Developers, a couple of residents, and Leesburg Town Council members made their opinions on the proposed Eastern Gateway District plan known Tuesday night.
It was the council’s first public hearing on the plan, which will serve as a guide for development in the East Market Street corridor. That area runs along East Market Street between River Creek Parkway and the Leesburg Bypass and includes some of the largest remaining tracts of undeveloped land in the almost-built out county seat.
It’s been a years-long process for town staff called Envision East Market Street. The goal has been to provide a new small area plan for the area, which many have referred to as the next frontier for development and redevelopment in town.
The intent of the plan has been to develop policies that better reflect today’s economy, building upon existing employment opportunities that execute a “vision” for the corridor and can help guide future development, according to a staff report. Allowing for flexibility as dictated by market conditions has also been a goal, with many nodding to the currently lukewarm office market as well as the changing shape of the retail market.
As the Planning Commission worked on the proposal over the past six months, feedback from builders and landowners interested in developing land in the Eastern Gateway District weighed in on what should and shouldn’t be allowed in that area. That input continued Tuesday night when Town Council members got their first look at the proposal.
Randy Hamlet owns 6.5 acres on the north side of Rt. 7, between Carradoc Hall and the old stone Harper House. The land has been in his family for 270 years, he said, and his hope is to build a medium-density townhouse development. He spoke in support of the plan as is and urged the council to move the process along.
“We have a small project that we’re going to pursue but it’s important to us that it proceeds through the process,” he said.
Cooley land use attorney Colleen Gillis detailed a request from her client, Peterson Companies, the owner of 107 acres east of the Leesburg Corner Premium Outlets, between the Leesburg bypass and Battlefield Parkway.
She said the plan’s required floor-area ratio in that area is a tough restriction to meet, especially as the minimum building height is four to six stories. That’s the ratio of a building’s total floor area to the size of the piece of land upon which it is built. She pointed to Peterson properties in Fairfax that had similar floor-area ratio requirements, but allowed for up to 10 stories. The Eastern Gateway District plan as is would leave little room for open spaces.
“As we balance the amount of development, we need to think about whether we can provide those open spaces, those gathering areas, within that core. We submit to you these limits make it difficult,” she said.
Tina Cochran, whose home sits just outside of the Eastern Gateway District, asked for the council to designate more green space. “This is a lot of residential, a lot of companies and consumers, and bringing tourism in on top of that—that’s a lot in one area,” she said.
Several council members registered their concerns about the plan.
“There’s a lot of theory in this plan. I don’t see the verbiage that’s going to pull this theory together other than a free-willy plan in that everything goes,” Councilman Tom Dunn said, noting that he wants to see clearer design guidelines.
“I think this plan needs a lot more work and a lot more vision,” Councilman Marty Martinez added.
Mayor Kelly Burk said the plan seems to be more for developers than for Leesburg residents. She wants to see stricter guidelines so that if the council rejects a development application, it can point to the plan’s goals as to the reason why. “There needs to be more clear expectations for us to use in those situations,” she added.
Council members agreed that more than one work session is needed to tweak and vet the proposal. They voted to formally ask staff administrators for guidance on how many work sessions to hold and to lay out a timeline for when the council should take a final vote to adopt the plan.
A draft copy of the plan can be viewed at leesburgva.gov/easterngateway.