Development Threat to Water Supply?

Development Threat to Water Supply?

Loudoun Officials Say Proposal Needs Study

A large plot of land adjacent to the City of Fairfax's water supply in Loudoun County is up for a rezoning approval that would allow residential, office, retail and business development. The pending rezoning has raised concerns among city officials about potential risks development could cause to the city's water.

The Comprehensive Plan amendment that would transfer more than 1,000 acres west of the Goose Creek reservoir — the city's water supply — from the Transition Policy Area to the Suburban Policy Area will receive further review next month as the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors voted to send the amendment to a work session following its Feb. 15 public hearing.

The proposal was created by the Loudoun supervisors Nov. 21, when it directed the Planning Commission to review an amendment in the same area as a pending rezoning application from the Lansdowne Development Group, known as Ridgewater Park, formally known as Creekside. The amendment covers the 736-acre Ridgewater Park site west of Goose Creek and a portion of Lower Sycolin Subarea, located just north of the Dulles Greenway and east of Leesburg.

John Boryschuk, the City of Fairfax utilities director, has been attending Loudoun Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors meetings throughout the process. He said the developers have been very cooperative in addressing the city's concerns, and the city is about as pleased as it can be with the issue.

"Obviously, we'd be just as happy if it just stayed the way it is [undeveloped]," said Boryschuk.

One of the city's biggest concerns is the possibility of nutrients finding their way into the reservoir, he said. The developers have agreed to have some monitoring in place to check for any changes. They have also agreed to help pursue the establishment of rules and regulations with the homeowner's associations of the future residential developments, so that some accountability will exist down the road if the reservoir is negatively impacted.

"[The developers] are at least willing to work with us," said Boryschuk.

If approved, the amendment would allow for residential development up to four units per acre and an increase in office, retail and business development. Included in the Ridgewater Park development would be the new 500,000 square foot Inova L.I.F.E. center. The center was planned to create a setting for scientists and doctors to work together on developing new practices in the health care sciences, medical education and patient-care technology.

Under the proposed policy, the minimum open space requirement in the area would drop from 70 percent of the total acreage to 30 percent in residential and 10 percent in business development. The designation of the Luck Stone Quarry, which is located in the northern section of the subarea, would remain unchanged.

WHILE SOME SUPERVISORS said they were confident in the type of development that the Lansdowne Development Group and its president Hobie Mitchell would create for the county, many were concerned about the ramifications of allowing increased development so close to a major reservoir.

"The issue before us is whether or not it is appropriate to change the policy in the transition area," Supervisor Jim Burton (I-Blue Ridge) said. "Not whether or not Mr. Mitchell would propose and build an excellent project, which I am sure he would."

Goose Creek provides drinking water not only for residents of the City of Fairfax, but also for residents of Loudoun County, project manager Marchant Schneider told the board. Schneider said county staff was concerned that increased development would also increase sedimentation, chemical runoff and basic human and animal contamination.

"Approval of a suburban designation will lower the bar for justification of a suburban designation potentially within the Transition Policy Area," Schneider said.

Boryschuk said the majority of the impact would happen downstream from the city's reservoir, but some issues would still remain there as well. He said he expects the board to have a 4-3 vote, since it appeared supervisors were split at the last meeting.

THE IMPACT on the reservoir was also a main concern of residents and environmentalists who spoke at the Feb. 15 public hearing.

"Can we really take the risk to our drinking and the health of our children and our children's children?" Ashburn Farm resident Cathy Dorman asked the board.

Brooks Cressman, conservation chair of the Virginia Chapter the of Sierra Club, said that the organization's Loudoun and Fairfax members oppose the amendment because it threatens a critical supply of clean drinking water, impacts the Chesapeake Bay water quality and because of its impact on local traffic congestion and therefore air quality.

However, Michael Rolband, president of Wetlands Studies and Solutions, Inc., a Northern Virginia consulting firm, said that the impact on the reservoir would not be a large as some might think.

"One of the things we worried about was water protection with the Goose Creek reservoir," he said. "This plan provides buffers to the Goose Creek reservoir of over 500 feet. The required buffer is 300 feet. This buffer would filter the sediment load and reduce the effect."

ONE OF THE ISSUES that most concerned the board was the lack of studies included with the application. Supervisor Sally Kurtz (D-Catoctin), the representative of the district where the development would be located, said she wanted to see not only environmental studies, but studies on the fiscal impact, transportation impact and the public need.

"Loudoun County's citizens, towns and existing corporate entities need to know that the county will stand by its plans or give deliberate, reasoned, logical reasons why there needs to be a significant change," she said.

Kurtz made a motion to leave the current land-use policies in place, but Supervisor Mick Staton (R-Sugarland Run) made a substitute motion to send the proposal to a March work session. Supervisor Lori Waters (R-Broad Run) said she believed any work on the amendment should be postponed until April, to allow the board the opportunity to focus on the county's budget.

"There are a lot of questions that I have that do not have answers because the studies have not been done," she said.

With Chairman Scott K. York (I-At-large) absent for the hearing, no majority emerged in either support for or denial of the Comprehensive Plan amendment. While Supervisor Bruce E. Tulloch (R-Potomac) joined Waters, Burton and Kurtz in his opposition to the project, saying he could not "embrace the development in this area at this time," he voted to send the project to the March work session.

The board will meet to discuss the Comprehensive Plan amendment March 7, at 6:30 p.m. at the Loudoun County Government Center in Leesburg.