The owners of the property that will anchor the southern portion of Rt. 28 in Loudoun are looking to make some changes to the timing of their development, but those requests are not being met favorably by the Board of Supervisors.
After receiving support from the Planning Commission, the Dulles World developers faced a series of pointed questions and doubting comments from supervisors during a public hearing Wednesday about their plans to accelerate construction on the multi-family residential units approved in their plan and reduce the minimum required amount of “pedestrian-oriented businesses” in the planned Town Center from 70 percent to 60 percent.
“This is a bit of a bait and switch,” Vice Chairman Shawn Williams (R-Broad Run) said. “You came in and sold the county that we were going to have this great tax base.”
The board will hammer out the details during the May Transportation/Land Use Committee meeting.
Dulles World was approved by the previous Board of Supervisors for more than 3 million square feet of office space; a hotel; more than 400,000 square feet of retail; and 1,265 multi-family units. It was pitched as a premier commercial development project that would capitalize on the proximity of the Metro rail stations, with residential units that would appeal to the young professional, thereby limiting the impact on schools and other county resources.
The 1,265 units are planned to be 900 square feet each and are estimated to create approximately 235 new school children for the county.
The proposed changes would not alter the development totals—only the order and timing of construction.
Under the new request, Dulles World is seeking to break the phasing of their development into several parts. As proposed by the Planning Commission, the first portion of development would allow for up to 475 multi-family residences with no non-residential square footage required. Then developer would be able to build another 275 residential with 500,000 square feet of non-residential, of which 250,000 must be office. Once the developer reaches 1 million square feet of non-residential, 500,000 square feet of which must be office development, they will be able to build an addition 275 residential units. Finally, once 1.5 million square feet of non-residential development is constructed, the final 240 residential units may be built. The remaining development on the property would be non-residential to meet the final build out numbers.
County planners are opposing the changes, saying the project is intended to be a primarily non-residential development and that maintaining that emphasis is important to the growth of businesses in the Rt. 28 corridor.
Supervisors appeared to have the same concerns, but Dulles World’s representative, attorney Colleen Gillis Snow, said the changes were needed to respond to the market and bring the project online in a timely fashion.
“We have grave concerns, when you take into consideration that you have limited to no amenities in this location, then our ability to attract Class A office, which is what we all want to see here, becomes very challenging,” Snow said.
Snow pointed to a Washington Business Journal article that showed the commercial market at a large deficit and said the developer is looking for ways to bring the promised project to fruition. She noted that it would be important to the county not to have the land sitting empty for years to come.
“This site is within the Rt. 28 tax district and the new Metro tax districts,” she said. “Delivery of development on this site is important to funding that tax district, which is important to all of us.”
But supervisors questioned why Dulles World needed changes so close on the heels of its 2011 approval, and many echoed Williams’ concerns of a “bait and switch.”
“It seems awful early to me to throw in the towel,” Supervisor Matt Letourneau (R-Dulles) said, adding that if residential was needed to make the project viable in the market, that “should have been the application when it came before the board in March 2011.”
Chairman Scott K. York (R-At Large), who supported Dulles World as a member of the last board, told the developer to “have patience.”
“Two years ago was yesterday for me and I don’t want to work on it tomorrow,” he said.
Supervisor Ralph Buona (R-Ashburn) went even further to question developers’ overall approach to the board and is pro-economic development attitude.
“I think there are a lot of developers trying to push this board to change or re-phase projects. You’re not the first,” he said. But he joined his other board members in saying that he was unlikely to support the changes “unless some miracle comes out of [committee].”
Many supervisors also expressed concern over the overall impact the changes would have on the county—particularly the school system—and whether this would set up a situation in which the commercial development would never be built.
“You folks are close enough to the board’s business to see what has been going on with respect to roads, with respect to schools and we are in a dire situation trying to catch up,” Supervisor Janet Clarke (R-Blue Ridge) said, continuing, “We have to look at the overall impact to the community, quality of life, what is being done, what can be done to mitigate the impacts that have already occurred. It costs this county money for residential units. There are a lot of things that need to change and be fixed [in this application].”
Only Supervisor Ken Reid (R-Leesburg) appeared open to the changes, noting he was going to be the “skunk at the picnic,” and he encouraged the members of the Transportation/Land Use Committee to “keep an open mind.”
“The plan around Metro stations is to have residential mixed use,” he said. “Let’s not just completely thumb our nose at this…we’re going to have high density development at all these Metro stations throughout the corridor, and that includes residential…or else when the Rt. 606 proposal comes in to build residential within earshot of the jet noise, what are we going to do then?”