The Leesburg Planning Commission has recommended approval of a commercial development on the Meadowbrook property.
By a 4-3 vote, commissioners endorsed both a rezoning and six special exception applications to allow a proposed commercial center with grocery store anchor, a gas station and convenience store with a car wash, drive-through restaurants, and other inline retail and office development. The project is adjacent to the Meadowbrook Farms community off South King Street, where 400 single-family homes, some of which are already occupied, are being built.
The application first appeared before the Planning Commission in January, when residents raised concerns focused on the location of the gas station and 24-hour convenience store along South King Street, across from their homes. The applicant, Van Metre Homes, made several changes to the application in the intervening months, including relocating the gas station site to Evergreen Mill Road. The new plans also dropped a proposal to include a bank drive-through, but did increase the size of the smallest proposed drive-through restaurant – expected to attract a coffee shop user like Starbucks or Dunkin’ Donuts — from 2,100 to 2,500 square feet. That proposed coffee shop would now go along South King Street, where the gas station was originally envisioned.
On Thursday night, considerably more residents turned out to voice strong opposition to the development plans. Most of these concerns centered on the concentration of so many 24-hour uses, as well as the development’s overall design.
Some residents at the meeting said the plans presented did not represent what they were promised by the developer.
“We feel like there’s been a bait and switch,” Greenway Farms resident Kim Berkey said. “When we were initially talked to about the community it was sold as one thing. Now it’s turned into something completely different. It’s not in keeping with the traditions of the community. It’s not even something the people in Meadowbrook want.”
One of those Meadowbrook Farms residents said it appeared that the development was designed to draw traffic from Rt. 15, rather than be a commercial center to serve the neighborhood.
“That wasn’t what I was expecting when I bought my house,” the Athena Drive resident said.
But Commission Chairwoman Sharon Babbin said the applicant had come a long way from its initial appearance before the Board of Architectural Review in late 2016. Despite the concerns raised by residents, Babbin advocated putting the rezoning and special exception applications to a vote Thursday night, since it was the applicant’s third trip to the commission. The Town Council ultimately signs off on the approval of all rezoning and special exception applications.
Babbin and Commissioners Rick Lanham, David Faliskie and JoAnn Walker all voted to recommend approval of the applications, with Doris Kidder, Gigi Robinson and Ad Barnes opposed. Robinson attempted to find support for limiting the hours of operation of the proposed service station use, but was not successful in finding a majority.
Those on the opposing side of the vote cited both the concentration of 24/7 uses, the impact on neighbors, and the design of the development in voting against its recommendation. While parts of the application will need to go before the Board of Architectural Review to receive a Certificate of Appropriateness, Kidder said she did not believe that would solve the problem.
“It’s not the job of the BAR to redesign a project,” she said. “What I saw tonight cannot be fixed at the BAR. I don’t think this is the vision Leesburg would have for this development, especially on a historic entrance into the town.”