The Leesburg Planning Commission will hold a special meeting on two hot-button downtown issues.
On Thursday night, the commission held public hearings on Zoning Ordinance amendments that could authorize the use of seasonal weather enclosures, shade structures and tents in eating establishments, microbreweries and brewpubs in the downtown B-1 district, as well as an amendment to expand the use of food trucks to the town’s business districts, which also includes the downtown.
At the beginning of the meeting, Commission Chairwoman Sharon Babbin asked for the panel’s approval to schedule a special meeting to continue to discuss both proposed ordinance changes. Babbin noted that the commission has many lengthy meeting coming up, some with multiple public hearings, and the special meeting would allow commissioners to focus solely on discussing the proposed changes regarding food trucks and tents, shade structures and seasonal weather enclosures. Thursday’s meeting also included another public hearing on a proposed residential rezoning.
It was the impact to downtown residents that dominated the public input Thursday on both items before the commission.
“To us, if you vote a change in the ordinance, you’re saying you’re more concerned about increasing the profitability of a few local restaurants,” one historic district resident said, in speaking during the public hearing on tents. “If this ordinance is being written specifically to benefit [a] business I’m very concerned by that. There are rules that have been here for years now and you’re asking for them to be changed because a few businesses want to increase their profit margin.”
On tents, several downtown residents said tents popping up throughout the downtown area could detract from the historic nature of the area. One downtown resident noted that one restaurant property which could be a candidate to erect a tent, if the ordinance changes are passed, could potentially have a tent in full view from her windows.
Similar concerns were voiced regarding food trucks in the downtown, as residents noted that parking lots that could host food trucks could place them in close proximity to nearby residences.
Both proposed ordinance amendments have been before the commission and Town Council on several occasions. While the issue of whether tents should be allowed in the downtown area has come up for legislative review three times in the past decade alone, both the commission and the council have wrestled with how expansive regulations for food trucks should be. Last year, the council passed changes to allow food trucks in the industrial and employment center districts in town. While the Planning Commission previously expressed support for allowing them in the town’s business districts, including the downtown, the council has yet to find a majority to move that forward.
After deadlocking on the matter at the end of 2017, the council again initiated the ordinance amendments in February. Several council members who had previously voted against allowing food trucks in business districts expressed support then for allowing them in the B-2, B-3, and B-4 districts, which includes the Village at Leesburg, parts of the East Market Street corridor and the Crescent Design District. But those same council members said they were still not sold on allowing them in the downtown area.
The originally proposed date for the special meeting was Tuesday, May 1; however, the commission ultimately decided against that date because Council Chambers would not be available. That would mean the commission would need to meet in the lower level conference room of Town Hall, where the meeting would not be broadcast on television or via webcast. Ultimately commissioners settled on a Thursday, May 10, special meeting, beginning at 6 p.m. in Council Chambers. That is in addition to the commission’s May 3 and May 17 meetings.
This article was updated Friday, April 20 to correct the time of the meeting Thursday, May 10.