Montfair Development Plans Draw Neighborhood Opposition in Leesburg

A proposal to change the zoning on ridge along Sycolin Road to permit a townhouse development is facing an uphill battle.

Stiff opposition was apparent to the proposed Town Plan amendment and rezoning for the Montfair development, located on the east side of Sycolin Road near the Hope Parkway intersection when it came before the Leesburg Planning Commission last week. Nearby residents came out to oppose the application, which, if approved, would permit construction of up to 62 townhouses.

Although the 7.4-acre site is zoned for low density residential, the Town Plan eyes the land along Sycolin Road for as community office development. Property to the south houses a  Walgreen´s, a childcare center, and other personal service retail uses. However, other area tracts were developed as low density residential, most notably the nearby Beauregard Estates and Stratford communities.

Senior planner Irish Grandfield said it would be a good idea for the commission to rule on the Town Plan amendment application before deciding whether to recommend approval of the rezoning from low to medium density residential.

“The question is would you want to change the Town Plan to allow this use to replace community office with medium density residential,” Grandfield said.

Andrew Painter, an attorney from Walsh Colucci representing the applicant, Vienna-based developer Schupp Companies, said it had been a long process for the application, which began staff review in 2014. He pointed to the difficulties of developing on steeply sloped site. The applicant had originally envisioned a mixed-use development when the property was purchased in 2006, but market changes put those plans to rest. An original proposal submitted to town staff called for the development of 170 townhouses, an idea that didn’t go over well with the town, Painter said. Going back to the drawing board, there was a call to look critically at the site and the revised proposal views the tract as an important gateway into the Town of Leesburg, Painter said, and the residential use provides more compatibility with the surrounding area than an office development would.

Painter pointed to the features of the townhouse development: high quality architecture, contributions from the applicant toward public art being located on site, a passive recreation area with bocce and horseshoe courts, and an innovative stormwater management system that, in lieu of an on-site pond, would have vaults underground that would allow for the above-ground space to be used as open space.

“We believe that this project provides the best alternative,” Painter said.

Overtures have also been made to residents of nearby Beauregard Estates, some of whom have houses that would back to the proposed development, to provide landscaping on their lots to reduce the visual impact on their properties. But those from the neighborhood who attended the March 16 meeting remained strongly opposed to the project, saying the higher-density zoning was incompatible with the area and would provide significant negative impacts to residents’ viewshed and home values.

Fortress Circle resident Jason Lee presented commissioners with a petition signed by 52 households in the Beauregard Estates neighborhood recommending denial of the application.

“We can’t think of any rationale for that type of development,” he said. “Our equity is on the line.”

Commissioners seemed to agree that the density being sought may be too extreme for the sloped site, but also said they did not believe that office development was a good fit for it either.

Grandfield said that if the commission didn’t want to maintain the Town Plan designation for community office, the town staff would recommend no more than low-density residential development on the R-1 property. That would allow for the construction of up to seven homes per acre. Since the property is already zoned for low-density residential, that could be developed by right, without needing a Town Plan amendment or rezoning.

Commissioners Sharon Babbin and JoAnn Walker were in the minority supporting a medium-density residential designation for the project. Given its surroundings and the incompatibility of an office development, Babbin said the request was “reasonable.”

The commission voted 5-2 to deny the Town Plan amendment.

Commissioners deferred a vote in the rezoning application. Grandfield said Monday that the town staff is waiting to hear from the applicant on how they wish to proceed.

krodriguez@loudounnow.com

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