Planning commissioners have unanimously approved a letter to the Board of Supervisors condemning One Loudoun’s decision to switch up its application after the commission voted on it.
One Loudoun’s developer, Miller & Smith, has applied 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.
Under current zoning, One Loudoun could not build closer than 300 feet from Rt. 7.. It applied to build within 100 feet. The commission voted 6-2-1 to recommend approval of the application with a modified 245-foot setback, but when the application came to supervisors, it had only a 200-foot setback.
The letter, penned by Planning Commission Chairman Jeff Salmon (Dulles), calls that “of serious concern on several levels,” and says “the applicant’s agreement to a 245-foot setback caused at least two Planning Commissioners to change their ‘no’ vote to a ‘yes’ vote; thereby changing the outcome of the recommendation going to the Board of Supervisors.”
“First, this applicant appears to have immediately discounted the Planning Commission vote,” Salmon wrote. “Secondly, the Board action without consideration of the Commission recommendation tells other applicants that the vote of the Planning Commission is not relevant to a final decision and they have free reign to change their application after the Commission review.”
The letter also suggests that applications which change substantially between the Planning Commission’s vote and the Board of Supervisors be sent back to the commission for further review.
Miller & Smith Vice President Bill May acknowledged at the Board of Supervisors 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.”
Commission Vice Chairman Cliff Keirce (Broad Run) pointed out that the change was made on the recommendation of Supervisor Ron A. Meyer Jr. (R-Broad Run), whose district includes One Loudoun.
“The applicant didn’t just discount the Planning Commission and decided to change it,” Keirce said. Salmon argued that the applicant had.
“The Planning Commission agreed to a number, and the applicant changed the number after they left,” Salmon said. “Regardless of who told them, the applicant had the option to not change it, and they still changed it.”
“There’s no question that there could have been better communication between the commission, the applicant, staff, and the board, and I’ll take part of the responsibility for that,” Meyer said. “But there’s also no doubt that applications change when they make it to the board, as do the Board of Supervisors’ preferences with the application.”
He pointed out that the application at Lexington 7, which the board recently approved, also included a reduction to a 200-foot setback, although the Planning Commission had recommended an even smaller setback.
“The Planning Commission has a big role to play, and we shouldn’t be discounting their view, but like I said, I think this is mostly a communication error,” Meyer said.
As to the request that applications go back to the commission if they’re changed after the vote, Meyer said, “I think we’re going to have to talk some more about that with the Planning Commission, because then they’d need to have Lexington 7 sent back to them. They’d have to have a whole plethora of applications sent back to them, if that’s the standard they wanted to use. I’m not necessarily opposed to it, but it’s going to be a big change in policy.”
Loudoun Now has reached out to Miller & Smith’s representative in the application, Cooley LLP, for comment.