While a consultant continues to study Leesburg’s downtown parking strategies, the Town Council continues to make tweaks. At a June 27 meeting, members agreed to move parking funds paid by developers into an interest-bearing escrow account and to give the money back if the town doesn’t use it to create more spaces.
For decades, the town has told developers who cannot provide required parking spaces on their lots that they must pay a fee—now up to $6,000 per space—to the town. In theory, the money is to be used to provide more off-site parking, such as helping to finance the construction of another parking garage.
Increasingly, those investing in the construction of new downtown businesses and homes have questioned the merits of the program, saying it creates a big hurdle.
According to a staff report, there is $275,000 in the town’s parking fund—money paid by just three developers, Town Attorney Barbara Notar pointed out. In moving the money to an escrow fund, the depositors would be entitled to a refund of the fees they paid, plus interest. Any deposits made after last week’s resolution passed would also be entitled to a refund plus interest, she said.
Paul Reimers, who has built, restored and remodeled numerous downtown properties, spoke in favor of the reserve account, but said he didn’t think the council was going far enough. He recommended rolling back the fees back to the 2015 level of $3,000 per space, before the fees were doubled by the council.
He called the payment in lieu of parking fees, “one of most unfair fees the town has ever put on anybody.”
“It creates a disincentive to create a diversity of housing, and penalizes people changing use or trying to do something new,” he said.
Councilman Ken Reid made a motion to reduce the fees back to $3,000 per space, but received only the support of Councilman Hugh Forsythe. Councilman Tom Dunn made a motion to reduce the fees even further, to $500 per space, but received no support. Another motion by Reid, to issue refunds only to those developers who paid into the fund after the June 27 resolution deadlocked, and thus also failed.
Although the motions put forward by Reid and Dunn did not pass, it was clear from council discussion that the current payment in lieu of parking program does not have many fans, and may be on its way out, pending the recommendation of the conclusion of the study expected this fall.
“I myself would prefer to do away with it altogether,” Mayor Kelly Burk said. “But I think we need to stay the course and wait until we get the report back.”
The vote to establish the restricted reserve account passed 5-1-1, with Dunn opposed and Councilman Ron Campbell absent.