Council, Consultants Seek Clarity for Crescent Design District Vision

Members of the Leesburg Town Council are hoping some national experts can help to fix address concerns with its Crescent Design District regulations.

Last August, following long-simmering frustration—both among town leaders and potential developers—with the rules governing development of the district, the council approved a resolution directing the staff to work with the Form-Based Codes Institute of Smart Growth America to provide recommendations.

The district, adopted as part of the 2003 Business Development Strategy, encompasses 428 acres and 215 lots in an area generally along East Market Street, Catoctin Circle and South King Street north and west of the Rt. 7/15 bypass. It’s an area that has long been eyed for redevelopment, and the goal of the regulations has been to mimic the vibrancy and pedestrian-oriented nature of the historic core while making development feasible. Form-based code, which regulates the design and scale of buildings more so than the uses that occur inside, was chosen as the best zoning tool to accomplish this. But, some council members and other critics say, it has fallen short.

“We are here today because somehow the outcomes aren’t being achieved,” Councilman Ron Campbell said.

The two consultants hired to study the district seemed to agree.

“We saw as we went around the district, as we scanned it, as we read [the Crescent Design District Master Plan], as we talked to stakeholders there’s definitely a confusion about what the vision there is for this place,” Marta Goldsmith, director of the Form-Based Codes Institute, told the council during Monday night’s work session. The adopted regulations, she added, don’t match the vision laid out in the preliminary pages of the plan.

Both Goldsmith and Geoffrey Ferrell, of Ferrell Madden, have spent the past several months reviewing the district plan and holding focus group meetings as they prepare to make recommendations to the council. They asked the council to provide direction on the purpose and goals for the district, architectural standards, use requirements, optimum use of legislative review and more.

The council will hold another work session in hopes of answering some of those lingering questions before Goldsmith and Ferrell prepare their final report.

One initial recommendation from Goldsmith was for the council to consider conducting a market study to find out what kind of development is possible in the Crescent Design District. Knowing that, she said, could put the council “in a much better negotiating position with developers.”

And while many have been quick to criticize the Crescent District master plan and the form-based code zoning over the years, Councilman Marty Martinez said some of the blame for the district’s master plan not living up to its billing belongs to the council itself.

“There were too many outside influences directing us which way to go. The Town Council didn’t stick to the Crescent District plan. I’m not blaming the plan as much as council sticking to our guns,” he said.
krodriguez@loudounnow.com

One thought on “Council, Consultants Seek Clarity for Crescent Design District Vision

  • 2019-02-28 at 11:13 am
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    It’s not the just the town and council to blame but the market. The Crescent District Master Plan was adopted in June 2006 and was based on very pie-in-the-sky projections for commercial real estate. The plan was devised by a consulting firm, Arnet Muldrow Associates, which drew out a grid-network through parks and flood plain and neither the Planning Commission or Council bothered to ask any serious questions about whether this was viable from a market and environmental standpoint. There was just too much boosterism involved. Form based code was designed to regulate the “look’ of a building, not its uses, but by the time some $250,000 was spent on consultants to devise the plan and the code, it was very apparent that much of this district was not feasible. Virginia Village Shopping Center wanted out of form based code badly, and the code area was scaled back. At this time, 2010 or so, the residential and commercial market was tanking. Staff insisted on some control over uses, so a true code based on looks vs. uses was not adopted. In addition, there was no residential component bonuses provided. As a result, this area except for Crescent Place (which was a planned zoning prior to the district and thus exempt) has not been fulfilled. It would seem to me that no amount of consultants and regulatory tweaks can turn mixed use developments out of car dealerships, auto repair places and office park -style development suburban style office buildings. If the council want this area to develop along the lines of the historic district, which was the original intent of the Crescent District, they will have to offer some serious economic incentives such has increased residential densities. Fat chance of that happening

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