Op-Ed: Board Chose Alternative to Pre-fab Gateway

By Supervisor Geary Higgins

The choice for the Board of Supervisors on the Leesburg North Landing application was not between something and nothing. It was a choice between something and something else.

The something else being an 8,000-square-foot prefabricated metal commercial building approved for this site by the county in 2005. The temptation with an application like this is to gamble that the “something else” will be better than the “something” you are currently considering.

If people doubt this could happen, I would point to the True North Data Center application. In 2015, the Board of Supervisors voted down the Wildwood Farms application that included 177 active adult residences with 70 percent open space, because the density was too high for the Transition Policy Area, a “victory” as the TPA would now be preserved. Two years later, the True North application proposed to build a 750,000-square-foot data center on the same site.

In one of the board’s most unfortunate votes, in my opinion, this application was approved by a 5-4 vote. As a result, we will have a data center sitting along the Greenway and Goose Creek when we could have had 177 residences in a community with trails and 70 percent open space—in retrospect, a far better alternative.

We know what the “something else” is on the Leesburg North parcel and it’s not a better choice in my view. The approved 8,000-square foot prefabricated metal building could be built by the end of the year without any of the improvements offered by the applicant including high-level rural design and architectural requirements, additional environmental measures, increased setbacks, screening, Journey Through Hallowed Ground landscape standards, additional road improvements, turn lanes, right of way for Rt. 15), solar array, electric charging stations, welcome center and a dog park.

Unfortunately, the board has no control over the landowner’s decision on the 2005 application. What’s certain is this parcel won’t remain vacant. It’s currently zoned Rural Commercial (RC), which allows many “by-right” or “permitted” retail, commercial and industrial uses including a convenience store, office building and many other more intensive uses. Gas pumps are a permitted use in this zoning through the special exception process.

When I originally met the applicant, I indicated that the size and intensity of the proposed facility, 24 gas pumps and an 8,200-square foot canopy, was too much for the location. I met with the applicant again on May 31 and said I could not support the application unless the overall footprint of the facility was substantially reduced and that the number of gasoline pumps were also reduced to no more than 12 under the canopy. The applicant agreed to reduce the number of pumps to 12, six stations with two pumps on each station, plus two diesel pumps outside the canopy for a total of 14 pumps and a reduced canopy of 4,200-square feet.

The environmental regulations agreed to by the applicant exceed current state and federal regulations governing underground storage tanks (USTs). The applicant will implement enhanced measures for pavement materials, storm water runoff, and spill containment and countermeasures control. Condition #9 of the application details the extensive environmental controls that must be constructed or implemented on the property prior to the issuance of the occupancy permit. The applicant will be installing double contained UST’s as required by new regulations, which means the new gas station will have undergrounds storage tanks with an inner tank that holds the fuel and an outer tank designed to contain all leaks in addition to an alarm system. As discussed at our July 3 business meeting, these conditions combined with environmental controls for new UST systems are not present at any other gas station in Loudoun County.

There is no one on the board who is more committed to preserving western Loudoun than myself. I do not want to see unbridled development in western Loudoun, which is why we are working to preserve our open parcels of land through agriculture, rural economy uses or conservation easements.

Having said that, the law does not allow denial of the underlying zoning to a property owner. Sometimes difficult choices must be made. These choices are not simply between something and nothing. They are between something and something else. In this case, the board decided a thoughtfully designed convenience store and gas station scaled for the area, with road improvements to the current unsafe turning conditions on Rt. 15 is a better choice than the option of a prefabricated metal building.

One thought on “Op-Ed: Board Chose Alternative to Pre-fab Gateway

  • 2018-07-10 at 2:21 pm

    It was the best solution. As pointed out, the alternative could be much worse.

    But, “the law does not allow denial of the underlying zoning to a property owner.” Here is where we need a change to state law. Populous counties such as Loudoun should have greater authority over land use decisions. By-right development should be greatly curtailed and more development should need direct approval from the BoS.

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