A working group charged with revamping the Town of Leesburg’s H2 Overlay District design guidelines has recommended that the Town Council do away with the H2 guidelines altogether, and replace it with five new gateway districts.
Adopted in 1990, the H2 design guidelines have in recent years come under the ire of Town Council members for not producing architectural designs reflective of the character of the county seat, while businesses objected to the additional level of bureaucratic oversight. A previous review panel put together by the council in 2009 fielded a comprehensive set of recommendations on the overlay district and, while some revisions were made, large-scale changes never happened. As recently as last year, the council has mulled over repealing the H2 design guidelines and doing away with the district.
But, rather than that drastic move, the council ultimately decided to give another working group a stab at it. Last October, the council appointed a panel composed of two members each of the Board of Architectural Review and Planning Commission. Gigi Robinson and Doris Kidder represented the latter, with Teresa Minchew and Richard Koochagian serving as BAR representatives. Dale Goodson and Rick Lanham served as alternates for the BAR and Planning Commission, respectively. The group met 11 times, including two joint meetings of both bodies, and had a deadline to report to the council of June 30.
The finished product is “not regulations for regulations’ sake,” Lanham told the council Monday night. “They’re intended to be less cumbersome and more practical to implement.”
Recognizing the aesthetic and economic benefit the town gains by having attractive entrance corridors to the town, the group has recommended that the H2 district be rebranded as the Gateway District, which would include with five sub-districts. Within each, the council could choose to create an improved zoning overlay district; create streetscape enhancement plans; and/or implement elements of the Town Plan’s heritage resources policies.
The latter could mean the inclusion of 106 properties in the H-1 Old and Historic District, 71 of which fall within the proposed Edwards Ferry Road sub-district.
“The [current] resources identified as historic are currently unprotected because the H-2 is not sufficient to achieve the level of protection called for in the Town Plan, so there’s a threat to the resources increasingly as the town grows and redevelops,” said Brian Boucher, deputy director of the Planning and Zoning Department. “What’s already begun to happen is some houses are being taken down to take advantage of the zoning there.”
Should the council opt to include the 106 properties in the Old & Historic District, property owners could choose not to be subject to the controls of a historic district. However, once that property is sold, the new owner would be required to follow the historic district design guidelines.
The five sub-districts recommended by the working group reflect the five major entrances into town: East Market Street, West Market Street, Edwards Ferry Road, North King Street, and South King Street. The panel recommended sub-districts because of the differences between the five entrance corridors.
“All five gateways are characterized by very different environments, development histories, uses, and appearances,” Boucher said.
The focus in each sub-district would be on maintaining the street edge. The design guidelines would not apply to single-family dwellings, he noted. Preservation Planner Tom Scofield highlighted the particular importance of including the Edwards Ferry Road sub-district, with the eventual redevelopment of the Walmart shopping center property.
The final element of the recommendations—creating a streetscape enhancement plan for each sub-district—could give town staff an opportunity to look for projects for inclusion in the Capital Improvements Program. Types of these projects along the public right-of-way can include: landscaping; sidewalks, trails, and bike paths; undergrounding utilities; human-scale streetlights; traffic calming features; street furniture; and entry features. Scofield said in the sub-districts along King Street, the town can borrow elements from the Journey Through Hallowed Ground’s design palette, since that part of town is along the historic byway.
Public input will be an important part of the process going forward, with stakeholder sessions and a public hearing to be scheduled in the near future. The council is expected to debate the working group’s recommendations, and decide on next steps, at its Aug. 7 work session.