An application to rezone residential land to provide an almost 200,000-square-foot shopping center for southern Leesburg began its road to legislative approval Thursday.
Developer Van Metre Homes and land owner Traditional Land LLC, the applicants behind the Meadowbrook development, or Leesburg South as it has come to be known, presented their plans to the Leesburg Planning Commission. They are asking commissioners to recommend approval of both a rezoning application and six separate special exception applications for the almost 24-acre section of the development.
The Meadowbrook property is one with a storied history in the county seat. The total 228-acre property, along Rt. 15 and Evergreen Mill Road, began its journey to groundbreaking more than a decade ago. Its path to today has included legal challenges from the landowner; a compromise resolution that introduced a new zoning term to the Town of Leesburg; and, beginning last year, the rise of rooftops on the section of the development slated for the construction of 400 homes.
This year attention has turned to the portion of the property that developers are hoping to rezone to provide a commercial component to the project. The applicants are seeking approval to rezone 24 acres of the Meadowbrook property from R-1 (Low-Density Residential) to B-3 (Community Retail/Commercial); and a special exception to permit development of a mixed-use shopping center totaling just under 200,000 square feet. Five other special exceptions attached to the application seek approval for a service station; three eating establishments with a drive-in building; and a bank with a drive-in building.
The service station would include eight fuel pumps under a canopy; the three restaurants with drive-throughs are planned for up to 5,400 square feet, 4,300 square feet, and 2,100 square feet, respectively; and the bank with a drive-through is proposed for up to 4,000 square feet. The service station and restaurants all have the potential of having 24/7 service; and all uses provide for three alternative layouts to allow flexibility for future tenants.
While not offering specifics on future tenants, Van Metre representatives said during a community meeting last year that a grocery store is pegged to be the anchor of the development, and that the proposed service station would include an outdoor dining component, commonly seen in some Sheetz stations. Thursday night, it was also revealed that the smallest of the proposed drive-through restaurant uses, at 2,100 square feet, would likely be for a coffee shop, like Starbucks or Dunkin’ Donuts.
The development also looks to create a “Main Street” type of atmosphere, with a public plaza and man-made lake, doubling as a stormwater management pond, that would provide some restaurant-goers with water-view dining. They are proposing a mix of retail, restaurant, and office uses throughout the development, in addition to the uses eyed in the special exceptions.
Molly Novotny, senior urban planner for Cooley LLP, which is representing the applicant on the project, noted that the vision of the development falls well in line with what is envisioned in the Town Plan for this part of Leesburg.
“Our intent is to meet the daily and weekly shopping needs [of residents],” she said, noting that having a grocery store as the single anchor of the development is also in line with the plan.
Novotny noted that, in previous meetings with the Board of Architectural Review for a conceptual review, board members have been largely complimentary. Half of the property falls within the town’s H-2 Overlay District, so only those properties that fall within the H-2 will need to receive a Certificate of Appropriateness from the BAR before proceeding on to site plan review. The applicant has developed a code of development that would guide design for the entire property.
Novotny also pointed out that a fiscal analysis performed by the applicant has shown that the commercial development is expected to yield the town a positive fiscal impact of more than $10 million in 20 years. If the property were developed as by-right residential, that number would be far smaller.
Three nearby residents spoke Thursday, and said they are concerned how close the proposed gas station would be to homes across Rt. 15. Miriam Wolf and Marla Decriscio pointed to the potential of light and noise from a 24/7 service gas station impacting neighbors, and asked the applicant to consider shifting the service station to a different location within the site. Some commissioners also expressed support for this change.
Town staff has expressed concerns about the project’s impacts to nearby residences, notably in terms of noise and lighting.
“There needs to be better transitions to nearby residential uses,” town planner Irish Grandfield said.
Concerns have also been raised by staff about what they deem an incomplete set of design guidelines put forward by the applicant for the project. That concern was also cited by some on the commission.
“What the project is going to look like at the end of the day, that’s really important to me,” Commissioner Rick Lanham said. “I feel like the code of development needs some more meat to it.”
Commissioner Sharon Babbin said she appreciated that the applicant was providing alternative layouts for the special exception uses, negating the need to have to return to the commission for any changes down the line. She asked staff to review the alternatives provided by the applicant and report back with any concerns.
“I think this whole problem comes from the chicken and the egg approach. You can’t get tenants before you have an [approved] rezoning. We have site plan approval for a reason,” she said.
A motion to send the application to the commission’s Feb. 15 work session, to provide both the applicant and staff about a month to work on any changes, passed by a 5-0-1 vote, with Commissioner Jo Ann Walker absent. The Planning Commission currently has one vacancy, which could be filled as early as this week. Councilman Ron Campbell has put forward David Faliskie, chief operating officer of EIT, for nomination, and the council was expected to vote on his appointment at its Tuesday meeting.