Loudoun supervisors have finished the first draft of their development plan around the county’s new Silver Line Metro stops, and their decision may come as a relief to Dulles Airport officials.
The board’s Silver Line Comprehensive Plan Amendment will guide the growth around the county’s new Silver Line stations. It sets the county on a path to have urban, walkable, mixed-use developments near the stations, like those seen at Reston Town Center and growing at One Loudoun and Loudoun Station. It also sets out more suburban commercial and residential development further out from the metro stops, all in a tax district meant to pay for Loudoun’s contributions to metro with the area’s growing tax base.
The county board’s Transportation and Land Use Committee, after hours of meetings, had recommended, on a divided vote, allowing mixed-use development within a mile of the Loudoun Gateway Metro station, opening the door to homes under airport flight paths. Supervisors reversed that decision during a special meeting Tuesday, voting 6-3 to zone those areas for walkable commercial development.
The area in question is east of Loudoun County Parkway and north of Shellhorn Road. It is outside the boundary of the county’s high noise zone where the county generally prohibits residential development, but in the path of airplanes taking off to the north and in line with the westernmost north-south runway at the airport.
Supervisor Ron A. Meyer Jr. (R-Broad Run) argued that the county would need to open that area to residential uses to attract enough development to make the county’s plans for Metro successful. It’s an argument developers have been making, too.
“The best chance of getting real businesses here on the vacant land, beyond what we’re doing already, is mixed-use development,” Meyer said. “Maximizing our opportunities for mixed-use development is the way the economic development community and the business community have been telling us to go.”
Supervisor Suzanne M. Volpe (R-Algonkian) also defended the committee’s recommendation, and cautioned the board. Volpe chairs the Transportation and Land Use Committee.
“I’m highly concerned about us trying to make changes to the map without having the fiscal analysis of those changes, some of which are sweeping,” Volpe said.
Airport officials have long argued that allowing residential development closer the airport would hurt the airport’s business, as noise complaints from surrounding residents could pressure the FAA to put more restrictions on when and where airplanes can fly around Dulles. Airport Manager Chris Browne said the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority has already learned that lesson at Reagan National Airport, which does face those restrictions.
“I think it’s ironic that our sister airport 25 miles down the road is living the consequences of people living under flight patterns today, seeking accommodations and relief, and I don’t think that this region wants to put ourselves in that position,” Browne said. He said Dulles is the product of “real visionary planning and investment made 50 years ago,” with room to grow. But the threat of restrictions on flights in and out of the airport could threaten that.
“It’s very important to us, when we talk with our international air carrier partners, to be able to go to them and say, ‘24/7 without restriction,’” Browne said. “Because I can tell you, that’s what the competition’s doing. I guarantee you that’s what JFK and Atlanta are saying.”
Supervisor Matthew F. Letourneau (R-Dulles), an ardent defender of the airport, agreed. He pointed out the largely undeveloped tract of land on the western part of airport property, which is targeted for commercial business, would likely make much greater use of the western north-south runway.
“The western land is the only such tract in the entire East Coast,” Letourneau said. “Nobody else has this type of development potential, so what I’m really trying to do here is protect that.”
Letourneau’s more aggressive plan, to push residential even further back from the airport south of the Dulles Greenway near State Street and Inova’s Ashburn Healthplex off Loudoun County Parkway, failed on a 3-6 vote.
Instead, supervisors supported a plan created by Supervisor Tony R. Buffington Jr. (R-Blue Ridge). Buffington said his plan protects the airport and future plans for its western lands and business.
Supervisors and the airport have gone back and forth over a number of different noise impact studies and projections, but County Chairwoman Phyllis J. Randall (D-At Large) put that aside in her decision. She said her votes—first to support Letourneau’s plan, then Buffington’s—came down to common sense.
“When I push everything else aside, and I push all the numbers and I just set those things aside I think, what makes common sense?” Randall said. “It doesn’t make common sense to me that I want 40 planes a day going over my head.”
Airports authority spokesman Rob Yingling said restricting residential development under Dulles flightpaths “is crucial to the airport’s ability to generate local jobs and revenue and maintain its contribution as a key driver of economic growth for Loudoun County.”
“Today’s decision by the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors is a positive step in an extensive land use planning process,” Yingling said in a statement after the vote, and said the airport will continue working closely with the county as its Silver Line plans move ahead.
The board’s Silver Line Comprehensive Plan Amendment will now go to the Planning Commission for a public hearing, before returning to the Board of Supervisors for another public hearing.