Plan Would Ban Houses Near Airport

By Sandhya Somashekhar
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, June 8, 2008

The Loudoun County Board of Supervisors sent a strong signal last week that it does not want any residential development in an area near Leesburg Executive Airport that had been the proposed location for a mixed-use project called Crosstrail.

The project would have brought offices, shops and up to 1,000 residences to the 500-acre property southeast of Leesburg. The previous board had indicated support for the plan in late 2006 but reversed course and rejected it. The developer, Peterson Cos., has filed suit contesting the decision.

On Tuesday, the board voted to initiate a rezoning that would bar any kind of housing on the site. The supervisors said they want only offices and light industrial uses such as warehouses, which they said are more appropriate because of the land's proximity to the airport. The vote came after the board met in closed session.

"This airport is an economic driver, and we have all sorts of evidence that when you put housing too close to airports, you will have problems," said Supervisor Kelly Burk (D-Leesburg), explaining that new residents could complain about noise or lights.

Peterson had made a number of concessions to appease wary county officials, scaling back the number of residences in its proposal and assuring the county that prospective buyers would be notified of possible noise problems. The company noted that the project included 2 million square feet of office space that it said would boost business at the airport and the economy.

But in a surprise decision, the board -- which at the time looked favorably at new residential development -- rejected the project in July, saying Peterson had not done enough to alleviate the county's concerns. The developer filed its lawsuit in Loudoun County Circuit Court the following month, alleging that the board had acted "arbitrarily and capriciously."

A Peterson official declined to comment Friday on the board's latest vote, citing the pending litigation.

Since the rejection of Crosstrail, there has been a county election in which voters ousted four supervisors who were perceived as too supportive of residential development. The board is now dominated by supervisors who favor a slower rate of growth in the county, an attitude that was underscored by Tuesday's vote.

Leesburg Mayor Kristen C. Umstattd praised the board's decision, saying it will help protect the airport. The airport contributes an estimated $45 million to the local economy each year. Across the nation, small airports have been forced to close because of the creep of residential development.

The county Planning Commission has yet to sign off on the rezoning, and several hearings will take place in the coming months to gauge public opinion before the measure goes to a vote by the full board.

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