A local developer wants to build a 1,180-unit residential community and tennis center just outside Leesburg. Some people celebrate its inclusion of 276 below-market units as a big step in Loudoun County’s efforts to address the lack of housing affordable to those outside the highest income brackets. Others, including county planning staffers, argue the development would be out of character with the Transition Policy Area, which is intended to separate the suburban sprawl in the east of the county from the sprawling country estates in the west.
After a public hearing Feb. 28, the Loudoun County Planning Commission decided to study the Village at Clear Springs application further before voting on its recommendation to the board of supervisors, which has the ultimate say over zoning applications. The date of the work session on the proposal has not yet been determined.
The 246-acre community proposed by Chantilly-based developer Leonard S. “Hobie” Mitchel would incorporate an area currently comprised of 29 separate parcels and be bounded by Heritage High School to the north, Evergreen Mills Road to the west and the Dulles Greenway to the east while extending past Shreve Mill Road to the south. The project area is currently zoned for agricultural use and comprised of large residential lots, but the 2019 General Plan envisions housing density of up to five units per acre on the site as part of the plan’s Transition Policy Area. The Leesburg Executive Airport is across the Greenway about a half a mile from the nearest proposed houses, and a shopping center, sheriff’s office firearms training facility and a data center are also nearby.
At 578 units, townhomes would make up about half the residential component of the development, supplemented by 360 apartments and 242 single-family detached homes. Of the total units, 276 units would be rented or sold at a below-market rate and 468 units would be available only to people 55 years old or older. The development would also feature walking trails in and around the community and two small parks, including one detached from the rest of the development. Two churches – one existing and one planned — are also included in the plan.
The proposed share of below-market units is more than required by the zoning ordinance. “I think the reason is because we can, and it’s the right thing do to and we have the [federal Low-Income Housing Tax Credit] financing in place to accomplish that,” Mitchel told commissioners to explain why the plan exceeds the affordable-housing requirement.
The below-market units, including 16 houses that would be dedicated to a program managed by Loudoun Habitat for Humanity, have been the main focal point for supporters, dozens of whom filled the meeting room for the Feb. 28 hearing. The majority of written comments received so far have been supportive of the proposal — most of those comments cite the affordable housing component.
The proposal “exceeded the expectation for the type of community we envisioned” in the General Plan, Cliff Keirce, a former planning commissioner who was involved in the General Plan’s development, said at the public hearing. He added that the Clear Springs site is an “ideal location for increased density” if it means additional below-market housing units will be built.
The Loudoun County Chamber of Commerce also endorsed the inclusion of so much affordable housing. Theo Stamatis, the organization’s government relations manager, told commissioners that the Clear Springs proposal “exceeds the ambitious goals of strategic housing plan.”
Unusually, the development would also incorporate a 19-acre indoor/outdoor tennis and pickleball complex owned and operated by the United States Tennis Association, which would move its mid-Atlantic headquarters to the site. It would join several nearby high-end sports facilities, including the Virginia Revolution Sportsplex located across the road from the Clear Springs site. Mitchel characterized the tennis facility as “the community center for the community. … We’re just fortunate enough to have the USTA help run it and manage it.” He emphasized that every Clear Springs resident would have access to the facility, which would also feature a fitness center and meeting rooms, as part of their HOA membership.
The developer has proffered to build two additional lanes on Evergreen Mills Road along the one-mile length of the development; a traffic study estimated the development will generate 8,300 trips per day on the road. The county’s transportation plan calls widening the entire road to four lanes, and the portion of the road in Leesburg — which connects to the segment adjacent to the Clear Springs site — is set to be widened by 2026.
Planning staff, some neighbors objectMitchel needs a host of legislative zoning approvals for the project to move forward. His plans face opposition from county planning staff, who formally oppose the proposal based on the General Plan’s guidelines for the Transition Policy Area. For instance, staffers have raised concerns about retaining “the visual character established by extensive natural open space” in the TPA. The staff report says multi-family apartment buildings are categorically incompatible with the TPA and advises removing apartment buildings from the proposal altogether.
In response, Mitchel argued that the broader goals of the General Plan, which repeatedly emphasizes the need for affordable housing, warrant a departure from the technical requirements of the plan. Taking away the apartment units would allow the development to comply with the General Plan, he told the commission, but reducing the amount of below-market housing “would be the worst thing we could do.”
Planning staffers are also concerned that the proposed tennis facility is “incompatible with the rural character of the area” and that the developer is not offering enough to offset the county’s costs in providing public services to the development’s future residents.
Some of the staff’s objections are technical; planners dispute the developer’s claim that the proposal meets the General Plan’s density and open space requirements. For instance, they have pushed back against the developer’s claim that the 19-acre tennis facility should be classified as “open space” and argued that the tennis facility, detached park and church properties cannot properly be used to calculate the maximum density envisioned by the General Plan.
The most passionate opposition to the proposal so far has come from residents of the Grenata subdivision, a neighborhood on the other side of Evergreen Mills Road comprised of about three-dozen homes generally valued at $2 million or more. William Martin, the president of the Grenata homeowners’ association, asked the commission to “defend our family homes” from “ambitious, unbalanced sprawl.” Martin discussed the HOA’s previous lawsuit against the Virginia Revolution Sportsplex, which borders the subdivision, and said that, if the county approved the current version of the application, it “would force us to take a more opposing legal position.”
Doug Smith, another Grenata resident, told commissioners that he moved to the area because “we did not want to move to place where there are five homes per acre.” He asked commissioners to “encourage them to find another location.”
Other speakers expressed concern about the traffic it would add to the entire Evergreen Mills Road corridor.
Officials from the town of Leesburg, which does not have zoning authority on the Clear Spring property, have also expressed concern about the proposal; they argue that residents of the proposed development would complain to the town about noise from the nearby airport, which is located inside town limits. “Even though this development is across the Greenway, it is well within earshot of large corporate jets,” according to a Feb. 9 memo distributed on behalf of the Leesburg Town Council, which also voted to ask the county to deny the application.
Planning commissioners were generally cautious about the proposal, emphasizing that they needed to study in more detail the complex proposal — which technically includes eight separate zoning applications — and the potential ramifications of deviating from the General Plan’s guidelines for the area.
“As much as I want this affordable housing, we’re going to have to pick and choose, because I’m not sure it makes sense here,” Commission Chair Michelle Frank, Broad Run, said in reference to the proposed multifamily units, most of which would be rented at a below-market rate, though she emphasized that she is not opposed outright to the area being developed.
Catoctin District Commissioner Mark Miller, who represents the Clear Springs area, seemed most open to the proposal. He argued that that area around the Clear Springs site was already developed with intense uses and that the development would therefore not be out of character with the surrounding properties. And, he said, the widening of Evergreen Mills Road along the frontage of the development would help the county realize its transportation plans. “Bear that in mind – we all want Evergreen Mills Road to be widened, but it’s never going to happen unless there is development along the road that can pay for developers to do that,” he said.
No one who doesn't stand to profit from this wants it
Mark Miller, a real estate agent and Caleb Kershner's appointee ('you wouldn't want a developer in there," Kershner said, and so chose an agent who doesn't live in Catoctin as the next best thing), perfectly characterizes the circular logic of the development industry: "We" (meaning the developers who rewrote the Countywide Transportation Plan out of public view, which was approved by a developer-friendly majority of the 2016-19 BOS) want to widen Evergreen Mills, because it's congested at peak hours, and the only way to do that is to let a developer build more houses and proffer the new lanes that will instantly be filled with new cars!(Edited by staff.)
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