Citing the inevitable development of the county’s transition zone, the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors voted 5-3 to approve Harris Teeter’s special exception permits for the Kirkpatrick West Commercial Center. Supervisors allowed for 10 gas pumps and commercial development space, but denied additional proposed drive throughs.
“We have to take the long view, but sometime the long view means understanding what battles can be won and can’t, and that’s how we have to look at,” said Matt Letourneau (R- Dulles).
Tony Buffington (R- Blue Ridge), led a months-long opposition to the controversial proposal to add a gas station and extra commercial real estate to the plans for the Harris Teeter grocery store. Kristen Umstattd (D- Leesburg) and Koran Saines (D – Sterling) also voted no. Chairwoman Phyllis Randall was absent for the meeting.
All voting members of the board went against the proposed drive throughs, citing concerns of overcrowding and congestion in a small retail space. Suzanne Volpe (R- Algonkian) abstained.
Although board members expressed their appreciation of the dedication and outspoken opposition to the plans from many in the community, those voting for the approval cited the practicality of pending changes to the County’s sometimes complex zoning system as the basis for their decisions.
As part of the 2001 Comprehensive Plan, Loudoun County is divided into three zones: the eastern suburban zone, the western rural zone and the transition zone between the two. The comprehensive plan is going through extensive revisions currently, and Vice Chair Ralph Buona (R- Ashburn) said there is a “zero percent chance” the land in question will continue to be in the transition zone once the plan is complete. Instead, due to large-scale changes and developments around the area in the past 15 years, the revisions will reassign it to the suburban zone. This will make it much harder to deny larger-scale development projects like Kirkpatrick West in the future.
“On this location, the battle for protecting the transition area has already been lost,” said Geary Higgins (R – Catoctin). ‘It’s much better, in my view, to settle on something you can be involved in and have input on and something you can live with, than to start all over again, with the potential for a much worse outcome.”
Now permitted in the transition zone, which has greater restrictions on development regulations than the suburban zone, board members were satisfied with the concessions Harris Teeter made in order to get approval. Letourneau spearheaded negotiations to get a strong deal, arranging for the grocery store chain to pay for new road construction, tree linings around the property and lowered light structures, among other concessions as an effort to compensate for the commercial changes to the highly residential area.
A 78,000 square-foot Harris Teeter grocery store in the highly residential Loudoun Crossing station had already been approved. Board members were merely voting on Harris Teeter’s special exceptions for proposed drive throughs, gas station and expansion with more commercial real estate space as part of the development.
Still, the approvals brought heated opposition from the community, and was a blow to dozens of residents who spoke out at multiple Board meetings and local forums against the proposals. People spoke on fears ranging about pervasive lights from the store parking lot to engulfing fumes from the gas station. Many also raised concerns about increased traffic in an already heavily congested area.
Buffington, who represents the district where the Harris Teeter will be built, hugged several constituents after the decision passed. He said he was motivated to actively work against the project by the often times impassioned concerns voiced by those in his district.
In another contentious issue for some Loudoun County residents, the Board decided to postpone action on a proposed noise standards ordinance until its Oct. 20 business meeting. Volpe proposed the motion to postpone action in a plan to give staff and board members more time to review concerns brought up by members of the public.
Loudoun residents were worried about several pieces of ZOAM 2014-0006, which was designed to revise outdated standards form the 1993 Loudoun County Zoning Ordinance, which in turn was designed to better protect residents from excessive noises, while balancing the needs of business needs. The biggest concerns were over language involving exceptions for designated firearms shooting ranges, as well as school-sponsored activities like marching band practices and sporting events.
Several members of the public also wanted the Board to regulate tonal noise, an often difficult measure of ambient and background noises. Several supervisors and staff members expressed concern about the cost and feasibility of doing so, and cited those concerns as part of the motivation to delay action until the Oct. 20 meeting.
The ordinance discussed Sept. 22 was a complementary piece to the recently passed codified noise ordinance. Buona said the previously passed act was designed to give law enforcement authority to break up loud noise creators like house parties. This new proposal is more focused on larger-scale ambient noises, not specific events or individuals.
In other actions, the Board voted 8-0 to designate segments of several rural roads, primarily in the Blue Ridge District in western Loudoun, as Rural Rustic Roads. The Board’s action during its meeting was simply a designation, and would allow changes in the future.
For citizens in western Loudoun, several of whom spoke at the public hearing section of the meeting, this means the roads they live on will keep their rural characteristic going forward. The designation does not mean the roads will be paved, but merely they would be preserved under rural standards if they ever were. That in turn means the roads would not need shoulders expansions, and any pavement would be only on the existing roadway.