2018 may bring a harbinger of change to a key redevelopment project in downtown Leesburg.
Developers behind the Courthouse Square property, at the site of the former Loudoun Times-Mirror building, are considering new plans for the stalled project to include a residential component.
They had received special exception approval for a structured parking facility from the Leesburg Town Council in early 2012. The development was also envisioned to house approximately 113,000 square feet of office and retail uses, with 335 structured parking spaces in a five-story garage, including two levels below grade. The anchor of the development was to be Victory Brewing Company’s first taproom outside of its home state of Pennsylvania. It was also proposed to measure in at 65 feet in height, thanks to a Zoning Ordinance amendment passed by the council the previous year allowing higher heights in certain areas of the downtown if specific criteria applied. The property currently includes a surface parking lot in addition to the Loudoun Times-Mirror’s former building, and is situated between Loudoun and Market streets.
But the stagnant office market in the past couple of years put the brakes on the project and Landmark Commercial, the leasing agent, may submit a new application to the town to include the downtown area’s new hot market: residential. If approved, the residential aspect, and draw to downtown living, aims to capitalize on the popularity of other nearby downtown housing developments like Crescent Place on Harrison Street and King Street Station, which is expected to start construction soon near Town Branch on South King Street.
Blair White, vice president of Landmark Commercial, said much about the overall scope, layout, and size of the project will be determined within the next 60 days. And much of that revised development plan will depend on what they hear from town staff members on how the zoning codes would be interpreted for their site. In the coming months, the council is expected to consider potential changes to its payment in lieu of parking program, which allows downtown developers to pay cash for required spaces they cannot provide onsite. White has petitioned the council to advocate keeping the fee as an option, noting that larger projects like Courthouse Square need it to make their project feasible.
“That will drive how many units we’ll ask them to approve,” he said. “When structured parking is involved it tends to drive the end game. It really will depend on how much parking we’ll have to build, and whether any will have to be below grade.”
The resubmittal would likely entail asking for a special exception for structured parking, since the previous approval has lapsed, as well as a special exception to allow residential units in the B-1 zoning district. A special exception is needed if there are six or more residential units proposed in a project in the B-1.
In recent years, Courthouse Square developers have made several attempts to jumpstart financing on the project when it became apparent that office development was not the draw it once was. As recently as 2014, negotiations between the developer and Loudoun County broke down on an arrangement that would’ve sold more than 200 spaces, at a cost of more than $10 million, to the county, with the Town of Leesburg purchasing 75 spaces from its county government neighbors. One parking deal did go through in late 2016, with the town agreeing to lease spaces from the developer to open a new public parking lot. The town also leases back some of the spaces to Loudoun County for the parking of its vehicle fleet.
White said envisioning Courthouse Square as more of a residential project is not necessarily a new idea. When the project was first proposed, developers had looked at including a residential component but were told “in no uncertain terms” that there was not the political support on the Town Council at the time for bringing rooftops into the downtown. With the political tides turning, and that market now a draw, White said he believes the new project could fit in nicely within the downtown fabric. While Crescent Place embraces “vertical living” with townhouse concepts, and South King Street Station offering for sale condos, White said the Courthouse Square units will fall in the rental market.
“This will provide an opportunity for folks to rent an apartment downtown without making a five-, 10-year or lifetime commitment to buying,” White said. “When you take all three projects together I think you end up with a residential submarket downtown that has something to offer for everybody.”
The project will also include a retail component, and White said he expects the former Loudoun Times-Mirror building to remain a commercial space. While Victory Brewing Company is no longer signed to a lease on the project, because of an automatic termination clause, White said he expects to engage the brewer in talks to re-commit to the project.
“Our intent is to go back and engage Victory in a new conversation as soon as we know what our timeline looks like,” he said. “As far as we know they remain interested but we have not asked for any commitment of any sort.”