The county board has called for a new noise study at Dulles Airport, reversing longstanding staunch opposition among some supervisors to that idea.
The county, as a general practice, does not permit residential development within certain noise contours around the airport, to prevent conflict between airport businesses and homes. Those contours have come under attack as the county revises its comprehensive plan around Loudoun’s three future Metro stops, two of which are on airport property. Some developers in the area say they should be free to build residential and mixed-use developments closer to the airport, particular around a future Metro stop at the intersection of the Dulles Greenway and Old Ox Road at the northern end of airport property.
One of the existing noise contour’s most ardent defenders, Supervisor Matthew F. Letourneau (R-Dulles), made the motion to look into a new noise study. Letourneau acknowledged he is “pretty much the last person up here who you would have thought would have made this particular motion.”
“Politics is the art of compromise, and I have heard legitimate concerns from my colleagues that there is genuine confusion about where we should and shouldn’t build,” he said.
Other supervisors agreed. Supervisor Ron A. Meyer Jr. (R-Broad Run) reiterated a common criticism of the current noise study: the current noise contours predicted a runway that ended up built in a different place. He also said airport noise may simply be part of life in Loudoun’s Metro area.
“What we know is that departures from the most western runway, if and when they actually happen, will likely be very, very close to the [Rt.] 772 station,” Meyer said. “So the question is, is airport noise part of the Metro area?”
Supervisors supported the new study unanimously, but board Vice Chairman Ralph M. Buona (R-Ashburn), who said “you probably think I’m the other guy up here that would never support this,” sounded a word of caution.
“Whatever we model can’t be actual runways that exist today,” Buona said. “You’ve got to model the airport at full buildout. That’s five runways, that’s 55 million passengers, that’s 750,000 operations a year, that’s cargo flying at night.”
Michael Cooper, Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority state and local government affairs manager, said Dulles Airport is “very happy to engage with the county on a discussion of how to help the county move forward with the board’s request, and we are willing and will cooperate.”
“We want to cooperate and we want to help the county in any way we can,” Cooper said. He said it’s too soon to know exactly what form that cooperation will take.
Supervisors also voted to fold their comprehensive plan work around Loudoun’s future Silver Line Metro stations into the ongoing Envision Loudoun overhaul of the county comprehensive plan. The county officially began its Silver Line comprehensive plan amendment in March of 2016. The board endorsed a road map for revising the entire county comprehensive plan the next month, launching Envision Loudoun but reserving the Silver Line area for its separate process.
Letourneau said in doing so, the board might have taken a small area with more impact on the county than the rest of the comprehensive plan put together off the table. He also worried the county was getting into debating specific parcels of land rather than high-level policy, and that the public had had comparatively little information or input.
Some of the planning around the Silver Line has been debated in terms of hundreds of feet, and large landowners have lobbied the board to change the zoning on their property. One of them, Zebra Holdings LLC, drew Letourneau’s ire with what he saw as a misleading study from George Washington University and put the university on the defensive.
Supervisors supported that idea nearly unanimously, with only Supervisor Suzanne M. Volpe (R-Algonkian) opposed.
“I will just state to my colleagues that I’m concerned that we had told multiple landowners, please wait and let us do the Silver Line [comprehensive plan amendment], and many of them have been waiting,” Volpe said. “And in reality, when we merge this with the Envision Loudoun process, we are probably delaying this another year.”
But Meyer encouraged landowners to bring their zoning applications forward: “Bring that zoning application; don’t let this delay your process.”