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Washington's Road to Outward Growth

Bruce Morrison, a BMW mechanic who moved to Huntfield from Loudoun County, seems just as pleased with the trade-off. It takes him an hour and 15 minutes to get to work. But, he said, appreciatively slapping the woodwork of his new home, "I couldn't touch a home like this in Loudoun County."

That kind of satisfaction leads many to argue that sprawl -- homes spread out on the landscape in a way that demands car travel -- is exactly what most Americans want. In fact, some describe such places as the object of what amounts to a spiritual quest.

Huntfield resident Eugene Marino, right, arrives home after carpooling with David and Holly Robinson. Marino's trip to Arlington takes more than an hour. (Ricky Carioti -- The Washington Post)

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"Millions of people every year leap out into the void, heading out to communities that don't exist, to office parks that are not yet finished, to places where everything is new," commentator David Brooks, a chronicler of suburbia in "On Paradise Drive," wrote recently. "This mysterious longing is the root of the great dispersal. To grasp that longing, you have to take seriously the central cliche of American life: the American dream."

Yet most Huntfield residents view their new neighborhood as a measured compromise between price and commuting. The economic forces that create home-building pressures on the region's fringes arise not from any vision of utopia but from the efforts of counties around Washington to build their tax base by attracting more workplaces than homes.

The economic forces that shaped Huntfield can be traced as far back as the early '90s in Fairfax County, when a jobs boom got underway along the Dulles corridor, the highway that runs from Tysons Corner to Dulles International Airport.

Thousands of new employees working in the corridor were priced out of living in Fairfax County, at least in part because of strict home-building limits there. Citing reasons of environmental, agricultural and neighborhood preservation, Fairfax leaders over the years have limited about 55 percent of the residential land in the county to no more than two homes per acre.

For workers in the Dulles corridor, Fairfax's restrictions helped make Loudoun County a logical place to look for a home. It was the next county down the highway, and during the '90s, the number of Fairfax workers living in Loudoun doubled, helping to double the county's population, from 86,000 to 170,000.

The influx into Loudoun, however, set off a revolt. Led by a citizens group that called itself Voters to Stop Sprawl, voters installed a slow-growth set of leaders in the 1999 elections.

Jim Duszynski, chief executive officer of Greenvest, the developer of Huntfield, said it was then that the company locked onto its West Virginia property.

"We leapfrogged over western Loudoun to find the next logical place to build," Duszynski said. "We don't like to think of it as exporting sprawl, but it is clearly leapfrogging development."

Within two years, Loudoun's county board dropped the number of houses permitted there from about 187,000 to about 100,000. And although some question the commitment of the current board to the land-use reform, the western two-thirds of Loudoun remain off-limits to conventional subdivisions -- developers are generally limited to no more than one home per 10 acres.

It wasn't just about preserving the county's rural character, though that got lots of attention.

The leader of Loudoun's reformers, Scott K. York, then a Republican, talked less about the environmental effects of sprawl than its fiscal ones. A fiscal impact analysis done in preparation for new growth rules showed that the county could save $103 million annually by 2020 by slowing residential growth.

Cutting the number of homes reduced demand for schools and other services, which can drain government coffers. Instead, York wanted businesses to come to Loudoun because they typically generate more in taxes than they consume in services. He said he wanted "boardrooms, not bedrooms."

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