As the Leesburg Town Council enters the final round of deliberations on the Crescent Parke rezoning application, the next big development proposal is on Leesburg’s horizon.
The proposed Leegate development, at the southwest corner of Battlefield Parkway and Rt. 7, is expected to go before the Town Council for review in September. As currently outlined, the applicant is requesting 430,000 square feet of office uses, 200,000 square feet of commercial uses, a 130-room hotel, two parking structures and 475 residential units—a combination of townhouses, two-over-two condominiums and multifamily units.
The development is planned at a critical corner for Leesburg, as it sits alongside the future Rt. 7/Battlefield Parkway interchange and thus can be considered a major gateway to greater Leesburg and Loudoun County. It’s an area that also is seeing its fair amount of development activity—across the road sits the Lowe’s home improvement store, now under construction, and there are active land development applications further up Battlefield Parkway in Potomac Station.
The importance of this location is not lost on the developer Stanley Martin and its team either. Colleen Gillis, an attorney with Cooley LLP representing the applicant, calls the site of the development “a critically important intersection.”
“Where we’re at with this project is at a crossroads and we’re talking very physically. This is a critically important intersection,” Gillis said. “In many, many ways we’re also at a crossroads because we have a [Town Plan] that calls for a higher intensity of development that can be accommodated on the property itself.”
The land is currently zoned I-1, and thus could be developed for industrial or office uses by right. But instead, the 77-acre development proposes a mix of uses that Gillis would argue is a better fit for what Leesburg leaders would hope for the site.
“Right now the way the property is approved is either 100 percent industrial or 100 percent surface-parked office under existing zoning. It just doesn’t make sense be 100 percent of a single use of anything,” she said. “How we’ve proposed it is to come up with an environment that is a bit of office, a bit of retail, a bit of residential, and organized in a way that is appropriate.”
Gillis said this type of environment, with a mix of uses and multifamily housing at a highly-trafficked part of Leesburg, could be the type of development that attracts millennials to stay in town.
“As we look at the greater Loudoun County region, as we look at the greater Leesburg area, the one thing we’re missing is the type of environment that can allow us to attract kids who graduated from the local high schools,” she said. “If we want to start competing for the high-value, low-cost talent of amazing college graduates, of people who already have ties to Loudoun County, we’ve got to give them a place to live that allows them a place to spread their wings outside of mom’s and dad’s house. It’s about creating the type of environment that feels different, feels urban; the type of environment that people go ‘yeah I do want to be there’.”
She points to One Loudoun in Ashburn, with its mix of uses, and city center-type atmosphere that creates a constant hub of activity in a live/work/play environment.
Both she and Molly Novotny, senior urban planner for Cooley, said a challenge for the Town Council in its review will be a hard look at how the land was originally envisioned. With the office market changing, and large-scale office parks no longer in demand, what many companies are looking for is a mixed-use area to offer employees access to amenities—and even housing steps from their job.
“Many have been on record saying regional office is not going to happen. It’s not how it was envisioned in 2005,” when the Town Plan was adopted, Novotny said. “We posit we’ve created the right thing here. This plan blends what they’re looking for. It encourages and allows that office with a reasonable expectation that it’s got to be supported by retail, it’s got to be supported by residential.”
In addition to the uses proposed, the developer also is proffering to build the extension of Russell Branch Parkway through the development to connect Battlefield Parkway to the area of Cardinal Park Drive, as well as set aside land for the future Battlefield Parkway/Rt. 7 interchange.
Initial reaction to the application was lukewarm at best from the Planning Commission when the applicant first appeared in late 2014. After integrating a series of changes at the commission’s request, commissioners still put forward a recommendation of denial. Concerns about project design and phasing were among the issues raised, and some of those same concerns are shared by the town staff.
Town planner Michael Watkins, who is serving as project manager for Leegate, said town staff remains concerned about some facets of the project.
“The applicant is proposing a mix of uses and staff’s opinion is they don’t meet the intent of optional development [envisioned in the Town Plan]. There are certain design elements we’re expecting to be achieved and in our opinion they don’t meet a lot of these,” he said.
But Watkins and the developer, and quite possibly members of the Town Council, can certainly agree on one thing.
Given the shortage on available land in the town, with Leesburg nearing 90 percent build out, there are not many remaining opportunities to accommodate the type of development proposed.
“This is going to be an important decision for the council,” Watkins said.
In this series, Loudoun Now will take a close look at key properties in the Town of Leesburg. Many of these properties have the potential, some with active plan review applications, to be the sites of some major development, or redevelopment, projects in the town.