Loudoun Supervisors and county planners expressed strong reservations about One Loudoun’s application to rearrange parts of its property to accommodate more residential units and build an indoor sportsplex during a public hearing Wednesday night.
The developer, Miller & Smith, has faced a long fight to see it plans through to this point. The developer proposes to rezone less than 5 acres from office park to residential and revise its concept plan to permit an additional 725 residential units, build a self-storage mini-warehouse, build closer to Rt. 7, and offer an indoor recreation center instead of $16.3 million in cash proffers. The Planning Commission recommended approval of One Loudoun’s proposal in a divided vote after long deliberation—and after increasing the Rt. 7 setback in the application.
Now, almost every major part of One Loudoun’s plan has drawn skepticism from supervisors.
Many supervisors wondered whether the sportsplex, which Miller & Smith has offered to make an option for the county to decide later, would impose a big unanticipated cost on the county government going forward.
“If we knew it was going to be a moneymaker for the county, I think you guys would want to retain it and run it as a moneymaking operation for you,” said Supervisor Kristen C. Umstattd (D-Leesburg). “So I’ve got to assume that it’s not going to be, in and of itself, a big moneymaker for the county.”
The developer has argued in the past that the real value of the sportsplex would be in the tourism money it brings into the county. Cooley LLP attorney Colleen Gillis said Miller & Smith simply isn’t in the business of running recreation centers, and other businesses would be better suited to run it.
“It’s not because it’s not a moneymaker, it’s because there’s a lot of ways you can make money, but there’s one we do,” Gillis said.
“How would you go about getting us a certification of the valuation of the facility?” asked Supervisor Ralph M. Buona (R-Ashburn). “I mean, if that facility’s going to cost you $7 million to build, and we’re talking a $16 million number, the county’s just left $9 million on the table.”
He joined other leaders who have asked for more information on the fiscal impact and business plan for the sportsplex.
“The facility’s a nonstarter for my vote until I have at least a good portion of those details, because I can’t just bet,” Buona said.
The application to the Board of Supervisors also does not have 245-foot Rt. 7 setback dictated in the Planning Commission’s recommendation. Miller & Smith Vice President Bill May acknowledged that the developer agreed to the 245-foot setback at the Planning Commission “with the proviso that we needed to actually go back and do the engineering to see if it could work.” The developer now says it does need the smaller 200-foot setback to accommodate its plans. The developer has said it wants to bring a “high-end, high-quality” entertainment business to that space from Fairfax, but has declined to say what that business would be.
“I am a little concerned that the Planning Commission had what they thought was an agreement with the applicant on a setback, and now that is not what’s in front of us,” said Supervisor Matthew F. Letourneau (R-Dulles). “… I don’t think that the recommendation that the Planning Commission makes is valid at this point. That vote means nothing, because they were voting on something which is not what’s in front of us.”
County planners have also warned the board against piecemeal zoning modifications and chipping away at the building setbacks along the highway, although the county’s previous vision of Rt. 7 developing as an office park corridor now seems unlikely with a market shift away from office parks.
“If the consensus is that we’re moving away from this 300 foot setback, let’s come up with a consistent standard to administer,” said Department of Planning and Zoning project manager Marchant Schneider.
The Department of Planning and Zoning also continues to oppose the outward appearance of the mini-warehouse, which would have more metal and less masonry than the department has recommended.
The application was sent to the board’s Transportation and Land Use Committee for review on Oct. 17.
County Chairwoman Phyllis J. Randall (D-At Large) offered a warning for the developer going forward.
“I’ll be straightforward with you if you’re straightforward with me,” Randall said. “When I came to visit you all, much of the stuff that we’re talking about today was not presented to me when we talked, Mr. May… I will always play straight with you all, but you gotta know you gotta play straight with me, and for anyone that doesn’t, that’s a good way to get your application denied.”