More rooftops are headed to downtown Leesburg.
In a rare showing of unanimity, particularly when a residential development application is considered, the Leesburg Town Council on Tuesday night voted 7-0 to approve special exception application brought forward by Crescent Place builder Don Knutson.
The application calls for the construction of four, four-story buildings with a total of 64 multi-family units and 7,100 square feet of commercial space and recreation amenities. The project is located on 2 acres on the east side of South King Street along Town Branch and the W&OD Trail. The proposed commercial development will include a nearby 3,100-square-foot commercial building, deemed historically significant. That building is occupied by Waterford Development, the developer that once envisioned its own commercial project on the site.
The applicant is proposing to add a pocket park, open to the public but likely managed by the development, and make improvements to Town Branch. The development will also have a public plaza, named after Chuck and Karen Jones, a former Planning Commissioner and economic development stalwart, respectively, whose past contributions to the downtown area were noted by council members.
Knutson still needs the sign-off of the Board of Architectural Review on the project’s design, but the initial appearances before the BAR, for general concept approval, have thus far yielded a positive reaction. The BAR has already approved the demolition of the buildings on the site, including the building that currently houses the Battery Warehouse. Leesburg Downtown Business Association President Gwen Pangle was in the audience for Tuesday night’s meeting, testifying in support of the project on behalf of the LDBA. She also noted that, in her role as real estate agent, she is assisting the businesses currently on the site with relocation and said Battery Warehouse is working to remain in Leesburg.
Council members were largely complimentary of the project. There concerns about the estimated number of school-age children generated by the development–20. Because the development does not require rezoning approval, the council is not able to ask for proffers to offset the development’s impacts, including contributions for schools. However, Knutson assured the council that his role in the Crescent Place project has shown that very few families with school-age children move into the style of housing that will soon be seen at the South King Street project. Instead, like Crescent Place, he believes the development will instead be home to mostly millennials and those who are downsizing and want walkable access to nearby amenities.
Knutson said he recognizes that the project site is a “gateway site into the Town of Leesburg.” He promised, as with his involvement at Crescent Place, to deliver units that give future residents that “wow factor” with “superior curb appeal.”
Councilwoman Suzanne Fox praised Knutson for the proposed architecture he has put forward, and said the improvements to the Town Branch will be a huge benefit to that part of town.
“I hope this is just the beginning of trying to make that area a more revitalized state,” she said.
Councilwoman Katie Sheldon Hammler expressed disappointment that the former Waterford Development project, which envisioned the addition of more parking and commercial uses to that area, did not come to fruition. But she said she hopes Knutson’s project “will be a catalyst” to spur more commercially-oriented development to serve the residents that will call that property home.
Councilman Tom Dunn noted that his support for the project was a departure from his typical stance against multi-family unit housing. “I know that over the years we’ve heard a loud cry from the downtown that we need to do those things that get more feet on the ground,” he said. “I don’t know how much 120 to 180 or so people [generated by the development] will impact it but every little bit counts.”