Loudoun supervisors have conditionally approved a controversial application to build a gas station and convenience store on Rt. 15 near Point of Rocks.
The application has faced sustained resistance from critics worried about both its impact on traffic, the surrounding properties, and the environment. It has nonetheless passed with strong majorities at both the Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors.
“The reason I’ve been so concerned about this application is because I live and die on the fear every day that something’s going to happen in our area to contaminate our water supply,” said John Adams, who said he is a 45-year Lucketts resident. He added there’s no need for another gas station on Rt. 15 north of Leesburg: “We’ve got three already. This is the worst possible location to have any kind of gas pumps.”
Supervisors have argued from the dais that the development permissions the property owner has would allow for worse uses than a gas station. The developer’s spokesman David D’Onofrio has said in the past that without his approval, the developer will move ahead with plans with roots in 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 property has seen no development since those plans were approved. The latest version of that approval expires in 2020.
“If you allow them to do what they can by right, that’s fine,” Adams said. “… if you do have environmental contamination in the future, remember, it’s on your watch.”
Piedmont Environmental Council representative Gem Bingol encouraged supervisors to “guard against the worst case, don’t count on the best-case scenario.”
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. Since then it has steadily scaled down, passing the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday with six gas pumps with two dispensers each under a canopy, and a seventh outside the canopy with diesel and farm fuels.
The application also comes with promises for 100 square feet inside the store to showcase products from Loudoun County, a pollinator garden and dog park, two electric vehicle charging stations including the county’s first Tesla Supercharger, and solar panels on the fuel pump canopy. Because of concerns about the gas station’s possible impact on well water at nearby properties and possibly the Potomac River, which is about a tenth of a mile from the back of the property, the developer also agreed to seven additional environmental protection measures just before the Board of Supervisors’ meeting July 3, including requirements for systems to trap and keep any petroleum spillage on the site. One condition provides “signage advising customers of the health risk of walking barefoot in the offloading / and loading areas.”
“I think they have bent over backward to address these things,” said Supervisor Geary M. Higgins (R-Catoctin). “If your only issue is that you don’t want a station, no-way no-how in that location, or anything, frankly, I don’t think we can accommodate that.” Higgins repeated an argument he has used often in arguing for applications in the rural area: “It’s not something or nothing, it’s something or something else.”
“It’s hard for me to say no to what will be the most environmentally sensitive gas station in Loudoun County,” said Supervisor Kristen C. Umstattd (D-Leesburg). “… This bill be a big advance over what we’ve seen in the past in the county.”
And Supervisor Matthew F. Letourneau (R-Dulles) said the county can’t decide based on the worst-case scenario.
“Big picture, the entrance to the county is not something that we’re proud of,” Letourneau said. “The project has gone far above what other projects have both on the environmental side and on the design side.”
County Attorney Leo Rogers said the developer also agreed to a condition that there can be no occupancy permit until a final determination is made whether the property falls within the county’s Limestone Overlay District.
While the site lays squarely within the county’s map of that district, where gas stations are prohibited, testing on the site found no evidence of that kind of underground geography—the kind that has led to sinkholes in the past. The county staff issued a zoning determination that exempts the property from the rules of that district. There is an ongoing appeal to that determination.
Supervisors voted 7-1-1 in favor of the application, with County Chairwoman Phyllis J. Randall (D-At Large) opposed and Supervisor Tony R. Buffington (R-Blue Ridge) absent.
Randall said she could not support the application because she could not say with absolutely confidence that it would not affect well water in the area.
“I just can’t get there,” Randall said.