As a vote on whether to allow the proposed Crescent Parke development looms, one Leesburg resident with some personal history with the park at its core is not convinced that the development proposed to surround Olde Izaak Walton Park is the right one for it.
Scott Billigmeier was a central figure behind the 30-year lease agreement the Town of Leesburg signed with a property owner for Olde Izaak Walton Park in 2000. The town resident took an interest in seeing the vacant land be used as a town park when it was put up for sale in the late 1990s.
“There were kids playing. There was wildlife there. It was kind of bucolic,” he reflected recently.
After noticing for sale signs on the property, Billigmeier began making some calls to see if there was any way the property could be used as a town park. He had only lived in the town a short time, having moved to Leesburg in 1995, and admittedly did not know a whole lot about the legislative process and how these decisions were made.
But he was persistent in his desire to see the land stay passive and be open for town residents to enjoy. He credits John Elgin, then the chairman of the town’s Park and Recreation Commission, for being a “coach” of sorts in how to navigate the process, and it was he who suggested Billigmeier start a petition. He did just that, and the petition garnered hundreds of signatures and quickly caught the attention of the Town Council. It was about a two- to three-year process, owing largely to lengthy negotiations between the council and the property owner, talks of which Billigmeier was not a part.
Now, more than halfway into the town’s three-decade lease of the park land, Billigmeier has again turned his attention to the park land, which is part of the Crescent Parke rezoning application under review by the Town Council.
The 53-acre Crescent Parke application seeks approval for 198 side-by-side townhouses, 96 stacked townhouses and 96 multifamily dwelling units. Nonresidential uses would include a maximum of 110,550 square feet of office space, 137,175 square feet of retail, an area for a future hotel, and a 2,000-square-foot community room. The land stretches from the terminus of Gateway Drive to Davis Drive along the edge of the Leesburg Bypass and is part of the town’s Crescent District redevelopment zone.
The property also includes the park. The Lansdowne Development Group plans to donate the parkland to the town government as part of the rezoning package—a deal that would save the town about $150,000 per year in rent and tax payments.
Billigmeier said he met with LDG President Hobie Mitchel and planner Christine Gleckner, of Walsh Colucci, to go over the plans for the project. In the meeting, and also shared with Loudoun Now, Billigmeier sounded concerns with the proposed development and its impact on the park. Chief among them are the overall density of the development and its proximity to the waterline.
“If you’re anywhere in the park in my view you shouldn’t see this. There should be a lot of buffer left along the water line. They should taper the profile of the buildings so the closer you are to water the lower you are to make them not so visible,” he suggested.
Billigmeier said he is also concerned about the impact of the development on the Goose Creek watershed, as well as lighting and noise pollution. He, as council members and Planning Commissioners also have, pointed to need for improvements in the park and suggested the developer help pay for them.
Mitchel said his team is sensitive to Olde Izaak Walton Park and that many of Billigmeier’s concerns have been addressed since their meeting several months ago.
He noted that the land around the park already is planned for development—about a half million square feet of office and commercial uses. As designs for the residential project have evolved over the past three years, Mitchel said they’ve planned for fewer homes along the park’s edge and increased the natural buffer area between the homes and the pond.
The development leaves the parkland untouched.
“We want to leave it as it is, a passive park,” Mitchel said, adding that giving the land to the town provides a lot of options for the future. “One thing Leesburg is very good at is building community parks and trails.”
At the most recent Town Council meeting, Gleckner asked for a delay in the vote on the application to allow the developer to revise the proffers. While Gleckner did not go into detail about the revisions, one change she did identify last week was the addition of a study, conducted by a third party expert, to find out what changes should be implemented to address storm water concerns within the property.
Billigmeier says he could see himself not outrightly opposing the application were some changes made to its impacts to the park. He also suggests the town could have the credit capability to explore buying the park land itself, with more of a buffer around it to negate future development impacts.