Rewriting the Vision: Leesburg Embarks on Comprehensive Plan Overhaul

The eyes of Leesburg are turned to the future, as the county seat will spend much of 2021 ordaining its vision for the next 10 to 20 years of the town’s growth. 

While Town Plan updates are a regular part of the staff’s and the Town Council’s workload, this time it’s different, said Rich Klusek, senior planner with the town who is serving as the Legacy Leesburg project manager.

“The current Town Plan is generally more prescriptive with respect to prescribing specific land uses and intensities, while the proposed Legacy Leesburg Town Plan focuses more on character-defining elements and character designations,” he said.

The word character has been an oft-discussed element as the plan has come together, and it sets the tone for the proposed plan as one reads through it section by section.

To set the table with numbers, the commonwealth’s largest town envisions a market-driven need for an additional almost 10,000 housing units in the next 20 years, along with more than 3 million square feet of non-residential uses. The market needs for those uses is split almost evenly among office, light industrial, and retail uses.

Perhaps one of the most intriguing elements of the plan, however, is how it addresses specific sections of town, some ripe for development or redevelopment. The development community, while certainly paying attention to the plan process, was loath to comment for this article, voicing often-heard concerns and fears that opposing opinions could be met with retribution during the land development process. So, absent their input,Loudoun Nowtakes a closer look at dissecting some of the properties identified in the Town Plan as opportunity or transformation sites, and how they relate to ongoing developments.

This Town Plan graphic envisions a possible future of the area around the South King Street/Catoctin Circle intersection, including the Virginia Village shopping center.

Virginia Village and Crescent District Area

The Crescent Design District has for years been envisioned as a key frontier in the town’s redevelopment efforts. Recently, Virginia Village owner Brian Cullen announced his intentions to redevelop the decades-old shopping center into a walkable destination, adding residential and commercial uses, along with a significant amount of green space. His application continues to navigate the landdevelopment process via staff review, with a Planning Commission arrival date not yet scheduled.

The Crescent area is identified in the plan as opportunity area #1. In looking at the area bounded by Catoctin Circle to the north, South King Street to the west, Second Street SW to the south, and Harrison Street SE to the east, the plan envisions a series of improvements creating high-quality pedestrian streetscapes; intersections that encourage walkability and improve safety; the creation of common gathering spaces; and capitalizing on existing natural open scenery. Connectivity is a recurring theme throughout the plan and, in this area specifically, it calls for improved gateways and better transitions to the downtown area, as well as better connections between neighborhoods.

This Town Plan graphic shows possible redevelopment for the area along Georgetown Park west of South King Street, where the town’s Liberty Street parking lot currently is the major use.

Liberty Street

Currently the site of a town public parking lot, the Liberty Street area is identified in the plan as an opportunity for a public-private partnership for a downtown infill project. Conveniently, that is not unlike what local attorney Peter Burnett is proposing for the site (See Story, Page X). The plan also calls for engaging the open space along the Town Branch and W&OD Trail as a natural amenity, and also touches on the need for a district-wide parking strategy for the downtown.

Meadowbrook

One of the town’s newest, and perhaps most controversial, developments in the past 20 years is identified as an opportunity area in the draft plan. The Meadowbrook project was approved for hundreds of single-family homes, but it is the future of its potential commercial property that is perhaps of most interest. The plan recommends the establishment of a commercial center to serve the nearby residential communities on the vacant land off South King Street and Evergreen Mill Road.

The landowner had hoped to build exactly that, but was met with denial by the Town Council in 2018. Council members largely objected to a desire to locate four drive-through restaurants on the site, and said they believed the uses were incompatible with surrounding neighborhoods, and also not a welcoming gateway feature to the town.

After initially filing suit against the town over its denial, the applicant has now submitted a new application that calls for rezoning 24 acres of the property from R-1 to PRN (Planned Residential Neighborhood) and B-3 (Commercial). A special exception seeks permission to host car wash and gas station uses on the site. According to the project page on the town website, the applications as a whole include a “commercial core” of first floor retail and restaurant uses totaling up to 35,000 square feet, including 4,300 square feet of patio and outdoor dining, 20,340 square feet of second floor retail, 55 townhomes, a 5,200-square-foot gas station and a 1,450-square-foot car wash. Further, the project also includes an 8.2-acre “residual parcel” to be undeveloped within the proposed PRN area of the proposal. 

The shopping center that formally housed a Walmart store is envisioned as mixed-use neighborhood in the draft Town Plan.


Edwards Ferry & Leesburg Bypass

One of the most auto-oriented areas of the town is one ripe for redevelopment, according to the Town Plan. The Edwards Ferry area is characterized by its volume of residential neighborhoods, lacking connectivity to nearby commercial uses, with many residents still unsafely attempting to cross busy roads. It is also the site of a significant future road project, with interchanges eyed at both Rt. 15’s intersections with Edwards Ferry and Fort Evans roads.

The area in question also includes the site of the former Walmart, which moved to the Compass Creek development in 2019. The future of that shopping center has been the subject of much speculation, and the plan identifies the land as an opportunity to transform from a traditional big-box retail site to a development that supports a mix of uses. In a proposed scenario laid out in the plan, a six-phase transformation envisions the development of small retail outparcels, along with sidewalks and green spaces; converting surface parking to small retail uses and adding residential uses; the eventual establishment of office and entertainment uses on the site; creating walkable streets and central plazas; and, ultimately, the demolition of the big box store, replaced with additional mixed-use development.

Eastern Gateway District

The town staff and council members spent much of the past few years refining the vision for the Eastern Gateway District, which includes land along the East Market gateway outside of the Rt. 15 bypass, so it’s no surprise the plan focuses its own attention on the area.

The “character areas” assigned to the district resemble a spectrum of uses, that include a desire to target major employment centers and innovation areas and redevelop existing retail centers into destinations that promote different experiences, along with business and industrial uses. The plan points out that the district includes some of the almost built out town’s last opportunities to attract a campus-type development for major employers.

The land in question also contains one of the few remaining undeveloped large parcels of land, in the northwest quadrant of Rt. 7 and Battlefield Parkway. Peterson Companies, the owner of said property, has stayed mum on its development plans for the site. The property is identified in the plan as an “innovation center,” which is defined asa mixed-use village that concentrates employment uses in a discernible center. In larger developments, the employment center may be surrounded by one or more residential neighborhoods that support a variety of home densities and choices—including live-work units and upper story residential above office or ancillary retail—in the employment center. The design, scale, character, and intensity of development in the innovation center emphasizes technology, creativity, and innovation, and may support a corporate headquarters, research and development campus, manufacturing center, or other center of excellence and the nearby retail businesses and housing options needed for its employees. A grid network of walkable streets connects destinations within the employment center and the surrounding neighborhoods. Connected open space throughout the center accommodates recreation facilities, small parks, greenways, or gathering places; preserves tree stands; and helps reduce stormwater runoff, according to the draft plan.

The Compass Creek area on the western edge of the Leesburg Executive Airport, which is home to a new Microsoft data center complex, is envisioned as the town’s largest industrial area.

Leesburg Executive Airport/Compass Creek

This opportunity area currently includes a little more than 500 acres of land eyed by the town in ongoing negotiations with Loudoun County as part of a boundary line adjustment process. That land is defined as the Compass Creek development which, along with a host of retail and commercial uses, includes a forthcoming Microsoft data center campus.

The area is envisioned also as an “innovation village” with numerous economic development possibilities. The plan underscores the incompatibility of residential uses in that area, given its proximity to the municipal airport, but advocates for adding in amenities like pocket parks, gathering areas, and public plazas to make open space a prevalent feature in the area.

The plan calls for continued support of Leesburg Airport’s growth and role as an economic engine for the area, and also promotes the eventual annexation of the Compass Creek land into town.

The public will have its next opportunity to weigh in on the proposed new plan at the Planning Commission’s April 1 public hearing. To access the draft plan, project videos and other materials, go to legacy.leesburgva.gov.

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