There’s growing concern that tract homes, fast food restaurants and grocery stores will soon take up more and more of a swath of land meant to be a buffer between Loudoun’s suburban developments and its rural west.
A group of about 40 people gathered at The Willowsford Grange on Thursday to talk about potential developments considered for the county’s Transition Policy Area, 22,813 acres designated as part of the Comprehensive Plan for low density development designed to provide a gradual shift from dense neighborhoods to open space. The meeting was designed by activist group Transition Area Alliance.
“It is very encouraging to see a new crowd of people willing to take a stand to try to preserve what is left of what used to be a beautiful county,” said Jim Burton, who was a vocal opponent of development when he served on the county Board of Supervisors from 1995 to 2011.
He said there’s a concern that current supervisors will green light more housing—beyond the 30,000 units that can be built under current zoning—and with it bring large shopping centers, more traffic and overcrowded schools.
Burton urged those gathered to be tenacious in making their opposition to new suburban-type development, especially in the transition area, known to supervisors. “I encourage you to raise hell. I’m sorry for the language but that’s what you need to do,” he said. “Keep the pressure on them, because if you don’t, the next thing you know the decision will be made to turn the transition area into another suburban area.”
Don Goff, also a part of the alliance, asked those in the room why they moved to Loudoun. “The open space,” one man answered. “We were refugees from Fairfax County,” a woman said. “Loudoun was unspoiled, uncrowded.”
“I’m not saying no building, but let’s do it reasonably and rationally,” Goff added.
Among their concerns is that the Board of Supervisors may adopt recommendations to allow almost three dozen new uses that can be developed in designated “open space.” The uses that may be approved by right are vague, Goff said, and range from an indoor recreation center with 400 parking spaces to a farm winery. “So they can just open up all the open space to all these uses,” he added.
A development that has the group’s immediate concern is called Kirkpatrick West Commercial Center, which calls for a 78,000 square foot Harris Teeter—almost double the size of the grocer’s typical store—a gas station and three drive-through restaurants near the intersection of Braddock Road and Northstar Boulevard. The bulk of the project has been approved, but the developer is requesting to amend the concept plan to increase the commercial center from 105,100 square feet to 129,167 square feet and allow for drive-through restaurants.
Giovanni Cortalo, a founding member of an activist group opposing the project, Saving Braddock Road Task Force, said he visited a Harris Teeter of a similar size in Pinehurst, NC, and said, “It is beautiful. It saddens me that I have to fight against it. There are a lot of communities who would kill for this. But this is not the right location for it. … It should be in the middle of a suburban area.”
He said the shopping center is not meant to serve just nearby neighborhoods, but it will be a destination center, similar to Wegmans in Leesburg. “The roads can’t handle it,” he added.
Rae Carson, who’s lived on Braddock Road near Rt. 15 for the past 28 years, said she understands change is inevitable but she wants to see the transition area be a mix of development and open space.
“This zone is meant to be a buffer between developed suburbia and the rural portion of the county,” she said. “It needs to have characteristics of both, but we’re tipping too far beyond what we have the infrastructure for.”
The Kirkpatrick West development could be up for a Board of Supervisors’ public hearing as soon as June 15. Those who gathered agreed to make their opposition known to that project, and others like it, do not belong in the transition area. “This is just one living example of how one small development has made our lives hell,” Cortalo said. “In itself it’s a nice project, it’s just the wrong location.”