As the Town Council prepares to adopt a new small area plan for the Leesburg’s Eastern Gateway District, there needs to be greater emphasis in the document on building design and employment uses. That was council members’ message to town staff during their Monday night work session.
The council was presented with the draft plan in July, following months of review by the Planning Commission. The plan area, for property along East Market Street between River Creek Parkway and the Leesburg Bypass, includes some of the largest remaining tracts of undeveloped land in the almost-built out county seat. A years-long effort called Envision East Market Street was undertaken by the town staff with public input, in a process closely watched by the development community.
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. If adopted, the Eastern Gateway District would become the third planning district in Leesburg, joining its Old & Historic District and Crescent Design District.
On Monday night, it was the need for strong design guidelines in the final product that was stressed over and over by council members. Planning and Zoning Director Susan Berry-Hill said her staff would look at integrating the gateway corridor concept that came out of the review of the H-2 design guidelines into the final version of the Eastern Gateway plan.
“The focus needs to be on design and less control over [building] uses,” Councilman Tom Dunn said. “Businesses can always change and uses can always change.”
Dunn pointed to the K2M headquarters as an example. The town “jumped through a lot of hoops,” he said, to keep the company’s headquarters in town, in a process that stretched over months. Now, with the recent announcement that the company had been acquired by Michigan-based Stryker, “we don’t know what the future of K2M is,” Dunn said.
The same could be true if data centers start popping up in Leesburg, he noted. Mayor Kelly Burk pointed out that the number one request Economic Development Director Russell Seymour is fielding for land is for light industrial, a type of zoning that would be allowed in parts of the plan area. Requiring attractive design even for data centers—which fall into the light industrial category—could allow those buildings to be more attractive to future tenants if the data center market ever dries up, Dunn said.
Burk said the plan needs to make clear that the town is looking to encourage more employment uses in the plan area, rather than just more housing.
“For me what is expected in that area is jobs, jobs and more jobs,” she said. “Those parcels of land are the last we have left, and it would be terrible if it were all housing.”
Councilwoman Vanessa Maddox pointed to recent news of Microsoft’s purchase of land along the town’s southern border as an example that Leesburg is getting some notable attention from international corporations.
“If Microsoft is coming, the rest of them are coming, it’s only a matter of time,” she said.
Desired work spaces look a lot different than they have in the past, project manager Rich Klusek said, pointing to the rise of coworking spaces, telecommuting, and coffee shops as places to work. Maddox said she would like to see the small area plan call for some of these more innovative types of office environments.
The town staff will get back to work with tweaks to the plan following council member suggestions and return with a new draft plan in the coming months.