All posts by hannahhager

I live and write in the East Village, New York.

Where’s WAGE?

Potential listeners want to know: Where is WAGE Radio, the Loudoun-based AM station that went off the air in August 2009?

WAGE Radio, owned by Potomac Radio, had planned to return to air on Oct. 31. But, financing and procurement snafus stalled the relaunch, Randall Minchew, Potomac Radio’s former legal representative told the Times-Mirror in November.

Many who have been looking forward to the new station have been left to wonder when it will finally come
“As a totally blind person, I have always had a love for radio of all types and hope WAGE can return to its former standing as a station which emphasized public service to Loudoun County,” said Annandale resident Chris Ramsay, who is anxiously awaiting the station’s return.

Despite a months-long delay in construction, the station’s new, three 195-foot lattice-tower AM radio transmitter towers have been raised at the intersection of Loudoun County Parkway and Gloucester Parkway in the Route 28 corridor. Still, its signal remains silent.

In 2009, WAGE went dark after more than 50 years as Loudoun’s local radio station. Immediately after shutting down, Potomac Radio began searching for a site for its new 50,000-watt towers – a 10-fold increase in the station’s previous wattage. The towers cost Potomac Radio $2 million.

Supervisor Stevens Miller (D-Dulles) said the board has no official capacity to enforce timeliness upon WAGE Radio’s schedule. The supervisors’ task was to review Potomac Radio’s land use application to see if it adhered to the rule book for that area.

Miller voted for the application in 2009. He said he was impressed by the fact that the Commonwealth’s Attorney had come to speak at the public hearing, saying that the station could be useful for Amber alerts. Miller said he hoped the station would be beneficial to the community. The application passed by a 7-2 vote, with Supervisors Kelly Burk (D-Leesburg) and Sally Kurtz (D-Catoctin) against it.

Burk voted against Potomac Radio’s land use application because the station’s increased wattage suggested to her that it would not feature local programming.

“I still don’t think its going to be serving community,” she said. “I really don’t foresee it being a community radio station. But, time will tell.”

In November, Minchew said the construction site was “a beehive of activity” and that the tower’s concrete footers were laid and a crane was ready for the “erector set of antennas.”

The towers should have been completed before Thanksgiving, he said at the time.

Nearly two months later, the station is still static.

Potomac Radio’s president Alan Pendleton did not return repeated attempts for comment.

In an e-mail statement, Minchew said Jan. 21 that he does not have any new information and has “not monitored the work on the construction of the new WAGE station.”

Miller suggested that the down economy and the recent recession could be a factor in the delay of the station’s relaunch.

“I don’t know what their finances are,” he said.

WAGE sounded off in September, playing music and the program, “Wall Street Journal Today,” a syndicated program that is not reflective of WAGE’s future programming, he said.
The program played in the mornings and evenings for nearly eight days to ensure the station’s window of silent time had not elapsed under the Federal Communications Commission regulations.

Minchew said in November that WAGE’s transformation was “not a deal that didn’t have a few hiccups.”

“I think folks find AM radio as a comfortable place to be, something to keep lonely people and shut-ins company, too,” Ramsay said. “It serves a number of great purposes, so when someone says, ‘who cares about WAGE?’  I say that many more people than you think care about it. “

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Loudoun’s 2010 home sales, median sales prices fluctuate

A fever chart accurately illustrates Loudoun’s real estate market in 2010.

The county’s home sales sputtered at the beginning of the year – 263 homes sold in January before falling to its lowest point in February with 254 homes sold, according to a report released this week by housing analyst Rosemary deButts. This is compared to the number of homes sold in those same months in 2009; 309 homes sold in January and 323 homes in February, respectively.

Home sales hit its peak in June 2010 with 551 sales, compared to 568 home sold in June 2009. It crashed in July, however, “primarily due to the expiration of the first-time home buyer’s credit ‘hangover’ that began in July,” deButts said.

“It is normal for sales to trend down in the second half of the year but the degree of drop-off was not only unexpectedly sharp but continued through most of the fourth quarter,” deButts said.

After hitting a second low in October of 356 sales, home sales again rebounded in the last half of the year, totaling 388 sales in December. Sales in eastern Loudoun and Leesburg decreased in 2010, by 10 percent and 6 percent, respectively, according to deButts. On the flip side, western Loudoun home sales increased by 8 percent.

The county’s median sales prices wrote a different story in 2010.

The median sales price declined during five of the last six months of 2010, deButts said, which is another indication of the detritus from the home buyer credit expiration. Still, they median sales prices never fell below 2009 levels.

The 2010 median sales prices increased over the 2009 levels because the number of foreclosures and short sales decreased, deButts said. Additionally, prices advanced $67,250 from January to June due to the increased demand generated by the first-time home buyer credit, she said.

The year-to-date median sales price in Loudoun was $359,000, which was up 7 percent from 2009, according to deButts. In January, the median sales prices came in at $323,000 before skyrocketing to $390,000 in June. The median sales price ended the year at $355,000 in December.

While median sales prices remained above 2009 levels, the number of distressed sales, which are defined as foreclosures and short sales, declined 21 percent in 2010.

In 2009, 1,996 sales were distressed, that number fell to 1,572 in 2010. In January 2010, 44 percent of all sales were distressed sales, double the January 2009 rate of 22 percent. By December, however, the number of foreclosures and short sales represented just 33 percent of all sales that month.

The Loudoun County housing market bottomed in the first quarter of 2009 and has been on the rebound ever since. The home buyer tax credit helped to stabilize the market, but no one foresaw how effective it would be and how long it would take to get back to normal, deButts said.

It’s still too early to examine any 2011 numbers. Generally, however, the winter months of January and February tend to freeze the real estate market.

“But, I’m hoping that good news in the stock market, increasing consumer confidence, mortgage rates at 50-year lows, easing mortgage qualification requirements and a growing employment base will create a strong spring market and a return to a normal market,” she said.

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Supervisors eye new pads

Supervisor Jim Burton has one hand in the old, one in the new

The springs on Supervisor Eugene Delgaudio’s 2002 Ford Focus were crushed, he claims, from the heft of years of board meeting minutes strewn in his trunk.

Talk about a heavy workload.

Soon, Delgaudio (R-Sterling) will join the seven supervisors who made the switch from paper to iPad late last year after a county administrative office’s initiative to abate the amount of packets distributed to the board – saving paper, time and money. The Apple iPad, which was introduced in January 2010, is a tablet computer that has an operating system that falls somewhere between a smartphone and a laptop computer.

Supervisors receive minutes, agendas and supplemental packets for board and committee meetings as well as public hearings on a near weekly basis.
All together, the packets can measure 6 inches to a foot thick, said Supervisor Jim Burton (I-Blue Ridge).

But, Burton was relieved of his backbreaking board packets when he switched to the iPad in November.

“I was skeptical at first, but my 6-year-old grandson embarrassed me when he showed me how he surfed the Internet on his father’s laptop,” Burton said. “I said, ‘it’s time to get a little technically relevant.’”

The iPad hosts the board’s current meeting documents as well as all previously archived packets. It also furnishes the supervisors with the ability to take notes and mark-up the document’s pages, said Danny Davis, chief of staff for county administration.

Still, glitches happen. Davis admitted there have been some discrepancies between page numbers on the paper versus iPad versions. Delgaudio has several times handed over his hard copy version to a supervisor who can’t find the page they’re looking for during a meeting.

Familiarity with the technology is ongoing. At the board’s Jan. 4 meeting, Burton attempted to read a motion, but couldn’t find it on his iPad, instead muttering that he didn’t know how to use his “doo-dad.”

Davis, who gave a brief training session to each supervisor when they received it, pushed for iPads for the board when he heard of other Virginia jurisdictions utilizing the technology. The city of Williamsburg and other Hampton Roads area jurisdictions also use iPads, he said.

But, the iPads don’t just prevent sore muscles, they save time and money.

The administration office took a “back of the napkin” cost analysis of an iPad versus paper packages, Davis said. They outlined how many pages are printed, the cost of printing and distributing them and the use of staff time.

“It very easily pays for itself within a year, if not less than a year,” Davis said.

Each iPad for the nine supervisors costs $800. On the other hand, printing costs 10 cents per page for an average of 75 to 400 pages per packet for each supervisor, of which thousands are distributed annually. Additionally, every time the courier service is used, it charges the county $100 regardless of whether a single page or hundreds of pages are delivered, Davis said.

Cheaper iPads are on the market, but the supervisor’s tablets have the necessary amount of memory to support their lengthy documents. The iPads also have 3G access, which is a wireless technology that provides Internet access in any location.

Supervisors Delgaudio and Sally Kurtz (D-Catoctin) are the last to receive the iPads, which will be in hand in coming weeks.

Delgaudio said he wanted to wait until the county’s website provided an iPad (which he intermittently refers to as an iPod, which is Apple’s portable music player) application for the general public. All board documents are downloadable on the county’s website.
“[The iPad] will save money and it will save time,” Delgaudio said.

For his part, Burton said he’s already told county staff not to ship paper packets to his home anymore. He’s trying to clear them out to make way for his new tablet.

“I’m to the point now where I can almost see the top of my kitchen table,” he said.

Burton claims he’s still going through a learning process and that there will be hiccups in getting used to the technology. But, he’s especially pleased that he can go back to review items, data and reports so easily.

Has he nearly reached a 6 year-old’s technology

comprehension level?

“I’m working on it,” he said.

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A new outlet for Leesburg’s passions

An adult boutique on the corner of King and Market Streets is the new spot in Leesburg.

Le Tache, or “the spot” in French, opened Jan. 5, with mannequins donning lingerie and hosiery in its window displays, attracting the eyes of downtown’s passersby.

Passersby have their eyes peeled on Le Tache's window displays.

“I’m shocked this is open in Leesburg, it’s interesting,” said Leesburg resident Shannon Lewis-Jackson. Lewis-Jackson and her coworker, Sheree Sledd crossed the street from their jobs at the Loudoun County Courthouse to peruse Le Tache’s selection Tuesday afternoon.

“I have something to do at lunch,” Lewis-Jackson said.

Le Tache trades mainly in lingerie and hosiery, but its retail component also extends to lotions, adult toys and contraceptives.

Owner Shannon Biggs decided to open a “couples boutique” in Leesburg to bring some excitement to downtown. Biggs also owns an adult boutique in Old Town Alexandria, which she says has the same feel as Leesburg and is very successful.

Leesburg has seen an increase in activity level in the retail and commercial office absorption recently. In the last half of 2009, the town issued 57 new business licenses. During the same time period in 2010, Leesburg dished out 67 new business licenses, according to the town’s economic development office.

“The occupied retail space that Le Tache filled downtown is an indication there has been an uptick in the retail economy over the recent months, and that is a positive sign for the Leesburg [economy],” said Marantha Edwards, Leesburg’s economic development manager.

Biggs has been in retail for 22 years, so she gauges her retail offerings to what is selling. Lingerie sells.

Le Tache has hardwood floors,  sheer window dressings and antique chairs. The shop has one room selling women’s lingerie, underwear and hosiery. The most expensive item, a sequined, red corset has a $170 price tag. But, most underwear sells for less than $10. An adjoining room sells adult toys, videos and lotions. The X-rated merchandise is shielded behind drapery, and clientele must be 18 years old to enter.

On a Leesburg, Va., Facebook page, local residents were drawing lines over the new retail store.

“I contend that downtown Leesburg needs to cater a bit more toward the young, married, professional demographic. They are the ones with more ‘disposable income’ who would be more inclined to support the local economy if it provided a more lively environment,” wrote Heather McCarthy Evans. “… If residents were more open minded about the types of businesses opening up, maybe we’d have a few less antique shops and a few more trendy, up and coming locales in our area.”

But, the store rubbed many residents the wrong way.

Kelli Tangney Williams wrote that she loves Leesburg’s safe, clean and healthy environment. She said she’s worried that an “adult store” is polluting the downtown area.

“I don’t want to have to avert my children’s eyes every time we go to church or Ida Lee,” Williams said. “Please do not give this new store your business. Let’s keep Leesburg a hometown we can be proud of.”

Biggs vies that Le Tache’s retail offerings are similar to stores residents can frequent in any shopping mall, including Victoria’s Secret and Spencer’s, which sells lingerie and adult toys.

Overall, she’s had people tell her that they’re glad she’s opened a store in this area. The closest adult boutique is in Tysons Corner.

“We’re not trying to be the black eye in Leesburg,” Biggs said. “The store is pretty tasteful.”

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Commission to support Route 28 amendment

The Route 28 corridor is one of Loudoun’s strongest economic engines. So, the Economic Development Commission plans to chime in on the area’s Comprehensive Plan Amendment rewrite.

The commission voted unanimously to support the Loudoun Board of Supervisors’ eventual adoption and implementation of the plan’s amendment at its Jan. 7 meeting.

The plan supports higher density, class-A office and commercial development because it is critical for recruiting regional, national and international businesses to the county, according to the commission’s Transportation and Infrastructure Committee chairman, Ted Lewis. Class-A office space is the highest caliber of corporate office space because it is close to hotels and restaurants and commands the highest-paying leases.

The committee also supports the plan because it allows the corridor to be developed in a manner that maximizes the value of the real estate and commercial tax base generated by the land; it acknowledges the environmental and traffic impacts associated with higher density land use; and it supports and encourages sustainable development practices.

But, there’s still work to be done.

Route 28 was initially zoned as a keynote employment area, which specifically excludes housing, said Commissioner Kim Hart.

“Many said the zoning was out of date and hindering the development we’d like to see in that area,” he said.

While the corridor caters to commercial development, Hart said he’d like the commission to address the area’s need for workforce housing in its discussions with the supervisors.

Commission Chairman John Wood said he wasn’t sure whether it was necessary for the commission to state the reasons why it supports the amendment.

Loudoun is taking steps to turn Route 28 into a major employment corridor, including office-dominated uses and some mixed-use office campuses in the southern portion near the planned Metro station on Route 606.

Loudoun Supervisors on Dec. 13 voted to send a proposal for Dulles World Center, LLC, a mixed-use community planned for the Route 28 corridor to a subcommittee for further consideration, saying the developer hadn’t done enough to address traffic and residential impacts to the area.

With supervisors trying to stack the Route 28 corridor with major employers, some fear the center has too many residential units included in its plans.

Staff Writer Crystal Owens contributed to this report.
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Supervisors approve $94 million surplus to benefit county, state retirement benefits

The Loudoun Board of Supervisors voted Jan. 4 to allocate a fund balance of more than $94 million to be funneled into the county’s post-employment benefits and the state retirement system.

The motion was passed by a 5-4 vote with Supervisors Susan Klimek Buckley (D-Sugarland Run), Sally Kurtz (D-Catoctin), Kelly Burk (D-Leesburg) and Lori Waters (R-Broad Run) opposed.

Supervisor Jim Burton (I-Blue Ridge), who is also the chairman of the county Finance and Government Services Committee, said the county’s budget is in “a slightly better situation now than when we were dealing with these budgets.”

The surplus is part of $18 million in reserve funding from the 2009 and 2010 fiscal budgets, $32.2 million in general fund revenues, and millions from various departments throughout the county, including the public school system, according to county finance staff.

Local and state government generally carry reserve funds in case of unanticipated expenses during the fiscal year.

The $94 million fund balance wasn’t discovered until an audit of fiscal 2010 was completed. Fiscal 2010 ended in June.

While Burton noted that the excess of funds could surprise some Loudouners,  the surplus is a result of the county being “tight-fisted and conservative.”

In a December 2010 Finance and Government Services Committee meeting, Burton said he anticipated criticism from the public on why the extra money wasn’t discovered sooner or why county leaders didn’t use the funds rather than raise the tax rate in fiscal 2009 and 2010.

County financial staff had recommended several areas where the additional money could be spent, including paying $30 million for an Enterprise Resource Planning software system. The system is included in the county’s Capital Improvement Program. By paying cash for the system, the county would free up about $50 million – money that otherwise would be paid in fees and finance charges, according to the county’s controller, Mark Withrow.

Buckley voted against the motion. Instead, she supported funneling the money toward the Capital Improvement Program, which would free up the debt capacity and deal with “our more critical issues right away.”

Supervisor Eugene Delgaudio (R-Sterling) voted for the motion. The county will always have a shortage of money, he said, but voting for the post-employment benefits and the county’s state retirement system reserve was “part of our legislative agenda and part of our everyday lives.”

Burton said he initially was leaning toward allocating the money to the Capital Improvement Program, but that upon further review he decided that “it is more difficult to come up with cash requirements.”

Staff Writer Crystal Owens contributed to this report.

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