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Route 7 development leads to Loudoun’s edge cities

The $73 million Belmont Ridge interchange project over Route 7—the latest segment in the 9-mile “edge city” corridor that runs from Potomac Falls to Leesburg. Courtesy/Loudoun County government
First, there were farms. Then there were roads. Then towns, suburbs and malls. Then Americans launched the most sweeping change in 100 years in how they live, work and play. It’s called “the edge city.”

Edge City Loudoun is emerging on a road near you. It follows a 9-mile-long construction zone along Virginia Route 7 from Potomac Falls to Leesburg.

Natives know the highway as Leesburg Pike, a historic route that was established more than 250 years ago to send grain to ports on the Potomac River 40 miles away and to serve travelers between the nation’s capital and the Blue Ridge.

The direction and purpose of historic Leesburg Pike have been reversed. The road now brings thousands of new residents and unprecedented economic development to an edge-city corridor that parallels the Potomac River near the northeast border of the county.

The transformation is occurring before residents' eyes as construction crews remove trees, move tons of dirt and pour concrete where forests and fields once stood.

Most edge cities develop at or near existing or planned intersections and are especially likely to develop near major airports such as nearby Dulles International. The formula is in full play along Route 7 as highway “flyovers” take Belmont Ridge and Ashburn Village roads over intersections that would otherwise slow down traffic and where edge-city business districts create mini-economies around live-work-shop-and-play clusters.

In the meantime, a second corridor of development is occurring on a similar path in the county’s central core – the development of mini-cities around Metro stations that are proposed or under construction at the airport and two stations in Ashburn.

Developers and the majority of elected officials in the county contend that the edge-city formula is a blueprint for progress. Most candidates and officeholders endorse policies that build highways and provide services for an influx of people that increases the county’s population by about 250 people a week. One county supervisor, Ashburn’s Ron Meyer (R), says his constituents want him to build roads.

But many longtime residents of Loudoun, particularly those in the western half of the county, see new highways and the latest incarnation of the shopping center as an assault on the county’s history, character, natural assets and senses. They worry that relentless urbanization will extend the concrete suburb and mega-highways of neighboring Fairfax County into Loudoun. “Don’t Fairfax Loudoun” is their mantra, but one that grows fainter with each new project that bolsters the tax base.

How much to grow – and where – is at the center of Loudoun’s psyche. It is also the central concept in the county’s comprehensive plan, an outdated blueprint (circa 2001) for zoning and development that is currently being reconsidered.

A fragile demarcation line has been drawn at Route 15, which divides eastern and western Loudoun into territories for preservation and growth. The argument reaches an inflection point where Route 7 intersects Route 15 in historic Leesburg.

Just 3 miles southeast of the intersection, Loudoun County’s split personality is expressed at a massive highway project – the Belmont Ridge Flyover. Here, hundreds of acres of trees have been removed from the forested slope of Belmont Ridge so a four-lane road can “fly over” Route 7 at Lansdowne to avoid traffic lights and backups.

The remaking of Route 7 between Leesburg and Potomac Falls is more than a construction project that moves cars down the highway more efficiently. It’s about establishing a central efficient highway, a spine for progress that leads to the touch points of the Loudoun lifestyle and economy.

Take a ride on Route 7 as it slices across the top of Loudoun County and you’ll see:

– The developing live-work-play hubs such as One Loudoun, Kincora and the Village at Ashburn.
– Newly established neighborhood plazas that provide services for the fastest growing and most affluent suburbs in the nation.
– A restaurant row – with a new establishment opening weekly, it seems -- for every taste and meal, it seems.
– World-class medical and research campuses.
– A corridor of higher education focused on science, technology and wellness that includes campuses for George Washington University’s Virginia Science & Research Center, George Mason University, Shenandoah University and Northern Virginia Community College.
– Adult playgrounds where you can fly without a parachute, play high-tech golf without a golf course and make like a couch potato as you eat-and-recline at a movie theater.
– A travel and tourism corridor that moves residents from neighboring Fairfax County and the Capital District to Leesburg’s historic district and beyond to the vineyards, wineries, horse country, the Blue Ridge viewshed and historic sites from the American experience.

Route 7 also leads to the nation’s largest cluster of data centers -- 61 -- in an internet hub where 70 percent of the world’s data passes.

It also serves as anchors of faith: the mega Community Church in Leesburg on one end, Northern Virginia’s largest mosque and Muslim community center in Sterling on the other.

One turn off Route 7 even leads to another regional religion: Washington Redskins football. Its church? Redskins Park, just 2 miles south on Loudoun County Parkway.

These are the key reasons why developers are investing hundreds of millions of dollars in projects up and down Route 7. And they are the reasons that more than $1 billion has been allocated for road projects that include Route 7 flyovers at Belmont Ridge Road and Ashburn Village Boulevard. Part of the vision for Route 7: no surface road intersections that would slow the flow of traffic and commerce.

Part of Route 7’s influence is defining. Along with Route 28, a north-south artery that connects with the Dulles Tollway-Greenway and ultimately Metro’s Silver Line at Dulles Airport, the roadways create the borders of a 21st-century boomtown that has grown to 370,000 people from less than half that only two decades ago. The new mini-cities that are being developed will likely send the population to over 500,000.

So Route 7, one of the main roads of this juggernaut, must be efficient.

One chance

"We only get one chance at these corridors, Route 28 [and] Route 7, we only get one chance and we have a lot of green space still, so we have to get it right,” Vice Chairman Ralph Buona (R-Ashburn) said. “There are interim uses, but for the most part, what goes up is gonna be up for a long time.”

Traffic congestion along Route 7 and its impact on economic development have also been a concern for years. To alleviate some of the traffic problems, the county has embarked on a series of road widening projects and began constructing interchanges at the intersections of Route 7 and Bluemont Ridge Road and Route 7 and Ashburn Village Boulevard.

Buona, who also served on a task force to find solutions to the congestion along the Route 7 corridor, said traffic is still a major concern that needs to be addressed.

"It's been a very rough road to get these interchanges underway. These are some very complicated road improvements and complicated funding, complicated land acquisition and complicated utilities and it's a big challenge,” Buona said. “But we've got to get this done because people are sitting in traffic and going east in the morning and west in the evening and we've gotta get people out of traffic.”

According to the county’s latest report on transportation projects around Loudoun, the county has allocated over $1 billion for its active transportation projects – the most the county has spent at any one time in its history.

Residential? Mixed-use? Commercial?

For many, including Supervisor Kristen Umstattd (D-Leesburg), Route 7 is a viable business corridor. But most people say the county needs to be careful about what types of developments will actually be built.

Umstattd says the Board of Supervisors needs to consider what developments to approve and whether more residential applications would be a mistake for the county.

"You bring in more business and you can hold down taxes on existing residents and existing businesses,” Umstattd said. “You bring in more residents, and there's far more pressure to raise the taxes on everybody.”

The Leesburg supervisor explained that Route 7 holds “tremendous potential,” to become a corporate corridor and can even help Loudoun become the next Silicon Valley of the East Coast.

Umstattd thinks the county will need to diversify the economic base of the Route 7 corridor so that it is not reliant on one single type of use. But the supervisor worries too that if the board gives up its “prime corporate corridor” to more residential developments, the county could lose Route 7 “forever as an economic development benefit.”

Loudoun’s most prominent modern mixed-use development, One Loudoun, serves as an example of what Route 7 could become, says Supervisor Ron Meyer (R-Broad Run).

“I think One Loudoun has sort of shown what can be done in the Route 7 corridor with business and with retail and making Loudoun really a place where people wanna live and where people wanna visit and where people wanna spend their money,” Meyer said.

Over the next 18 months, supervisors and stakeholders will craft the county’s development roadmap, or comprehensive plan, which will guide Loudoun community and economic development for the next two decades or more.

With One Loudoun in mind, Meyer hopes to use the new comprehensive plan to “rethink” what the county can do to attract more businesses and jobs to the Route 7 corridor.

“A lot of that corridor is just zoned for office parks and office parks aren't really marketable in the 21st century,” Meyer said.

Route 7 and Loudoun’s economic future

Buddy Rizer, the executive director of the Loudoun County Department of Economic Development, believes developments such as One Loudoun will bring more commercial revenue to the county and add another “dimension” to the county’s business “attraction, retention and expansion efforts.”

Rizer said the county must attract “knowledge workers” and provide work environments that “fosters a more constant flow of people and exchange of ideas.”

“This is contrary to the gated and sheltered keynote employment business parks currently planned for along the corridor in the comprehensive plan,” Rizer said. “That’s not meant to minimize the need to offer business campus settings to private companies and federal agencies that need to be a little more secure – Loudoun needs that diversity. As the county looks to re-write its comprehensive plan, we’ll have to think about how we provide that diversity along our major commercial corridors.”

For Beth Erickson, the president and CEO of Loudoun County’s destination management organization Visit Loudoun, the explosion of developments along the Route 7 corridor could help the county attract more visitors.

"When they [visitors] come into a county or a destination, they have a really fantastic experience, they take a look around they go, ‘the county has a lot to offer,’ that's when they begin to think about moving offices in, they start looking at how do they attract the very best and brightest from a workforce standpoint,” Erickson said. “So, I think that the explosion in really fantastic new development is going to help benefit the county straight across, to ensure that the county continues to be a great place to live, work, play and visit."

Community views

Austin Moore, a 22-year-old Ashburn native who watched the transformation of Route 7 take place, says he welcomes and appreciates the new developments and thinks his hometown is more exciting than it used to be.

“I’m definitely excited about [the Route 7 developments], but I know some people don't really like it. There's a lot more traffic coming in here, but I don't mind,” Moore said.

Kendy Rusiewski of Ashburn, says she is pleased to see Loudoun finally “coming alive” with new restaurants and entertainment options, especially because she has young children, but thinks the corridor can become even more attractive once traffic issues are resolved.

“We think it's [Route 7 developments] a positive, right direction, good movement, good for the economy, good for the county and the road improvements have to continue in order for us to survive in this area with all the traffic,” Rusiewski said.


MargeGeneverra - Everyone is different, that’s why there is Western Loudoun and Eastern Loudoun.  I enjoy an urban feel, like the energy and the choices.  I don’t want to live on a dirt road, eat dinner by kerosene lights, or go to the bathroom in an outhouse.  That’s what make Loudoun unique, there are 2 different lifestyles within the County.

If they vote to put housing in where the baseball park is supposed to be every member of the BoS should be recalled. The ballpark was the carrot remember the 9-0 vote for it, enough is enough!

RH - you should have moved to Fairfax 20 years ago, instead of Loudoun.  Then you would have had all of these wonderful places to enjoy at the strip malls, instead of green countryside.  You must love Tysons…

Just read that One Loudoun wants to put in over 700 units insted of the ballpark for the fantasy minor league team that never existed.  Seems the Planning Staff is against but the BoS sleected Commisioners are all in.

Geez….700 housing units will give us at least 1,500 shool age kids, and probably another 1,000 cars a day in a confined area.

Why not hold the developer to the original plan and forget the soon to be proffered sportsplex building that we the taxpayers will have to maintain.  If they cannot build the ballpark, then leave it as an open space park that will attract more people to visit and patronize the exisitng businesses in One Loudoun.

@RH - Sounds like you should have moved to Fairfax 20 years ago, instead of Loudoun….

You could be enjoying all of the places in Tysons.

Bob O.—-

FACT:  County staff can lie without consequences and some BOS members seem to gobble up those lies (when convenient)..

See you all at One Loudoun tonight for Sushi and then a Movie w/Liquor at the Alamo.


I’ve lived in Loudoun for almost 20 years and love the fact that we are finally getting choices.  Places to eat, shop, and work.  Maybe you are the one that needs to find another place to live if you want to live like it is the early 1900’s.  Society changes, places change, it’s all a part of life.  We live in a growing area, like it or not.  It’s not going to change, even as you complain about it. There are plenty of places in this Country that have no growth, no choices, no job growth, just the same thing year after year, maybe you should look into those.  What Loudoun has become is a place of whiners who want to live like it was a 100 years ago, thank God that is still not the case.  For those few that constantly complain on these boards, one thing…...MOVE and maybe enjoy your life a little.

Back in the late 80’s when I was living Cascades, the developer rep complained to me an HOA meeting that they had been forced to build the clover leaf at a cost of $10 million.  He was irritated at the time because the developers of Ashburn Village were not required to build a similar intersection and were able to use the same at-grade interchange with the stoplights.

Seems we could be saving some serious money if the developers were putting up the infrastructure or the cash as was the case for Cascades.

Ron—One Loudoun is not a success story…except for its developers.  One Loudoun is the umpteenth example of how your predecessors on the BoS got snookered into building another massive residential development.  The BoS let One Loudoun off the hook on the percentage of promised commercial development and, as a result, we have more kids in our schools, more cars on our roads, and minimal tax revenue to offset both.  If One Loudoun is your role model, we’re in big trouble.

That said, we can’t have it both ways folks—unless you want to call a complete halt to ALL development in Loudoun—the genie is long out of that bottle.  Frankly, I’d rather have the schlock along Route 7 more than another 1,000 townhomes or a massive mini-city like they’re planning at Route 28 and the Tollroad.  Ideally, we want to slow residential development and encourage businesses that can bring non-residents and their money into the county without having to put their kids through school.  Come on out, play some Top Golf, eat at Family Meal…and go home to Fairfax. 

And, for our friends out West…be afraid.  They used to think Route 28 was the “demarcation line”—see how that worked out.  Ask the folks in P’ville how the Route 15 thing is working out—it doesn’t exist. 

Loudoun County reminds of a line they used to use about Miami Beach…when a former Miami Beach mayor was asked if the mafia ran the city, he replied “hell no, they don’t run it—they own it.”  Substitute developers for mafia, and substitute Loudoun for Miami Beach, and the quote holds true.  Ultimately, Supervisors come and go, but the developers remain…and there is no sign anyone is going to stop them from getting what they want.

Truly sad article. Every day Loudoun looks more and more like New Jersey where many of these new residents come from. Instead of enjoying what make Loudoun special, the open areas, they want it to look like where they came from, full of restaurants and shops etc. If they wanted that sort of life, why not stay where you were? Purcellville looks like Disneyland now with fake shopping centers and fake residents. I was in Panera the other day in Leesburg and just listened to the chatter…it was so fake and vapid. Years ago it was real people talking about real things, now it looks and sounds like 99.9% of America. A real community has been lost thanks to these progressive so called leaders who think shops and stores make a community. How wrong they are…people make a community and Loudoun has lost its way for sure.

Did the Tabloid writers ask if the growth of Loudoun county is directly proportional to the increase in Government?  The largest employers are state and federal employees.
Did the Tabloid writers ask if land use polices force employees to live in West Virginia forcing long commutes and pollution in Loudoun?

“73 million to build one overpass?  How can that be?”

It’s a government project.  Awarded to the highest campaign contributor or best politically connected contracting company. 

If you took all of the money that has been spent on Rt 7 improvements in the last 20 years, you could have build a real limited access highway (Like a US Interstate) from Winchester to Tysons.

These developments do “bolster tax revenue”, but they unfortunately add to the demand for public services (schools, roads, police, etc) that more than consumes the extra revenue – the result: higher taxes.  Only the developers make money.

The real reason for all of this is that developers (looking to make a fast buck and move on)  are the prime campaign contributers to the county supervisors.  In order to stay in office, supervisors need to change zoning to repay the developers.  County land use plans are a joke, and they continuously get revised to allow development.  For years, we’ve hand land use plans that claimed to protect open space in Loudoun, only to have each successive board of supervisors revise them to allow their developers/supporters to build pretty much anything.

The last think the Loudoun needs is fake “town centers” and thousands of condos and homes that all look alike with the only difference being between beige and white plastic siding.  These things crammed together are the makings of tomorrow’s tenements/ghettos.

Where Loudoun once lead the nation in per-capita income, these new “town center”  development attract a different type of resident.  One that takes much more from the county services and tax system that they give back.

As for Rt 7, it is a joke.  What should be a limited access highway with parallel service roads is instead a daily traffic jam.  As VDOT builds obscenely expensive overpasses, one at a time,  new developments proffer more intersections and stoplights adjacent to the overpasses.  VDOT simply does not know how or is unwilling to build highways like other states.  Even secondary roads are terrible.  Follow Rt 15 from VA into MD, where is changes from a deadly 2 lane road with no shoulders to multi-lane highway.

Fairfax is coming.  Loudoun will look like Tysons soon.  One can only imagine what it will look like in future generations, when the developers are gone to their next cash grab, the plastic siding fades, the strip malls start to go vacant,  and these new developments become the new ghettos.

“$73 million to build one overpass?  How can that be?”

The project also includes approximately 1.4 miles of reconstruction of Belmont Ridge Road from two-lanes to a four-lane divided section from the interchange limits at Route 7 to Gloucester Parkway.

Air quality=Orange alert!

What they left out in this article is that those living west of rt 15 that don’t want development are the same folks that are on this road that now requires an overpass.  ALSO no mention of the almost $7 toll on the greenway that pushes folks over to rt 7 to avoid the toll.

Everybody seems to have an opinion perhaps because those in charge of knowing the facts fail to present them so people can comment on facts. For example: Mr. Rizer apparently said “developments such as One Loudoun will bring more commercial revenue to the county and add another “dimension” to the county’s business “attraction, retention and expansion efforts”
WHERE ARE THE FACTS TO CORROBORATE SUCH A CONTENTION? How hard is it to compare the net cost of educating the residents of One Loudoun, the cost of the interchange caused by this development compared to the net commercial proceeds? Why is it so hard for public employees to provide audit qualified detail so people can ascertain how much they appreciate or are cynical about the result. As an 8 year school board member I am under the belief that if a professional audit was done for Lansdowne as one example of a completed development comparing the actual results to what the neighborhood costs REALLY were and CONTINUE to be then the problem of under charging proffers would get resolved and the relationship between Loudoun and the state that craves the income tax growth such developments provide would also get fixed. Maybe the BOS can provide a regular monthly update on the top 5 problems being worked on instead of minimally enforceable ethics pledges and factually empty and self serving management reports by 6 figure employees, Can’t HHMI afford to pay property taxes? Is the golf course at 1757 REALLY “surplus property of negligible value”? Is the property owned by the Redskins now connecting Loudoun County Parkway and Route 28 really of no significant value nor has the ridiculously low assessment been changed for 20 years! C’mon guys = produce facts and the public will be much more likely to trust your conclusions.
Bob O__ Esq.

$73 million to build one overpass?  How can that be?

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