Loudoun Seeks to Rezone Dulles Airport

In far eastern Loudoun there is a 7,507-acre parcel zoned for “low to moderate density single-family detached homes,” on lots of up to two an acre, which supervisors are now considering rezoning to an industrial district to permit solar panels.

Any homes that were to be built there today would have to contend with serious jet noise.

The county is seeking to rezone most of Dulles International Airport’s land, which has never been necessary before because the airport, owned by the federal government and leased to the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, is largely exempt from local zoning.

But while the federal government is exempt from Loudoun County zoning, the airports authority is not the federal government. And according to state law and highlighted in a report to the Board of Supervisors, the Virginia legislation creating that exemption specifies the authority “is established solely to operate and improve both metropolitan Washington airports” and is independent of state and local government “in the performance and exercise of the airport-related duties and powers.”

The airports authority’s plans for a 100-megawatt utility-scale solar panel project, according to county staff members, fall outside that scope, and so must comply with zoning.

The airports authority disagrees, arguing its solar project also is not subject to the county’s zoning ordinance. Airports Authority Planning Department Manager Greg Wollard compared the solar facility to non-aeronautical uses for airport property such as gas stations, hotels, restaurants, office buildings, and parking lots, and said they are “quite common to U.S. airports and are as integral a part of everyday airport operations as those uses classified by FAA as ‘aeronautical’/’aviation’.” He wrote that the airports authority will soon request the federal Secretary of Transportation approve the project as an “airport purpose” under federal law.

The county board on Tuesday is scheduled to consider rezoning the land to Planned Development-General Industry to permit that development.

An affirmative vote on Tuesday will approve a Resolution of Intent to Amend, the first step in the public process to rezone the land, which will also include public hearings and votes at the Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors. The county is planning to get that done is quickly as possible, to meet the airports authority’s timeline for the project.

County planners are also working on new zoning rules for solar panels; rather than wait for those to finish, they recommend including in its zoning amendment a passage to permit solar facilities  by-right in that zoning district at Dulles Airport. That also would skip a special exception process that would normally be required for industrial-scale solar panels, which would involve another round of public hearings and votes.

The airports authority and Dominion Energy plan a 100-megawatt solar array installation with a 50-megawatt battery storage system and supporting infrastructure, feeding into Dominion’s power grid. That would be built on 835 acres subleased to Dominion. The airports authority also plans a smaller scale carport solar system in one of the parking lots which will provide power directly to the airport, and a fleet of electric buses and chargers.

The land does have a residential history. In 1958, the village of Willard, a Black neighborhood of formerly enslaved people and their descendants, was condemned to make room for the airport. All 87 Willard-area landowners were forced to give up their properties.

3 thoughts on “Loudoun Seeks to Rezone Dulles Airport

  • 2022-05-17 at 7:26 am
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    The MWAA parking lots are NOT NATIONAL SECURITY ITEMS like the runway may be so why not at least request the federal gov’t allow property tax too apply to support Loudoun schools??????

  • 2022-05-17 at 9:32 am
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    The US/MWAA should charge Loudoun County rent on the land for the Metro they are using.

  • 2022-05-17 at 10:05 am
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    835 acres is a nice chunk of land. There’s not a whole lot of open space left on Dulles. I assume this plan will result in significant tree removal? Destroying wildlife habitat and carbon eating trees for a solar array somehow makes environmental sense?

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