A proposal to build apartments and townhomes on the banks of Goose Creek has alarmed conservationists and nature lovers.
Goose Creek Overlook is the name given to a proposal to build 251 units including 136 townhouses, 40 two-over-two condos, and 40 price-controlled apartments on 55 mostly untouched acres on the east bank of the Goose Creek, on both sides of Sycolin Road and across the creek from the True North data center project. It is also only one of three new development projects in the immediate area.
Across the creek, the same developer, Compass Datacenters, is seeking to allow even further building on a project that only three years ago, divided supervisors, outraged the community, and so far has resulted in in clearing acres of land and but only one. There at True North, the developer is asking for permission to consolidate three of the nine planned buildings into one building, and to build 21 feet higher up to 56 feet. The original project was approved on a 5-4 vote in 2018 for up to 750,000 square feet of data center development.
Supervisor Tony R. Buffington (R-Blue Ridge), who voted against the data center project, predicted at the time “it’ll set a bad precedent for building data centers in the Transition Policy Area west of the Greenway.”
And across Sycolin Road from True North, another application working its way through the early stages of county review proposes to rezone 74 acres for another three data centers.
On Tuesday, March 2, supervisors are expected to vote on Goose Creek Overlook, the first of those to come to a vote. Currently the land is zoned R-1, which caps development at approximately one house per acre. The developer proposes to provide less than half of the civic space that county policy would normally require, less parking that would normally be required in a section designated for price-controlled housing, active recreation in the floodplain around Goose Creek, parking within the 300-foot no-build buffer around Goose Creek, and a sewer pumping station. The apartment building with price-controlled units is proposed at 55 feet high, with four stories over a parking garage. There are also nine archaeological sites on the property, including he remains of a dwelling from the early 1800s.[Read full staff report.]
The developer is offering approximately 5,500 feet of trails along Goose Creek, including two trailhead parking locations, pedestrian access to the water and canoe and kayak launches. And while they also offer road improvements and multi-use trails on either side of Sycolin Road, those trails are cut off on either side of the development by bridges over the Goose Creek and the Dulles Greenway. The applicant would actually be reducing the amount of disturbed land inside the 300-foot buffer, removing an existing concrete pad, which Buffington called “a lesser violation” than what is there now.
The project’s open space and density calculations are also thrown off by a proposal to include a parcel that is currently county-owned and under a conservation easement.
Asked by County Chair Phyllis J. Randall (D-At Large) if the applicants felt there is any more work to do on the proposal, representative Packie Crown of Bowman Consulting said “at this point, no, we don’t.”
Speakers at the Feb. 11 public hearing on the proposal—when they waited until after midnight to participate—overwhelmingly expressed opposition. Many were concerned about the impacts on the Goose Creek, such as oil from the parking spaces finding its way down the steep banks of creek into the water upstream of a public water supply.
“We have responsibilities as humans to take care and appreciate the world we live on, not destroy it,” said Olivia Lewis. “The location of the banks of Goose Creek, a Virginia-designated state scenic river, is not the place for this development. There is so much at stake here. Please vote for more thoughtful and sustainable planning, and don’t turn it into another cookie cutter neighborhood.”
“We can all get behind smart growth. We all talk about it a lot, we campaign on it, we put it on our websites, but ‘smart growth’ is the right development in the right places that benefit the residents and taxpayers of Loudoun County,” said Carl Kelly. “But smart growth doesn’t mean anything unless you vote that way. And I have to ask, if Goose Creek Overlook represents ‘smart growth,’ then what would a development have to look like not to qualify?”
“Most of you probably have never been down on the Goose Creek in a boat, but if you float through this area, you will be amazed at how beautiful it remains and how pristine, and it’s a rare treasure that we have laying right between Leesburg and Ashburn,” said Paul Lawrence.
Local conservation organizations including the Piedmont Environmental Council and the Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy also spoke up in opposition.
“Loudoun County should do more and do better to protect the natural assets of Loudoun, and the Goose Creek scenic river is one of the most valuable natural assets we have,” said Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy Executive Director Michael Myers. “But what I’m rally failing to understand is why 9.2 acres of land currently owned by Loudoun County and protected from future development via conservation easement is being reassigned to be used as part of the open space calculation for this application.”
The developer is negotiating with the holder of that easement, the Virginia Outdoors Foundation, to amend it. It is a holdover from a previous rezoning that included more than the minimum of open space. Myers said it is “actually a great example of a developer going beyond the minimum requirement in regards to county standards.”
“That should be applauded, and it should not be an excuse for a future development to be able to offer less than what it is required,” Myers said.
Those environmental concerns mostly fell on deaf ears among county supervisors, who said their concerns about the application centered on issues like sufficient parking, school crowding and traffic impact.
But Randall said she would likely oppose the application.
“As much as I want and talk about [Affordable Dwelling Units] for purchase and for rental, you know, when you start destroying the environment, all the ADUs in the world don’t mean a whole lot, to be honest,” Randall said. “And I think the Goose Creek is such a unique and special asset that we have in Loudoun. And I always wonder, when people say—when applicants say—’we’re going to make it better by building this trail or that trial,’ I always think, ‘you’re going to make it better than God made it already?’ I just don’t see that happening.”
This article was updated at 4:57 p.m. March 2 to correct the name of a speaker.