One somewhat startling statistic stood out during Town Manager Kaj Dentler’s fiscal year 2017 budget presentation. Thirty percent of Leesburg’s commercial land is not taxable – inhabited by local, state and federal government offices; churches; and schools.
While many on the Town Council have long pushed to increase the commercial tax base while lessening the burden on residents, another challenge that the town faces is that it stands at 87 percent built out, Public Information Officer Betsy Arnett points out. Currently, about 1,000 acres in the town remain vacant, but not all that land is developable, Arnett notes. The development of Lowe’s on East Market Street, the new K2M campus and EIT’s new Leesburg offices in the Oaklawn development are a few projects that have recently gotten the shovels moving on the few spots of untouched dirt in town.
That’s not a new challenge. Arnett says that the 87 percent built out statistic has remained largely unchanged from when she joined the town’s ranks. And having such a high percentage of non-taxable land also can come with its upsides.
“We benefit from being the center of government for the county in a lot of ways,” she said. “It brings a lot of traffic to town and creates activity.”
And that activity can result in meals tax revenue and other commercial tax revenue when downtown retailers and restaurateurs are patronized.
Dentler compares it to “swimming upstream” when the non-taxable land and low land vacancy is taken into account. But he and others are quick to point out that the town is well prepared for the challenge, and able to market what it does have available.
Economic Development Manager Marantha Edwards said the opportunities that the town can expect will come in the form of redevelopment, instead of new buildings on vacant land. One area being addressed through a recently proposed Zoning Ordinance amendment would give some more flexibility to the town’s flex/industrial spaces, a type of use consistently sought after, Edwards said.
“We do have a lot of demand for flexibility for those spaces that are either mixed use because that’s what office users and retailers want,” she said.
The recently initiated amendment, which still needs Town Council approval, would allow a building owner to receive one special exception, rather than several, to locate a host of uses and types of businesses within a flex/industrial site.
And one major property ripe for redevelopment is the 90,000-square-foot Walmart building along Edwards Ferry Road. Edwards said she expects that property to be placed on the market this summer as construction of Super Walmart near Leesburg Executive Airport progresses.