After a year of staff work, the Leesburg Planning Commission is diving into the proposed Eastern Gateway District plan, designed to guide development in the East Market Street corridor.
Last week, the panel held its first of several work sessions on the plan, which encompasses the area along East Market Street between River Creek Parkway and the Leesburg Bypass and includes some of the largest remaining tracts of undeveloped 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.
The public input process has had a significant amount of developer involvement from its early meetings, and that continued last week when it made its way to the Planning Commission. Two spoke during the Nov. 16 meeting and offered a glimpse into their desired plans for their properties.
Randy Hamlet owns 6.5 acres on the north side of Rt. 7, between Carradoc Hall and the old stone Harper House. The land has been in his family for 270 years, he said. He is hoping to build a medium-density townhouses development. He asked the commission to support that vision in the plan.
Also attending the meeting was Taylor Chess, vice president of the Peterson Companies, the owner of 107 acres east of the Leesburg Corner Premium Outlets, between the Leesburg bypass and Battlefield Parkway. While not providing specificity on Peterson’s plans, Chess and others from the development community urged the commission to keep the plan flexible and able to address changing market needs.
The need for flexibility has not been lost on Rich Klusek, town planner and the project manager for the Eastern Gateway plan. Addressing the evolving needs of the office and retail markets has been a core goal of the plan, he said.
Klusek reviewed with the commission the overall goals, priorities, guiding principles, and visions for the small area plan, and touched on some of the items raised during the public input process. Commissioners are expected to get into the nitty gritty details over the coming work sessions, with the next set for Dec. 7. That work session is expected to touch on some of the new land use designations eyed for the area, including Neighborhood Center, Community Commercial, and Technology and Employment.
But commissioners last week did not shy away from sharing some initial thoughts.
“I didn’t get the feeling that there were specific goals. I looked at the goals and the vision and I got a little ‘I want it all, I want it now’ without it being sizzled down,” Commission Vice Chairwoman Gigi Robinson said. “I’d want something a little more definitive than what I’m feeling now.”
Commissioner Sharon Babbin also said the small area plan may be trying to accomplish too much all at once.
“A comprehensive plan is supposed to be our vision. I see it as being a three-tier process: We have a comprehensive plan that is vision, strategic plans …. which is how to get from vision to reality, and then we have ordinances which are actually implementing things. My first reaction to reading through this document was we’re trying to do all three at once in a comprehensive plan,” she said.
Going back to flexibility, Babbin said she felt the draft plan was too detail-oriented.
“When I read through the plan I don’t see flexibility, I see details. Please keep it visionary,” she urged. “If we are talking about a visionary plan and an overall plan how can we possibly have 11 different use categories in this small of a geographic area?
I don’t want to create the same problem as the Crescent Design District. We need flexibility.”
Commissioner Doris Kidder also said she hoped the final product of the gateway plan lives up to its name.
“I want this gateway to really be the gateway,” she said. “The East Market Street gateway everyone agrees is so unattractive. What I’m hoping is this will become the new gateway, that it’s gonna look like something people want to stay and look around and maybe spend some money.”
A Planning Commission public hearing on the draft plan is scheduled for Thursday, Jan. 4. The commission may provide a recommendation to the Town Council on the plan as early as its Jan. 14, meeting.