Old Ashburn confronts new realities
Over the last three decades, he has opened two veterinary hospitals in Old Ashburn and watched as the area has transformed around him.
But through the years Jones says there has been a lack of economic life in Old Ashburn, which has caused businesses like his to suffer. They have been forced to compete with nearby shopping centers.
About a year ago he says he was approached by a developer who asked him if he was interested in developing his Stubble Road veterinary clinic into a residential development. As Jones’ veterinary business has declined, it was an offer he had to consider. And he soon realized he couldn't turn it down.
For the past year, Jones and a consultant team have worked on a plan to build 28 townhomes including affordable housing on his Stubble Road property and consolidate his practice into another nearby property. At least $90,000 has been spent on developing the plan, he says.
But in October, he found out the county was considering amending its zoning rules to cap residential development at four units per acre in rural commercial zoning districts.
The decision to consider the residential cap was prompted after the county discovered that there was essentially no limit on residential density in rural commercial zoning districts.
If the board adopts the zoning amendment and does not grandfather in Jones’ and several other applications, the property owners could see thousands in investments lost and a chance of economic viability on their properties gone.
Jones and others say there is no plan B.
“I don’t have a lot of options,” Jones said. “I don’t know that it would be a property that I think could sell. There’s not a market for commercial property in the old town, there’s a lot of vacant space already, so I don’t really have an ability to sell either property without a significant loss, and I don’t know if I can afford that loss.”
Zoning change sparks a divide
Plans for new residential from Jones and others has created a sharp divide in Old Ashburn.
For weeks, dozens of Old Ashburn residents have called on the Board of Superviosrs to adopt the new zoning amendment. They say the additional residential will cause major traffic congestion and create safety issues in an area with narrow streets and aging infrastructure unable to accommodate fire trucks driving through Ashburn Road and surrounding streets.
Old Ashburn residents have also voiced concern over how the new residential developments will change the character of the area and tear down old historic buildings.
A petition to “Save Old Ashburn” has garnered more than 1,400 signatures calling on the board to “remove the loophole in the planning regulations.”
So far, seven applications have been filed with the county that propose a total of 165 new residential units in Old Ashburn.
Of those applications, 34 new residential units have been conditionally approved, while 131 units are still pending county approval.
Timothy Stone, president of the Ashburn Station Homeowner’s Association, said the amount of cars generated by the new developments would make it nearly impossible to get in and out of Old Ashburn.
“Forty-seven homes are basically proposed for our side, which anybody in reality in Loudoun County knows that means two cars for each, so, we’re talking about 100 cars more actually coming into our neighborhood to try to get onto Ashburn or Hay Road. It’s nearly impossible,” Stone said at a board meeting last month.
Jones and other would-be developers have been pleading with the board to grandfather their applications into current zoning policies.
Jones claims that, during a pre-application meeting with county staff in December, staff had indicated his plan was permitted in the rural commercial zoning district and, as long as the application was active, his application should be “vested.”
According to the county, approved and conditionally applications are considered “a significant affirmative governmental act,” and the landowner’s right to the develop in accordance of their application, is deemed “vested” and not be affected by the proposed zoning amendment.
The county notes the proposed zoning amendment will likely apply to “all active pending applications” on the date the amendment is adopted.
The Board of Supervisors, however, has the power to adopt a “grandfathering provision” as part of a resolution adopting the zoning amendment – a move that would protect certain active applications that have “reached a defined stage of the review process” from the adopted zoning changes.
Supervisors show weariness for more housing in Old Ashburn
Supervisors so far have not shown any interest in allowing more residential in Old Ashburn.
Jones said he is not optimistic his application will be grandfathered before the board makes a final decision on the zoning cap.
“I don’t think that it’s appropriate for someone to make a huge investment and do everything they should do, go through the pre-application hearing, get feedback from the planning staff, do everything that they’re supposed to do, and then not be able to proceed because the rules have changed in the middle of a process,” Jones said.
Last month several supervisors, including those who represent the Ashburn area, indicated they would move forward with the zoning amendment despite objections from Jones and other property owners.
A decision on the zoning amendment has been held up by at least a month after county staff sent out notifications to nearby property owners just two days before the March 15 public hearing. The oversight caused the county to hold additional public hearings on the proposed zoning change.
Some supervisors expressed annoyance with the hold-up.
“I’m a little bit disappointed that we’re not able to vote tonight, or at the next meeting,” Supervisor Ron Meyer (R-Broad Run) said from the dais last month. “I’m a little bit disappointed that we have to advertise again and send out those notices. But I can tell you one thing, I plan to act on this as quickly as possible, and we have every legal right to do so.”
Meyer stressed that no one had the right to make the community unsafe and overburden infrastructure and schools. He pointed out that with other residential applications applicants typically help pay for infrastructure and building schools -- something not included in the pending Old Ashburn applications.
“None of these administrative actions have any funding for these costs, and so I believe that we are entirely legally justified in doing what we’re doing,” Meyer said.
Supervisor Ralph Buona (R-Ashburn) said his intent to approve the zoning amendment was in the interest of the “greater good” of the community.
“I have a lot of empathy for the landowners, some of them owned their land for 50 years. But at the same time, I have to support this ZOAM because there’s a greater good here, and the greater good is the safety of our residents, the quality of life of our residents and all the things that go with that,” Buona said.
Chairwoman Phyllis Randall (D-At Large) said no matter how “tough” the vote is, she always falls on the side of what she believes is safe for the people.
“I don’t know if it’s necessary to make anyone the bad guy here,” Randall said. “I think that we’ve had an oversight and the oversight needs to be corrected … and we can do that without making our neighbors, who happen to be developers, enemies.”
Widespread community opposition to more residential development has become a trend throughout the county in recent years as the county’s infrastructure and housing options have not kept up with constant growth.
Jones said he understands his neighbors’ concerns, but he thinks residential is the only solution to save Old Ashburn businesses, his own included.
“I think that those opposed are opposed because they want to preserve this old community, but I think preventing this development is going to ensure its demise,” he said.
Supervisors plan to hold a public hearing on the zoning ordinance amendment on April 12. Although the board could suspend its rules of order and vote next week, they will likely cast a final vote on the zoning amendment at their April 20 business meeting.
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