By Andrew Sharbel
Loudoun Times Mirror
Dec. 15, 2011
Despite the contract being signed and a deposit already put down, the HS-8 site at the National Conference Center is still being met with resistance by some Lansdowne residents, as evident by the number of concerns and questions asked of Supervisors-elect Ralph Buona (R-Ashburn) and Geary Higgins (R-Catoctin), who held an informal question and answer session and site walk-through Dec. 10.
Concerns about students parking in the surrounding neighborhoods, the impending traffic on Kipheart Drive, noise from extracurricular activities and athletic field lights were all concerns voiced by members of the Lansdowne community throughout the question session.
Several residents have raised these concerns at recent town-hall meetings and Buona was asked to have an informal get together to answer their questions.
Buona mentioned to residents during the meeting that one of his major concerns was relieving the overcrowding at Broad Run High School and Tuscarora High School, and just how much HS-8 was needed to do that.
“I live over by Broad Run High School and you have students practically bursting out of the windows of the school,” he said. “We have trailers lined up all along Ashburn Road to accommodate these kids at Broad Run so the bottom line is we need HS-8 by 2015 to help alleviate that overcrowding.”
Buona noticed after the meeting that it seemed as though one issue was raised more than others.
“I think traffic of course remains a major issue and the newest plan, or option C, does expand ingress and egress to and from the school, and at the same time, it takes traffic down one particular street that has a residential nature to it and that’s Kipheart [Drive],” Buona said. “People are concerned about the traffic on that particular street and that has to be the number one issue I heard from people on [Dec. 10].”
Buona felt the informal session went well and helped to relieve some of the concerns Lansdowne residents had.
“I think it was a good dialogue and I have received a few emails from folks that were there on [Dec. 10]. They were very thankful that there was a dialogue and considered it quite informing and they were glad that two of the supervisors were willing to come out and listen to their concerns,” Buona said. “There were also people there that were very much in favor of the NCC site, so it was a good mix of people. There are differing opinions as I would expect on a neighborhood site like this. There are always pluses and minuses.”
With concerned residents unsure of how this site will work, Buona feels the best course of action is to wait until the 120-day due diligence is completed Jan. 18.
“I think we need to hear the results of the 120-day due diligence where engineering and other studies are taken into account so we understand the viability or non-viability of the site,” Buona said. “To me it’s a matter of getting the rest of the facts and once we have those facts, then we can have a discussion about the outcome and which direction we need to go in.”
Eric Hornberger School Board-elect (Ashburn) was not present due to a previously scheduled School Board orientation. He has been a staunch supporter of finding a site for HS-8 over the last couple of years and was not surprised to find the NCC site tour has been ripe with controversy.
“It does not surprise me that there would be persons opposed to the NCC site for HS-8, as it is quite common for persons opposed to the designation of public use sites to push for reconsideration. In this instance, however, there has also been a professionally orchestrated and rather aggressive public relations campaign behind the opposition,” Hornberger said. “For much of the past year, this professional campaign has encouraged residents to oppose the NCC site in favor of another site that has been paid for by the owners of another site that they are looking to sell to the county for such a public purpose.”
Hornberger feels that amongst the controversy, people may forget the most important aspect about finding a site as soon as possible.
“My perspective is that first and foremost we need HS-8, and we need it to open as soon as possible. I was among the earliest residents recognizing the need for HS-8 in the northern Ashburn area and advocating for its prioritization. I also believe that HS-8 should be located in or near the majority of those it seeks to serve,” Hornberger said. “This is consistent with the comprehensive plan, as well as in the best long-term interest of the kids, communities and taxpayers of Loudoun County. Of the few sites in the northern Ashburn area that are even possibilities for a high school site, the NCC site appears to best meet these criteria. This and other reasons related to the benefits of this particular site over the others is why I support further pursuit of the NCC site for the location of HS-8.”
Supervisor Lori Waters (R-Broad Run) is in agreement with Hornberger and feels the NCC site is best suited to serve the Lansdowne area.
“This site is the best one that is available to meet the needs of the Ashburn area and we did an extensive three-year search to find a location for HS-8 and with the overcrowding currently happening at Broad Run High School and that will happen at Tuscarora High School because Lansdowne was moved out, we need a site in Ashburn for HS-8,” Waters said. “This site is ideally located to meet the student population it needs to serve.
“Over the last two years of the three-year search we spent looking at all the potential options, including different configurations, assemblages, leasing properties and a lot of different others,” Waters said. “We spent a lot of time as a board looking through all of the available land in the Ashburn area and concluded the NCC site was the best site of all those we reviewed.”
Waters understands the concern being voiced by Lansdowne residents and believes their concerns are warranted.
“Anytime you propose a change to a community, there will be an uneasiness about it and there are questions. People want to know what is going to happen next door or in their backyards and I certainly respect that,” Waters said. “In my eight years on the board, I found that land use can be quite controversial and wherever we wanted to go in Ashburn, there was going to be a neighbor that we have to sit down and work with.
“In Lansdowne, there are many neighbors that we are going to be working with to mitigate any potential impacts, whether its traffic or noise or visually and that is what we have to do as a Board,” Waters said.