Another work session will be held to discuss some interim modifications to the Crescent Design District, as the Leesburg Town Council was unable to find consensus on staff-proposed changes Tuesday night.
The council deadlocked 3-3-1, with Councilman Ron Campbell absent from Tuesday’s meeting, on 11 proposed Zoning Ordinance text amendments as the council continues its review of more comprehensive changes to the form-based code zoning rules that dictate development on the 428 acres along East Market Street, Catoctin Circle and South King Street north and west of the bypass—an area viewed as prime redevelopment land.
Many of the proposed modifications deal with items like building setbacks, parking standards, building heights and uses. The modifications would be implemented on a temporary basis until the council votes on comprehensive changes to the district’s development rules, and would only be allowed for special exception or rezoning applications with council approval.
The goal of the modifications is to mirror more urban-style standards, as many of the modifications deal with rules that are more compatible with suburban-style development. In several instances, the town staff took a cue from the nearby B-1 downtown business district in an effort to meet one of the goals of the Crescent Design District—to create an environment similar to the historic downtown.
If a modification is requested as part of a special exception or rezoning application, it would be judged against 11 approval criteria, including its consistency with the Town Plan, that it is not contrary to the purpose and goals of the district, that it won’t hinder the use of adjacent properties, and more.
“Long term there’s going to be changes in the Crescent Design District,” Deputy Director of Planning and Zoning Brian Boucher said. “We thought for now these are interim [rules] to really see the impact, see how it works.”
Councilman Tom Dunn said he the town staff was being overly cautious in its approach, to which Boucher responded that the staff would like to see the modifications “a little bit in practice” before recommending wholesale changes.
But, Dunn said, being too cautious could find the town in the same situation it is now. When the district was adopted as part of the town’s Zoning Ordinance in 2013, hopes were that the innovative use of form-based code zoning rules—which regulates building design and layout more than uses, and promotes a pedestrian-friendly, walkable environment—would spur redevelopment in the area. Instead, the zoning rules have come under criticism from developers and the Town Council for being confusing, cumbersome and an obstacle to development in the district.
A cautious approach, Dunn maintained, “is why our Crescent District which we had set up as our prime redevelopment area has no redevelopment in it except for Barber & Ross [Crescent Place].”
“I think this is heading us down a very familiar path,” he said. “There’s no way the Town Council is going to make decisions favorable to applicants with this many modifications.”
Others on the council expressed support for the modifications and the staff-endorsed approach.
“I believe this cautious approach is the better way to begin,” Councilman Neil Steinberg said. “I believe, in the end, we are going to end up with something we can be proud of.”
But, at the end of the debate Tuesday night, there was not majority support to push the interim changes forward. Two votes were taken, including one on a motion by Councilwoman Suzanne Fox that would have passed all but the parking modification, but neither elicited more than three votes in support. Upon suggestion by Dunn, the council will take up discussion on the proposed changes again at its June 10 work session.
As the council considers the interim fixes, the town is also awaiting responses to a Request for Information it issued on proposed changes to the form-based code zoning rules for the district. Those recommendations came after work recently completed by consultants from the Form-Based Codes Institute, and the town staff is hoping to find some outside technical expertise in how to best revise the code. Those responses, with the estimated cost for work, are expected back before the start of the fiscal year, July 1.