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Votes

Residents Speak in Chorus

Virtually all speakers at hearing favor Oaklawn for next government center site.

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The Board of Supervisors has narrowed the possible sites for a new government center down to five.

>"I’m a little overwhelmed by the consensus that came from this crowd," Supervisor Jim Burton (I-Blue Ridge) told the audience last Tuesday, Nov. 27, after nearly 40 citizens had taken the podium, most to agree with previous speakers.

The Board of Supervisors held a public input session to hear residents’ thoughts on proposals for a new Loudoun County Government Center. After receiving proposals from 13 developers, the board had whittled its candidates down to five — three who planned to build in Ashburn and two who opted for the Town of Leesburg.

Board members agreed that the final decision on a site would be made by the next board, which will take office in January. The four incoming supervisors sat in on the meeting.

AMONG THE SPEAKERS, who came primarily from Ashburn, Leesburg and points west, there was a near-unanimous consensus that the government center should remain in the county seat. Of the two options in town, the proposed Oaklawn Government Center, to be located near the interchange of the Dulles Greenway and Battlefield Parkway, was the clear favorite. This proposal would put the next government center in one six-story building and a four-story building on a 20-acre campus, to be included in a 165-acre mixed-use development.

Leesburg Mayor Kristen Umstattd said her board was indifferent to which Leesburg site was chosen, but was galvanized in its desire to keep the government center in town. She cited the town’s central location and the fact that it serves as the county seat as reasons for the council’s position.

"We fear it would be a major disruption to our economy to have it moved anywhere outside the town," she told the supervisors. Many of the town’s residents and businesses, she said, had moved there because it was the center’s home. She pointed out that more than two-thirds of the county’s employees lived in Leesburg or to its north or west, which would lengthen their commute if the government center were moved into Ashburn.

"For the last 250 years, Leesburg has proudly been the center of government for Loudoun County, a role we feel the town should continue to fill into the future," said Umstattd.

Most other speakers also cited tradition and the town’s economy and central location as reasons to keep the center in Leesburg, and many pointed to the Oaklawn site’s accessibility, amenities and potential for growth as reasons to settle on the location.

"I ask you all not to forget us people," said John Stowers of Lovettsville, noting that a move to Ashburn would make the trip to the new government center longer for him and his neighbors.

David Chachu of Lansdowne was one of several who pointed out that the site would have access to most of the area’s major roads, including Route 7, Route 15, the Dulles Greenway, Evergreen Mills Road and Sycolin Road.

TOM BEREZOSKI, chair of the Loudoun County chapter of the Red Cross, said the Oaklawn location would place the government center within easy access of not only the proposed new Red Cross site but also the town and county police departments, the Sheriff’s Office, the Leesburg National Guard, the Fire and Rescue Training Center, the Verizon headquarters, Interfaith Relief, the Salvation Army and others. "All of these, at some time or another, will end up working with you and the county if you have a disaster," he told the board.

Chris Hartzler of Ashburn said he thought the Oaklawn proposal was an "extremely well-thought-out plan," including parks, retail, restaurant and other services that would be useful to employees and users of the government center, as well as nearby residents.

Former Leesburg Planning Commissioner Bridget Bangert recalled working with Keane Enterprises, one of the developers proposing the Oaklawn Government Center, and called the firm "an outstanding company to work with," adding that the company had slowed previous developments in order to cooperate with the citizenry. "They go out of their way to try to work with you," she said.

Keane Enterprises, a local developer, would work with Trammel Crow Company to build the site.

Ellen Oliver of Lansdowne said she thought the government center ought to remain in Leesburg but begged that it be kept off of Route 7, which is where the other Leesburg site was planned. She said she did not want any more traffic on that road.

Phil LoPresti pointed out that a Leesburg location draws traffic against rush hour, to the benefit of all commuters. He too, asked that no more traffic be directed to Route 7.

"I’m going to call you team Oaklawn, because it’s been pretty apparent what your position is," Supervisor Bruce Tulloch (R-Potomac) told the crowd. However, he said, the county would have to go with "he who brings the best and most to the county" and a plan that would work.

HE TOLD THE crowd that the county was seeking a new government center because it had outgrown the current one and was spending too much to lease space elsewhere.

According to a county brochure, the estimated cost of construction for a new government center is $140 million, which would be financed over the next 20 years. Meanwhile, the cost of continuing to lease property is projected at $324 million.

County Administrator Kirby Bowers said the process of settling on a contract is about halfway complete, adding that the matter will be reopened for public input and subject to board approval before a contract was signed. He estimated that the process would take another six to eight months.

After the county government moves, the current government center will likely house some of the operations of the courts, and Tulloch said court personnel were "already measuring the rooms."