Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority officials have raised alarms about a comprehensive plan amendment under consideration by the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors that would allow new homes near runways at Washington Dulles International Airport.
At recent meetings of the board’s Transportation and Land Use Committee, airport officials expressed serious concerns about an option in the Silver Line comprehensive plan amendment — known as Alternative A — that would change the designation of two parcels currently zoned for nonresidential uses to “urban mixed use.” If approved, the change would allow retail businesses, offices and homes in those areas.
Airport officials said allowing more housing near the runways would lead to an increase in noise complaints, which could place pressure on elected officials to limit airport-related activities.
The parcels are between two planned Metro stations: the Loudoun Gateway station at Route 606 and the Ashburn station at the western terminus of the Silver Line.
Several supervisors have expressed interest in allowing residential development on the land to generate more revenue from the special tax districts created around the Metro stations. The revenue could help offset the county’s costs of extending the Silver Line into Loudoun.
In October, when the committee first discussed Alternative A, Supervisor Ron A. Meyer (R-Broad Run) said the mixed-use development would “bring us the most revenue and make this the most tax-positive in the long term — not just for the next 10 years, like data centers would.”
Michael J. Cooper, manager of state and local government affairs for the airports authority, told supervisors Alternative A was “a shocking development” for the airports authority.
“This is a huge tract of land that will be exposed to departures [and arrivals] every day, constant, 24/7,” he said, referring to the larger parcel, which is along the east side of the Loudoun County Parkway. “What you are buying is an increase in noise complaints that will come inevitably to you and your successors.”
Meyer’s response was stern. “It’s a really dangerous poker game you’re playing, Mr. Cooper, and you need to be careful,” he said. “This county is committed to protect the airport, but things can change pretty rapidly.”
After the committee voted, 3 to 2, to recommend Alternative A to the full Board of Supervisors, the airports authority and the Metropolitan Washington Airlines Committee, which represents 37 airlines serving Dulles Airport, sent letters to the county expressing strong concerns about building more residences near the airport.
When Cooper addressed the committee again at its Nov. 10 meeting, he pointed to Reagan National Airport as a cautionary example.
“Residents are asking their elected officials to limit the nighttime and aviation activity coming off the runways of Reagan National Airport over their homes,” Cooper said. “At Dulles, we have a very different dynamic. We have developers who are petitioning their elected officials to put homes under” the flight paths.
“What you’ve got is working. And what we’re asking you to do today is to stay the course,” he said.
Cooper said the parcel along the Loudoun County Parkway “is directly in line with both arrivals and departures that are occurring today off the fourth runway.”
Arriving aircraft fly over the parcel at heights between 400 and 600 feet, he said, noting that the Washington Monument is 555 feet tall. Departing aircraft, with full fuel tanks and engines running at full throttle, would be even louder, he said.
“There is no amount of residential they could put at the 606 station that would offset the negative economic impact of the airport on this county, this region and this commonwealth that will occur if nighttime operations are curbed, and if future aviation growth cannot occur,” Cooper said.
Board of Supervisors Chair Phyllis J. Randall (D-At Large) said she was frustrated by the airports authority’s position.
“I feel like I’m Charlie Brown and you all are Lucy, and you all keep moving the ball,” she said.
Randall said she had consistently opposed building homes within zones deemed incompatible for residential development under FAA standards because of aircraft noise but that the two parcels are outside those zones.
“You’re acting as if you’ve been saying these things to us all along, and we just ignored it,” she said. “This is new information. Every time we come here, there’s new information, and I am frustrated by it.”
The full Board of Supervisors is expected to discuss the issue at a special meeting Nov. 29.