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Route 50 Task Force: Onward

Group has faced criticism but will present recommendations to county next month.

Supervisor Stephen Snow's pet project, the remaking of the Route 50 corridor in the eastern part of the county, is moving full steam ahead.

"I believe we've come very far in a very short period of time," Snow said. "We have a momentum."

The task force will present a set of draft recommendations on the future of Route 50 to the Board of Supervisors in the next month.

Snow (R-Dulles) first introduced the idea of the Route 50 Task Force last summer. The idea was to prevent the eastern gateway to the county from turning into another Route 7 — a mishmash of strip malls, fast food restaurants and stoplights.

Instead, Snow envisioned a coordinated, accessible development scheme that would preserve the beauty and historical nature of the corridor, all while helping relieve traffic and attract businesses.

He likened the goal to the George Washington Parkway that lines the Potomac River and proposed the name John Mosby Heritage Parkway.

THINGS GOT OFF to a rocky start when Snow announced four team leaders for the task force — and they were all developers. Dozens of citizens turned up a September public input meeting to tell Snow that putting developers in a position of power was tantamount to putting the fox in charge of the hen house.

The Dulles south area is the epicenter of a development boom in the county. Several large development proposals are pending county approval in the area.

In response, Snow appointed citizens to the task force and eliminated the study area with the most pending development. That segment, the area on the north side of Route 50 from Route 659 to Lenah Road and on the south side of Route 50 from West Spine Road to Lenah Road, is part of an enormous development proposal from Greenvest to put in 15,000 homes.

"We’ve tried to keep it as pure as possible," Snow said.

AT AN APRIL 7 meeting of the task force, Bob Buchanan of Buchanan Partners defended his role as a developer and member of the task force.

"I doubt any other group could have pulled off this other than the development community," Buchanan said. "You're getting people who are in the trenches who know what's going on. It's not pie-in-the-sky stuff."

The task force, in conjunction with the Loudoun County Department of Economic Development, has prepared a series of recommendations for the corridor after meeting with residents and business owners.

Among the recommendations is a new mixed-use zoning district stretching from the Fairfax County line to Route 659 Relocated. Most of this area is currently zoned for light commercial use.

The new mixed-use zoning, which would be on an opt-in basis, would require landowners to comply with landscape standards and other aesthetic considerations for construction.

In exchange, businesses would have a uniform, attractive image, increased signage and visibility and an overall recognizable identity that by-right development might lack.

The recommendation for a new zoning district is still under discussion, however, according to economic development planner Robyn Bailey.

HAVING DEVELOPERS on the task force means that Snow has gotten them involved in the design process before they even present development proposals.

Buchanan Partners and Beatty Limited Partnership are preparing proposals for a total of 1.5 million square feet of commercial space in Arcola, a decayed unincorporated town on the western edge of the Route 50 Task Force's study areas.

"Arcola has deteriorated," Bailey said. "You drive through it, and it’s just amazing."

The deals could result in large commercial retailers such as Wal-Mart and Home Depot. A commercial center at Arcola, which is just minutes from rapidly-growing South Riding and Stone Ridge, would help take hundreds of drivers off the road traveling to Fair Oaks or beyond to do their shopping.

According to Snow, Buchanan Partners has agreed to follow the task force's guidelines to make a Wal-Mart more palatable for the longtime rural area.

"We've got all of the partners," Snow said. "We've got them talking together."

But one of the challenges for the task force will be marrying current in-process development proposals with the future recommendations of the task force. While Buchanan has signaled his willingness to work by sitting on the task force, Beatty does not have a member on the group.

The Beatty proposal is currently under review with county staff and will come before the Planning Commission later this summer. The Buchanan Partners proposal has yet to be submitted.

ARCOLA is a special case because of the historical significance of the Arcola Slave Quarters, a late 18th century stacked stone structure. The building was proffered to the county by a Swiss development company that owns the surrounding land.

The task force has historic, tourism and preservation interests represented in the forms of Cheryl Kilday, president of the Loudoun Convention and Visitors Association, and Ed Gorksi, land use officer with the Piedmont Environmental Council.

For more information and to read the task force's draft recommendations, visit www.loudoun.gov and select "Route 50" under the "Hot Topics" toolbar. Public comment is welcomed via e-mail at Route50@loudoun.gov.