The county Planning Commission last week recommended approval of an application to increase the residential development allowed at One Loudoun and to make other tweaks to the community’s concept plan.
Miller & Smith is seeking to rezone 4.66 acres of its large Ashburn mixed-use community from office space to residential for single-family attached units; rezone seven more acres to industrial to permit an 126,000-square-foot self-storage mini-warehouse and 25,000 square feet of commercial development; and develop an additional 685 multifamily residential units and 40 townhouses. The application also removes a full-service hotel from One Loudoun’s concept development plan and would permit residential units with 100 feet of a proposed sports stadium. County planners oppose the application for a variety of reasons, including the design of the warehouse, the possible exemption of $18 million in capital facilities impact, the removal of some open space, and the reduction in setbacks.
Much of the debate, which continued past midnight last Tuesday, has centered on a few issued, including a plan to build a large sportsplex that would be operated by the county government and the request to reduce building setbacks.
Under the current proposal, county leaders can decide later whether they want the sportsplex, which tourism leaders say will provide an economic development boost. When One Loudoun has reached a certain number of housing units, the county will inform the developer whether it prefers the 80,000-square-foot indoor recreation center or $18.5 million in cash. If the county opts for the sportsplex, it will also sign away a requirement for additional civic spaces around One Loudoun.
That agreement still has some skeptics.
“It’s like getting a free elephant,” said Commissioner Ad Barnes (Leesburg). “They say, ‘here, we’re going to give you this elephant, you can have it,’ and then the fun begins after you bring it home.”
But the main point of contention for the commission was whether allowing One Loudoun additional exemptions to the 300-foot building setback from Rt. 7. That setback prohibits buildings, but allows other uses such as parking or walking trails. The developer has previously won permission to build ten feet into that space.
Miller & Smith asked for permission to reduce that setback to 200 feet on a 300-foot-wide swath of its land. County planners have opposed that request as not fitting into the county’s current comprehensive plan, which is under review.
“I think staff and generally the county accepts that the vision of this corridor has changed, and is likely to change with the new comprehensive plan,” said Department of Planning and Zoning project manager Marchant Schneider. “What we’re looking at … is what do we want the rest of the corridor to look like. We’re kind of setting the tone, de facto.” Schneider recommended the commission take “a more holistic.”
The commission has previously recommended approval similar setbacks nearby on Rt. 7, including 200 feet at Lexington 7 in May. However, over the course of commission’s debate, the setback for One Loudoun’s application was haggled to 245 feet.
Miller & Smith Vice President Bill May has said the reduced setback is necessary for “a very high-end entertainment” use.
“This is a very high end user that has, for years, been located on Rt. 7 frontage in Fairfax County,” May said. “We’re trying desperately, we have them under contract, to bring them here to One Loudoun and to Loudoun County to enhance the quality of life of our residents, and to enhance the tax rolls of the county.”
A representative for Miller & Smith has declined to give additional details on the proposed business.
Some commissioners worried that the reduced setback would get in front of the ongoing comprehensive plan review and change the look of the entire Rt. 7 corridor.
“You’re not trying to change the character of the entire corridor, just 300 feet worth, but that 300 feet is huge, because it chances the character of the entire corridor,” said Chairman Jeff Salmon (Dulles).
Others pointed out the applications that have already been recommended by the planning commission, and warned the setback rule could squeeze out One Loudoun’s prospective “high-end entertainment.”
“These are very real issues, and they evaporate like fog in the morning,” said Commissioner Jim Sisley (At-Large). “So we can continue to sit here and talk about this, but the prospect for the applicant won’t. They will go to another jurisdiction, and we will miss the opportunity to capture the tax revenues associated with it, and bemoan the loss.”
“I think this is a classical case of cutting your nose off to spite your face,” said Commissioner Kathy Blackburn (Algonkian), criticizing other commissioners for “stick[ing] to the rule, even if it doesn’t make any sense.”
Blackburn also objected the protracted negotiating over the precise setback.
“To keep badgering the applicant to go down by five foot increments is, to be perfectly honest, embarrassing,” Blackburn said.
Ultimately, the Planning Commission voted 6-2-1 to recommend approval of the rezoning package, including the 245-foot highway setbacks. Commissioners Eugene Scheel (Catoctin) and Ad Barnes (Leesburg) voted against the application; Commissioner Dan Lloyd (Sterling) was absent.