Loudoun supervisors on June 15 voted to roll back requirements for airport noise disclosures for people looking to buy a home near Dulles Airport.
In areas found to be the noisiest around Dulles Airport, the county requires home sellers to notify buyers at closing that they are inside the airport noise zone, and in the very highest-noise areas the county generally forbids residential development. The previous maps of airport noise were produced in 1993, and the airport has seen changes since then—including moving the location of a planned a new runway. County supervisors and staff members are now working to incorporate the findings of a new noise study completed in 2019 into county ordinances
But when that work is done, some protections for people buying in the area—and for the airport’s business—will be deleted.
According to the new study, an area south of Arcola Mills Drive and east of Loudoun County Parkway is expected to be in the 65+ decibel Loudness Day-Night area—a measure of the average airport noise in an area, and the loudest category in Loudoun ordinances—if a planned fifth runway, running east and west on the southern part of the airport property, is built. However, airport officials have given no clear date on when that runway may be built, if ever.
Supervisors voted to put that area in the lower noise category, the 60-65 Ldn area, to permit residential development. The county’s 2019 comprehensive plan designates that area for mixed-use development.
Two supervisors dissented.
“As long as that [a fifth runway]’s part of their plan, I don’t think we should do this. I think it’s the most reckless thing we can do,” Supervisor Tony R. Buffington (R-Blue Ridge) said. “… If we’re really interested in protecting the airport, we’re not doing it, because there’s going be a bunch of residential within the 65-plus.”
Airport officials have often warned of the danger of allowing homes too close to the runways, citing the example of Reagan National Airport, which has seen flight paths and hours of operation limited by the Federal Aviation Administration in response to noise complaints.
“Loudoun County will fill up as quickly as you let it, and so if we allow houses to be built in the 65+ Ldn, they would sell tomorrow,” Supervisor Kristen C. Umstattd (D-Leesburg) said. “There is an unlimited demand for market-price housing in Loudoun County, which is one of the reasons it’s so hard to get affordable housing.”
But the majority of supervisors backed the changes. They also voted to require people buying homes in that area to be notified of the airport’s plans for an eventual fifth runway.
“I’m assuming that people are grown and they can see the airport right there, and they know it’s there, and they even have to sign something that says they know it’s there,” said County Chair Phyllis J. Randall (D-At Large). “And so, who am I to tell somebody 30 years from now, some grown adult people, you can’t buy a house because of the airport there that you see and that you acknowledge?”
Supervisors also voted narrowly to do away with a protection extending the noise notification requirement to a one-mile buffer zone around the airport noise zone.
County staff members said the mile buffer dates at least to 1993.
“While it was outside of those specific contours, if you were within a mile you would still hear airport noise,” Deputy County Administrator Charles Yudd said “So new residents coming to that area, if you’re moving in, at least you got some notification of it.”
The board’s Transportation and Land Use Committee had also recommended exempting homes newly placed into the airport noise areas by the 2019 study from notification requirements, which narrowly failed on the board.
Supervisor Matthew F. Letourneau (R-Dulles) said those requirements don’t seem to have much effect on home value in pricey Loudoun County.
“Almost all of Brambleton is covered in that, and so they are already required to have disclosure. They’re already designated on a map as being part of the airport impact noise overlay district,” Letourneau said. “I don’t think anybody can argue that there have been depressed prices in Brambleton over these last 15 years because they’re in an Airport Impact Overlay District and they’re required to disclose that.
And he warned against doing away with the one-mile buffer notifications.
“There was an open house in my neighborhood on Saturday, and airplanes were not coming our direction on Saturday. If you had gone to that open house and you’re interested in that house, in this real estate market, you would have to put an offer in that very day, and there was no airport noise there,” Letourneau said. “If you came back yesterday, when our HOA had a meeting at Little River Commons, we had stopped our meeting every 90 seconds, because airplanes were going through.”
“It’s a question of whether you want to be transparent to people about where they live and what their level of noise is,” Letourneau said.
Leatourneau’s motion to restore the one-mile buffer requirements failed 4-5, with Supervisors Buffington, Randall, Sylvia R. Glass (D-Broad Run), Caleb A. Kershner (R-Catoctin) and Michael R. Turner (D-Ashburn) opposed.
Next, the project to implement the new noise maps goes to a study period, followed by writing a Zoning Ordinance amendment, a process that also includes public input at the Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors.
See the item prepared for the Board of Supervisors meeting June 15 here and see the previous Transportation and Land Use Committee item with more detailed maps here, and see a map of current and proposed noise zones here.