This past year has marked a lot of changes for Loudoun County. Many of the decisions made will impact the county, its community and residents for years to come. The county's farmers tried to hold on to their way of life, while finding a new niche for themselves in the face of ongoing development. Residents fought traffic every day on the roads and asked their local government to provide some relief. Efforts to replan vast areas of the county both passed and failed, causing many to wonder what will come next. And the county worked hard to find a balance between the urban sprawl that was destined to arrive and its rural history that it yearned to keep.
<bt>Like previous years, the debate over the future of Loudoun's rural west remained at the forefront of the issues in 2006, finally reaching a resolution as the year was coming to an end. On Tuesday, Dec. 5 the Board of Supervisors approved a downzoning plan created by Supervisor Mick Staton (R-Sugarland Run), putting to rest almost two years of debate on the issue, but splitting the board 5-4.
"This issue, more than any other, has done more to divide this county along such harsh lines," Staton said immediately before the vote.
Staton's plan was introduced in September 2006, overriding a plan created by Supervisors Jim Burton (I-Blue Ridge) and Jim Clem (R-Leesburg) last year. Staton proposed amendments to the Clem/Burton proposal, which garnered support from Supervisors Stephen Snow (R-Dulles), Eugene Delgaudio (R-Sterling), Bruce E. Tulloch (R-Potomac) and Clem.
Staton considered his amendments a compromise, allowing cluster development at a density of one residential unit per five acres in the northern portion and cluster development in the southern portion that allows for one unit per 15 acres. In addition, Staton's proposal allowed an option for landowners to divide in either 10- or five-acre parcels and removes the rezoning option.
During a public hearing on some of Staton's amendments, residents expressed anger that the Clem/Burton plan, which many residents supported, had been changed.
"Loudoun citizens from the east and the west urge you to pass the Clem/Burton plan," Kathleen Hughes, a Waterford resident, said at the Nov. 29 public hearing. "We are not willing to accept 18,000 new houses in the rural west under the [new] plan. I am just outraged that you are even entertaining this proposal."
Indeed many of the Supervisors who opposed Staton's plan said they believed the citizens felt their opinions had been brushed aside by the new proposal.
"Now, the citizens literally feel that we collectively as a board have ignored them," Chairman Scott K. York (I-At large) said.
<bt>It was the year of Comprehensive Plan amendment decisions, with the board deciding the fate of the Transition Policy Area and the Route 50 corridor, proposals for which had been developed over the past two years.
In November, the Board of Supervisors denied the Comprehensive Plan amendment for the Transition Policy Area, a sweeping plan that would have allowed increased residential, retail and business development in the area west of the suburban policy area. The plan amendment was a combination of several applicant-initiated Comprehensive Plan amendments merged into one large proposal for the entire area.
This summer, the Planning Commission recommended increasing the residential density throughout the transition area to four dwelling units per acre, with denser development toward the east and feathering out toward the west.
In the meetings leading up to the Nov. 8 denial, several Supervisors indicated their unhappiness with the final proposal, expressing concern about the amount of residential development bordering the Rural Policy Area.
"I do believe that approving more residential units in the area will make things worse instead of better," Supervisor Jim Burton (I-At large) said at the time of the denial.
In denying the Comprehensive Plan amendment for the Transition Area, the board also put a halt to George Mason University's plan to build a full-service campus in the county. The planned Loudoun campus became a part of Greenvest's rezoning application for the Arcola area after the development company gifted the college 123 acres, the development company said the acreage would not be handed over unless its rezoning was approved. Even with the set back, George Mason still has plans for Loudoun, Tom Hennessey, chief of staff of the university, said.
"It has always been a question of where and when," he said.
The future of the seven rezonings is also in question in the coming year. While each application will be reviewed by county staff and Supervisors on its own merit, the lack of a new Comprehensive Plan for the area will make approval much more difficult.
The board continued to be split over the future of the Route 50 corridor when it approved the Comprehensive Plan amendment for the area in October.
The amendment rezones the Route 50/Arcola corridor, an area often referred to as "the gateway to Loudoun," allowing for additional residential, business and retail development. In the final amendment, the board voted to leave a majority of the Route 50 corridor zoned for business community, which allows residential development to be up to 25 percent of an application.
At the Oct. 17 meeting, Supervisors stated their main focus was creating a mixed-use community that would bring businesses, jobs and retail to the southern part of the county.
"I think we have finally made those steps and they are quantum leaps," Supervisor Jim Clem (R-Leesburg) said.
The board voted to decrease the allowed density in areas fronting Route 50, west of the airport, to 14 units per acre. The decreased density, put forth by Supervisor Bruce E. Tulloch (R-Potomac) allows for a total of 5,794 residential units along the Route 50 corridor.
Those opposing the plan, however, continued to be concerned about increasing residential development near Dulles Airport and said they wanted residential development to be created only concurrently with commercial and office development.
"There are too many cases where the residential comes first and the commercial lags and the office never gets built," Waters said at during the vote. "We need to send the message to the applicant that we expect linkage."
<bt>The future of the health care in the county continued to be an issue throughout 2006.
The battle over the proposed Broadlands Regional Medical Center took place in two different courts. The proposed hospital is a 164-bed facility located along the west side of Belmont Ridge Road and south of the Dulles Greenway in Broadlands. The location is less than five miles from the existing Inova Loudoun Hospital in Lansdowne.
In April, Inova argued in court that the only reason State Health Commissioner Robert B. Stroube approved the Hospital Corporation of America's Certificate of Public Need (COPN) was because of political pressure. Stroube had originally rejected HCA's approval, but reversed his decision more than a year later.
On April 27, Richmond Circuit Court Judge T.J. Markow supported the Certificate of Public Need. On May 24, Stroube granted HCA a one-year extension of its Certificate of Public Need approval.
In addition to the legal battle over its Certificate of Public Need, HCA has been in court fighting the Board of Supervisors' denial of the company's Comprehensive Plan amendments (CPAM) and rezonings needed to begin construction of the hospital. Lawyers representing HCA, have argued several different points, including that the board needed to readvertise changes it made to the plan amendment and that the board was creating a monopoly for Inova with its denial.
Judge Thomas D. Horne gave a summary judgment Oct. 18 that upheld the Board of Supervisors' decision not to readvertise changes made to the amendments before voting.
"The court finds that the notice adequately informed the public that the amendments would address, among other things, the location and type of health-care facilities in the county," Horne said in his judgment.
Lawyers for the proposed hospital are continuing to focus on their belief that a monopoly was created with the denial of the application for the Broadland's hospital and are requesting all communications, both written and verbal, that contain mention of the Broadlands hospital.
"We are asking for any communication between and among Loudoun Hospital and its entities," Mark Looney, one of HCA's attorneys said. "We are looking at were there any other communication about the [amendment] between those entities."
As the struggle over the Broadlands hospital continued, medical services began to establish themselves in other parts of the county, including the announcement that Kaiser Permanente would be opening an Ashburn location in December.
This year Inova also announced several new additions to its Loudoun services. A new wing on its Lansdowne campus, which broke ground in December, will add 16 new medical and surgical beds, and 12 beds in the intensive care unit, bringing the hospital's bed count to 183. In addition, the wing will provide the hospital with new lab services, an expansion of the pharmacy, additional meeting space and an expansion for the cafeteria.
"Quite simply, these additional beds allow us to take better care of more patients in Loudoun County," Dr. Greg Bentz, who will begin serving as the hospital's chief medical officer in January, said.
At the beginning of May, Inova announced it would be creating a center that would focus on the medical sciences, education and technology. The center will be located near the crossover of Sycolin Road and the Dulles Greenway, just south of Leesburg.
The purpose of the L.I.F.E. center is to establish a setting for scientists and doctors to work together on developing new practices in the health-care sciences, medical education and patient-care technology.
Inova also broke ground on two new facilities in Dulles South, a medical center and a HealthPlex, in order to provide more services to residents on the Route 50 corridor.
The 22,000-square-foot medical center will house a full-service radiology department including X-ray services and an urgent care center on its first floor. The second floor will be leased out to physicians including pediatricians, family practices and internal medicine and other specialists. In January, Inova purchased 94 acres near Arcola from the Shockey family for the HealthPlex and filed a special exception application with the county.
"As the community grows, the population grows," David Goldberg, vice president of planning and development for Loudoun Inova Hospital, said. "We grow with the commitment to provide all the services that the community needs."
<bt>Transportation and traffic continued to be at the top of the list of residents' concerns. With the General Assembly not returning enough funds to expand the road systems of a growing county, the residents turned to the Board of Supervisors for an answer. At public hearing after public hearing, they came before the board to ask members to slow down the rate of development. They asked Supervisors to figure out a way to relieve traffic on the county's major arteries. In June the Supervisors responded, putting together a bond package for the Nov. 7 ballot that included seven different projects. The Board of Supervisors, led by Supervisor Lori Waters (R-Broad Run), said it believed it was time for the county to take decisive action about the local road issues.
"People don't want talk anymore; they want to see some action," Waters said in June. "Unless someone is growing money trees to pay for these things, we have to take this on and we have to deliver the solutions and we have to be part of the solution."
During the November election, residents responded, approving both of the bond questions created from the package. Voters supported using a $38,000,000 bond for the construction of a Route 7 and Loudoun County Parkway interchange and Russell Branch Parkway from the Loudoun County Parkway to Richfield Way. They also supported designing six other projects: an interchange at Route 50 and Loudoun County Parkway, the widening of Route 50 from Poland Road (Route 742) to the Fairfax County line, an interchange at Route 7 and Belmont Ridge Road, and expanding Belmont Ridge Road from Gloucester Parkway to the Dulles Greenway to four lanes. Project design for an interchange at Route 7 and Route 690 (Hillsboro Road), which will help with traffic for the new western Loudoun high school, and a Sycolin Road overpass over the Route 15/Route 7 bypass were also included in the question.
While the community has been supportive of using local tax money for road construction, Supervisors remained split over the county's entrance into the road building business.
"I believe it is the state's responsibility to build the infrastructure with the taxes that [Loudoun] citizens pay," Supervisor Bruce E. Tulloch (R-Potomac) said.
As the fiscal year 2008 budget discussions draw near, however, and Supervisors anticipate belt tightening across the county, using local money for roads could have a large impact on taxpayers' bills.
"Right now we have got to figure out how to keep taxes down so we keep the burden down," Supervisor Stephen Snow (R-Dulles) said.