Pressure continues to mount on the Board of Supervisors to pursue a new airport noise study as the county gets ready to finalize its development plans around its new Metro stops.
Development interests skeptical of the county’s existing zoning which prohibits residential development near Dulles Airport have frequently pressed supervisors to conduct a new noise study. They say the two noise studies the county is using are out of date. Those studies, published in 1993 and 2005, have been used to plan out where to allow residential, commercial, and mixed-use development around the airport and three future Silver Line stations.
Because of concerns about airport noise, the county’s current plans allow no residential development near Loudoun Gateway Station along Rt. 606 at the northern tip of the airport. Residential development is permitted around the future Ashburn Station at the end of the Silver Line. County planners and airport representatives have argued that allowing homes near the airport’s flight paths would hurt both the residents’ quality of life and the airport’s ability to expand and market itself to airlines. Developers have clamored to allow residential development closer to the airport.
Some supervisors have warmed to the idea of a new study. Supervisor Ron A. Meyer Jr. (R-Broad Run) said he has heard wildly varying estimates of how much a new study would cost—anywhere from millions of dollars, down to $70,000.
“Let’s get something more firmly nailed down,” Meyer said. “Especially, let’s make sure we’re asking someone without vested interest in what we’re doing.”
Supervisor Tony R. Buffington Jr. (R-Blue Ridge) said his goal is to support the airport. “My problem is that the current studies are old,” he said.
Other supervisors, however, have staunchly opposed the pursuit of a new noise study from the outset. Supervisors Matthew F. Letourneau (R-Dulles) and Ralph M. Buona (R-Ashburn), in particular, have been critical of the idea. They have pointed out that to win any federal grants to conduct a new study, they would need cooperation from the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, which operates Dulles Airport. And that would not come without an operational change at the airport itself triggering a need.
They have pointed out, time and again, that the 1993 study was meant to predict full buildout and capacity at the airport.
And Department of Planning and Zoning Project Manager Chris Garcia said he would not recommend conducting noise study without the airport and the FAA’s cooperation.
“I think that cooperation of the airports authority and the FAA would be warranted, but it is an option the board can consider,” Garcia said.
Meanwhile, diverse interests in the county have weighed in.
“Dulles Airport will continue to grow, and we must protect it to allow it to reach its full potential,” said Loudoun County Chamber of Commerce Government Affairs Manager Eric Johnson. “The long-term economic benefit will be huge, and will far outweigh the benefit of one or two residential developments.”
Tony Calabrese, a real estate attorney and partner at law firm Cooley LLP, said the county has “an incredibly scarce resource” in the area around the future Metro stations, with only a few hundred acres left undeveloped in the area.
“It could be your golden goose,” agreed longtime planner and former president of the Dulles Corridor Rail Association Patti Nicoson. “It could generate substantial streams of revenue—it could have a convention center, museum, entertainment facilities—but all of these, as we’ve seen in the region, require mixed use to be successful.”
And the airport and its advocates have opposed a new study. Keith Meurlin, president of the Washington Airports Task Force, said a new study is not in the best interest of the county or its residents, pointing out the county’s Airport Noise Overlay District, where residential development is generally forbidden, is a forward-looking plan.
“This overlay district was based on noise study that looked at a full buildout of Dulles—five runways, 24/7 operations, and 750,000 aircraft operations per year,” Meurlin said. “That number has now increased well beyond the 750,000 if you project it out to the full buildout. The major reason for doing a noise study is to bring residential development closer to the airport. This would not be good for the airport, the county, or its citizens.”
Supervisors have scheduled a vote on their Metro plans for June 22.