It was standing room only in the county boardroom last night as more than 50 people spoke about plans to build a professional baseball and soccer stadium at Ashburn’s One Loudoun and even more came to show their support for both sides of the debate.
VIP Baseball announced in October it abandoned plans to build a stadium for its professional Loudoun Hounds franchise in the Kincora development along Rt. 28 and instead wanted to build it at One Loudoun near the intersection of Rt. 7 and Loudoun County Parkway.
Residents of nearby Potomac Green and Ashbrook have raised concerns about the impacts the stadium would have on their quality of life. Just as passionate have been the supporters of the stadium, who say the One Loudoun location is prime for a regional attraction and that the ballpark will bring tax revenue and associated commercial development to the county.
Those same arguments were repeated last night before the county Planning Commission—the first body to publicly hear the applications that, if approved, would allow the stadium to be built. The speakers were split almost evenly between the two sides, with a few more supporters than detractors. The commission sent the dual applications to a future work session to address a series of outstanding issues identified by the county’s planning staff.
One Loudoun, which was approved by the 2007 Board of Supervisors, needs a variety of changes to its development plan to make the construction of the stadium possible.
In the project’s report, project manager Ginny Rowen pointed out several concerns with the proposal, including questions of design guidelines, event attendance limitations, a transit plan and traffic operation plan.
In addition, Rowen’s report raises questions about changes to the original One Loudoun plan, which was approved for 3.12 million square feet of office space, 702,000 square feet of retail uses and two hotels, as well as civic space and open space/recreational uses. The new proposal would reduce the amount of office development in the first two phases of development to a total of 400,000 square feet. Overall the office development would be reduced to about 2.8 million square feet. The developer also is seeking changes to its town green, including eliminating a currently preserved wetland and designated tree conservation area.
During her presentation, attorney Colleen Gillis Snow, who represented One Loudoun, indicated there are several solutions to the staff’s concerns already prepared for county review. Among those are a recently finished design for the stadium, an updated traffic operations plan and an agreement for four bus stops, including one directly across from the stadium, and a fifth pick up point during the games.
When it comes to attendance, there will be 5,500 fixed seats and 27 luxury boxes at the stadium, but it remains unclear whether additional attendance—and how much—will be possible if the field itself is used for events like concerts. County staff members recommend limiting attendance to 8,000 people per event.
But the biggest concerns remain the ones at the top of nearby residents’ lists: the impact of noise, light and traffic on their neighborhoods.
“The whole thing feels like you’re trying to fit a round peg into a square hole,” Potomac Green resident Margaret Keating said. “It just doesn’t seem to fit. The traffic, the noise, it just doesn’t fit here.”
Ashbrook HOA president Marla Regan said residents in her neighborhood were not happy with the plans to relocate the stadium to One Loudoun. “We feel like we have been a little bullied by past boards,” she said. “Ashbrook is this little itty bitty community that keeps getting stepped on. We’ve been squeezed at our front entrance. We no longer have ability to get out of our neighborhood.”
Proponents of the stadium and representatives of both One Loudoun and the Hounds said they believed that the outstanding concerns could be addressed to an extent that would make nearby residents happy. But that work, they said, still needs to be completed.
“We need to give One Loudoun and [VIP Baseball CEO] Bob Farren an opportunity to make things right,” resident Beth Mackes said. “We have a lot of issues. But I agree we can get over these issues. [Farren] is willing to work with the people of Loudoun County.”
Many speakers expressed confidence in One Loudoun and the Loudoun Hounds organization.
“The main reason we moved there is we liked what we heard about One Loudoun coming to the area,” Jay Moran said. “We liked the idea of a strong art, movie theater, nearby shopping. I was thrilled when I heard a ballpark would be coming to the landscape. There are always some bumps along that road. The Hounds organization is taking very reasonable steps to make sure everything is addressed…they seem to be doing things the right way while building a sports and entertainment complex that we can be proud of.”
Some Potomac Green residents said they supported the stadium and were excited about the vitality it would bring to the area. Supporters said that it was appropriate that the stadium be placed near the population that will use it—to help address some of the traffic issues.
“I already have a list of family and friends who want to go with me to opening day. And we plan to walk,” Potomac Green resident Dan Wallen said. “You’ve heard that you rob banks because that’s where the money is. Well, you need to put the ballpark where the people are.”
Opponents said they were not opposed to baseball and soccer in Loudoun, or even a stadium, just not at One Loudoun. Instead, they said, they would like to see the stadium back at Kincora or near one of the planned Metro stations. But that would require a willing landowner in those areas and representatives of the Hounds said that if the county wanted to see the major league sports teams in Loudoun at all, One Loudoun presented the best—really, the only opportunity. VIP Baseball representatives say they plan to open the Hounds’ season in Loudoun by summer 2014.
To make that possible the Board of Supervisors has approved a “fast-tracked” review of the One Loudoun applications. That means the proposal went to the top of the pile for the county’s planning staff, but it still received the same reviews any other applications would. But that did not rest the concerns of some residents.
“I am not a NIMBY. I have no problem with having a [baseball] team in this area. I am just concerned,” Potomac Green resident Bruce DeNormandie said. “What I am saying is, do your homework. Do what is right for the constituents and the people of Loudoun County.”