High atop the Leesburg Town Council’s list of New Year’s resolutions is an improved parking experience in its historic downtown.
At its last work session of 2017, the council again pored over recommendations from an outside consultant on tweaks to its current parking regulations. The consultant presented his report in late October, and the council had given the staff its own ideas on fixes, requesting a work session to comb through potential next steps one more time.
That opportunity came Dec. 11, when Deputy Director of Planning and Zoning Brian Boucher sought feedback from the council on which recommendations, either consultant- or council-given, had majority support. That laundry list will now send the town staff back to the drawing board, to determine how those changes fit together and how they can be implemented. The council will need to adopt changes to the Zoning Ordinance before anything becomes official. Review by the Planning Commission is also anticipated.
Finding support—by way of at least four “head nods” during the work session—were some changes to the current, controversial payment in lieu of parking fee, that gives downtown developers the option of paying $6,515 per space rather than constructing required parking space needed for their project. The fee has been criticized, both by those on the council as well as those putting forward projects downtown, as being unfair and not actually generating any needed parking. Developers of larger projects, on the other hand, have urged that the fee continue as an option as, without it, some would not be able to move forward with their projects.
A council majority indicated support for converting the payment-in-lieu program to one that would offer the purchase of on-street parking passes. Another council-supported option would allow these pass holders to park at certain on-street meters, with color-coded permits hung so they would not be required to pay the parking fee.
“The idea is to actually give the payers [developers] something to show for payment in lieu,” Boucher said.
Another proposal finding support is to increase the distance for developers to provide off-site parking from 500 to 1,000 feet when a residential property is converted to commercial use. Councilman Tom Dunn suggested expanding this provision beyond downtown to the entire B-1 District. The council also supported amending the walking distances for both residential and nonresidential uses in the H-1 from 300 and 500 feet, respectively, to 1,000 feet for all uses. An option to expand the use of payment in lieu to all residential development in the H-1, rather than the limited area in which it is now allowed, was also endorsed. That would be done on a case-by-case basis, with the applicant required to undergo a parking study for a given area and receive approval by town planning staff.
The council also voiced support for creating a single parking standard for both retail and office uses downtown, rather than two separate ratios. Other items that found support included working with Loudoun County Transit to expand bus service from the county government center to Ashburn and exploring other mass transit opportunities; conducting biannual parking and demand studies; and adding to the parking supply and adopting new methods to manage the parking supply.
Boucher said he expected to be back before the council in early January with the initiation of some Zoning Ordinance amendments to accomplish some of the items that, so far, have found majority support.
“All [of the recommendations] have a path you can follow that will accomplish something when it comes to parking downtown, when you take them broadly,” he said. “With the ultimate intent to make it more attractive for redevelopment.”