Leesburg Planning Commission members Thursday applauded the county staff for the revisions made to three applications associated with the expansion of the Loudoun County courthouse. But, while largely complimentary, the majority said more time was needed to prepare a final recommendation to the Town Council.
The $22.8 million project includes building a new District Court building on Church Street, north of Edwards Ferry Road, and a parking garage on the county-owned Pennington Parking Lot on North Street.
The commission voted 5-1-1, with Commissioner Doris Kidder abstaining, to hold a special meeting Thursday, Jan. 28, to continue discussions on the courthouse project. A vote on the three applications is anticipated at that time, as the Town Council is set to hold its own public hearing on the project Tuesday, Feb. 9.
The first application, 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 garage.
Concerns about the impact on traffic and neighborhoods; the aesthetics of the parking garage, in particular its size and design; and lighting atop the parking structure have been major concerns raised by both commissioners and local residents alike.
Revisions brought forward by the county staff included new proffers to place electronic speed signs on North and Harrison streets; new wayfinding signs identifying court parking; and designating the North Street entrance to the garage as emergency access only. Neighbors had said that allowing this entry onto North Street could pose a hazard for pedestrians and drivers during busy commuting times.
But requests by the county to increase the height of light poles atop the Pennington garage to 25 feet, up from 22 feet 9 inches, as well as continued concerns about the overall mass and scale of the parking garage, caused several commissioners pause.
Following staff presentations and some comments from the public, Commission Chairman Lyndsay Welsh Chamblin polled commissioners as to whether they could vote on the application last night. While Commissioners Sharon Babbin and Brett Burk said they were prepared to vote, remaining commissioners felt more time was needed.
“I have a very difficult time with the mass of the garage,” Commissioner Gigi Robinson said. “I have a difficult time knowing that since 1998 we have needed this garage but since then we haven’t been able to put aside some money to make this look decent.”
Robinson and other commissioners have joined neighbors in questioning why four stories are needed for the garage instead of three. As currently proposed, the four-level garage would have 727 spaces in addition to 147 surface parking spaces in the Pennington lot.
Babbin urged commissioners and the public to focus on “the bigger picture” as the commission looks to prepare a recommendation to the council.
“You need a parking garage to have a vibrant downtown area,” she said. “There are things about this parking garage I would like to change but the bigger picture is the vitality of this town. … I think we have to have some faith that the county wants to have the most attractive building with the most trees with the most access.”
In its adopted motion to schedule the special meeting, the commission included an amendment put forward by Babbin stating it was the intention of the commission to vote on all three applications Jan. 28. Commissioners requested that all material from county staff be submitted well in advance so no new information is coming to them within 24 hours of voting.