The design requirements for development along Leesburg’s gateway corridors will remain unchanged, at least for now.
The Town Council on Tuesday did not vote on a proposed ordinance to repeal the H-2 Overlay District, zoning rules that apply to land outside the Old and Historic District along King Street (north and south), and Market Street (east and west) to the town’s corporate limits.
Debate over whether to drop the district began six months ago, when four council members called for a review of the architectural guidelines, labeling them as ineffective in delivering the quality of development reflective of Leesburg’s character. At that time, Mayor David Butler and council members Tom Dunn, Suzanne Fox, and Bruce Gemmill supported the repeal, with Vice Mayor Kelly Burk abstaining.
Some of those same council members declined to take action last night when an ordinance to formally repeal the district was on the table. Instead they adopted a resolution to convene a working group composed of members of the Board of Architectural Review and Planning Commission to report back to the council next summer with recommendations to improve the district’s design. The council also initiated a Zoning Ordinance amendment to reinstitute the H-2 design guidelines for signage in the Crescent Design District until a full review of sign rules can be complete. The resolution passed by a vote of 5-1-1, with Butler opposed and Gemmill absent for the vote.
The H-2 district and its design guidelines were created in 1990, following legislation passed by the General Assembly in 1987 that permitted localities to create architectural control districts. According to town Preservation Planner Tom Scofield, the Leesburg Town Council at the time was one among the localities pressing for that authority, with the goal of creating a more “cohesive” design along its gateways to better blend with the downtown historic district. The council tasked the BAR with implementing the H-2 design guidelines. The BAR jurisdiction of the H-2 District covers exterior building alterations, including color schemes, new construction and site plans, lighting, demolition, building relocation, fences, walls and signs.
According to Scofield, 25 percent of the applications coming before the BAR since 1992 have been for properties in the H-2 District and about two-thirds of those applications have been for signs. In 2008, fearing that the H-2 was not “achieving the desired outcomes,” Scofield said, the council formed a steering committee to recommend changes to the H-2 design guidelines, as well as to the district as a whole. A slew of recommendations was brought forward to the council in 2009, but very few were implemented. That committee noted that the design guidelines in place seemed to be “too general” and should be strengthened to better reflect Leesburg’s identity.
“It’s very apparent when you see the [staff] presentation how important this district actually is,” Burk said Tuesday, prior to the council vote. “We need to make sure we are protecting our entrance ways. Perhaps it needs to be tweaked but it most certainly needs to stay in place until we find something better.”
Dunn expressed his frustration that review of the H-2, something he noted that the council had set as a top planning priority several years ago, had yet to be undertaken by town planning staff.
“I want our H-2 and other parts of town to look even better. I want us to raise our standards,” Dunn said. “We set this priority over four years ago and since then next to nothing has happened on it. That’s a council-directed priority and staff dragged their feet. That’s the problem.”
The vote was followed by a contentious round of procedural maneuvering.
Immediately after the vote, Dunn put forward a motion to reconsider the approved motion. He cited Robert’s Rules of Order and said, if a motion to reconsider is put forward the same night as a resolution is passed, it cannot be rescinded at a future meeting. When Burk asked for an opinion from Town Attorney Barbara Notar, Butler initially declined to allow that, then said it was her only opportunity to ask for Notar’s insight. Notar disagreed with Dunn’s assertion, to which the council member remarked she should review that section of Robert’s Rules again.
Martinez took issue with Butler’s objection to allowing Notar to speak, saying that if the mayor was not going to allow her to provide an opinion on Robert’s Rules then he needed to appoint a council parliamentarian.
The motion to reconsider did not pass, with only Dunn in support. Following that vote, Planning and Zoning Director Susan Berry-Hill attempted to ask the council if it wished to make a motion on the ordinance to repeal. Butler replied that because there was no motion made on that item he would move it to the next public hearing. Martinez chastised him, asking the mayor to “be civil.”
“You don’t need to treat people the way you are treating them,” he said to Butler.
“I’m being perfectly civil,” Butler replied. “Just follow the rules of procedure and we’ll be OK.”