As Leesburg seeks both long- and short-term solutions for its downtown parking situation, it is now the job of its Planning Commission to comb through a set of changes proposed by both staff, an outside consultant, and members of the Town Council.
Commissioners spent the better part of their July 5 meeting on the subject. They are evaluating six proposed Zoning Ordinance amendments and four program changes cobbled together with input from a variety of voices. The goal is to finalize their recommendations to the Town Council by early August, as Commission Chairman Sharon Babbin noted that the panel has decided against having a second meeting in August. The council also traditionally recesses for the month after its first set of August meetings.
The commission got its first look at potential amendments and program changes last month, but last week was the first time commissioners voted on separate amendments. Commissioner Doris Kidder, who voted against all the proposed amendments last Thursday, noted her objection to the process of voting on the amendments in a piecemeal approach.
The commission endorsed a Zoning Ordinance change to reduce parking ratios in the B-1 downtown business district for multi-family units from 1.5 spaces to one space for a one-bedroom unit and from 2.0 to 1.5 spaces for a two-bedroom unit. During a previous commission meeting, Bob White of Landmark Development, the developer behind the Church & Market (formerly Courthouse Square) development, supported lowering the ratios for multi-family units. He equated the higher costs of providing parking with requiring higher rents to offset them, and said lowering the ratios could incentivize the development of smaller, more affordable units.
The vote to reduce the multi-family parking ratio passed by a 4-3 vote, with Kidder and Commissioners Ad Barnes and Gigi Robinson opposed.
Commissioners opted to go with a staff, rather than consultant, recommendation when it came to parking ratios for nonresidential uses downtown. While the consultant, Wells + Associates, had recommended creating a single parking standard for all nonresidential uses downtown—to include office, retail and restaurant—commissioners supported a staff-recommended option that uses different ratios for each type of use, but does decrease the existing ratios.
“I have to agree that one size does not fit all,” Babbin said.
Barnes, Kidder and Robinson opposed the change.
Another change supported by the commission is an ordinance amendment that increases the walking distance for off-site parking agreements to 1,000 feet for all uses in the H-1 Overlay District, which includes the historic downtown. Current regulations put the limit at 300 feet for residential uses and 500 feet for commercial. Robinson, who again opposed the change with Kidder and Barnes, said she would be in favor of expanding the walking distance for commercial, but not residential, uses.
“That’s an awful long way to walk to your house,” she said, noting the problems it could create for downtown residents carrying home groceries or bringing a sick or injured pet back from the veterinarian.
Commissioners also decided against supporting a consultant recommendation to do away with parking requirements in the B-1 downtown business district in cases where an existing building is converted to a nonresidential use. Instead, again by the same 4-3 split, commissioners voted to maintain the current standard of requiring that a building more than 500 feet from a municipal parking facility must provide parking either on-site, or have an off-site parking agreement endorsed by the Planning Commission, or make a payment to town’s parking fund though the payment in leu program.
The commission recommended by a 5-2 vote to expand the payment-in-lieu option for residential uses in the entire H-1 District with a “round the block” parking study requirement and planning director approval. That won support from Robinson, Babbin and Commissioners Rick Lanham, JoAnn Walker and David Faliskie.
It’s a process being closely followed by those looking to develop or redevelop property downtown. Mike McLister, whose been behind several residential and commercial projects downtown, said he supported all the changes that had been presented to the commission. He noted that he hasn’t done a project downtown in the past two years because the existing regulations—particularly in regards to parking—do not make them affordable.
“Any relief is something that I would support,” he told the commission.
Discussion on other proposed amendments and program changes is expected to continue at the commission’s next meeting, July 19. The commission has yet to vote on four downtown parking program changes that do not require Zoning Ordinance amendments. They are: conducting biannual parking supply and demand studies; expanding mass transit opportunities; exploring ways to manage and expand the existing parking supply; and a possible Town Code amendment that would allow payment-in-lieu purchasers to be provided with parking passes to use metered parking spaces.