Loudoun planning commissioners and speakers at the panel’s public hearing on the county’s Silver Line plans have again raised the possibility of taking a second look at the noise protections prohibiting homes around Dulles Airport.
Supervisors voted in November to reaffirm the county’s longstanding policy discouraging homes near Dulles Airport. In that vote, the full board reversed a recommendation by its Transportation and Land Use Committee that would have allowed some mixed-use development near the Loudoun Gateway station, just north of Dulles Airport and under the flightpath of its north-south runways.
Now, the 1993 noise level contours used in county planning have again come under attack.
“Loudoun Gateway station could be your real game-changer,” said Patricia Nicoson, longtime planner and former president of the Dulles Corridor Rail Association, one of the organizations that pushed for Metro to come into Loudoun County. “There’s 300 acres of pretty much empty land, and it’s right near the Broad Run floodplain, a potentially great park.”
Nicoson said those 300 acres could be a “wow factor” for the county, and that the county’s easternmost Metro station is the “most valuable player in terms of revenue generation for the county in the future.” The 1993 study, she said, is out of date, repeating a common argument in favor of a more recent 2005 study of a different type.
Other speakers representing business interests, including DuPont Fabros, West Dulles Properties, and NAIOP, the Commercial Real Estate Development Association, also spoke in favor of allowing homes near the airport. DuPont Fabros and West Dulles Properties both own large tracts in the Silver Line planning area near the airport.
Ross Stevens, of Kimley-Horn Associates, spoke representing NAIOP, encouraging mixed-use development near Loudoun Gateway station and “flexibility” in implementing the county’s Silver Line plans. Kimley-Horn is also on the consultant team that is working on the county’s comprehensive plan revision, which is running in parallel to its Silver Line comprehensive plan amendment.
Cooley LLP attorney Amanda Williams, speaking for DuPont Fabros, said the county has a relatively small amount of land to work with in the metro tax district, including her client’s 115 acres. She argued the company should be allowed to build mixed-use developments on its property. Without that, she said, those 115 acres will continue to lie vacant.
Others, however, defended the longstanding county policy.
“We understand maximizing the economic potential of all metro rail investments,” said Brian Fauls, Loudoun County Chamber of Commerce government affairs manager. “However, [doing so] in a way that does not detract from Loudoun’s existing economic assets, such as Dulles Airport, is essential.”
Commissioners Ad Barnes (Leesburg) and Eugene Scheel (Catoctin) argued that the noise study must be updated.
“I have grave concerns for what we’re seeing for the development patterns around Loudoun Gateway,” agreed Commissioner Cliff Keirce (Broad Run). “It looks like a flex-industrial park-and-ride lot.”
Chairman Jeff Salmon (Dulles) said there is “no appetite” to stop the county’s Silver Line planning while a new noise study is conducted.
“Otherwise, we’re sitting here for 18 months, which seems like an awful long time when the Metro will be here by that time,” Salmon said. Instead, he suggested the commission may recommend a new noise study be conducted alongside the county’s work.
Out of Date?
Dulles Airport representatives and some supervisors have battled back attempts to allow residential construction near the airport many times before.
“I don’t think it’s well understood what the nature of that 1993 study is, versus the environmental impact statements that have been done more recently,” said Supervisor Matthew F. Letourneau (R-Dulles) during supervisors’ recent debate. His district includes the airport and Loudoun Gateway station. “The 1993 study was at full buildout of the airport, which includes another runway and 40 to 50 million passengers a year, of which we’re at 50 percent of that capacity right now. I guess the question to them is, do they really think that the full buildout potential of Dulles Airport has changed from 1993 until now, and if so, what has changed?”
He also argued that the county may already have enough mixed-use development planned, and that it could begin competing against itself and spread the market for that high-value development too thin.
Airport officials have also argued in the past that Dulles should learn the lessons from its sister airport, Reagan National Airport.
“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,” said outgoing Dulles Airport Manager Chris Browne during supervisors’ debate. 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, along with the airport’s ability to market itself as allowing unrestricted, 24-hour operations.
And even supervisors who voted to allow residential closer to the airport—such as Transportation and Land Use Committee Chairwoman Suzanne M. Volpe (R-Algonkian)—say it’s too late for a new noise study.
“If we were, as a county, to want to initiate another study, it would cost at least $1 million, and it would take two years,” Volpe said. “Do we want to hold up this entire process of the Silver Line Comprehensive Plan Amendment, that we’ve been working on for several years now, to wait for a study?”
The Planning Commission on Tuesday deferred a recommendation on the Silver Line until after another work session.