kitchen/living room area,” Smith said. “They envision themselves living in their houses longer and they want flex living space” that can be converted into multiple uses.
Developers also say consumers are seeking houses that could accommodate elderly parents or boomerang kids. The houses include 400-square-foot lofts above the garage with separate private entrances.
“You can do a full bathroom if you wanted to,” Smith said. “You can’t do a full kitchen, but you can do a kitchenette with a microwave. It could be a studio-like apartment.”
The houses range from 2,600 square feet to 3,800 square feet if the basements and lofts are built out. Prices start around $550,000.
Developers plan to build about 100 homes over the next few years.
The community also will include a swimming pool, tennis courts and a 100-acre park.
There will be “trails and benches for reading,” said Miller & Smith vice president Bill May. “We’re looking to have WiFi in the park so you can be reading on your Kindle or iPad.”