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Developer Q&A: Van Metre President Of Development Roy Barnett

Van Metre Group President of Acquisition, Planning and Development Roy Barnett

One of the largest homebuilders in the D.C. region, Van Metre Cos. is especially active in Loudoun County. The developer has built thousands of single-family and multifamily homes in Ashburn, Leesburg, Dulles, Brambleton and other parts of the county. 

Last month, the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors approved the latest phase of Van Metre's massive Broadlands community. The plans call for 843 units, a mix of townhouses and multifamily, plus 420K SF of nonresidential development that includes a 250K SF campus for George Mason University

Van Metre Cos. Group President of Acquisition, Planning and Development Roy Barnett, who has worked on Broadlands for three decades, talked with Bisnow about the latest news on that development, Van Metre's other projects throughout Loudoun County and his thoughts on the Comprehensive Plan the county approved last month. 

Bisnow: You received a big approval for the latest Broadlands project last month, but I want to start by discussing the history of the overall development. How long have you been involved with Broadlands and what were the key steps that got it to where it is today?

Barnett: Broadlands is over 1,700 acres. It was acquired by Al Van Metre Sr., the founder of Van Metre Cos., and Beau Van Metre, his son, who is now the chairman of Van Metre. They started acquiring properties in 1984, and I did the first rezoning of the property in 1989. So I started 30 years ago, that was the first rezoning of the Broadlands community. At that point in time, the Dulles Greenway didn’t exist, there was not much development in central Loudoun County and Ashburn was nowhere near the place it is today. And we developed Broadlands over the years, we’ve had several large partners, but since 2003, Van Metre has been the 100% owner of Broadlands. Broadlands today has over 4,000 homes completed and over a half-million square feet of office and retail.

Fast forward to around 2007, we started having conversations with George Mason University when they were pursuing a permanent home for a Loudoun campus of the university. In 2008, we entered into an agreement with George Mason. The ownership of Van Metre donated 37 acres of land along the Dulles Greenway between Waxpool Road and what’s known today as Mooreview Parkway. So an agreement was entered to donate that land in 2008, it was donated over a period of time from 2008 to 2010. The George Mason University foundation has owned it ever since that time.

The university went through leadership changes and directional changes over the years, and how the campus has functioned over the years has changed. So when the 37 acres was donated, at that point in time it was more of a conventional horizontal campus-type view of what would be happening at Loudoun. And where you see universities going today are concentrated in more high-rise buildings. An example of that is [George Mason's] Arlington campus, which is some vertical office building-type facilities.

We reached agreement with George Mason about four years ago in 2015 that said that basically they deemed they no longer needed the 37 acres because that is no longer a viable design for a horizontal campus. So we entered into an agreement where we would purchase the 37 acres subject to a rezoning and then separately we would donate a new location for the university where they could do a vertical campus. We have a 5-acre parcel, Section 204, that would be the new George Mason property and hopefully be the future Loudoun campus at whatever point they decide that that’s a viable option from an educational standpoint.  

Bisnow: How much of a benefit will the development of a university campus bring to the entire Broadlands community, all of the residential and retail and office that you have built and will build?

Barnett: With the new location in the Section 204 property, we had 15 acres and in our redesign of that section of Broadlands, we have created a mix of uses that include the 250K SF educational campus, a vertical campus for George Mason, 46K SF of retail and 580 multifamily housing units with an option to convert one of multifamily buildings to a hotel building.

The campus location where it’s proposed now is a 10-minute walk to the Ashburn Metro, so it’s walking distance there. It’s a mixed-use community where three of the residential buildings are required to have first-floor retail. We’ll have multifamily housing units there, we’ll have a hotel option. And part of the rezoning application included providing 91 affordable housing units that would be built adjacent to the campus.  

We think that having a campus there that’s in a Metro location provides viability not only to the campus, because now it’s connected on the Silver Line directly to Arlington, you can jump on there and go directly to the Arlington campus and backtrack to Vienna to go to the main campus. So it’s all public transport oriented.

I think having this mix of uses really starts meeting the planning philosophies that have been around for years in smart growth where you want to have a campus that creates a place to live and work, and in our case here, you have education and you have evening activities, especially with our retail components we have within Broadlands today as well as some of the existing retail that’s near the Metro. We felt that it was a good mix of uses that we feel work together and work with the location that we have there near the Ashburn Metro.  

A site plan for the recently approved Broadlands project near the Ashburn Metro station

Bisnow: Do you have an estimated timeline for the project that was just approved, the mixed-use component and the George Mason campus? When do you expect the first piece of that to break ground?

Barnett: We have the residential and mixed-use components in Section 204 and we have a more suburban residential component that’s the Section 202 where the old GMU property was. That is traditional townhomes and stacked townhouses. So those we’re working on preliminary plans right now and we hope to go through the final plan and engineering processes within the next year and a half and break ground in the spring of 2021. With that, we will also build the first building in the mixed-use Section 204, which is the affordable housing component, the 91 units of affordable housing we are building up front as part of first phase of development.

As far as when George Mason would do something on their portion of project, that is really dependent on the future planning of George Mason and what works in their planning process and funding process. They do have a Loudoun presence today near Northern Virginia Community College. They occupy about 20K SF today with their Loudoun presence, so they want to see that grow. At some point dependent on that growth it would set the pace for when you may see something here, but that’s a university decision, not something we have control over.  

Bisnow: Going back a little bit, you said all of Broadlands is 1,700 acres and there’s been quite a bit developed on it, over 4,000 homes and the commercial space. How much undeveloped space is left after this site that you were just approved for? What is the remaining undeveloped land for future long-term development?

Barnett: So within Broadlands after this project here, we have an area that’s along the Dulles Greenway west of Claiborne Parkway between Claiborne and Belmont Ridge Road. We have probably about 10 acres, four commercial pads, remaining within Broadlands. I’m working with Loudoun County on a 20-acre site that we own.

We’re working with Loudoun County on a zoning application that will allow the new Ashburn recreation center to be built within Broadlands on 20 acres near Clyde's. That is a 110K SF rec facility. We hope that goes before the Board of Supervisors for review by the end of this year.

And then HCA still owns about 50 acres that was a portion of the original Broadlands. They had purchased that land in the 2001 time frame. That was going to be the home of the second hospital in Loudoun County. There was citizen opposition to that hospital. They built the hospital on Route 50 now known as StoneSprings Hospital. Even though they built the hospital on Route 50, they still retain ownership of the 50 acres they purchased years ago.

Bisnow: I want to hear your thoughts on the Comprehensive Plan that Loudoun County passed a couple of weeks ago. A big piece of it is the development areas around the Metro stations. Does that directly impact what you’re able to do on your property there? And in a larger sense, do you think this plan is good for the county?

Barnett: On the Ashburn Metro plan we’re talking about, which is Section 202 and 204, we worked collaboratively with county staff, the planning commission, the board and the surrounding community over four years to develop the plan that was approved by the Board of Supervisors. We worked with them at the same time they were working on the new Comprehensive Plan through that process.

You will see the Comprehensive Plan was approved on June 20. Later that same evening is when we were approved for our rezoning. So the question was asked of staff that our plan is very much consistent with [the] new Comprehensive Plan. The reason is that we worked very closely with the groups I named to make sure we were in line as that was evolving.  

The Comprehensive Plan in general, if I look at the urban area that was defined to increase density along the Silver Line, I think several developers have been tracking that. If you look at cases that have been approved, if you look at the south side of the Metro line you have Silver District West, which received approval a few months ago, you have Moorefield Station approved 17 or 18 years ago, and then you have my case that was just approved. Those cases align most of the undeveloped land south of the Greenway.  

Then north of the Greenway, you have Loudoun Station and a couple smaller parcels that are still in the process. And then to the east of that you see a lot of the land today is being used for data centers. So you have to look closely at how many units realistically will be built in the new urban district versus what the plan may say. The plan is for the future and the argument is always whether there could be redevelopment or consolidation in some future date, and that may occur.  

I think once we get away from the urban district, the suburban policy area pretty much stayed the way it was, there weren’t that many changes. Then we have the transition policy area where there were only a limited number of parcels that were designated for development of a different type than previously. I understand where the board was on that decision-making, especially in the southern end of the county, where we have several projects along the Route 50 corridor that we’ve developed over the years and continue to develop. Transportation is an issue and it is really just the way the region has grown over many decades.  

With the constraints in the transportation network, it does constrain how many units you can reasonably add to that system. And I think that Supervisor [Matthew] Letourneau said in one of his comments that it was a tough decision for them in the south end of the county because there are several land parcels that developers have wanted to develop over the years and create additional housing units, but the transportation network can’t support it. There’s this big question on how do you solve that transportation issue on a regional basis versus on a county by county basis.  

Bisnow: We talked a lot about Broadlands, but I know Van Metre has built homes across Loudoun County and continues to be active in other parts of the county. Do you have any other projects you’re working on now that you want to highlight?

Barnett: Broadlands was Mr. Van Metre Sr.’s flagship community. It was his love, his passion to have a community that was sustainable long term. That started in 1984. We also purchased Stone Ridge, we closed in 2001, on the Route 50 corridor. And today when I look at Stone Ridge and projects we’ve done in the vicinity we're at 3,500 to 4,000 units we’re completing there. We’re building out the last section of Stone Ridge and we've built out some of the surrounding properties.

We have a residential project at Gum Spring Road and Braddock Road that is under development today. And then I have a zoning application to change some of the uses in a commercial project I have at the southeast corner of Gum Spring and Braddock road. That goes before the board for public review this month. That is a small grocer, gas, convenience and restaurant site. It’s immediately adjacent to the new high school. We’ll have that starting development later this year we hope. We continue to look at projects in Loudoun County.  

Going back to Broadlands, I mentioned that we’re doing 91 affordable housing units there. That will be our third affordable housing project in Loudoun County. We’re under construction and have a grand opening in a couple months on 128 units adjacent to StoneSprings Hospital. We are in the planning stage for 78 units a little bit further east along Route 50 in Loudoun County and then this 91 [at Broadlands]. So when I add those up, there are about 300 units of affordable housing we're involved in in Loudoun County at the moment. We have a significant commitment to addressing some of the affordable issues in Loudoun County.