Loudoun’s Department of Planning and Zoning unveiled its ideas for what the future will look like around the Ashburn and Loudoun Gateway Metro station during a public meeting at Moorefield Station Elementary School last week.
Those ideas are ambitious. According to that vision, the Ashburn Station at the end of the Silver Line extension will eventually be surrounded by 10- to 15-story mixed-use condominiums, apartments and businesses for a quarter mile in every direction, characterized by multimodal transportation and pedestrian-friendly, urban spaces. Beyond that will be more multistory homes and businesses, single-family homes, and park land.
That walkable area means wider sidewalks, street furniture like benches and trashcans, greenery, lighting, and public spaces.
The Loudoun Gateway Station, being on Dulles Airport property and inside the county’s airport noise overlay, is surrounded by walkable commercial uses, possibly including sports stadiums, shopping malls, restaurants, and office buildings, as well as parks.
Those plans also more than triple the county’s forecasts for residential units in the area. Without the Silver Line comprehensive plan amendment, as it’s known, the county predicts 7,142 new residential units by 2040 under the county’s existing comprehensive plan. With the Silver Line plans, the county predicts 22,419. It also adds half again as many new jobs, from 18,760 to 28,272.
And people at the June 29 meeting had ideas about the future of the rail corridor.
“We can’t just passively assume that people are not going to use their cars,” said Mike Turner, who serves as the at-large appointee to the comprehensive plan stakeholder steering committee, which is working in parallel to the Silver Line amendments to update the county’s plan. “We’re tapping into a culture here that’s used to getting into a car. We don’t want to facilitate that—in fact, we want to aggressively not facilitate that.”
The new, urban environment and its thousands of new Loudouners will also require a new, urban kind of school.
“We need to discuss urban school designs,” said Senior Planner Richard Klusek at the meeting. “Just as the development is getting that more urban feel, so too would the schools.”
Other Loudouners gathered in groups with county staffers to give their reactions. Those reactions have now been compiled and will be presented to the Board of Supervisors Transportation and Land Use Committee.
Watch For Low Flying Aircraft
One area of concern: An area planned for four- to six-story apartment buildings in line with one of the airport’s runways. It’s right outside airport property, where jets taking off and landing are only a few hundred feet above the ground. Director of Planning and Zoning Ricky Barker said those apartments are outside the county’s 65-decibel LDN (loudness day/night) overlay, the loudest areas around the airport.
“From our perspective, the areas that are in the 60 LDN [loudness day/night level, a measure of possible air traffic noise in decibels] are acceptable for residential development.”
The county’s zoning ordinance prohibits residential developments inside the 65 LDN overlay.
“We’re most definitely not proposing any within the 65 LDN, and that’s very important to maintain,” Barker said.
Christopher Paolino, a spokesman for the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, said MWAA is still reviewing the plans and is working closely with the county staff.
“The Airports Authority has long supported Loudoun County’s zoning policies prohibiting residential development of any kind in high noise areas along Dulles International Airport flight paths, due to the negative impact on residents and potential effect on future growth of the airport,” Paolino wrote in an emailed statement.
Dulles Airport has long pointed to the cautionary tale of Reagan National Airport, where complaints from residences crowded around the airport have resulted in restrictions on flight paths and air traffic.
Data Centers Next Door
Others were concerned about parts of the plan that would allow for data centers in the area, especially as the areas develop in the interim years between now and full build-out.
“The data center overlay recognizes areas where data centers are located, and provides policies to mitigate their impacts on the surrounding development,” Klusek said. “It also identifies areas where new data centers can be built, and again, provides policies to ensure they’re developed contextually and not be detrimental to that urban, mixed-use environment.”
Although county staff said those data centers will face more stringent new restrictions on noise and appearance, residents were skeptical.
“I object to your comment about them being visually appealing,” said one Loudouner at the meeting. “They’re right in the middle of Ashburn, and it looks like we’re basically in a city of data centers.”
“I think it’s correct to say that a lot of data centers in the county now are not visually appealing,” Klusek said. “And that’s why there need to be policies in place.”
In the latest draft of the plan, data centers will be allowed along the north side of the Dulles Greenway, including into some of the residential areas around Ashburn Station.
County planners will now present their plans and public feedback to the Transportation and Land Use Committee Friday, July 15.
“People have a vision for the property, and that’s part of our whole process,” Barker said. His staff will work the public’s feedback into the Silver Line plan.
“It was a substantive thing, and so what we’re going to do is take into account all that information and look and see, from our perspective, if any changes have to be made,” he said.
Currently, Barker said, staff plans to have another public workshop in August. The planning commission will then have a chance to provide feedback, and staff plans to come before the Board of Supervisors with final recommendations in December.