The expansion of the Loudoun County court system in downtown Leesburg has already encountered its share of scrutiny, with plans to demolish four buildings in the Old and Historic District. But a new battle could soon be brewing, and it revolves around an area that has long caused controversy in the downtown area—parking.
The Leesburg Planning Commission was expected to begin review this week of three applications related to the courthouse expansion project. The first, a Town Plan amendment, would change the land use designation of the 9.9-acre area including the Pennington parking lot, off North and Church streets, from Low-Density Residential to Downtown.
The two other applications include a concept plan and proffer amendment to increase the square footage of the proposed courthouse structure at 2 N. Church St. to 92,000 square feet, and to rezone the Pennington lot from R-6 (residential) to Government Center to allow for the construction of a structured parking facility.
This latter application is what’s expected to generate the most controversy among commissioners, Town Council members and neighbors, with many in the community already raising objections over the possibility of an up to four-story parking structure being built near their homes. According to town planner Irish Grandfield, the parking garage is not permitted to exceed a height of 45 feet, per height regulations currently in effect in downtown.
Loudoun County, which is heading the courthouse project, has requested town Planning Commission action on the applications by Jan. 21, although by state law the commission has up to 100 days to act. The county’s request for quicker action is aimed at meeting its building and development schedule, according to Grandfield.
Following the commission’s recommendation, the Town Council will have the final vote on the matter, with an initial public hearing before the council currently eyed for Feb. 9, Grandfield said.
North Street resident JD Norman is one local resident who has raised concerns about several aspects of the project, including traffic impacts, the impact on property values and that the Board of Architectural Review is not being asked to sign off on the design of the garage.
Norman questioned the change to a four-level garage, up from the initially discussed three levels.
“Four stories of height looms over top every nearby structure,” he said. “Why should the residents of this neighborhood have such a mammoth structure forced upon them when the alternatives likely exist in more appropriate zoning districts? This reeks of a ‘give an inch, take a mile’ scheme from a county board that has little concern for the future of this neighborhood.”
Over the years, council members, residents and downtown businesses and property owners have all offered differing opinions on how to solve parking problems downtown, or whether there is a problem at all. While many downtown business owners have said that patrons want more on-street parking spaces to frequent local shops and restaurants, many residents have said that county government and court workers have been parking in downtown neighborhoods instead of using public parking lots like the Pennington Lot or Liberty Street Lot, as well as the garages at Town Hall and the Loudoun County Government Center, during the weekday.
Recently, some members of the Town Council expressed hesitation about make sweeping changes to fees at the Town Hall parking garage or on-street parking meters in part because of uncertainty over how county’s plans for the Pennington lot garage will alter parking patterns. How many will use the new garage and whether parking fees will be imposed there is not known at this point.
One proposal that could find unified support, however, is a proffer put forward by the county to add sidewalk connectivity better linking the Pennington Lot to the court buildings.
Expect to hear plenty of feedback from local residents at the Jan. 7 Planning Commission meeting. Read coverage from that meeting at loudounnow.com.