County planners have been contemplating bringing Metro service to Loudoun since adding the idea into the Countywide Transportation Plan in 1996. In 2012, the Board of Supervisors financially committed to the project. And for the past two years, county leaders have been rewriting the comprehensive plan to accommodate urban-scale development around the three future Metro stops, at Dulles Airport and along the Dulles Greenway at Old Ox Road and between Loudoun County Parkway and Ashburn Village Boulevard.
But now, a proposal to build a massive 3,706-home development on 158 acres along the Greenway, straddling Loudoun County Parkway between the two future Metro stops, will likely force county leaders to make some concrete decisions.
The property’s owners have asked the county for permission to build nearly a quarter-million square feet of office space, 240,000 square feet of retail space, a site for an elementary school, a public park, 381 townhouses, and 3,325 multi-family units—some of them with designs the county hasn’t seen before.
With that many homes, the Silver District West is rivalled in scope only by communities like Brambleton or other planned developments like Waterside, with nearly 2,600 homes; or Moorefield station, which envisions 6,000. And like the latter two, it will be some of Loudoun’s most urban landscape yet.
Supervisors will be debating the proposal at the same time that county planners are working through the county’s comprehensive plan revisions, with some of the most intense focus and high-stakes decisions in that plan falling squarely around Loudoun’s future Metro stops.
That effort to rewrite the comprehensive plan, Envision Loudoun, has faced major schedule setbacks. The county now hopes to have that work wrapped up and submitted to the state for review by March 2019—which could mean the vote on the Silver District West rezoning will held before the county has finished updating its plan in the area.
County Chairwoman Phyllis J. Randall (D-At Large) said Envision Loudoun and the Silver District West application will be “an almost parallel process.”
“I know that Envision Loudoun has not looked at this application per se, but realize that if Metro’s going to be successful, we’re going to have to put development in the Metro tax district,” Randall said.
Many of the development’s features, she said, resemble tentative planning the county has done in Envision Loudoun to promote walkable, mixed-use settings in the areas closest to Metro stations.
“This is all a new conversation, but new doesn’t mean unexpected,” Randall said.
And many of the decisions supervisors will have to make will go beyond land planning and get into dollars and cents.
“It’s beyond the theoretical stage,” said Supervisor Geary M. Higgins (R-Catoctin), who chairs the board’s Transportation and Land Use Committee that will do much of the work on the Silver District West application. He said it’s one of the biggest applications the board has dealt with, and “any time you start talking about 3,000 homes in one lump sum, I think everybody sort of takes a step back to look at the impact that’s going to have on the county.”
For example, the applicants have offered a site for an elementary school and to pay fees to offset the impact of the new homes on county services. Those capital impact fees are calculated based on the county’s established formulas—but some supervisors say those formulas don’t account for urban-scale development.
The applicant is offering $58 million to $89 million in capital facilities contributions, an 8-acre school site, a 9-acre Broad Run Trail public park, to widen Loudoun County Parkway from Ryan Road to Shellhorn Road, and other cash and transportation work.
Board Vice Chairman Ralph M. Buona (R-Ashburn) chairs the county’s Fiscal Impact Committee, which lays out those formulas, and said he thinks the application is “grossly under-proffered.”
“We in the Fiscal Impact Committee have never dealt with this kind of housing type and these kind of small units, so I’m not sure we even have a standard for it,” Buona said. He and other supervisors have expressed concern about not only the cash contribution to the county, but the transportation infrastructure and other public services around the project.
And the spot being offered for a school is much smaller than what the county usually accepts for a school site. The developer has suggested an urban-style school to suit the rest of the development, but the school system has never built a school like that before—or figured out exactly how much it would cost, another number that will have to be worked out during this decision.
Buona said the Fiscal Impact Committee will probably not have time for the normal process to develop those new standards—a six-month job at least—before a vote on Silver District West.
“When it comes to things like schools and so forth, we’re going to have to come up with a method that’ll be partly old and partly new to figure out what the real school needs of these residential units will be,” Buona said.
“We are stepping into a new kind of era, where we are going to be developing an urban-like part of our county,” Randall said. “It’ll have an urban feel that’s new to us, urban schools are new to us, urban fire and rescue is new to us.”
Already the application has seen a petition with hundreds of signatures opposition. But both Randall and Higgins said any vote on the development is still a long way away—and the full buildout of the project is planned for at least 20 years beyond that.
And there will be a lot of negotiating between now and then. Supervisor Ron A. Meyer Jr. (R-Broad Run) has already floated the idea of getting the developer to take over building an important extension of Shellhorn Road, based on the county’s experience with developers getting other road projects done faster and cheaper than the county or state.
“Right now I can already hear and feel hair on fire that need not be on fire right now,” Randall said during the April 11 public hearing on the application. “We are a very long way from making a decision.”