Development Debate Escalates in Loudoun

By Amy Gardner
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, August 30, 2006

A plan to open up a vast stretch of southeastern Loudoun County to roughly 30,000 new homes is prompting a fierce debate reaching all the way to Richmond over how best to guide growth and prepare for its inevitable effects on traffic, taxes and quality of life.

On one side are those who believe that so many new homes -- equivalent in number to four Fredericksburgs -- would hopelessly paralyze a region already struggling with traffic congestion. On the other are those who see an opportunity in Dulles South to coax hundreds of millions of dollars from developers to build roads, schools, parks and utilities that government can't afford.

Both sides agree on one crucial point: Too little has been done for too long to address Northern Virginia's mounting traffic troubles. What they can't agree on is what should come next: a major slowdown of residential growth -- or a partnership with developers to exact unprecedented contributions to the road network.

Loudoun's influential Planning Commission weighed in with the latter view late Monday, voting 6 to 2 to forward the Dulles South proposal to the Board of Supervisors. The panel did so after hearing from about 90 speakers, two-thirds of them in favor of opening Dulles South to development.

"We know that growth is coming," said Robert J. Klancher (Broad Run), vice chairman of the Loudoun Planning Commission. "And we're saying this is where we think it ought to be."

At stake is a largely undeveloped, 9,200-acre swath of farms and two-lane highways just west of Dulles International Airport. Known as the county's "transition area," it is designated for semirural development, intended to serve as a buffer between the county's dense, suburban east and its vast rural west.

Under consideration, however, is a sweeping proposal to remap the area to allow suburban-style planned communities, including a mix of single-family houses, townhouses, apartments and condominiums.

The Dulles South plan is among the most far-reaching in the region. It has attracted the attention of politicians in neighboring jurisdictions and of Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D), who ordered the Virginia Department of Transportation to conduct an analysis of the traffic that would result.

The proposal has yielded dire reports predicting as many as 89,000 new residents in the southeastern corner of the county, nearly 19,000 new pupils at already bursting county schools and up to 300,000 daily car trips on regional highways not only in Loudoun but also in neighboring Fairfax and Prince William counties.

"We are not 'no growth,' " said Lori Kimball of Leesburg, president of the Preservation Society of Loudoun County and a speaker at the hearing Monday. "But we do not support Dulles South because of the impact on traffic and taxes."

Such views are vehemently rejected by supporters of Dulles South, who point out that the traffic is already here -- and will continue to worsen for two reasons: Growth is not likely to stop, and Richmond has given no sign that significant contributions are coming anytime soon to expand the road system.

By contrast, the developers lined up to build in Dulles South are prepared to spend hundreds of millions on infrastructure. Greenvest, the Vienna-based developer that hopes to build 15,000 homes in Dulles South, has offered to spend $192 million on an extensive road network surrounding its property, including the widening of Route 50 and the construction of several new highways and interchanges.

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