By Sandhya Somashekhar
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, November 15, 2007
Loudoun County voters threw out four pro-growth members of the Board of Supervisors in last week's election. But those supervisors still have the chance to approve thousands of new houses before leaving office at the end of the year.
The board, which currently is controlled by a pro-growth majority, has begun to consider a flurry of last-minute proposals to add more than 4,000 apartments, townhouses and single-family houses to the fast-growing eastern part of the county.
With six weeks left in its term, the nine-member board will take up two particularly controversial proposals that would add suburban-style developments south and west of Dulles International Airport. The supervisors will also consider two other developments that face strong opposition.
The last-minute onslaught has worried some residents after the Nov. 6 election, when voters ousted four Republicans who were perceived as developer-friendly and replaced them with a Democratic slate that promised to scale back the county's rapid expansion. Loudoun's population has nearly doubled in seven years, to about 270,000, which the successful candidates blamed for worsening traffic, crowded schools and high taxes.
Several developers are hoping to have their projects approved before the new slow-growth majority takes control in January. And some of the slow-growth supervisors elected last week say they worry that, with the election behind them, the current majority will approve unpopular projects because they no longer will be held accountable by voters.
"I want to believe they will make the right decision. I pray they will make the right decision," said Andrea McGimsey (D), who unseated Supervisor Bruce E. Tulloch (R-Potomac). "It's clear as day what the community wants. They think [the growth] is just too much."
But Supervisor Mick Staton Jr. (R-Sugarland Run), who was elected on a pro-growth platform four years ago but lost reelection last week, said there was no cause for worry.
"I'm dealing with these projects as I did every one that came across this board -- one by one and with an open mind," he said. "There is no attempt to shove things through at the last minute."
This week, the board began tackling three of the controversial developments: Braddock Village, Arcola Center and Kincora. A fourth, Ridgewater Park, is scheduled to come before the board next month.
Braddock Village was previously part of a group of housing developments proposed for an area near the airport, called Dulles South. The Dulles South project would have added as many as 33,800 houses to 9,200 acres of farmland that had been set aside by previous county officials for semirural development.
The board voted against Dulles South last year, but the developers of Braddock Village brought their chunk of as many as 860 houses back for board approval this year. County planners are urging the board to deny the application at its Dec. 4 meeting, in part because current zoning allows for only 66 houses in that area.
Officials this week also discussed Arcola Center, a mixed-use development of shops, offices, hotels and more than 1,000 dwellings proposed by the Gaithersburg-based Buchanan Partners.
The board gave a tentative nod to the project this year but voted Tuesday to send it to a committee for further review.
Proponents have said that Arcola Center would revitalize a run-down part of the county off Route 50 and that it would boost tourism by featuring restored slave quarters. But slow-growth activists opposed the project because of traffic concerns.
Kincora is a large mixed-use development proposed to be set up near routes 7 and 28 in Ashburn.
Although county officials have expressed a desire for "town centers" -- pedestrian-friendly developments where people can live, work and play -- slow-growth activists note that the area has several similar developments.
"Does the Ashburn community really need another town center?" said Ed Gorski, land-use officer for the anti-sprawl Piedmont Environmental Council. "What's been happening is the town center has become the latest developer fad, and we're having town centers blossom all over the place. If you have too many of them, only a certain number are going to be viable."
Perhaps the most controversial project slated for board consideration this year is Ridgewater Park, a community of about 1,000 houses in a rural area east of Leesburg. Developer Leonard S. "Hobie" Mitchel has dramatically scaled back the project to make it palatable to skeptical supervisors, but it still draws concerns.
Conservationists say it threatens the Goose Creek Reservoir, which provides water to thousands of Loudoun residents. Some officials also worry that it could set a precedent because it would have a higher density than some neighboring communities.
Already, developers in neighboring areas have said they will ask to build more houses if Ridgewater Park is approved, said Marchant Schneider, a county planner.
Schneider said the project has encountered several stumbling blocks along the way and is scheduled to be reviewed by the board in December. But he said it is appropriate for the developer to seek final approval from the current board, which is familiar with the project and has been working on it for months.
"If it's rushed, it's in that there is a desire to have this board look at it, which makes sense," Schneider said.