Following a 2019 study of current and future air traffic noise around Dulles Airport and years of preparation, supervisors have formally launched the process of redrawing the maps of airport noise impacts in county zoning.
Those maps dictate, among other things, where homes may be built—residential construction is not permitted in the highest noise impact areas.
In addition to updating those maps, supervisors had previously considered eliminating a one-mile buffer around the airport noise impact areas. That area has no direct impact on zoning, but requires property sellers and Realtors to disclose to potential buyers that there is an airport nearby. Dropping that decades-old requiring raised concerns not only from the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority that operates Dulles Airport but also the Town of Leesburg and people involved with Leesburg Executive Airport, who were concerned about possible impacts around that airport.
But during their meeting March 1, supervisors backed off that idea. MWAA State and Local Government Affairs Manager Michael Cooper said, “that’s worked so well for you as a board and your residents.”
Supervisors also said there don’t appear to be property value concerns associated with the notification requirement.
“What I found years ago in the discussion with the Realtor community is that a lot of them just simply didn’t know about the requirement, and once they found out they wanted to ensure that it was included in closing,” said Supervisor Matthew F. Letourneau (R-Dulles).
“The fact that people are complaining about airport noise when they live near an airport is so—it’s like, really? I don’t even understand. It’s like complaining that you’re wet when you jump in a swimming pool,” said County Chair Phyllis J. Randall (D-At Large).
Supervisors also had considered trimming back the noise zone in one area near plans for a future fifth runway. The airports authority also objected to that, noting that much of the air traffic in that area is attributable to flights from existing runways—and that a long-planned fifth runway at Dulles may not be so far in the future. With United Airlines in talks to invest more in its operations at Dulles Airport, those conversations are back on the table, Letourneau said.
“We almost built the fifth runway back in 2006 when Independence Air was going gangbusters and it looked like everything was going to grow,” Cooper said. “And market conditions didn’t pan out the way everyone expected, and we didn’t. So we’ve been on the precipice of building the fifth runway before.”
Supervisor Caleb E. Kershner (R-Catoctin) recalled flying into other airports around the country with homes built right up to the runways, in contrast to Dulles Airport.
“It’s very obvious here in Loudoun, and Dulles specifically, the excellent planning we’ve done,” he said.
Supervisors voted 8-0-1 to initiate the county Zoning Ordinance changes, with Supervisor Tony R. Buffington (R-Blue Ridge) absent.