The Leesburg Planning Commission has given the green light to a special exception for a Costco expansion, as well as changes to the town’s sign regulations.
Thursday night, the commission unanimously recommended approval of both measures. The Costco special exception passed by a vote of 5-0-1-1, with Chairman Lyndsay Welsh Chamblin recusing herself from the vote and Commission Brett Burk absent. The changes to the sign rules passed 6-0-1, with Burk absent.
The Costco on Edwards Ferry Road is requesting to amend a previously-approved special exception to allow the store to expand by 6,100 square feet, about 4 percent of its total square footage. The building addition includes a 3,340-square-foot increase to the general retail sales area, a 1,920-square-foot increase to the cooler area, and an 840-square-foot increase to the tire store, adding one additional tire bay. The application also calls for 2,800 square feet of seasonal outdoor sales along the front side of the store facing Edwards Ferry Road.
Since its initial public hearing before the commission Oct. 6, Costco has made efforts to address concerns by property owners in the nearby Edwards Landing community, including attending a Nov. 15 homeowners association meeting. Concerns voiced by neighbors focused primarily on noise stemming from the proposed expansion. In an effort to address these concerns, Costco has agreed to install noise mitigation materials in the loading dock area, on the rooftop between the chillers and the residential properties, and on the interior walls of the tire bays. An 8-foot fence to deter trespassers into the nearby neighborhood will also be built.
Commissioners recommended Costco on its outreach efforts, which also included to nearby commercial neighbor Target.
“That’s a community effort that’s really admirable,” Commissioner Doris Kidder said.
The commission also moved forward the proposed changes to the town’s sign regulations to comply with a 2015 Supreme Court ruling. Last year’s Reed v. Town of Gilbert, AZ, opinion means localities may no longer regulate signs based on their content. The suit was brought on by a pastor to the Town of Gilbert, when he argued that stricter regulations were placed on signs that displayed political or ideological messages. The high court’s majority agreed. In the court’s opinion, Justice Clarence Thomas wrote that the town’s sign “code imposes more stringent restrictions on these signs than it does on signs conveying other messages. We hold that these provisions are content-based regulations of speech that cannot survive strict scrutiny.”
Town staff has taken much of the last year to review the ruling, in coordination with the Town Attorney’s Office as well as outreach to the Local Government Attorneys Association, which formed a special committee to study how to integrate the ruling into revised sign rules for localities. A main takeaway from that review has been that, while a sign cannot be regulated based on its content, regulating it based on location is fair game.
Commissioners began review of the changes last month, but had asked the staff to again go back to the drawing board on some key issues. They want staff to take a closer look at the residential property language under the temporary sign provision, and also whether it is possible to add another section that would exempt temporary signs under certain types of properties, namely churches, schools, nonprofits, etc. Several commissioners have vocalized the desire to ensure that a church noting the location of its services, or a Boy Scout troop noting its meeting location, are not penalized.
In return, Zoning Administrator Chris Murphy and Deputy Town Attorney Shelby Caputo took another look at the proposed language, and recommended that the commission include in its recommendation a change that would give non-commercial, temporary signs that are free-standing or wall-mounted, the ability to be displayed 90 days within a calendar year, as opposed to 90 consecutive days. Real estate signs would still be not be assigned a time limit, only that they be removed within 10 days of the sale or lease of the property, Murphy noted.
Both the Costco application and the sign rule changes now go on to the Town Council for final approval.