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Washington's Road to Outward Growth

Ideally, the vast reserve Loudoun planners created with the home-building restrictions would have blocked the surge of sprawl outward from Washington, acting as a kind of firebreak in metropolitan building trends.

Some environmentalists who lobbied for Loudoun's home-building restrictions say that, as they anticipated, the restrictions have helped redirect growth toward Washington and its inner suburbs.

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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"A lot of people looking for homes have pushed inward toward the city," said Stewart Schwartz, director of the Coalition for Smarter Growth. "You can see it in the house prices. They're bidding up prices in order to live in closer."

What the plan couldn't contain, however, were home buyers willing to spend time in cars for new homes in a pleasant neighborhood at a low price. They are skipping over Loudoun's rural area to Huntfield and other West Virginia locations.

West Virginia has long been an outpost of Washington suburbia, but Jefferson County's planner, Raco, has seen a marked rise in development roughly coinciding with the housing limits in Loudoun.

Many of Huntfield's residents have moved from Loudoun, where they had been renting or living in a townhouse. Several drew a connection between Loudoun's home-building restrictions and their arrival in Huntfield.

Echoing economists who have studied the issue, Morrison attributed the relatively high home prices in Loudoun, where he had been renting a home, to that county's home-building limits. "Had they not done the slow-growth initiative, houses would have been more affordable because there would have been more of them," he said. "With the prices out here, it was a no-brainer for us. That's the whole reason you'll find people are moving here."

Other Huntfield residents were slightly more sympathetic to Loudoun's restrictive zoning.

"I understand -- they want to keep that country living in Loudoun," said Sharon Renehan, a teacher in Loudoun, who with her husband, also a Loudoun teacher, recently sold their Loudoun townhouse for a new detached home in Huntfield.

The Renehans have one child and moved because they wanted space for more. "I'd like to live in Loudoun County," she said. "If things were more affordable, we'd still be there."

Marino similarly rejects the idea that Huntfield is an ideal.

"I do like the fact of being able to touch nature, of being able to have a metro connection and live in a more pastoral setting," he said. "But I've been enjoying the pastoral setting because I've been put out to pasture by the housing market. And the way it is, I think there's going to be a lot more horses like me heading west."

Given the success of places such as Huntfield at attracting buyers, some planners wonder whether the Washington region might be stretched even farther if, as projected, economic growth in the region continues and home-building restrictions limit the supply of home lots.

The growing comfort of car travel, some say, puts more distant locations around Washington within commuting reach.

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