In somewhat related actions, the Leesburg Town Council is looking to send a strong message to the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors regarding controversial plans to build a four-story parking garage while also finding a convenient parking solution for unnowntown visitors.
Monday night, council members discussed, on the suggestion of Councilman Tom Dunn, sending a letter to some supervisors asking them to reconsider the four-story parking garage off North and Church streets that will be constructed as part of the Loudoun County Courthouse expansion project. The council approved the project in February but, even then, those on both sides of the decision emphasized the need for continued discussion with county staff to reduce the garage to three levels. The overall height and scale of the garage was what caused the most vocal heartache for neighbors and council members. While the county staff has long held that the fourth level is indeed needed to address parking shortages at the Loudoun County Government Center parking garage, they appeared to be receptive to continued discussion.
County Administrator Tim Hemstreet even joined the council in several closed sessions, where a potential solution to secure additional parking spaces at the former Loudoun Times-Mirror property’s parking lot adjacent to the county garage was discussed. Bob White of Landmark Commercial, the leasing agent for the Courthouse Square redevelopment project approved for the former LTM site, was also a participant in these closed sessions.
But that arrangement never came to fruition, and according to Town Manager Kaj Dentler, the county is planning to proceed with construction of the four-story garage this fall. But Dunn said it would behoove the council to make every effort to reach out to the county to plead for deleting the uppermost level of the garage. Dunn said he emailed all of the nine supervisors, but only heard back from Supervisor Suzanne Volpe (R-Algonkian), who he said was not in support of changing the project.
Monday night, he continued to point out the numbers that have troubled the council—the low usage of the current Pennington surface parking lot, which Dunn said based on a report shared with the council never is more than 48 percent full at peak usage.
The numbers used by county planning staff members to justify the fourth level of the garage have long bedeviled the council and others who have questioned the size of the project. Councilwoman Katie Sheldon Hammler also said there appeared to be a “disconnect” with what the county had promised the council in terms of looking into other options to do away with the fourth level, including looking at the potential of locating the additional parking elsewhere in the downtown area.
“When we did do that vote it was based on some assumptions in good faith that we would be entering into a public-private partnership to remove the fourth floor and put parking where it was closer [to county employees and other downtown visitors] and where it was needed,” she said.
“I don’t think the letter will do much,” Dunn admitted. “But do we owe it to the citizens to ask them and have them formally turn it down? I think we do.”
But while the county did not appear receptive to using the Courthouse Square site as part of a garage compromise, that property likely will become a key element of the town’s parking strategy.
Tuesday night, the council is expected to vote on deal to lease surface parking spots on the Courthouse Square property to expand public parking downtown. Dentler formally presented the council with the proposal Monday night. In total, the town would lease 79 surface parking spaces, but would sub-lease 35 of those spaces to the county government for use for its fleet vehicles.
“We have a parking demand in this section of downtown,” Dentler stated, noting the shortage occurs mainly during weekday workday hours. He pointed to both the highly trafficked government center and Market Station complex as downtown destinations attracting daytime visitors.
The 44 spaces that would be open to the public are located closest to the intersection of Church and Loudoun streets, while the spaces for the county would be closer to the rear of the surface parking lot. Users of the parking spaces would pay for said spaces using a newly rolled-out electronic kiosk and smart phone app, ParkMobile. The app even alerts users when their “meter” is about to expire, allowing them to add money via their smart phone wherever they are, Dentler said.
The lease arrangement would end up being revenue neutral to the town, Dentler said. The town would charge the county almost $30,000 annually, and fees from the 44 parking spaces and enforcement fees would cover the remaining lease costs. An initial cost of $8,200 to make the lot ready for use will be paid for through money collected by developers who choose to make a payment to the town rather than constructing required parking spaces on their property.
Should the council move forward on the lease agreement Tuesday, it may be the first of several moves towards automation of the town’s parking fee collection. Dentler said that the town will be moving to the ParkMobile system for its on-street meters in the fall, and the Town Hall parking garage may not be far behind. He said the current system in the garage is “outdated” and “on its last legs,” and will likely be a budget-time decision for the council.