The Loudoun County Planning Commission has recommended a new study of the high-noise zone around Dulles International Airport, bucking the recommendations of airport officials and raising the possibility of allowing residential development in areas of the county where it was previously prohibited.
In a letter calling for the new study, Commissioner Eugene Scheel (Catoctin) said the study should be undertaken by a firm with no financial stake in the area around Metro’s planned Silver Line stations in Loudoun or in county magisterial districts abutting the airport. He wrote that the study should in no way “hinder or delay” ongoing planning work around Loudoun’s future Metro stops, and that for now the county should work with the data it has.
That data comes from a 1993 Federal Aviation Administration study that set out the noise contours the county would later codify in its planning, generally forbidding housing within a certain loudness contour; and from a 2005 environmental impact survey of noise around the airport. The county’s planning and zoning rules generally forbid residential development within the 65-decibel loudness day-night, or 65 LDN, contour around the airport. That contour predicts average noise levels around the airport based on numbers and types of aircraft, with a multiplier for nighttime flights.
In wrapping up its work on the county’s Silver Line-area comprehensive plan amendment, the commission listed a new noise study as high priority, to be completed within one or two years.
“I really think that should be one of the first things they should do,” Commissioner Cliff Keirce (Broad Run) said.
Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority representatives have discouraged the county from changing the noise contours in its planning documents. Some real estate interests and people with a stake in development around Loudoun’s future Metro stations have argued that those boundaries are based on out-of-date assumptions about air traffic and place unnecessary restrictions on development around Dulles Airport.
Commissioners have also debated allowing more residential development near the county’s eastern Metro stop at the intersection of the Dulles Greenway and Old Ox Road, known as the Loudoun Gateway Station. So far, the county is planning for mixed-use residential development around the Ashburn Station further west near the intersection of the Greenway, Mooreview Parkway, and Ashburn Village Boulevard, and primarily commercial development around Loudoun Gateway, at the northern edge of Dulles Airport. A third Metro stop in Loudoun will be near the Dulles Airport terminal.
Some commissioners said the county is being too cautious around the airport, setting residential further back than adopted noise contours call for.
“I guess they’re [the airport] looking out for their own interests, but I really think the county needs to look out for its best interests,” Keirce said. “And if you’ve read the papers recently, they’ve just announced projects that they’re going to try to build to compete with Loudoun County on property, so the airport, I guess, wants to have their cake and eat it too.”
MWAA recently announced that it would be moving ahead with plans to open up more than 500 acres of airport property at Dulles to development.
Commissioner Fred Jennings (Ashburn) said he agrees that the county should keep residential outside the airport’s delineated high-noise contours, but not further away than that.
“We really can’t afford, in my view, to park more land in non-residential mode than is absolutely necessary,” Jennings said. “The other element to keep in mind is, while the 606/Loudoun Gateway Station is there, with all due deference to [MWAA], their expansion plans to me have a little bit of suspicion.”
Commission Chairman Jeff Salmon (Dulles), however, said changing those plans right now is not necessary. He argued that county projections show the tax district set up to pay for the county’s financial obligation to Metro will already work without adding more residential into the mix.
“Why get even closer to the 65 LDN if you don’t have to?” Salmon said. “And I think at this point, based on the numbers, I don’t think we have to. That being said, if in 10 years, 15 years, when we find out that for some reason that numbers aren’t working out—or probably more realistically the financial requirements to pay for the Metro’s operating costs are going to go higher—then it’s a great opportunity to look at the Loudoun Gateway Station again.”
The commission has now wrapped up months of work on the county’s Silver Line-area comprehensive plan amendment. The Board of Supervisors will pick up the work with the commission’s recommendations.
The comprehensive plan amendment is running in parallel to Envision Loudoun, the county’s ongoing effort to revise its overall comprehensive plan.