When Loudoun County agreed in 2009, after much study and negotiation, to allow a minor-league baseball stadium to be built, it was to be carefully situated along Route 28 in Ashburn near the Route 7 intersection. No neighborhoods were too close, it was part of a gradual mixed-use development and there was general acceptance all around.
But in October, the planned Loudoun Hounds baseball team shifted the proposed stadium location about a mile west, to the corner of Loudoun County Parkway and Route 7, six-tenths of a mile from several large Ashburn neighborhoods. Residents were stunned. Fearful of the traffic, the noise, the lights and many other effects of a new stadium, they are rapidly organizing opposition to placing a 5,500-seat ballpark, with room for an additional 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 going to be a lot worse.”
More than 130 residents of the Potomac Green neighborhood gathered at their community center last week to divide tasks for taking on the project as it moves through the approval process.
The developers of One Loudoun and the owners of the Hounds, who have since added a minor league soccer team to the plan, are confident they can devise a facility that isn’t nearly as disruptive as 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 investors lined up to foot the $37.5 million cost of building the stadium.
Bill May, vice president of Miller & Smith, the co-developer of One Loudoun, said the stadium will replace 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 there would be no traffic in the morning and most games would start after the evening rush. Neighbors questioned whether a stadium would create the same traffic volume as an office building.
May and Farren said technology has improved so that stadium lighting is better focused and doesn’t illuminate neighborhoods as it once did, and that sound can be better directed and controlled. Offices and townhouses that are already rising on the site, plus trees, will also serve as noise and light buffers, May said.
Residents are skeptical. They said summer concerts held for years at the Belmont Country Club, more than two miles west down Route 7, could be heard in their neighborhoods.
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 Reston Town Center, and that a ballpark would enhance that. Plus, he said, 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 is 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 Hounds have been working aggressively to build a fan base for a team in the Atlantic League, which considers itself somewhere between AA and AAA in quality but has no major-league affiliations. But the independent league will not award Loudoun a team until a stadium deal is in place, Farren said.
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.
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 and 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 back yard,” 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 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 International Airport.
But other residents said they hear the flights only 12 seconds, compared with 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 want to see an affordable game with their families without a long drive and the Hounds would provide just that.