Imagine living directly beneath an arrivals path at Dulles International Airport, where jumbo jet aircraft zoom just 950 feet above the homes, 24 hours a day. That’s what residents in Stonebrook will face if Fairfax County approves this proposed development.
Yet despite objections from local land-use groups, area residents and the airport, itself, on Oct. 7 the Planning Commission voted yes. And on Nov. 17 – on the recommendation of Supervisor Kathy Smith (D-Sully), who’s supporting developers over residents – the Board of Supervisors is likely to follow suit.
Developer Stanley Martin wants to rezone 12 acres in Chantilly’s Land Unit J to high-density residential – paving the way for construction of 134 homes – 120, two-over-two, stacked townhouses, plus 14 rear-load townhouses – at the Westfields Boulevard/Newbrook Drive intersection. Rooftop terraces are optional, and 110,000 square feet of open space – where children would experience the full force of the aircraft noise – is also planned.
The FAA says homes should not be built there because that site is inside the 65 DNL noise contour with a day/night average decibel noise level of 65 decibels and above. The developer claims the level is below 60 DNL and says prospective buyers would be told about aircraft overflights and homes wouldn’t exceed interior noise levels of 45 DNL.
But Michael Cooper, MWAA’s manager of state and local government relations, says MWAA’s 2019 noise contours place Stonebrook clearly inside the 65-70 DNL However, since the county has refused to adopt these contours updated from 1993, it can approve new homes there based on 27-year-old data.
“Interior noise-level reduction will not reduce outdoor noise problems,” said Cooper. “Dulles will grow, residents will hear planes flying overhead in this parcel and will complain to us, the state and the county. And there’s no such thing as a sound wall for overhead noise.”
During the Planning Commission’s Sept. 17 public hearing, Mason District Commissioner Julie Strandlie said she’s been there and couldn’t fathom houses under that flight path. “It’s a lovely development plan,” she said. “I just wish it was in a different location.”
Noting that a Johnson Aviation report counted 200 overhead flights there in 24 hours, Braddock Commissioner Mary Cortina asked if that’s what Stonebrook residents could expect. “Yes,” replied Joe Gorney, with the county’s Planning Department. “And [that number] is expected to go up, in the future.”
Providence Commissioner Phillip Niedzielski-Eichner asked Stanley Martin representative Andrew Painter if the developer will make homebuyers aware of the 2019 contours before they purchase. But, said Painter, “They weren’t adopted by the Board, so we’re sticking with the original ones.”
“But we do have the new contours, so I find this case troubling,” said Cortina. “It’s not information we can ignore.”
AMONG THE SPEAKERS calling in was Chantilly’s Cynthia Shang, saying, “This Board of Supervisors is endangering the citizens that previous Boards were there to serve. Do the right thing by heeding the experts’ advice and vote against this.”
Thomas Michaels spoke on behalf of United Airlines. “This falls squarely between the 65-70 noise contours, so it’s inevitable there’ll be complaints from residents. The airport is a massive generator of jobs, and United Airlines employs thousands of people here.
“We’re still doing 136 takeoffs and arrivals, daily, and were doing 270/day, prior to the pandemic – and that demand will eventually return. We urge you to continue to discourage development in areas that’ll be impacted by intense aircraft noise.”
Speaking in person, Cooper showed slides of the flightpath and a video with the noise of planes flying over the location. “They’re noisy and annoying, and they’re not going away,” he said. “This is a bad place to put residential. Arrivals will occur every 4-6 minutes over that site. Regardless if Fairfax County is ignoring it’s in the 65, it’s in the 65. That’s where planes are descending – and you can’t mitigate it.”
“The county’s Comprehensive Plan says you can consider new information, such as these new contours, if you deem it relevant,” continued Cooper. “[When the Supervisors] discussed the noise contours, I was in the room with them – and wasn’t allowed to speak.”
“This is a bad place to put residential. [Jet] arrivals will occur every 4-6 minutes.”
—Michael Cooper, MWAA
Likewise, former Loudoun County Board of Supervisors Chairman Scott York, now executive director of the Committee for Dulles, urged the commissioners not to “jeopardize this important airport hub. Stonebrook residents won’t be able to enjoy their yards, sidewalks, rooftop decks or trails – or sleep at night. Then they’ll want restrictions put on the flights and impact the airport’s ability to grow.”
The commissioners returned Oct. 7 to decide on the project. Sully Commissioner Evelyn Spain touted its nine Affordable Dwelling Units (ADUs) and seven Workforce Dwelling Units (WDUs), available for below market rate, adding that this area could be a “vibrant, economic driver,” rather than a “dying office park.”
Both Dranesville Commissioner John Ulfelder and Niedzielski-Eichner voted yes, saying they had to go with the old noise contours in the Comprehensive Plan and were actually precluded by Virginia Code from overriding it, “no matter what we wish the Comprehensive Plan said.”
At-Large Commissioner Tim Sargent voted yes, too, but was “concerned about the cumulative effect of both the noise from the air and the [nearby] traffic. I’m pleased with the amount of ADUs and WDUs, but they’re all in the multifamily homes. They should be disbursed throughout the development.” He also noted that, “because of the noise contours,” the Planning Commission objected to the May 2019 Comprehensive Plan amendment allowing 4,200 homes in that area, “but the Board approved it anyway.”
VOTING NO, Cortina said, “The concentrated overflight will remain, and attenuation measures won’t make this suitable for residential use. Rooftop decks and outdoor areas will be subject to incessant, low-flying aircraft.” Sadly, she said, “Our pride in the airport’s success seems to have faded as parochial interests have prevailed.”
Also against this project because of its location, Strandlie said, “There’s no way to mitigate the impact of 787s flying directly overhead at less than 1,000 feet. New homeowners will soon discover they cannot open their windows without hearing the roar of jet engines.”
She related that, years ago, she rented a townhouse near Reagan International Airport and the aircraft noise bothered her, even though she didn’t live under a flightpath. “But I could easily move,” said Strandlie. “That won’t be so easy for [Stonebrook] families who discover the impact only after they’ve closed on their dream homes and moved in.”
The Commissioners then approved the proposal, 9-3, with Cortina, Strandlie and Hunter Mill’s John Carter voting no.