Gateway Plan Eyes Mixed-Use, Technology Centers in East Leesburg

The final public input meeting before the draft plan of Leesburg’s Eastern Gateway District is revealed offered a preview of some big proposed changes.

The area along East Market Street between River Creek Parkway and the Leesburg Bypass contains some of the largest remaining undeveloped parcels of land in the almost-built out county seat. Last year, the town staff set off on a planning process called Envision East Market Street to take a new look at development options for the area, now known as the Eastern Gateway District. The plan stalled because of vacancies in the planning department, but rebooted in earnest this spring. Now, a draft plan looks to be before the Planning Commission for review next month.

An initial meeting on the small area plan in June brought together a variety of opinions on how the district should look, from aesthetic details to the transportation network to desired amenities, and just about everything in between. The town staff has also used the results of an online survey to gauge public opinion on the development options. According to Rich Klusek, senior planner and the project manager for the Eastern Gateway District plan, the majority of the public opinion gathered in a recent survey favors the vacant parcels in the district remain open space. That’s not exactly possible to achieve, Klusek noted, given that the town cannot take any development rights on any property.

“Ultimately, what we need to do here is keep up with a vision looking at the best interests of residents and balancing tax base,” he said.

Most of those who turned out for Tuesday night’s final public input meeting at Ida Lee Park Recreation Center represented the development community. While the plan is not finalized, Klusek provided a few highlights of some proposed changes for the district.

The goal of the small area plan has been to plan for the future while considering what’s on the ground today and current market conditions. Owing to that, the staff is proposing the creation of two new land use designations—Mixed Use and Technology and Employment. The former category would cover the Leesburg Corner Premium Outlets and adjacent land to the east owned by the Peterson Companies, formerly known as the Forestier property. The Village at Leesburg development also would be categorized as mixed use.

The new Mixed Use designation envisions a 20-30 acre core area of development, which abundant common public areas, a mix of residential and non-residential uses; walkable areas that engage pedestrians on the streets; a variety of shops and restaurants; vertically integrated mixed-use buildings; a variety of streetscape enhancements; and highly walkable residential neighborhoods to support the core area. The new designation envisions a more urban-type of environment, taking large format retailers, like a grocery store, and putting them into buildings that can engage the streetscape, similar to what one would see in a bustling cityscape.

The approach can help achieve the public’s goal of having open space, Klusek noted, by providing areas for recreation, sports, outdoor concerts or events, and more, while not taking away development rights.

Another new land use designation, Technology and Employment, is envisioned for the area around Cardinal Park Drive, an area currently occupied by a variety of flex/industrial and auto-oriented services. This area is an ideal one to locate “the next big idea,” Klusek said, with the goals of fostering innovation, proactive planning, and encourage flexibility. The objectives would allow current office development to evolve as market conditions change to accommodate future employment-generating uses. This could be an ideal area, Klusek posited, to host collaborative workspaces or whatever the latest employment or technology trend is.

In a nod toward recognizing recently built or already-approved development projects, the draft plan also envisions a re-designation of the area surrounding the Lowe’s Home Improvement Store and Brown’s Car Stores as regional retail, rather than the current opposed to regional office, as well as differentiating the forthcoming Leegate development, with a mix of retail, office and residential uses, from the nearby Cardinal Park Drive area.

The community commercial designation is proposed to be changed to neighborhood center in the plan.

When asked about what was still missing from the draft plan, a popular theme emerged: affordable housing. Those in the attendance noted that the county’s Affordable Dwelling Unit program has a long waiting list. And the topic of affordable housing has emerged as a key concern during the Envision Loudoun comprehensive plan rewrite, Michael Capretti, of Capretti Land, LLC.

Planning and Zoning Department Director Susan Berry-Hill said it’s an area that the town needs to look at comprehensively, beyond just the gateway district.

Architect Dieter Meyer said there remains a special opportunity in the area.

“The area that we’re covering here I view very differently from the rest of Leesburg because of the highway that cuts it off. It’s almost like you’re on the other side of the river, like in Arlington from Washington [DC],” he said. “In my view the character in this area can be a little bit different. It can have its own identity.”

Staff members hope to have the draft plan to the Planning Commission by mid-November, and a public hearing will be scheduled at the commission at some point. Traffic analysis on proposed changes to the transportation network within the study area are being reviewed by VDOT, Klusek said, with those results expected to be supplied to the commission at some point during its review period. After the commission completes its review of the draft, the document moves on to the Town Council for final approval.

Although there will be no additional public input meetings until the Planning Commission holds a public hearing on the draft plan, members of the public still have a few weeks to make their voices heard. A six-question survey on how to prioritize improvements in the district can be found online at leesburgva.gov/easterngateway. The survey will close Nov. 5. Visitors to the website can sign up to receive periodic project updates via email as well.

krodriguez@loudounnow.com

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