It was another narrow vote that will bring more rooftops to Leesburg.
On Tuesday night, the Town Council approved rezoning and special exception applications for the Leegate project at the intersection of Rt. 7 and Battlefield Parkway. The 77-acre development includes 430,000 square feet of office uses, 200,000 square feet of commercial uses, a 130-room oursotel, two parking structures and 475 residential units. The bulk of initial construction will be the residential units, a mix of townhouses, two-over-two condominiums and multifamily units, with 100,000 square feet of non-residential development eyed for the first two phases of construction.
It was the phasing of the development, along with its impact on the area road network, that drew the ire of council members who voted against it. Councilwoman Katie Sheldon Hammler said the proposal did not adequately mitigate its impacts. She pointed to a nearby mixed-use development she did vote for – the Village of Leesburg – and its upfront construction of the Rt. 7/River Creek Parkway interchange to help address its impact on the road network. While Leegate developer Stanley Martin proffered the dedication of right of way to the town for the future Rt. 7/Battlefield Parkway interchange, it is not providing money for construction.
“We’re constantly being asked to so-call ‘save ourselves’ to add more houses which only adds more traffic. I can’t ask the citizens of the town, the citizens of Loudoun County and ultimately the citizens of the state to pick up bills so we can add more houses,” she said.
But Mayor David Butler, in voting to approve the application, said Tuesday night’s vote in favor of Leegate was of critical importance to the Battlefield Parkway interchange project. He pointed to the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority’s recent vote to allocate $20 million to the project, and said without the right of way contributed by the developer, the project’s future funding, and ultimately construction, could be significantly delayed.
The Leegate proffers also included an upfront $3.3 million cash contribution for off-site transportation projects; the construction of a Russell Branch Parkway extension linking to Trailview Boulevard, also to be done prior to the development moving dirt; 41 acres of parkland; and millions of dollars to offset school capital facility impacts.
A new proffer added this week places $100,000 in an interest-bearing account controlled by the town to be used to offset application fees for commercial tenants setting up shop in Leegate; and $50,000 to be used for marketing the commercial space on the north side of the development. The latter $50,000 would be given to the town within 48 months after the issuance of the first occupancy permit.
Ultimately, the vote to approve the rezoning for the application passed on a 3-2-1-1 vote. Hammler and Vice Mayor Kelly Burk opposed, Councilman Tom Dunn was absent for the vote, and Councilwoman Suzanne Fox abstained. A vote to approve special exception applications for two structured parking facilities in the development along with a hotel of up to 140 rooms passed by a 5-1-1 vote, with Burk dissenting and Dunn absent.
In her comments prior to the vote, Fox had noted both pros and cons of the proposed development. While she lauded the business incentives contributed and the overall concept, she said she had reservations about the proposed phasing and felt the development was out of place in its chosen site, noting the proximity to a nearby business park and the town’s water pollution control facility. After the vote, she explained why she ultimately decided to abstain.
“I always take each application, I take a look at it and say does this applicant meet the standard of mitigating their impact on the town. This application did not, so I couldn’t vote for it,” Fox said. But she said she also didn’t want to risk the town losing out on important funding for the Battlefield interchange and it was unclear based on town staff’s answers what impact not having the right of way would have on that future funding.
“I couldn’t risk the interchange [not being funded] and I couldn’t vote on an application that I don’t have full information for, so my only option was to abstain,” Fox said.