Stupid stadium tricks

The Loudoun County Planning Commission is holding a public hearing on February 19 on the extremely urgent expedited series of rezoning amendments and exceptions requested by the Loudoun Hounds pseudo-baseball team . . . and the staff report on the proposals is a doozy.

Scott York (rechts) und Bob Farren (links) auf dem Trainingsgelände der Redwings (courtesy Hofheimer-Zeitung)

Loudoun Board Chairman Scott York (right) and major campaign contributor/stadium developer Bob Farren (left) hard at work at “one business appointment after another” (to quote York’s staff, when pressed for an explanation of the trip) during the chairman’s taxpayer-funded junket to Germany last spring.

As we all recall, the very politically connected Hounds (its investors gave $67,000+ to the members of the current all-Republican Board of Supervisors to get them elected, and its owner Bob Farren was invited along on Board Chairman Scott York’s taxpayer-funded junket to Germany last spring) suddenly announced last fall that they wanted to build their stadium in a different location from the already approved location in the Kincora development.

Claiming that it had to have quick approval so they could begin playing ball in 2014, the Hounds investors got the ever so obliging Board of Supervisors to pass an instant unanimous deliberation-free motion for special expedited service for their new rezoning request (York said it was being placed “at the top of the hopper”).

Neighbors of the new stadium location, blindsided by all this, were furious, especially as it became clear there would be huge noise and traffic impacts, including fireworks, parties, special events, and loud concerts at the site — not just baseball. Also, they pointed out that the stadium backers were evasively understating the true seating capacity of the stadium (10,000 versus 5,500 at full capacity) — a fact that the Planning Commission staff confirms in their report.

While our Republican elected officials have already unanimously prejudged the matter — going so far as to hand out to their constituents free Hounds bumper stickers (Geary Higgins, R-Catoctin), show up at town meetings alongside Farren voicing their support (York and Shawn Williams, R-Broad Run), and issue ad nauseam streams of cheerleading statements about how wonderful it will be to have “baseball in Loudoun” (all of the above) — the professionals on the Planning Commission staff who actually examined the plan are scathing in their official report.

It is clear that the whole plan was hastily thrown together, for starters, with huge unanswered questions: the plan is so vague that the staff noted in frustration that it is not even possible to evaluate whether it will meet the basic standards of the county’s Revised General Plan for high quality design: no illustrative design, building elevations, entry features, facade treatments, materials specifications, or other basic information is provided.

Specifically, the report states:

“Staff has identified unresolved issues regarding the lack of specific design guidelines or illustrative designs

Staff has identified unresolved transportation issues related to the anticipated number of patrons attending sports and special events and the proposed traffic operations plan

Staff has identified unresolved transportation issues related to the provision of additional transit / shuttle services to facilitate stadium events

Staff has identified unresolved issues regarding impacts from noise, lighting, firework displays / pyrotechnics, and surface parking along the Route 7 corridor

Regarding compatibility issues and the surrounding uses, staff has identified questions / concerns related to the following factors:

• number of events / start times/ curfews for sporting events and special events;
• lighting impacts;
• noise impacts;
• transportation impacts (discussed in the Transportation section of the staff report); and
• surface parking impacts”

Its conclusions mince even fewer words in pointing out the inadequacies of this shoddily-prepared plan — and noting the number of other goodies the developers are trying to sneak in under the guise of “bringing baseball to Loudoun”; again, quoting directly from the staff report:

  • There are inadequate design commitments for the proposed stadium.
  • There are outstanding compatibility issues related to lighting, noise, event limitations, and surface parking impacts on Route 7.
  • The applicant seeks to reduce the amount of required amount of office development in the first and second phases. A strong commitment to the development of office uses should be provided.
  • Stadium capacity issues need to be addressed.
  • There are inadequate transit facilities to accommodate stadium events.
  • The applicant has not provided sufficient justification for some of the proposed zoning modification requests. Staff does not support certain reductions to the Town Center requirements, the elimination of spacing requirements between buildings, interim surface parking for the stadium and the elimination of buffers and screening adjacent to the Route 7 frontage.

The Planning Commission staff has recommended that the Planning Commission either forward the entire package to a work session for further discussion and changes, or that it “forward it to the Board of Supervisors with a recommendation of denial.”

The Planning Commission is appointed by the Board, and so far has shown itself to be nothing but a creature of this Board and its political favor-granting. It will be a real test of its integrity to see how they handle this one, in the face of overwhelming  opposition by the  citizens directly affected by it and the overwhelmingly negative judgment of their own staff professionals.

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