Broadlands Developer Eyes Mason Campus Land Swap

By Danielle Nadler and Renss Greene

There is a deal in the works to bring to fruition a long-promised George Mason University campus to Broadlands.

Thirty-seven acres between Demott Drive and the Dulles Greenway that were donated in 2009 by developer Van Metre Companies for a university campus has since sat vacant—in part, because the General Assembly has not earmarked money to build a campus.

But preliminary planning documents show that Van Metre Companies wants to cover the costs to build 200,000 square feet of George Mason classrooms and office space on a parcel to the south, along Mooreview Parkway next to the future Ashburn Metro Station. In exchange, the developer is asking for approval to build 200 apartments, parking garages and some retail on that same site. The developer would also build townhouses and multifamily homes on the property along Demott Drive.

“It would be a land swap,” said Supervisor Ron A. Meyer Jr. (R-Broad Run), who is helping with the negotiations between the county, developer and the university. “George Mason would give up their 40 acres in exchange for 5 acres and cash in the current application, but that application is not the final one.”

Negotiations are underway and details are scarce. When contacted, a planner working with Van Metre on the project said it was too early in the negotiation process to discuss the proposal. The new campus would be 10 times the square footage of George Mason’s current campus in Sterling.

A pre-application filed by Van Metre in December indicates that the development company has spoken with Loudoun County Public Schools about setting aside about 15 acres of the site for an elementary school. School leaders have said that land for a school in that area is desperately needed.

But the deal may not come easy.

It’s still unclear whether the land swap would be threatened by bills in the General Assembly that would limit the types of proffer agreements the county government can accept. The most recent bill has several hard-won exemptions for Loudoun, but does not allow university campuses. It would not apply retroactively, but the agreement between Van Metre, Broadlands Associates LLP, the county, and George Mason isn’t yet complete.

“This is more than an opportunity to get a university campus at the Ashburn Metro station using proffers,” Meyer said. “If the bill in Richmond isn’t amended to be able to allow for educational institutions, that won’t be able to happen. So this region will be deprived of a needed higher education institution.”

Meyer said developers are excited to bring higher education to their developments, and that university deals are a “win-win.”

“This is a model,” Meyer said. “This isn’t just a one-time deal, where developers can proffer a university campus so they aren’t just limited to traditional proffers. Developers are very excited about this, because having a university campus in your development creates a lot of foot traffic.”

Supervisors have been critical of limiting proffers, and both supervisors and county employees have been in Richmond fighting the bill.

“They’re taking this problem that’s very limited, and instead of targeting it, they’re using this broad net, and they could really have some serious damages that they aren’t thinking about,” Meyer said.