Tackling Route 50 CPAM

Tackling Route 50 CPAM

At its April 24 work session, the Loudoun County Planning Commission asked staff members to revise the language of the proposed Comprehensive Plan amendment (CPAM) for the Route 50/Arcola corridor in order to clarify what developers can and cannot do with the land. The CPAM would rezone the Route 50/Arcola corridor, an area often referred to as "the gateway to Loudoun," to allow for additional residential, business and retail development.

"The problem that I see is that we don't have a plan amendment in front of us," Commissioner John D. Herbert (Catoctin) said. "We have a bunch of ideas, but we don't have a plan that is going to change the previous exercise."

Commissioners were concerned that the terms in the proposed amendment were not properly defined and what definitions were given were not written in clear language.

"We need to have clearer language so people understand what they can and cannot do," Commissioner Suzanne Volpe (Sugarland Run) said. "We need clear definitions of [different] retail uses."

THE PLANNING COMMISSION held a public hearing on the proposed amendment April 17 and many county residents that spoke against the amendment were concerned about the loss of corridor retail space along Route 50.

Monday, staff members told commissioners that the rezoning did not eliminate corridor retail in favor of mixed-use retail, but simply gave developers more options.

"We were not trying to do away with corridor retail," project planner Cindy Keegan said. "We were trying to fold it in to the mixed-use retail where you could do corridor retail or you could do something else."

One of the main issues commissioners had with the proposed amendment as written was the lack of clarity about what type of development would be allowed in various places and the confusion it might cause land owners.

"If we want it to be a fair playing ground for everybody, I don't want somebody who bought land on the south of road [to not be able to] build a Home Depot because he's on the wrong side of the road," Volpe said.

Indeed there is already confusion for many land owners. Robert Hess owns are large section of land along the east portion of Route 50 in Loudoun and does not know how to move forward with development.

"We just want some direction as to what to do," he said. "We would love to work with the county and we would love to work with the needs of the community and we would love to get started, but we don't know what to do."

WHILE THERE WERE no actions taken Monday night, there was a great deal of discussion about the quality of the proposed CPAM as it was written between the commissioners, Department of Planning staff members and members of the Route 50 task force. The task force was formed in late 2004 at the Board of Supervisors' request to address land use along the Route 50 corridor and make recommendations on how to create an attractive corridor into Loudoun County.

"I have been trying to get my teeth into this, but it is a little like chewing water," Commissioner John Elgin (Leesburg) said. "It doesn't have a lot of flavor and you really can't tell what's in your mouth."

Elgin and other commissioners were concerned about the lack of detailed information provided in the CPAM and the ambiguity of some of the language.

"If it is at all possible let's get away from the ambiguousness," Elgin said. "The county 'will,' or the county 'will not‚' and there is not a third option."

In addition to the language, commissioners expressed concern over the fact that there were no analyses included in the amendment, including studies on traffic and demand.

"There is some realistic evidence that there is a demand for this type of retail, but we've got no analysis for office space or industrial uses," Herbert said. "I would like some rough evidence for the quantities that are proposed."

The reason behind the lack of defined caps or limits on types of development, Keegan said, was so that one developer would not use up all the allowed space for a certain type of development thereby limiting the options of anyone who wanted to develop after him.

The way the language is now, Keegan said, "if you can prove why you need the retail, there is nothing in the policies that you cannot do."

The Planning Commission will meet again next Monday, May 1, to continue discussing the proposed CPAM and the revised language.

However, some developers who worked on the Route 50 task force advised the Planning Commission not to delay making a decision.

"So much is going on down there with so much more than the county has ever experienced that it is an explosion waiting to happen," Robert Buchanan, from the development company Buchanan Partners, said. "We're there. We are waiting for you to pass this so we can submit our rezonings. There is a hell of a lot of nothing there that will stay nothing if you put this approval off."