Proposed development along a currently nonexistent road in Loudoun County have residents concerned about safety, tax dollars and overcrowding.
The Coalition for Smarter Growth held a press conference regarding 20 proposed developments along the Western Transportation Corridor, which would add an estimated 42,000 new homes in the eastern half of the county.
“We’re standing in an area threatened by massive urban development,” said Andrea McGimsey from the Campaign for Loudoun’s Future to about 25 residents and activists standing at the Mt. Zion church at the intersection of Rt. 50 and Watson Road last week on Wednesday morning.
The 20 proposals would modify the county’s comprehensive plan, which already includes 39,000 new homes, she said, and would lead to overcrowding of narrow country roads, already congested major roadways and schools.
“This is a campaign about our quality of life. If this development is approved, 42,000 new households would create an estimated 400,000 car trips on our roads, and there aren’t a lot of roadways here,” she said.
She said that 400,000 more car trips is the equivalent of almost 14 times the amount of traffic currently on Route 50 at the Fairfax County line, currently 29,000 trips daily or 5.7 times the amount of traffic at the intersection of Routes 7 and 28, which is 70,000 daily trips already.
“This could mean up to 23,000 new students for our schools,” McGimsey said. “We also would have to pay for fire and rescue services, road construction,” she said. “The impact of all this development wouldn’t just stay in Loudoun County, you’ll feel the impact in Fairfax and Prince William Counties as well.”
“In January of 2003, the county Board of Supervisors took action to remove 80,000 houses from the planning maps to save land and tax money in school and safety costs,” said Bob Lazaro, assistant to Scott York, chairman of the Board of Supervisors. “This proposed development is putting growth and profit ahead of the needs of citizens.”
“I hope the Planning Commission will reject (the proposals),” he said. “Forty-two thousands homes in East Loudoun is what the citizens do not want.”
“WE WANT to send our children to top rated schools, we want to be able to leave home for work at a decent hour and be able to be home to have dinner with our families,” said Susan Klimek Buckley, founder of the Eastern Loudoun Schools Association. “This is the fastest growing county in the nation and we’ve already begun to fight to preserve our quality of life,” she said.
“When our children are learning in trailers, is that the best learning environment for them? This is our reality and we need to solve the problems in Loudoun County,” she said.
Buckley said she wonders about the people who proposed the developments.
“Whose side are they on,” she asked of the Board of Supervisors. “These developers have donated tens and tens and tens of thousands of dollars to the supervisors' campaigns last year to get them elected. It seems the developers are running the county.”
“This will be a nightmare for citizens” if the proposals are approved, McGimsey said. “This development is not in the county comprehensive plan and we don’t need it.”
She’s been going door-to-door to talk with residents about the proposed developments, trying to gather support and spread information about what might happen to this rural, farm-lined section of the county.
“There are days that are hard and discouraging, but when you get to talking to people, no one wants this,” McGimsey said.
“We put these supervisors in office and we can take them out,” said resident Arlean Hill, owner of old slave quarters in Arcola between Routes 659 and 621 that she’d like to turn into a museum. “If they don’t listen to us and we can’t get our way, let’s get rid of them. We need to inform the citizens … it would be disastrous to destroy a beautiful county like this,” she said.
“Residential development never pays for itself,” Lazaro said. “One child in public school costs $10,000 to educate for a year and the average person only pays $4,000 in taxes,” he said. “Nearly one-third of the population in Loudoun is under the age of 18 as it is.”
THOSE RESPONSIBLE for the proposed developments say the residents don’t have all the information.
“The Greenvest design is very different from the others,” said Vicki Bendure, a spokeswoman for the Vienna-based company, the largest developer with proposals before the Board of Supervisors.
“Our plans include building a school and several 200 to 300 acre parks because a lot of the kids have been traveling to play sports,” she said.
“There would be a lot of infrastructure and the communities are designed to pay for themselves,” she said.
Greenvest has gone so far as to develop a “cutting edge financial concept” which would eliminate the need or use of public funding and depend instead on commercial development bonds, she said.
“We’re still planning on keeping 30 to 40 percent of our land open space,” she said, and housing would be available to make it easier for teachers, firefighters, police and other professionals to live in Loudoun County, closer to work, Bendure said.
Packie Crown, vice president of planning and zoning at Greenvest, said the main focus of their proposal is to provide affordable housing, so young couples and families can live inside Loudoun County itself, instead of having to drive in from as far as West Virginia or Pennsylvania.
“Workforce housing will be a strong component for prospective companies,” she said.
“The county has to deal with these issues,” Crown said. “We’re proposing a 20-year plan to address the need for housing and we’ve put together a proposal that will pay for roads and schools.”
GREENVEST HAS INCLUDED funding in its proposal for renovating a six-mile stretch of Rt. 659 that would be paid with community development authority funding, she said.
“The county has no way of paying for it, Richmond certainly doesn’t have any money for it, so in order to address the transportation issue, we put together a plan to relieve that pressure,” Crown said.
She feels the residents are concerned because some of the information regarding the proposals has been misrepresented.
“The people who are calling for smarter growth are saying that these proposals are in addition to houses that would be needed to address the housing issue,” she said. “People enjoy the benefits of living in a prosperous area, but we need to build homes to bring people in.”
Even if the applications for the houses are approved, it will most likely be at least a year before the Board of Supervisors votes to accept the plans, she said.
“Even if the applications are accepted and approved, it doesn’t mean the developments will happen,” she said. “It’s a long, public process.”
Greenvest also hopes to reassure residents, if the proposal is accepted, that this isn’t a short-term plan.
“We’ve looked at in the long run for the benefit of the county,” Crown said. “This is exactly what the smart growth people said they wanted.”
Calls to The Rouse Company, another major developer that submitted a proposal, were not returned.