A disjointed six-mile stretch of Route 50 in southern Loudoun County could be overhauled in coming years under a new development, landscaping and transportation effort unanimously endorsed by the Board of Supervisors last week.
The stretch of road heading west from the Fairfax County border and areas north and south of the congested highway have been the focus of months of work by a county-appointed task force of landowners, developers, business owners and others.
Supervisors voted Tuesday to move forward with the recommendations of the Route 50 Task Force and directed county staff members to devise a plan and timeline for hashing out detailed policies based on the task force's recommendations.
A key part of the effort is a proposal to give landowners new opportunities to develop more -- and more varied -- projects in exchange for providing more private funding for roads, landscaping and other improvements that could make the area more attractive and a better economic development draw.
The task force's report said the area is marked by an "uncoordinated and unsightly" mix of signs, fences and outdoor storage of commercial equipment.
Charles A. Yudd, the county official assigned to coordinate the effort, which was launched by Supervisor Stephen J. Snow (R-Dulles), said potential economic incentives garnered much attention in the discussions launched last year.
"The question of incentives came up constantly. If you're going to effect a positive change in one direction, there needs to be some type of motivation for people to pursue that," Yudd said.
The recommendations offered broad ideas about what such incentives might look like. For instance, the task force called for a new zoning category called the Planned Development/Mixed Use Zoning District.
In exchange for voluntarily joining the district, landowners could build houses, stores and taller buildings. They could also get speedier consideration of development applications and might also receive county help extending water and sewer lines crucial for more development, according to the recommendations.
Backers of the plan say those benefits could encourage the concentration of smaller parcels into larger groupings that could be the basis for more ambitious projects in the area. Those would include hotels to serve tourists visiting the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum annex near Dulles International Airport, commercial parks to lure defense-related businesses, a big-box store "main street" and large single-family home, townhouse and condominium developments.
The recommendations leave unanswered key questions about the size and specifics of development that would be allowed and the extent of the contributions expected in return. The task force left those details to the county planning process the supervisors initiated Tuesday. The supervisors' vote formally began the process of crafting an amendment to the county's Comprehensive Plan, which governs what can be built where.
"Potential development scenarios describing the potential number of units and square footage associated with these recommendations have not been identified or evaluated by the task force and any subsequent Comprehensive Plan Amendment process should address those impacts," the report said.
The supervisors also called for changes in the county's transportation plans to address the incomplete network of roads north and south of Route 50. They called for increased cooperation with neighboring Fairfax County.
Yudd said that even after potential Loudoun improvements were made, there would still be "chokepoints" at the county border.
"What also became overwhelmingly clear to the task force is that as these parallel road networks develop, all of them end at the county line," he said. "That heightens the critical need for coordination" with Fairfax County, the Virginia Department of Transportation and Dulles Airport officials to extend improvements from the county line eastward to Route 28, he said.
Supervisors, following the task force's recommendations, also called for new planning and zoning polices encouraging housing and commercial development in and around the village of Arcola.
"It's a historic day for Loudoun County. To my knowledge nothing of this nature has been done in the past, or at least gotten this far," Snow said. "These recommendations have the ability to create economic development opportunities by encouraging higher and better uses."
Snow added that implementing the recommendations could create a "beautiful and aesthetically pleasing corridor" and "remind us of the history that we have" in the Arcola area. The recommendations call for using signs, architectural and landscape guidelines, and other measures to draw attention to historic resources, such as a former slave quarters and Mount Zion Church.
Supervisor Jim G. Burton (I-Blue Ridge) praised the effort. Although he said he has concerns about proposals for higher-density housing in the area, he said he could address those during the county's formal review.
"I don't see any showstoppers in here," Burton said, adding that Snow, a frequent sparring partner, had presided over a "really good effort."
"It's a tough nut to crack. I tried it in the past and couldn't get there. So my hat's off to you," said Burton, who represented the area before a redistricting following the 2000 Census. "Other boards have tried in the past. We're not there yet, but I think the steps you've taken are bigger than any of the steps we've taken in the past."