County Supervisors Give Arcola School for Affordable Housing Project

The Loudoun Board of Supervisors has voted to give the former Arcola School to developer Michael Capretti to develop 10 price-controlled units inside the building, and another 64 units in an addition to the historic structure. Those would stay price-controlled for at least 75 years.

It would be the affordable housing component of a larger project also including another estimated 226 for-sale units on a 20-acre parcel across the street, some also price-controlled. The developer also would build public recreational and parking facilities and two bus stops at the portion of the Arcola School site that would remain under county ownership.

But there are more votes and county paperwork to get through before those plans get off the ground. Next, Capretti and the county will have to begin a rezoning application on that property and the property across the street as co-applicants. The land transfer only becomes final if and when the rezoning is approved and the developer secures financing for the affordable housing development, and the land would revert to the county if construction does not begin within two years.

The proposal has faced some opposition from neighbors who are worried about increased traffic congestion. Supervisor Matthew F. Letourneau (R-Dulles) said he expects those problems will be reduced with the ongoing work on area roads like Northstar Boulevard, hopefully reducing cut-through traffic on Stone Springs Boulevard. And he said the proposal for housing across the street from the school, and the proffer agreements that come with a rezoning application, would be an improvement over the currently approved industrial project on that site. He said that would bring a 268,000-square-foot project generating 4,900 vehicle trips a day.

“I’ve been really concerned about the impact of that application for quite a while,” Letourneau said. “And so it’s not often that I would be eager to discuss some type of conversion form industrial/commercial to residential. But in this case, when you look at those traffic impacts and you look at just simply the quality of life and the value to the neighborhood homes of having a heavy industrial corridor immediately adjacent, it had been really concerning.”

Supervisors also pointed to commitments in the land transfer agreement to preserve historic aspects of the building and its façade, while some also downplayed its historical significance.

The building was built in 1939 as a six-room, one-story school by the Public Works Administration, part of the New Deal initiative to lift the United States out of the Great Depression. It has always been a publicly owned building; after serving as a school, it was reopened as the Arcola Community Center in the 1970s. In 2013, it was added the National Register of Historic Places. 

Since it closed, like some other vacant properties under the county government’s ownership, it has deteriorated. Some have called on the county to renovate the building as a senior center, but the county staff has advised that is cost prohibitive because of the state of the building.

“More often than not these properties sit and they fall into disrepair, and they are almost blighted properties that no one seems to pay attention to at all until the county says we’re going to do something, and then they become the most important historical structure for everybody, and I’m like, where were you all this time?” said County Chair Phyllis J. Randall (D-At Large).

“This property has been sitting vacant for decades,” said Vice Chairman Koran T. Saines (D-Sterling). “… So if somebody truly wanted to do something with this, they’ve had plenty of opportunity to do so.”

The former Arcola Elementary School in 2016. (Norman K. Styer/Loudoun Now)

Supervisor Juli E. Briskman (D-Algonkian), however, vowed to push to preserve the building’s historic aspects.

“If you never save things that were built 70 or 100 years ago because you don’t think they’re necessarily special and you tear them down, then people 100 years from now never know what was built,” she said. “I think anything that was built via the [Works Progress Administration] is probably kind of cool, and we should probably work on keeping it.”

It is not the first time the property has been considered for affordable housing. In 2016, supervisors voted down a proposal from the Windy Hill Foundation to renovate the building into apartments and build a separate two-story, 36-unit apartment building on the property. That proposal did not include the larger development across the street.

Then supervisors at the time cited Dulles Airport’s high noise zone—at the time, Windy Hill was requesting an exception to county zoning to allow homes in the airport noise zone depicted on county zoning maps. The maps are undergoing revision to reflect a new noise study, taking the property out of that district.

This time, only Supervisor Kristen C. Umstattd (D-Leesburg) voted against the land transfer.

“I’m always a bit worried when we take an area that is suitable and zoned for commercial uses and begin to convert it to residential, because the tax implications are always negative for the taxpayer,” Umstattd said. She also worried that the site isn’t a good location for housing, not being close to grocery stores and other services. Supervisor Tony R. Buffington (R-Blue Ridge), who was absent, had also expressed skepticism about the project.

Supervisors approved the land transfer 7-1-1, with Umstattd opposed and Buffington absent.

7 thoughts on “County Supervisors Give Arcola School for Affordable Housing Project

  • 2022-03-03 at 7:18 pm

    Get ready for the next boondoggle in Loundoun. If they approve 226 housing units on 20 acres of land that means there will be on average 11.3 homes per acre at least. I’m going to bet there will be inadequate parking based on some outdated formula just like developments in the rest of the area.

    That portion of Stone Springs/Gum Springs Road will become a dangerous and highly congested artery in the county. There is nowhere for the traffic to go along that very narrow road even if the county widens the road and improves the intersections there.

    Numerous supervisors pointed to red flags with the proposal and then voted for it anyway. Do you sense a pattern here? They don’t care what you think and they don’t care about quality of life in eastern or western Loudoun County. They care about property tax revenue and milking residents for as much as they can. We need a new board that is not bought and paid for by developers.

  • 2022-03-04 at 6:26 am

    WTF, giving away taxpayer property for pet projects? Makes you wonder compared to other Board of Supervisors how many times have they used quick take and eminent domain to further projects that enhance their political talking points. 2023, we can remove these nasty people from office.

  • 2022-03-04 at 9:54 am

    “Vacant for decades”! REALLY? Isn’t less than 2 decades one decade plus a few years? Was it for sale or sitting vacant by choice of the BOS and School Board? It is a beautiful property and could easily been sold to reduce the tax burden on the community! Where is the financial disclosure of two items: Has anyone been given campaign donations by the developer? What is the financial cost for the increase in student population? I think and strongly believe that if full disclosure of obvious incentives for these decisions occurred there would be a lot less wonderment but then again I believe at least on school board member had to recuse himself from voting to move from this facility to a different property due to apparent conflicts of interest so until there is fair disclosure one should consider the obvious incentives we have repetitively witnessed over the last few decades and in this case it has been decades! 🙂

  • 2022-03-04 at 2:33 pm

    Do the BoS realize that they DON’T have to sell every ounce of land to a developer that isn’t being used. To say that folks in Loudoun had X number of years to present ideas about what to do with that old school, and well they lost their chance, is ridiculous. Perhaps, just perhaps, people in Loudoun had no issues with the building just being there. Now, they are going to build yet another development where houses are built on top of each other, with no expansion of roads until 10+ years later, and for what? Stop ruining Loudoun county! It’s okay to leave some open spaces and trees alone.

  • 2022-03-04 at 11:26 pm

    The BOS is not selling everything, some of it they’re just giving away.

  • 2022-03-05 at 2:39 pm

    I’m very much in favor of building some affordable housing in Loudoun…a balanced and sustainable economy depends on it. But think for a minute…what happens to these folks at the Arcola site? They’ll have to have a car to do much of anything (unless they’re OK with walking a mile to the Harris Teeter. That’s not a great option. And that area, while it has some housing (thanks Loudoun for the worst zoning I’ve ever seen), it’s an area that’s transitioned to landscaping companies and the like.

    This is akin to putting schools in flood plains. Crappy bit of land, let’s make poor people or kids deal with it.

    • 2022-03-20 at 12:38 pm

      Not to mention not having sidewalks around that area of the proposed housing. You can see many trodden places across the county with no sidewalks anywhere. My section of the county is probably the most utilized section for public transportation, but there is a lack of sidewalks and sidewalks that just cut off with no rhyme or reason. Meanwhile you have sections of Ashburn where pretty much everyone has a reliable automobile to get around that have pristine walking paths and sidewalks all around. It doesn’t make sense how the BOS runs this county and the outdated zoning and lack of walking infrastructure in neighborhoods that can really benefit from it. They would rather develop green spaces areas for the new pristine suburban development rather than infill development in established areas of the county. They want to pave over the entire county and ignore the older sections of the county in the process.

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