When Loudoun County agreed in 2009, after much study and negotiation, to allow a minor league baseball stadium to be built, it was carefully situated along Route 28 in Ashburn near the intersection with Route 7. No neighborhoods too close, part of a gradual mixed-use development, general acceptance all around.
Suddenly in October, the planned Loudoun Hounds baseball team shifted their proposed stadium location about a mile west, to the corner of Loudoun County Parkway and Route 7, now six-tenths of a mile from several large Ashburn neighborhoods. The residents were stunned. Fearful of the traffic, the noise, the lights and many other effects of a new stadium in their midst, they are rapidly organizing opposition to placing a 5,500-seat ballpark, with room for another 4,500 standing, in the nascent One Loudoun office-retail-entertainment development. They’re calling themselves “No Stadium on 7.”
One Loudoun was “originally approved as a town center,” said Roy Richie, a resident of the Potomac Green neighborhood. “All of us who bought in here knew that and bought accordingly. But now it’s going from a town center to a special activities center, and they’re pushing this thing through. The process should be slowed down.”
Longtime Loudoun resident Bruce DeNormandie, also of Potomac Green, said he’d been commuting to Washington for 35 years. “The people who live west of here, Leesburg, Purcellville, they have to understand. You think you had a commuting problem before? It’s gonna be a lot worse.”
More than 130 residents of the Potomac Green neighborhood gathered at their community center last week to divide up tasks for taking on the project as it moves through the Loudoun approval process.
Both the developers of One Loudoun and the owners of the Hounds, who have since added a minor league soccer team to the planned stadium, are confident they can devise a facility that isn’t nearly as disruptive as the neighbors fear.
“We are going to be a good community neighbor,” said Bob Farren, head of VIP Sports and Entertainment, which will build and operate the stadium and own the teams. “I’m 100 percent committed to that.”
Farren said he has local individual investors lined up to foot the entire $37.5 million cost of building the stadium. And as a Yankees fan, he plans on building a left field wall higher than Fenway Park’s Green Monster.
Bill May, vice president of Miller & Smith, the co-developer of One Loudoun, said the stadium will take the place of a 320,000-square foot office building, and that the stadium traffic would be the same as the office traffic. He said a stadium might actually be an improvement because stadium traffic would not exist in the morning and would start later than the evening rush. Neighbors questioned whether an office building would create the same traffic volume as a stadium.
May and Farren both said that modern technology has improved so that stadium lighting is much better focused and doesn’t illuminate neighborhoods as it once did, and that sound can be better directed and controlled. Offices and townhouses already rising on the site, plus trees, will also serve as a noise and light buffer, May noted.
The residents are skeptical. Annual summer concerts held for years at the Belmont Country Club, more than two miles west down Route 7, could be heard in their neighborhoods, they said.
The ballpark is in the district of Supervisor Shawn Williams (R-Broad Run). He, like many others, said Loudoun needs a central entertainment district, similar to the Reston Town Center, and that a ballpark would only enhance that. Plus, a lot of people like baseball and would prefer not to drive to Washington or to the Frederick Keys minor league games.
“This is not going to be FedEx Field,” Williams said. “It’s going to be much smaller. When people see the scope of the stadium, they’ll be like, ’Oh, I can live with that.’”
But Williams said the stadium was far from approved. “Obviously there are concerns about noise and traffic and lighting,” he said. “If we can’t work through all of them, and get a package that the community supports, then I’m not going to support it.”
The organizers of No Stadium on 7 asked to remain anonymous because they fear backlash both from government officials and baseball fans. They said a Facebook page they launched was immediately attacked and had to be taken down. They have no backing from any outside groups.
The Hounds have been working aggressively to build a fan base for a team in the Atlantic League, an independent league that considers itself somewhere between AA and AAA in quality with no major league affiliations. But the league will not award Loudoun a team until a stadium deal is in place, Farren said.
So VIP and One Loudoun must produce a number of traffic and environmental studies by Dec. 14 to keep the project on a fast track. Farren wants to start building the stadium this spring or summer, in order to open it for baseball in 2014. “If we get approval, we’d have construction there in 72 hours,” Farren said.
“With the affluence and type of people we have in Loudoun and Fairfax counties, we have nothing to go to,” Farren said. “No place to play. And that’s all I’m trying to do.”
He said the stadium would have “more charitable and social activities than pro sports events,” though there would probably be about 100 baseball and soccer games per year. He wants high school graduations, dog and horse shows, small festivals there. Smaller music concerts, no Kiss or AC/DC, Farren said.
The neighbors’ concerns remain numerous. There is only one entrance to Potomac Green, a 55-and-older community, and they are worried that medical or fire response could be dangerously delayed by ballpark traffic. They fear ballpark users will be cutting through their neighborhood. They wonder about the impact on their homes’ values, and some said they would certainly sell if the ballpark were approved.
May said the ballpark may improve home values, and that One Loudoun had sold 17 residential units since the Oct. 1 announcement that the stadium was moving there. Williams said he was researching the impact of Maryland’s minor league stadiums on home values there.
There will be no Metro to One Loudoun or the stadium, the neighbors point out. The end of the Silver Line, when built, will be three miles away. Julie Dillon, a spokeswoman for One Loudoun, said buses are already running to the area and will run from Metro to the development.
Traffic on Route 7 is already terrible in Ashburn during morning and evening rush hours. Opponents say one traffic study commissioned by developers used bad methodology to justify a stadium. Farren said the team would work with the county to reduce the stadium’s impact.
The stadium was originally planned as a centerpiece of the Kincora Village Center development on Route 28, and that’s what the Loudoun Board of Supervisors approved in 2009. But Kincora has been slow to get off the ground, while construction is underway at One Loudoun, so Farren took his project west.
The neighbors in Potomac Green, as well as nearby Ashbrook and Chelsea Courts were fine with a stadium at Kincora. But now, “this is truly in my backyard,” said Potomac Green resident Jim Pearson. “If someone yanks a long straight one out of there, it’s going to be in my back window.”
But there are plenty of baseball supporters in Loudoun who want the stadium, and who have packed Hounds fan fests in previous winters. Some of them even live in Potomac Green.
Tom Lintner of Potomac Green said he previously lived in Albuquerque and watched a minor league stadium there revitalize the immediate area. He noted that minor league teams in Brooklyn and Staten Island, N.Y., also created business booms in the neighborhoods, and that the games in summer were often over before the sun went down. He pointed out that the stadium would be at the already noisy intersection of Route 7 and Loudoun County Parkway, and beneath the flight path of Dulles Airport. Other residents said flights only last 12 seconds, compared to hours-long sporting events.
“I really don’t have any sympathy for the people who looked at the design” for the 358-acre One Loudoun development, with restaurants, a movie theater and shopping, “and thought this was going to be a quiet neighborhood,” Lintner said. He said many local baseball fans wanted to see an affordable game with their families without a long drive, and the Hounds would provide just that.