About two dozen people turned out Tuesday night to share their input on the future development of Leesburg’s Eastern Gateway District.
The area along East Market Street, between River Creek Parkway to the Leesburg Bypass, contains some of the largest remaining undeveloped parcels in town. Last year, the town staff set off on a planning process called Envision East Market Street. Although the effort stalled for a bit last year because of the planning staff’s workload and the departure of its former project manager, it was rebooted this spring, with planner Rich Klusek as its leader.
“The idea behind this vision is to create a plan that really considers all aspects of development and unifies that development,” he said.
Tuesday night’s input meeting was an initial opportunity for the public to weigh in on the future development of the area and what uses they would, or would not, like to see there. Town staff members developed an interactive, 30-question survey that polled members of the audience gathered at Ida Lee Park Recreation Center on questions ranging from preferred design, to preferred uses, to the biggest needs for the area and the greater town.
Klusek said much of the initial building blocks for Tuesday’s meeting was based on feedback from a Leesburg Listens online survey in which respondents overwhelmingly said they wanted to see mixed-use development in the area; however, definitions of what mixed-use meant to them varied widely.
Noting the large size of the study area—”you can fit four Reston Town Centers in there,” Klusek said—the development possibilities are endless. The area includes a large tract of undeveloped land owned by the Peterson Companies behind the Leesburg Premium Outlets, as well as the already-approved Leegate development on the south side of East Market Street; the Village at Leesburg; and the as-yet-unbuilt Marketplace at Potomac Station development off Battlefield Parkway and Fort Evans Road.
The crowd who took part in the polling contained a mix of residents, business owners, Town Council members, and at least five people who identified themselves as being a part of the development community.
They supported more residential development in that part of town to make mixed-use development more viable. Klusek noted that he was “not surprised” at that recommendation, given the presence of several developers in the audience. There was also support for reducing regulations and shortening the timeline of plan development review to promote economic development.
The interactive polling results also showed a 50-50 tie between preference for pedestrian-oriented versus vehicle-oriented development, as well as a split on how the town should invest in the Eastern Gateway District. Half of respondents felt public investment should come in the form of a pedestrian/bicycle network in the area, while the other half felt it should come in the area of economic development tools, like marketing, business recruitment, or developer incentives.
Traffic congestion was the top transportation woe cited in the area, but a majority of respondents felt that greater walkability was not needed in the area. The top requested entertainment or recreation option was a split vote between community gathering spaces and restaurant and shops. And the town’s top priority identified by a majority of voters was creating additional housing options.
Members of the public who were not able to attend the meeting will still have opportunity to weigh in with their feedback, Klusek said. Stakeholder discussions will be held throughout the summer, and he hopes to be able to have a draft plan ready by September with an open house to gauge public comment on it. Hopes are to have the plan before the Planning Commission by November to begin legislative review.
Follow the discussion on the Eastern Gateway District Small Area Plan web page here.