A plan to build a gas station/convenience store complex on Rt. 15 near Loudoun’s northern boundary faced strident opposition during a public hearing Wednesday.
The gas station was originally proposed as one of the largest in Loudoun, surpassing anything else in the county’s rural areas. It was first proposed as a 5,600-square-foot convenience store accompanied by 12 gas pumps with 24 refueling stations. The property’s owners revised that application down to 20 fueling stations, and then again down to 6 pumps with 12 fueling stations. The development also comes with promises to set aside 100 square feet inside the store to showcase products from Loudoun County, create a pollinator garden and a dog park, provide two electric vehicle charging stations including the county’s first Tesla Supercharger, and install solar panels on the fuel pump canopy. The developer has also committed to a design that even some critics say is an attractive building.
A long list of people from the area and conservation organizations spoke up in opposition to the project, and only a handful in support.
“I want to know, to whom do we seek an apology when our wells become contaminated and we can’t sell our homes?” asked Hugh Ghiringhell. “To whom do we come to ask for an apology when the value of the homes that are around this are going to plummet by at least 50 percent?”
“This is a rural part of Loudoun County and once it goes away, you can’t get it back,” said Ken Kukovich. “All of our constituents live downstream from that, and would like to experience the rural aspect of Loudoun County.”
But a few said the gas station would be an improvement to a major entrance to Loudoun County.
“We have an opportunity to promote Loudoun County, and we have a landowner that wants to do it right,” said Karen Schaufeld, an attorney, author and founder of All Ages Read Together, 100 Women Strong and solar power advocacy group Powered by Facts. “… I believe this is the right type of development in the right place with the right partner.”
County planners remain opposed to the project, arguing the development doesn’t fit with rural development goals, and that county policies discourage expanding the rural commercial district, the zoning change the property’s owners are requesting. But despite opposition from the public and county planners, the application has support among many supervisors and won an endorsement from the Planning Commission.
Planning commissioners argued the proposal would be better than a county-approved plan stretching back to 1988 that would allow up to 8,000 square feet of retail space. The owners have said if the gas station is not approved, they would erect a pre-fabricated metal building that will likely contain a cigarette outlet. The latest version of that prior approval expires in 2020.
“We really do need to develop, because we can’t lose our vested rights in that site plan,” said Chip Dicks, the project’s developer. He said the proposal for the gas station would be “a value for the community.”
“This would be a marked improvement over other commercial facilities I’ve seen in this area,” said Supervisor Ron A. Meyer Jr. (R-Broad Run). “I actually think it would make the area look a heck of a lot nicer.
“I feel like this is heading for approval, so the best thing for residents to do is ask for reasonable things that can make this better,” Meyer added. The property sites on a 4.4-acre parcel across Rt. 15 from the Cigarette Outlet.
Board Vice Chairman Ralph M. Buona (R-Ashburn) argued the gas station will not draw additional traffic to the congested Rt. 15 area, but instead serve the traffic that’s already there. And Supervisor Geary M. Higgins (R-Catoctin), who represents the area, repeated a common refrain in his decisions: “Nothing is not going to happen in western Loudoun. That’s a false choice. … It’s not a choice between something or nothing. This is a choice between something or something else.”
Higgins compared it to another recent decision on undeveloped land: The data center the Board of Supervisors narrowly approved on Goose Creek over his opposition.
“I just recently learned that lesson again in a very big way when we turned down a project at Goose Creek for 144 age-restricted houses with 70 percent open space, and we got 750,000 square feet of a data center in place of it,” Higgins said.
Supervisors are scheduled to take a vote July 3.