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.

One thought on “Broadlands Developer Eyes Mason Campus Land Swap

  • 2016-02-10 at 8:22 pm

    Ok, question for Supervisor Letourneau. You have suggested that the bill in Richmond is “egregiously bad”. But as I have suggested on Diane Ravitch’s blog, making these transactions transparent and standardized is an improvement. Just like derivatives being standardized and traded on the open market improves efficiency, getting rid of the back door deals could do the same for these rezonings. Take the current example in which Loudoun (or is it the state) has 40 acres for a GW campus. Could we not:

    1. Solicit bids for the sale of a portion of the 40 acres to a private developer at the conclusion of a mixed use rezoning

    2. Given that 1/16 acre townhouse lots typically go for $100K+, that should generate around $1.5M/acre sold. So sell 10 acres for $15M+.

    3. Loudoun (or the state) then uses that money to build a GW campus on the remaining land.

    By having a transparent bidding process, we ensure the county gets the maximum value of that land once it’s rezoned. There is no need to conduct a proffer, just an auction. That’s how Google and Facebook maximized the proceeds from their IPOs.

    We could use this model across the county. If we want to rezone property, have the county purchase the land, rezone it, and auction it off. Fully transparent. We raise the cash we need and get the full value. Hint, developers don’t own most of the county. They purchase parcels land from landowners with the hope that they can influence the BOS to rezone. Either the landowner or the developer is getting excess profits. If the county plays the middle man, it reaps all the excess profits and controls ALL rezonings. I would prefer to open up more land for rezonings to keep housing prices reasonable. Lower mortgages more than offset slightly higher real estate taxes. Not sure BOS will go that route but just my stance.

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