In a surprising move, the Loudoun County Planning Commission voted 5-4 to forward the Comprehensive Plan Amendment (CPAM) for the Route 50/Arcola corridor to the Board of Supervisors with a recommendation of denial. Commissioners Chair Teresa Whitmore (Potomac), Vice Chair Robert J. Klancher (Broad Run), Lawrence Beerman (Dulles) and John H. Elgin (Leesburg) voted against the motion.
The decision came three weeks after the commission had voted to recommend approval of the proposed CPAM and two weeks after the vote was reopened following concerns about residential development close to Dulles International Airport.
If approved by the Supervisors, the Route 50/Arcola CPAM would allow for additional residential, retail and business development along the area often referred to as the "gateway to Loudoun."
The vote sent up a wave of response from the development company representatives who were present and caused friction between commissioners. It was a decision that some called "unbelievable." Other observers called themselves "dumbfounded."
"I think it is ridiculous not to make a recommendation to the board," Beerman said. "At least leave the residential density open and let them come up with a number."
"I think a lot of time and energy has been put into this by a lot of volunteers and I would hate to send it to the board with no recommendation," Whitmore said.
Commissioner Nancy Hsu (Blue Ridge), who made the motion for denial, said that she did not think anything could be done to make her comfortable voting for a recommendation of approval.
"The basic concept is not the right concept," she said. "We can't play around and fudge words to get to where I am at."
RESIDENTIAL DEVELOPMENT close to Dulles Airport continued to be the main issue for a majority of the Planning Commission.
Originally the commission had voted to recommend approval of the CPAM with a residential density within the proposed lifestyle hub at 24 units per acre.
A lifestyle hub is a development that would include upscale retail stores, restaurants, entertainment activities and housing, similar to Fairfax Corner in Fairfax and the Washingtonian Center in Gaithersburg, Md. The proposed lifestyle hub would be located off of Route 50, just west of Dulles Airport.
"I am very nervous about stuff being that close to the airport," said Commissioner Suzanne M. Volpe (Sugarland Run), who voted for the original recommendation and later made the motion to reconsider. "It's not technical, but I have concerns about the flight paths, concerns about the houses being that close and I have concerns about density."
Beerman attempted to find a compromise, by moving that the CPAM be forwarded with a residential density of 20 units per acre within the lifestyle hub. His motion failed and led the way for Hsu's motion for a recommendation of denial.
Many commissioners believed that there should be no residential development adjacent to the airport and the area should be zoned strictly for office space.
"The characteristics of what the applicant is trying to do is really excellent," Commissioner John D. Herbert (Catoctin) said. "They are trying to get mixed-use development into Loudoun. But I am having trouble believing that it is a good idea for this location."
There are noise contours, or areas, mapped out arround Dulles which restrict the amount of development that may occur in close proximity to the airport. The proposed CPAM falls within the allowance of the noise contours.
"The real issue is do we put residential development into an area that has primarily had a commercial and industrial designation," Elgin said. "That's what we have done throughout the county. If it is not good here then why do we even bother to have the [noise contours]?"
"The noise contours are the protection for that area," Whitmore said. "That and the fact that [homeowners] sign on the bottom line and know what they are getting into."
However, commissioners that voted for the recommendation of denial were adamant that residential development was not smart near the airport.
"It seems to me that more thought should go into it," Commissioner Helena Syska (Sterling) said. "I like the thought of more office and some retail and very little residential. I do not want to put anymore houses there."
Herbert was also concerned about the lack of an infrastructure around the area in question, something Klancher called a "chicken and egg situation."
"We start with a policy like this and say this is what we want to plan for an area and then we go to transportation and develop a plan to work with those densities," he said. "This comes first, transportation comes second."
THE COMMISSION WAS also scheduled to work on the Upper Foley/Upper Broad Run CPAM, also known as the Transition Policy Area. The CPAM has been forwarded to committee, with the commission spitting into three groups.
Commissioners Klancher, Hsu and Elgin will work on issues of density and housing; Commissioners Whitmore, Volpe and Kevin Ruedisueli (At-large) will work on transportation concerns and Commissioners Beerman, Syska and Herbert will analyze fiscal, environmental and economic issues.