It’s becoming a bit clearer where the Town Council’s preferences lie when it comes to parking fixes in downtown Leesburg.
Last week, the council, through a series of non-binding straw votes, showed support for policy changes to the town’s zoning ordinance. The new or revised regulations governing parking in downtown were cobbled together via suggestions by council members, an outside consultant, town staff, and even recommendations shared by downtown developers in recent months. Both the availability and accessibility of parking, and a controversial program that gives developers the option to pay a fee for each parking space they are unable to provide on their property, have been primary targets of regulations.
For now, it appears the payment in lieu of parking program will remain. The council did not support a consultant recommendation to expand the option that allows developers to pay a fee rather than provide parking spaces. Instead, a council majority supported a staff-proposed alternative to permit residential developers to pay fees for up to 10 of their required spaces if the property is within 500 feet of a municipal parking facility.
With the exception of Councilman Tom Dunn, council members also supported reducing parking ratios in the downtown B-1 district for multi-family residential development. The proposal is to reduce the required parking for one-bedroom units from 1.5 spaces to one space per unit; and from two to 1.5 spaces for two-bedroom units.
One item on which the council could not find a consensus was whether to create a single parking standard, of one space per 400 square feet, for nonresidential uses in the B-1 district. Both the town staff and the Planning Commission had recommended the council create separate parking standards for office and retail development. Not finding a majority to support any course of action on that matter, the council is likely to continue debate on that potential change when it meets to review the draft ordinance Sept. 25.
Most council members also voiced support for maintaining the current regulation that exempts parking requirements for the conversion of an existing building into a nonresidential use if the site sits within 500 feet of a municipal parking facility.
Finally, Vice Mayor Suzanne Fox was the only council member to vote against a regulation change that increases the allowable walking distance from both residential and nonresidential uses to off-site parking. Under the change, it would be increased to 1,000 feet for both residential and nonresidential uses, up from 300 (residential) and 500 (nonresidential), respectively.
Council members seemed keenly aware of the implications that some of the changes may have on the downtown area and how it will accommodate and attract new development.
“I am absolutely convinced that we will be building a [parking] garage especially with these changes we are making,” Mayor Kelly Burk said. “It’s going to be inevitable.”
Planning for the future is key, Councilman Ron Campbell stressed.
“Change is coming,” he said. “We can either react or plan.”
Changes to the parking rules follow years of frustration voiced by developers, residents, business owners, visitors to the downtown, and even council members over the state of parking in the downtown area.