Lansdowne: Thrown under the bus

Residents of forty-three neighborhood streets in Lansdowne say they were thrown under the bus to make way for a new high school in Lansdowne.

The outcome of the recent Loudoun School Board election shows that some of their own neighbors ignored two Lansdowne candidates to push the election of Eric Hornberger of Ashburn, who wants to build a high school for 16oo kids on what one resident calls “a cul de sac with the National Conference Center behind it.”

At a Nov. 16 meeting at Belmont Ridge Middle School, angry Lansdowne residents asked why no elected officials were present to defend the Loudoun Board of Supervisors’ $20 million contract to buy 45 acres of land at the National Conference when more than half of them are “unbuildable,” according to Loudoun County Public Schools staff, and the site is complicated by wetlands, steep slopes, and poor access.

One staff person, LCPS Planning and Legislative Director Sam Adamo, defended the plan. Ashburn Supervisor Lori Waters, who did not seek re-election, was seated in the audience but was not introduced and did not take part in the presentation.

Adamo announced that Loudoun Sports Park on Kipheart Drive will be removed and not replaced. Its playground and parking lot will also be scuttled, he said. As many as four traffic circles will be needed to move traffic in and out of a campus that will be shared by the middle school, high school, and the National Conference Center, according to Adamo.

Half of the 1600 students likely to attend the high school will arrive during the morning rush hour in cars and school buses from south of Route 7.  The only access to the NCC campus is Upper Belmont Place, the north extension of Belmont Ridge Road. Adamo said the high school is needed to relieve overcrowding at Broad Run High School, located just north of the Dulles Greenway on Ashburn Road.

But in Lansdowne, many unhappy residents blame Waters, who works for a company that promotes charter schools, for what they say is a deeply-flawed plan to build a public high school on a site that is too small and environmentally sensitive to accommodate it. Waters, who did not run for re-election, says she will move to Florida at the first of the year.

One woman demanded to know why Waters did not negotiate to purchase property on Route 7 at Loudoun County Parkway as a potential high school site. Waters said the site, known as Lexington Seven, is divided by a four-lane road that she does not consider safe. She said building a tunnel under the road is not feasible because of potential problems with graffiti and drainage. Waters has also said the land was too expensive.

Last spring, Capital Associates offered 76 acres at Lexington Seven for sale as a possible site for the new high school, reportedly in the price range of $26 million, less than $350,000 per acre.  The Board of Supervisors did not pursue negotiations and instead, signed a contract on Sept. 20 to  purchase 45 acres of the National Conference Center’s 112-acre campus for $20 million, less than $450,000 per acre. But half of those acres are unbuildable land, Adamo said.

The NCC is zoned for “planned development, special activities.” A previous effort to rezone NCC  land for residential use was rejected after surrounding neighbors said the use was too intensive for the site. Loudoun County will seek to rezone the NCC property again, this time for use as a school.

The county will also seek to reassign 12 acres originally “proffered” for the sports park by the developer of Lansdowne, and 18 acres taken from Belmont Ridge Middle School, to form the new high school campus between the National Conference Center and the middle school. The NCC will continue to operate along with both schools.

Adamo said  fields  at both middle and high schools will be prioritized for school use. The new high school will not have a practice field because there is not enough land, he said, but the high school’s football field will be surfaced with year-round artificial turf to provide more days of use, he said.

One resident at the Nov. 16 meeting presented Adamo a petition signed by more than 100 Lansdowne residents who oppose eliminating the public fields at the sports park.

Adamo said the county needs to purchase common land owned by the Lansdowne HOA — comprised of the same residents whose homes will be impacted by the high school — to widen Upper Belmont Place and construct a traffic circle at its intersection with Riverpoint Drive.

Bob Ohneiser, the School Board representative who represents Lansdowne but was not re-elected, did not attend the Nov. 16 meeting. Newly-elected Ashburn School Board representative Hornberger and Ashburn Supervisor-elect Ralph Buona did not attend. Three traffic engineers and a staff member from Adamo’s office were present, but made no comment.

Three unsuccessful candidates for Ashburn District offices who live in Lansdowne did attend the meeting: developer John Andrews and attorney Debbie Piland, who both ran for School Board, and Valdis Ronis, an architect who supports the NCC high school site and ran for the Ashburn seat on the Board of Supervisors. They lost to Hornberger and Buona, respectively.

Andrews and Piland raised questions about suitability of the NCC property and construction of the proposed high school. Ronis did not comment.

Under the bus

Lansdowne residents say they were ignored by county officials.

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