Loudoun Supervisors Buy 17 Acres Along Goose Creek for Linear Park Connection

The Board of Supervisors on Tuesday voted to buy 17 acres along Goose Creek by the Sycolin Road bridge, across from the True North data center complex, at more than twice its appraised value.

The land is envisioned as part of the Goose Creek Linear Stream Valley Park Trail, part of the network of linear parks and trails planned across the county, dubbed “Emerald Ribbons” by Loudoun County Preservation and Conservation Coalition which proposed it.

But supervisors were divided over the price tag, which is close to double their first offer and comes with five acres less.

The county this year assessed the land in question, totaling 22 acres, at a market value of just over $3.5 million, with taxable value of under $750,000. Much of the land is in the river flood plain. According to a county staff report, the county first made an offer based on an appraisal of $4.5 million, then $6.3 million after looking at the property’s development potential under the 2019 comprehensive plan, then $7.25 million, all rejected. The property owners, Bill and Ari Hennessy, asked first for $12.5 million, then for $10 million. They offered the $8 million price tag on the condition they keep five acres and the existing buildings, which were formerly the site of the wedding venue Goose Creek Gardens and Pavilion.

In a letter to Supervisor Michael R. Turner (D-Ashburn) they pointed to the property’s riverfront, lagoon and other undeveloped areas and wildlife habitat. And wrote “this property is central in achieving a trail network connecting Beaver Dam Reservoir to the W&OD and onward to Algonkian Park on the Potomac; thus achieving significant progress for the county’s Linear Parks and Trails program.”

“Arguably, this property is priceless, but in a world of budgets and bottom lines, we are forced to assess the intangible in dollars. We previously calculated a value of $12,400,000 but proposed a compromise of $10,000,000 for our entire property. We felt this was fair especially considering the long-term investment and enduring value this purchase will provide to the county and its citizens,” they wrote, adding they would consider $8 million if they kept the buildings and 5 acres.

At the county board meeting Sept. 6, some supervisors balked at the price tag. Supervisor Matthew F. Letourneau (R-Dulles) said it’s too much to spend with the county expected to face its tightest budget in nearly a decade. And he also worried that the high price would drive up costs for the rest of the county’s Emerald Ribbons plans.

“This is really one of the first pieces we’re acquiring, and so we have now set a floor in terms of our cost expectation for every other negotiation we have along the way that is really, really high,” he said. “And so the acquisition cost of all those parcels to build this whole trail network just went up.”

Supervisor Kristen C. Umstattd (D-Leesburg) agreed. She also pointed out the county is paying for land mostly in the flood plain, which is not developable and therefore possibly less valuable on the real estate market.

“I just cannot support paying this amount of money for land that would not be developed,” she said.

But the majority on the board agreed, if reluctantly, that it’s worth the price.

“The actual market value of the land is what the seller’s willing to sell it for, and what the buyer’s willing to buy it for,” said Supervisor Michael R. Turner (D-Ashburn), who took a leading role in the negotiations. “So the question, then, [is] ‘is having this piece of property worth the $8 million plus the roughly $2 million it’ll take over time to improve the park to where it’s publicly usable?’”

He argued it is.

“I think this is a prime piece of property and this is—to me, this is a legacy project for the county,” he said.

Buffington pointed out that the land was part of the 46 acres in a controversial application to build 123 townhouses, 40 two-over-two stacked residential units, and a 75-unit apartment building. Supervisors first approved that plan in March 2021, then, facing public outcry, in a rare move two weeks later reversed their decision and voted it down.

“I wish we could spend less. But I don’t think that we could spend less and get it, especially when, if you remember not too long ago, there was a very controversial application on here, this same parcel, that included fairly dense residential,” he said.

Supervisor Caleb E. Kershner (R-Catoctin) argued the county isn’t paying too much—“someone’s going to buy this eventually, and it’s going to be way more than this.”

“We are not going to get this for any cheaper. So it’s either we purchase it at this as a well-negotiated price, because it truly is a rare gem and value, or we just walk away from this, and I believe that the purchase of it is more valuable to the residents of Loudoun,” he said.

And Chair Phyllis J. Randall (D-At Large) said the purchase could also protect Goose Creek from future development.

“There’s many ways to pay for something, and I think damaging the Goose, you’re going to pay a lot higher price at a later time than this,” she said.

Supervisors voted 7-2, Letourneau and Umstattd opposed, to authorize the $8 million price, plus $135,000 to cover due diligence, estimated closing costs, surveys and subdividing the property to separate the five acres.

If the county closes on the sale, it will assemble almost 42 contiguous acres along the banks of the river, including all of the riverbank between Sycolin Road and the Dulles Greenway. The county owns the 18.5 acre parcel to the north of the Hennessey property, and a 100-foot wide swath of land along the opposite bank of the river by the True North data center campus.

And across the Greenway to the north, the county owns another 11.5 acres along the east bank of the river.

After closing will come the work of preparing the land for use as a public park—first as a passive park, with landscaping, signage and fencing to support the existing trails, and a possible deceleration lane on Sycolin Road into the property.

In a second phase of work, the county is looking toward a park master planning process, with an aim toward a kayak and canoe launch, improving the parking lot and other park features, as well as a possible eastbound turn lane onto Sycolin Road. County staff’s preliminary estimates for the total cost of those projects is about $1.95 million.

When all that work actually begins will depend on the next annual update on the Capital Improvement Program, typically completed with the rest of the county budget in April, unless supervisors vote sooner to move the program up in the schedule. New capital projects generally go to the back of the line for funding, six years in the future.

15 thoughts on “Loudoun Supervisors Buy 17 Acres Along Goose Creek for Linear Park Connection

  • 2022-09-08 at 11:49 am

    Your government leaders just wasted $8 millions buying land that can never be developed because it is located in a flood plain. Why? To protect it from being developed.

    This is either a corrupt insider deal or we have elected the stupidest people on the planet with zero regard for your tax dollars.

    • 2022-09-08 at 3:12 pm

      All we need to know is that Mike Turner “negotiated” the deal LoCo.

      Both of your assumptions are correct.

  • 2022-09-08 at 1:08 pm

    This entire BOS needs to walk away, paying double the assessed value for land for PARK Trails, they have lots their minds. And I am sure our School Board will come wringing their hands in a few weeks needing a few more hundred of millions of dollars for a declining enrolment system because of their legal fees.

    LOCO need to toss the anchor and stop spending. They have unions they have to fight now that will cost millions.

    Increase the plastic bag tax, tax oxygen next.

    • 2022-09-08 at 8:12 pm

      Stop! All this Board does is buy land! I bet if they do, it will be developed somehow, flood plain or not! Let Chuck Kuhn buy it! Why, people! Good grief!

  • 2022-09-08 at 1:56 pm

    This is truly bonkers.
    The country is in a recession. Inflation is running rampant. And these lunatics want to buy land at super-premium prices.
    We deserve better.

  • 2022-09-08 at 8:34 pm

    When you spend taxpayer dollars you are not responsible, if this was their own money these members would not have voted for this colossal boondoggle of a bike path. Any who voted for this need another form of employment and it will not come soon enough.

  • 2022-09-09 at 9:06 am

    When do we STOP ALLOWING politically connected people pay less property taxes (relative to actual market value) than homeowners in Ashburn and other fully developed areas? For the entire 8 years I was on the school board chairing the finance committee EVERY piece of land we looked at for building a school was under-assessed relative to its’ market value and much less than we had to pay to buy it! Howard Hughes in Ashburn doesn’t pay any property taxes. Neither do the hospitals which under statute can be charge 28% of the rate to cover police and fire protection. Does the BOS know how to do their jobs as OUR REPRESENTATIVES or just how to spend our tax dollars? VOTE NEXT TIME AND FIX THIS! 🙂

  • 2022-09-09 at 9:34 am

    This will be a very nice park and addition to the green spaces for the county. Yeah, it’s expensive but so is every other bit of land in the county. This should have happened sooner but once the property is sold it’s gone for good and this is a scenic area that should be preserved. Good on the BoS for not letting it slip away to be another data center.

  • 2022-09-09 at 10:49 am

    Fellow commenters; are you just angry at the price paid? Or do you just don’t think we should have parks? Or?

    • 2022-09-09 at 3:30 pm

      Loudoun taxpayers foot the bill for nearly $90,000,000 in parks and rec annual operating expenses.
      The new park off Evergreen Mills cost nearly $100,000,000 to construct.
      The park in Lovettsville was $12,000,000.
      The Ashburn Rec center will cost close to $100 million when all is said and done.

      Asking a question like “Or do you just don’t think we should have parks?” is beyond ludicrous. WE HAVE PARKS. Good grief, do you actually pay property taxes???

    • 2022-09-09 at 3:54 pm

      8 million bucks could have bought apartments for our growing homeless population. 8 million could have bought several modest homes for use by first responders, who can’t afford to live in Loudoun.
      8 million could have drastically improved road conditions on the deathtrap known as Evergreen Mill Rd. 8 million could have cleaned up all the trash on the roads, or cut a lot of dead trees along those same roads for safety reasons. 8 million could have bought a lot of summer work programs and camp slots for disadvantaged youth. 8 million could have bought new fire trucks or gone to food banks, but no. The brain trust on the fifth floor bought a small floodplain.

      It’s about priorities Iam. Building bike trails for wealthy people to ride their two thousand dollar bikes on just doesn’t seem like much of a priority, when we have people with actual needs.

  • 2022-09-09 at 6:37 pm

    The property is valued at 850 thousand dollars, ten times the value was spent. I do value my tax dollar being wasted by poor negotiators!

  • 2022-09-10 at 6:58 pm

    Called dependonomics after Joe Biden’s wasteful spending, the BoS says we can do better.

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