The Loudoun County Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday to schedule a second public hearing to address two appeals regarding the construction of a 20,000-square-foot fire and rescue station in Aldie next month.
The upcoming vote by the board follows the county's Historic District Review Committee’s February decision to deny the application submitted by the Loudoun County Department of Transportation and Capital Infrastructure, or DTCI. The county then appealed that decision.
Targeted for the south side of Route 50 in the Village of Aldie, DTCI is seeking a ruling to construct a station on three parcels of land located within the county-designated Aldie Historic District. A substantial part of the proposed facility and requisite retaining walls would be constructed on the parcel at 39491 John Mosby Hwy.
After a public hearing speaker claimed that the appeal was not filed timely last month, county staff reported at Tuesday’s business meeting that their investigation determined the opposite – though the inquiry did find an attached part of the appeal did not carry a time stamp when filed. The board was provided email evidence and a sworn affidavit from the project representative stating that the application package submitted contained an appeal for all of the documents.
The board voted 7-2 to accept the appeal package as filed in a timely manner and scheduled a second hearing on July 10. Supervisors Tony Buffington (R-Blue Ridge) and Geary Higgins (R-Catoctin) opposed the motion made by Vice Chairman Ralph Buona (R-Ashburn).
“I don’t want anyone to believe we don’t have the actual paper. We do. It did come in,” Chairwoman Phyllis Randall (D-At Large) said. “A date stamp wasn’t placed on it, but it did come in, and I think that’s really important. It all came in at one time, the person stamped the top paper and then it was all entered into the computer and it shows both were entered – it’s just the stamp wasn’t on the second and that needs to be made so clear … If we didn’t have the paper, then I would’ve voted the opposite way.”
Buffington stood by his stance that the appeal application without a time stamp was not filed timely. Buffington’s motion to reject the appeal application seconded by Higgins failed 2-7.
“We should be able … [to] produce a hard copy of the document with the original time stamp on it, and we cannot do that,” Buffington said.
Buona opposed Buffington’s motion, claiming the action was merely a way to stop the fire station construction.
“This is just a weapon to try and stop the site,” Buona said. “We are doing everything we can to make sure a station works in Aldie, everything we can. Whether it’s here or somewhere else, we are doing everything we can. We have been since my entire eight years on the board. But to try and say we’re going to stop it dead in its tracks over something procedural like this … this is not the way you should do it.”
The subject property, owned by the county, contains an 1810 Federal-style residence including a circa 1850 cellar house, mid-20th century garage and 20th century wood barn. The primary building on the property – the two-story residence known as the Aldie Tavern – is not being proposed for demolition, while a separate cellar house and garage is set to be brought down, according to the department's appeal. Adjacent properties also contain older buildings that are proposed for demolition in order to construct the facility.
The committee believes the siting and sizing of the proposal – in addition to the demolition of historic buildings – will require substantial grading and alteration to the existing landscape. The committee found the project is not in conformance with the Historic District Guidelines. Additionally, the committee determined the construction may undermine the structural integrity of the Aldie Tavern and that the size and scale of the proposed facility is not compatible with other residential and commercial buildings in the district.
The existing station, built in 1971, is approximately 6,000 square feet and lacks the programmatic and functional space to support and accommodate assign staff providing 24-hour emergency service delivery to the Aldie community and the surrounding response areas, the appeal states. The existing station is also located in a major floodplain, and flooding has forced the evacuation of staff and emergency apparatus, disrupting emergency service delivery more than 20 times since being built. Therefore, the appeal argues, the current property is not a viable location for new construction or renovation and expansion of the current facility.
In letters to the board, firefighters testified they have been diagnosed with bronchitis, been bitten by spiders, found rodents, snakes, and dealt with occasional flooding and overwhelming structural damage.
County staff said they evaluated eight separate property options for the new station. Of the eight, only the option consisting of the three parcels in question was determined to be viable, according to the appeal. The other options did not meet the minimum criteria in one or more ways.
The debated project is estimated to cost nearly $19 million.
On Tuesday, the board also directed county staff to file a zoning map amendment application to remove a portion of the land proposed for construction of the fire station from the Aldie Historic and Cultural Conservation District. The board voted 6-3, with Umstattd, Buffington and Higgins opposed.
“The reason why we are taking this action tonight is to exempt the parcel from the historic district, which will have a fire station provided we can't find a place to put a fire station,” Supervisor Matt Letourneau (R-Dulles) said.
Buffington said, “But would we do that if the applicant was anyone other than ourselves? I don’t think so. I don’t think any private entity could come in here, give us an application for that area, and then request that we change it from a historic district to not a historic district and would vote to approve that. I don’t think that would be the case and so I don’t think that should be the case here either.”