The National Conference Center is asking the county for permission to build 126 townhouses on its property, drawing resistance from residents nearby.
The National is hemmed in by Lansdowne homes and Riverside High School, which stands on 46 acres the conference center’s previous owners sold to the county for $20 million, part of the cost that made Riverside the most expensive school yet built in the county. Now, The National’s owners want to build townhouses near Charlena Beth Drive on school property and Kipheart Drive; and off one of the center’s winding loop roads, near the end of Coton Farm Court to the south.
During a Nov. 22 Planning Commission public hearing, Cooley LLP partner Colleen Gillis, representing The National’s owner, said the center’s plans are less intensive than what is allowed under current zoning, and better fit with the county’s comprehensive plan.
“We’re trying to be very sensitive to the needs of the community around us, and we think this is the best solution, given what the comprehensive plan calls for,” Gillis said.
The National’s land is one of only two “planned development–special activity” zoning districts in the county, the other being at One Loudoun. It permits a range of large uses, such as airports, universities, hospitals, and sports stadiums, and accommodates uses which “by their nature require sizable land area, often operating and designed in a campus like atmosphere, and which may require functional separation from normal residential, commercial, or industrial development,” according to the Revised 1993 Loudoun County Zoning Ordinance.
The owner would like to rezone much of The National’s 67 acres to office park, with the remaining 28 acres converting to allow residential. Despite the office park rezoning, the owners are not currently proposing any additional development to the conference center aside from parking.
Kevin DeTurris, president of the Lansdowne on the Potomac Homeowner’s Association, said The National’s plans have been a major point at the HOA’s meetings for most of a year, and that the majority of responses have been in opposition. Homeowners around the property have worried about the proposed townhomes’ impact on schools and roads.
“This project is being shoehorned in and is at a density level that is inconsistent with the neighborhood,” DeTurris said. He also said there is “absolutely no appetite” on the HOA board to accept the new townhomes into the Lansdowne HOA. The application proposes rezoning “to more seamlessly blend NCC into the Lansdowne neighborhood.”
“Think back to when you were learning to drive, when you were driving to high school, did you pay as much attention then as you did today?” Linda Glen asked during the commission’s hearing. “These are the roads our kids are driving on. This is our neighborhood.”
“My concern is also the traffic,” said Margaret Kernos, citing the recent death of an infant at a crosswalk in Lansdowne.
“My younger kids will eventually walk to the elementary school,” David Valdez said. “There are not traffic signals there at all. … It’s becoming dangerous already without the addition of more homes, and it will just continue getting more dangerous.”
In 2011, many residents whose homes border The National’s campus voiced complaints to county leaders about an expected uptick in traffic when they approved the sale of 45 acres of the conference center property for Riverside High School.
To gain access from Charlena Beth Drive, which is on school property, The National will need permission from the School Board, which is expected to take up the request Dec. 13.
Skeptical planning commissioners voted to send the application to a future work session, with a specific date yet to be determined.
“With all due respect for the public comments, I have to agree with Colleen [Gillis],” Vice Chairwoman Kathy Blackburn (Algonkian) said. “A lot of the comments are the same comments we have in every one of our neighborhoods. We have distracted drivers, we have teen drivers, we have children walking to and from schools.”
But Ashburn District Planning Commissioner Fred Jennings said the applicant has “an uphill battle.”
“I just can’t see how we resolve these issues,” Jennings said. “I’d be willing to go to work session, but I don’t think there’s any solution to these. This is a difficult, problematic area, but I don’t think this is the best use of the land.”
Both the National Conference Center and Lansdowne on the Potomac are members of the Lansdowne Conservancy, the master association for all of Lansdowne. Other members include Lansdowne Woods of Virginia, Inova Loudoun Hospital, and Lansdowne Resort.
The National’s current owner, NCC PS Enterprises LLC, is a joint venture between a real estate investment management firm in California and New York, and a private equity firm based in Connecticut. That partnership bought The National in 2014 and started investing heavily to revitalize the flagging venue, which at that time relied heavily on government business and was suffering with a decrease in government business from sequestration, a slowdown in government meetings, and the 2013 government shutdown.