The dust has settled and the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors has spoken: Loudoun’s two proposed pro sports franchises now have an approved place to play, a 5,500-seat stadium in the One Loudoun development, at the corner of Route 7 and the Loudoun County Parkway. The board voted yes last week and Caitlin Gibson’s story on that is here.
Residents who live near One Loudoun were chagrined when the developer, Miller and Smith, announced plans to install a stadium where an office building had been planned. The neighbors were expecting a mixture of restaurants, shops, offices and homes, not a place with lights and sound and fireworks. They organized a group, No Stadium on 7, which criticized the seemingly disruptive new elements that weren’t part of One Loudoun’s plans when they bought nearby.
But there are plenty of people who like the idea of a ballpark, and affordable family entertainment, in Ashburn rather than Washington. At a public hearing last month, supporters of the stadium, home to the minor league baseball Loudoun Hounds and minor league soccer Virginia Cavalry FC, easily outnumbered the opponents.
In the end, these seemed to be the key points that swayed the supervisors in favor of the stadium:
■ Traffic studies showed that there would be less traffic going in and out for ballgames and concerts than there would be for the 320,000-square foot office building that was planned for the same site. There are also additional entry points being built or enhanced on both Route 7 and the Parkway. Whether those office workers would all have been streaming in and out at the same time, and whether the office building would have been full, is debatable. But it’s also worth noting that minor league sporting events don’t often draw huge crowds.
■ The supervisors requested a fireworks sound check at the site and then traveled around the area to hear them in action. They felt that, since the area already is in the path of incoming Dulles aircraft, the fireworks weren’t much worse. Also, the developer agreed to limit fireworks shows to 10 minutes on weekends and holidays only, no shells bigger than three inches, never on consecutive days and a maximum of 12 shows per year.
■ Noise levels must not exceed 65 decibels in the nearby neighborhoods, and concerts or any type of event which uses additional sound systems can only occur on weekends and holidays. Stadium operators must monitor the sound and file monthly reports.
■ A specific type of focused, anti-glare lighting system must be used. The latest artist’s rendition of the ballpark, seen at top, indicates that home plate will now be closest to Route 7, meaning most of the lights would be aimed away from One Loudoun and the neighborhoods. Lights must be off no later than an hour after the end of a game or concert.
■ A Great Blue Heron rookery, located in the woods near the planned Kincora development on Route 28, would actually be farther away from the One Loudoun stadium than the proposed site that the county approved at Kincora, county planners found. A number of environmental agencies told Loudoun that the ballpark and the fireworks would not harm the herons, though fireworks will be limited through June 30.
The supervisors also were mindful that both the Hounds and the Cavalry have committed to their leagues and investors that they will start play next year. They need to start turning that stadium dirt immediately. Bob Farren, the head of the VIP Sports and Entertainment ownership group for both teams, says he has the capability to do that.
So now everyone waits to see the finished product. The commuters on Route 7, who already have to slog through the Loudoun County Parkway intersection on weeknights, will be particularly wary. Games cannot start between 4:30 and 7 p.m. on weeknights, but even a 7:30 start means cars start heading in there at 6:30. Still, it’s not the Nationals.
The neighbors in the Potomac Green and Ashbrook neighborhoods are particularly anxious, and understandably so. The Hounds and Cavalry say they intend to be good neighbors. Technology may have improved to the point where a small stadium doesn’t have to be an audio-visual nightmare. An occasional fireworks show may not be TOO disruptive. And we may have a new home for the late lamented Loudoun Summer Music Fest. Plus baseball in the independent Atlantic League is reportedly roughly equal to Triple A quality ball.
Commuters and neighbors will be watching. Baseball and soccer fans will be attending. One Loudoun will keep growing. This saga is probably not finished, but a serious sports and entertainment complex for Ashburn seems to be on its way, anchoring the One Loudoun town center and further symbolizing Loudoun’s dramatic growth.
For more reading:
One Loudoun’s power point package is here.
The planning commission’s power point is here.
The planning commission’s full report to the board is here.