Council Nears Vote on Downtown Church & Market Project

It will be at least two more weeks until the Leesburg Town Council decides the fate of what many believe could be a transformational project for the downtown area.

Council members voted Tuesday night to defer a decision on the special exception for the Church & Market project following a lengthy public hearing.

The proposed Church & Market project would sit on the site of the former Loudoun Times-Mirror building on East Market Street and stretch back to the parking lot and alley that borders Church and Loudoun streets. It’s a reincarnation of sorts for the former Courthouse Square project by the same developer. That predominantly office development was approved by the Town Council in 2012 before the office market all but dried up. Now the developer is turning to the downtown area’s hot residential market. The applicant is seeking special exception approval for 116 multi-family units—in the form of rental apartments—to be built over an up to 216-space parking garage and 15,000 square feet of retail and commercial office space in the former Times-Mirrorbuilding, as well as the first floor of the apartment building. A two-story addition to accommodate additional office space is proposed for the former Times-Mirror building, but that portion of the project may be developed by right and is subject only to design approval by the Board of Architectural Review.

Two different options to accommodate the parking for the project are proposed. Option A would provide 169 spaces inside the garage and an additional eight as surface parking around the building. Option B would place an automated lift system inside the garage. The garage could then accommodate 202 spaces, with an additional eight spaces provided as surface parking around the building. The inclusion of the automated lift system would, however, result in the reduction of 2,000 square feet of retail development that fronts on the alleyway. A total of 191 parking spaces are required for the development, but the applicant is seeking a shared parking reduction to 177 spaces for Option A, which would require approval from the Planning and Zoning Department. According to a staff report, the provision of the lift system envisioned in Option B is incumbent upon satisfactory agreement with the Town Council to provide an unrestricted public parking component to the plan.

The developers said he is excited about the impact the infill development could have for the downtown.

“We’ve been working on this for so long we’ve become extremely passionate about trying to fill in this hole in the donut in the H-1,” Blair White, vice president of Landmark Development, the developer behind the project, said. “It’s got everything that young people are looking for in town.”

But some of the residents already living or working in or near the downtown area urged the council to be cautious in considering approval of the project.

Town resident Kaitlynn Yoder pointed to the design of the project noting it had the “illusion of looking historic” but expressed concern with the height of some of the proposed buildings. One of those buildings is proposed to stand at 65 feet high, which is allowable in that area of town under the Zoning Ordinance.

Yoder and others also expressed concern about the impact of the additional vehicular traffic on the downtown area. Dr. Cary Birkitt, whose Loudoun Street dental office is near the proposed project, said the council needs to make sure the impacts of the project are mitigated.

“I believe [Landmark] has the best of intentions but this will change Leesburg,” he said. “Change happens but we need to make sure it happens in a way that can be controlled.”

While a majority of the council preferred to table a decision on the project, and schedule a work session prior to a vote, some chose to voice their concerns Tuesday. Mayor Kelly Burk expressed her misgivings about the scale of the project.

“This is very massive. It looks to me like it’s just another Village at Leesburg. This design doesn’t say to me authentic,” she said, comparing it to other developments in Fairfax Station and Falls Church.

Vice Mayor Marty Martinez and Councilman Ron Campbell both voted against the deferral, saying they preferred to a vote Tuesday evening.
krodriguez@loudounnow.com

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