Opponents decry what they call the resurrection of the “Outer Beltway.”
By Dusty Smith
From some of the comments made during a public hearing Tuesday night, someone might assume the notion of planning Belmont Ridge/Northstar Boulevard for six lanes was a brand new concept. That would not be true.
For 20 years, the roads had been planned for six lanes on Loudoun’s Countywide Transportation Plan, until the previous Loudoun Board of Supervisors made changes to reduce the size of the roads. In June 2010, Northstar was reduced to two lanes from Belmont Ridge to the Prince William County line as part of the CTP review. Then, in January 2011, the board reduced Belmont Ridge to four lanes from Croson Lane to Rt. 7.
But while the proposal to restore plans along that roadway are not new, opponents say they’re stunned at the speed with which the current board has moved to change the plans back. County Chairman Scott K. York (R-At Large), who opposed the previous board’s changes, initiated the move to revert to six lanes and the planning commission completed its review in March, recommending approval.
Nearly 40 people spoke. In the end, several supervisors said they believed there might be way to meet halfway before a planned vote on May 2.
“We’re looking to see if there’s compromise,” said Ralph Buona (R-Ashburn).
Supervisors made clear that they believe they are undoing a “serious, serious mistake”—as Matt Letourneau (R-Dulles) phrased it—by the previous board.
“What the board did last year was a serious mistake south of Braddock Road,” York said.
Comments during the hearing were impassioned on both sides.
Belmont Country Club resident Michael Loy lashed out at the board for considering the change.
“This thing, this is just a nonsensical plan that we are all trying to revisit. It’s Route 28 you’re trying to superimpose into a residential area,” he said. “You should be ashamed of yourselves. This is Obamacare. This is mandating and force-feeding us something that is not needed. The area has changed. Conditions have changed.”
“That is despicable. I am a Republican and I am ashamed to be a part of the same party you men and women are. This is how a fascist, dictatorial state is run.”
However, multiple members of the business community came out to voice differing views. Representatives from the Washington Airports Task Force, Lansdowne Conservancy, commercial real estate development association NAIOP, the Northern Virginia Transportation Alliance, Buchanan Partners and Committee for Dulles all spoke in favor of the change.
“The Loudoun County Chamber of Commerce overwhelmingly supports this proposal to restore North Star Boulevard and Belmont Ridge Road, to protect the right of way for a potential six-lane roadway with plans for bicycle and pedestrian access,” said chamber president and CEO Tony Howard.
Bob Chase, president of the Northern Virginia Transportation Alliance criticized the notion that by not building infrastructure, development would slow down, saying other neighboring counties have “learned the dumbness of this approach the hard way and their residents are paying a high price today.”
“Why would this board, why would you vote to impose worse traffic congestion on residents and travelers through this corridor,” Chase wondered. “It’s not as if you defeat this, things get better. If you defeat this, everything gets worse for everyone in Loudoun County.”
On the opposing side were residents, many of whom would be impacted by the change, members of the Piedmont Environmental Council and at least one executive with Orbital who said not all business people supported the change.
“We see no need to supersize our roads to six lanes,” said Craig Jones, vice president of corporate development for Orbital and a resident of the Village of Waxpool.
Among the many assertions by opponents were that the changes would pave the way for an “Outer Beltway.”
The staff report assertion that a widened Belmont Ridge/Northstar route would effectively link Route 7 with I-66 seemed to ignore the fact that it also would link Route 7 all the way to I-95. The concern raised by past supervisors is that such a road could dump traffic seeking alternatives to the Capital Beltway on Route 7 just east of Leesburg with nowhere to go.
“This is nothing more or less than a thinly veiled attempt to breathe new life into the outer beltway through Loudoun County,” said Ed Gorski, a former Loudoun planner who now works for the Piedmont Environmental Council.
Loudoun Chamber Chairman Kurt Krause disagreed. “It is not an outer beltway,” he said. “It is a magnificent north-south corridor.”
Loudoun resident Martha Polky said that corridor has been flatly rejected by Loudoun residents in the past.
“Louddoun citizens have long and loudly objected to the development of this beltway corridor, understanding full well that it’s purpose is to facilitate development for the benefit of Prince William County and the development of the transition area.”
But Supervisor Letourneau said such assertions were just distractions from real concerns.
“I take the concerns that we’re hearing very seriously,” he said. “There are very serious concerns and there are some not so serious concerns. Beltways are round.”
While residents from several communities spoke against the proposed changes—including Broadlands, Belmont Country Club, Belmont Ridge and Brambleton—the community most well represented was the Village of Waxpool. Several members of its homeowners association board and residents spoke in opposition.
“Our development does not want BR to be six lanes,” said Jill Friedrich, an HOA board member who pointed out that the Mt. Hope Baptist cemetery will complicate the project. “Making it six lanes is going to put it right up on our walking paths.”
“We live with Belmont Ridge in our backyard,” said Villages of Waxpool resident Tracy Doyle. “This is my community and I don’t want my quality of life changed by a highway going through it.”
But two supporters of making the road wider said residents with homes near Belmont Ridge should have been well aware of plans to widen the road to six lanes.
“It’s been in the plan since 1991,” said Mark Winn, a 13-year resident of Loudoun who has been a real estate agent for 26 years. “Someone didn’t do their homework.”
“I would venture to say that every community along this road and the houses of most of the people, if not all of them, who are speaking were planned, zoned, site planned and subdivided with the ultimate six-lane configuration in mind,” said Leesburg resident Robert Gordon, who ran for county chairman in 2003.
Several opponents said they were hard-pressed to understand how widening Belmont Ridge would benefit cargo traffic to and from Dulles Airport, as several speakers asserted, while supporter Russ Gestl of Buchanan Partners pointed out that there are no plans to construct six lanes any time soon.
Gem Bingol, another representative from the PEC, said the county could reconsider the change in the future if needed, but opposed the change now.
“If we need it and you’ve got the space, that’s fine in the future,” she said.
Supervisor Letourneau said that’s why the board was contemplating a reservation of enough right of way—for a future expansion if needed.
“The point of the CTP is future planning,” he said, adding that if someone proposed constructing six lanes now, “I’d say, “Are you out of your mind?’”
York reiterated Letourneau’s point. “The purpose of it and the importance of this is to capture the future right of way,” he said.
Supervisor Shawn Williams (R-Broad Run) also pointed out that he and other supervisors do not support leaving Northstar planned as a two-lane road south of Braddock.
The board voted 8-0-1 with Supervisor Janet Clarke(R-Blue Ridge) absent for the vote.