The Town of Leesburg could be getting a new look, if a series of initiatives recently endorsed by the Town Council come to fruition.
Lately, council members, planning commissioners and town staff have been busy working on projects that could add some vibrancy to the town or bring changes to design guidelines for future development. Here’s a rundown of two of these projects:
Envision East Market Street
The Planning and Zoning Department recently kicked off “Envision East Market Street,” a planning process to reconsider the land use plans for undeveloped land within the East Market Street corridor, between the Leesburg Bypass to the eastern town limits.
“When we updated the Town Plan in 2012, it was obvious that the designated land uses in the East Market Street corridor don’t reflect current trends,” Susan Berry-Hill, Leesburg’s director of Planning and Zoning, stated in a press release announcing the project. She said the planning process gives residents the opportunity to have a say in how the town’s last large undeveloped parcels will be developed.
“We will address issues like housing needs, emerging businesses, flexibility and sustainability,” she added. “In addition, the two future grade-separated interchanges, while improving the Town’s transportation network, will present challenges regarding access within the study area, including pedestrian and inter-parcel access.”
The intent of the Envision East Market Street project is to develop policies that reflect today’s economy, building upon existing employment opportunities to create a “vision” for the corridor and address future transportation improvements. These revised policies will guide future development.
The Envision East Market Street project team consists of town staff members and five graduate students in the Masters of Urban and Environmental Planning Program at the University of Virginia.
The Envision East Market Street planning process will start with collecting data from the public. Town staff have created a survey on the Leesburg Listens online forum. Community members are asked to let the town know what they want to see for future land use. The survey results will be used as a starting point for discussions at future input meetings, planned for this summer.
“We wanted to get people thinking about the issues in the East Market Street area before the public input sessions,” Berry-Hill stated. “Our hope is that the meetings will be more productive if people know what we are going to discuss.”
The survey can be accessed at leesburgva.gov/leesburglistens. It will be active through April 11.
At a recent council meeting, Berry-Hill said the plan would be coming to the Planning Commission and Town Council for review likely in the fall.
The design guidelines in the town’s H-2 Overlay District—from the boundaries of the Old and Historic District along King Street (north and south), and Market Street (east and west) to the town’s corporate limits—have long been a point of contention, and criticism. But how to address the architectural guidelines has been subject to a variety of conflicting opinions among council members, those who serve on the town’s Board of Architectural Review, and members of the Planning and Zoning staff—as well as to developers.
The H-2 Corridor District was established in 1990 and requires development projects within the district to undergo architectural review by the town.
A steering committee was formed in 2009 to update the guidelines. However, after the panel’s recommendations were presented, council members declined to move forward with any changes.
Four years later, the Planning Commission renewed the effort and the council agreed. The planning department is conducting its review in two parts. One part focuses on the segment of the H-2 Overlay District on East Market Street outside of the bypass; that will be reviewed in concert with the “Envision East Market Street” project. A second part of H-2 review will take place next year and will focus on the three remaining segments of the H-2 overlay.
But all that could change. In the past few weeks, momentum has picked up for an outright repeal of the design guidelines, which Vice Mayor Kelly Burk referred to as “irrelevant.” Although Berry-Hill warned council members against eliminating the guidelines, with sections of the bypass outside of East Market Street still undeveloped, the council voted 4-2-1, with Burk abstaining, on March 8, to initiate the repeal process. The matter will still need to come before the council for a final vote and will also be reviewed by the Planning Commission, with the Board of Architectural Review likely acting as a referral agency.