Four months after the Leesburg Town Council voted it down, and two months after rescinding that decision, Crescent Parke developer Hobie Mitchel got the vote of confidence he’d been hoping for.
On Tuesday night, it was another close vote that determined the project’s fate. But this time it was in Crescent Parke’s favor, with a 4-3 to approve a rezoning for the mixed-use development. The project calls for 344 residential units, including 70 age-restricted units, and 161,725 square feet of commercial development. The council’s vote in favor of approval also means that Olde Izaak Walton Park will become a town-owned property, as Mitchel included the purchase of the park, and hundreds of thousands of dollars to improve it, in his proffers. It was a revised application from what the council had voted on in July, with less proposed residential units, the addition of active adult units, and accelerated commercial phasing, with 20,000 square feet of non-residential uses to be built before the issuance of the 173rd occupancy permit.
It was in part these changes that prompted Councilman Bruce Gemmill, who in the July vote on the project had not supported the development, to make a motion to approve the project. Gemmill was also the one in September who put forward the successful motion to rescind the July vote.
In explaining his changed position, Gemmill said it goes back to his role as a businessman.
“I hate to close doors. I felt that this application had a great deal further to go, and it has a lot of potential based on what everyone has heard here,” he said. “The enthusiasm in this meeting alone even from people before who were not for this project has made me feel a lot better about bringing it back to the public.”
The crowd that turned out for Tuesday night’s meeting was largely in support of the project. Included in the standing room only Council Chambers were about a dozen residents decked out in white T-shirts showing support for Crescent Parke, many of whom were representatives of the Laborers Union of North America.
Marshall Brown, who spoke to the council on behalf of LiUNA, said they had turned out in support since Lansdowne Development Group had pledged “to hire locally and pay good wages” for the construction jobs generated by the 53-acre project.
Others in the audience who supported the project noted Mitchel’s past accomplishments in Leesburg, including the much-lauded Crescent Place development on the former Barber & Ross site on Harrison Street, as well as the millions of dollars in proffers pledged by the developer. In addition to the park, proffers also included a $9 million extension of Davis Avenue from South King Street to Gateway Drive.
But Vice Mayor Kelly Burk, who was joined by council members Marty Martinez and Tom Dunn in opposing the project, held firm to why she believed it was not the right fit for Leesburg. She said Tuesday night’s vote to approve was for a residential, not mixed-use, development as has been claimed by the developer. She noted that up to 172 housing units could be built without a single square foot of commercial uses.
“We’ve been told over and over again if you don’t balance commercial with residential the impact of the cost goes to residents who live here now. The lack of phasing makes this unacceptable to me,” she said. “This means that Leesburg is nothing more than a bedroom community.”