Committee Leaders Grilled by Council Members

Almost weekly for the past two months a volunteer committee of town business leaders has been meeting to examine ways to improve Leesburg’s economic development strategies. On Monday, the panel’s leaders gave an update of their work to the Town Council.

For an hour, commission Chairwoman Sharon Babbin was grilled on aspects of the panel’s work. Council members questioned the committee’s vote to make comments on changes to the town’s historic districts that were recommended by another town panel, criticized the lack of use of a facilitator hired to aid the committee, and complained that the group was spending too much time on zoning issues.

Babbin, often joined by committee member Brett Burk, refuted the criticisms, saying council members misunderstood the panel’s work plan. The group has until October to make recommendations to the council that could be used to update the economic development section of the Town Plan. So far, the group has been meeting weekly to hear from panels of representatives from specific industries and other localities. Babbin said the fact-finding phase would continue for another month, then the panel would begin fleshing out recommendations.

The panel has had roundtables with commercial landlords and developers, and has been briefed on town parking concerns and public-private partnership regulations.

Several council members questioned the committee’s use—or lack of use—of a facilitator hired on a $25,000 contract. When some said that Babbin appeared to be taking too much control of the meetings, the chairwoman said she has worked to keep sessions running efficiently and to reserve the facilitator’s limited contract time for the panel’s policy development and reporting stages.

Councilman Marty Martinez, who serves on the committee along with Councilman Ron Campbell, was among those criticizing the group’s use of the facilitator and focus on regulatory issues.

Campbell, however, strongly defended the panel’s work. “If this council wants to micromanage this program, I think it would be a big mistake,” he said. “I think the outcome will justify the process. … We need to support this group to its conclusion.”

This week, the committee was scheduled to meet with representatives from other jurisdictions, including Arlington and Frederick, MD. Future panel discussions include Main Street programs, restaurants and workforce housing.

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