A consultant hired by the Town of Leesburg to access parking policies in the downtown historic district has recommended that the Town Council keep one of its most controversial regulations.
Council members and downtown property owners alike have railed against the town’s current program that requires developers to make cash contributions into a fund when they can’t provide required parking on-site. Currently, developers pay $6,515 per space for downtown nonresidential development and for residential development within the limits bounded by Liberty, Church, South, and North streets.
Town leaders have pointed out that the price per space does not come close to matching the actual cost of providing a parking space in a structured facility, estimated at more than $25,000. Property owners have called the requirement an impediment to creating the kind of development that Leesburg leaders desire and also pointed out at the parking fund has not done much to provide additional spaces.
In its justification for maintaining the program, with the addition of an annual escalation in the fee, the report provided to the council notes, “the parking Payment in Lieu provision is a critical element to downtown parking as the fund provides resources to add parking spaces and provides an option for infill development to occur in a practical way.” The report also recommends that monthly revenues from the lease of monthly spaces in the Town Hall parking garage should be shifted to the town’s parking fund.
During the petitioner’s section Tuesday night, concerns over keeping, or doing away with, the program took up the lion’s share of the comments.
Paul Reimers, whose many downtown projects include the recently opened Cocina on Market restaurant, called payment in lieu one of the most unfair practices in Leesburg.
“Every bit of payment in lieu I and others have paid has done nothing,” he said. “I think that’s manifestly unfair.”
But Blair White, vice president of Landmark Commercial, cautioned that doing away with the payment in lieu option altogether could have a negative impact on large-scale projects downtown. Landmark Commercial is behind the Courthouse Square development on the former site of the Loudoun Times-Mirror property. The project was originally envisioned as an office development with restaurant space and a structured parking facility, but has not moved to construction. White said the company is looking at a different development plan that would include a residential component.
“If we were to do away with payment in lieu we would not have the ability to construct commercial and park it. Either that mechanism or something that serves the same purpose would be needed for us to have a reasonable economic incentive to build commercial space,” he said. “If we were to build 80 apartments and commercial on the site we’re going to need to build an awful lot [of parking]. If payment in lieu goes away … it will tend to penalize larger mixed-use developments that are different in nature to other projects.”
While recommending that payment in lieu stay put, the consultant, Wells + Associates, did recommend that the council look at decreasing some of the parking requirements downtown. The report notes that current ratios reflect more of a suburban-style development, which generally calls for more parking.
Recommended changes include reducing the requirement for office development from 3.3 spaces to two to 2.5 spaces per 1,000 square feet of area; reducing the requirement for retail from five spaces to three or 3.5 spaces per 1,000 square feet; and one parking space per multi-family dwelling unit of two bedrooms or less rather than 1.5 or two spaces. The consultant also recommended that the council increase the allowed walking distance from 500 feet to 1,000 feet from a municipal parking facility, which increases the number of parcels available for infill development and conversions.
In a nod to the changing commuting needs of the public, the report also recommends that the town coordinate with Loudoun County Transit to extend bus service from the future Ashburn Station Metro stop to the Loudoun County Government Center, already a hub of commuter bus activity, to “provide enhanced travel choices that will reduce parking demand in future years.”
The consultant says that the downtown currently has adequate public parking supply, with 2,595 total public parking spaces plus an additional 2,041 private parking spaces, for a total of 4,636 spaces. They suggest looking at the addition of other private parking spaces to defer the need to construct more public parking. Currently, the Town Hall parking garage approaches capacity during popular downtown events, like First Friday. “Additional parking supply should be considered when cumulative demands recur frequently enough to justify providing those spaces,” the report stated.
Town Council members are expected to further scrutinize the recommendations, and consider possible future action, at their Oct. 23 work session. But they offered some initial takeaways Tuesday night.
Councilman Ron Campbell said it’s not a matter of how many parking spaces Leesburg has in its downtown area.
“We have some archaic zoning issues, some archaic provisions,” he said. “We need to get to the core of that quickly as we are stalling progress.”
For Mayor Kelly Burk, the report poses to the council a fundamental question.
“Are we urban or suburban,” she questioned. “Without transit I don’t think you can get to an urban designation. That’s going to continue to be something we need to look at.”