The Leesburg Town Council appears to be keen on transforming one of its downtown parking lots.
The future of the Liberty Street parking lot was back before the council at its Monday night work session. The council had previously discussed the matter in May,after local attorney Peter Burnett brought forward an unsolicited proposal for a public-private partnership that would bring a conference center, performing arts space, senior housing and structured parking to the site.
At its May 10 meeting,the council had indicated support for issuing a Request for Proposals to solicit ideas for development on the site. This week, council members heard from Town Attorney Christopher Spera, who offered examples of what other localities have done in considering public-private partnerships for development.
The Town of Herndon used what Spera described as a “hybrid approach”—the town government identified the specific five-acre parcel it was entertaining development ideas for in the RFP and set parameters. The offer they ended up accepting was a redevelopment proposal that included multi-family units, ground-level retail and an arts center. The development also included both private parking for the retail and residential uses, as well as dedicated public parking for the arts center. At the end of construction, Spera said, the town is to own the arts center and the parking associated with the arts center. The land was recently conveyed to the successful PPP partner, and the project has started site work, according to a staff report.
Another example comes even closer to home. Spera pointed to Loudoun County’s RFP for its Ashburn North parking garage to serve Metro’s Silver Line. In that deal, the developer acquired and conveyed the necessary real property to the county government and is leasing it back over a 40-year term. The developer built and will operate the parking garage adjacent to the Metro Silver Line with approximately 1,500 parking spaces when complete. The project also includes a ground floor retail component, a staff report said.
Finally, Spera offered an example of an unsolicited proposal received by Fairfax County government. A company submitted a proposal to develop a former landfill near the old Lorton prison into a year-round, indoor winter sports complex. That project is in the early stages andthe county government is holding an open process to accept other proposals for the site, as is required by law.
From start to finish, Spera warned, these type of partnership projects are a long road. Mayor Kelly Burk noted that the Herndon project took more than 10 years and is not yet completed.
Like the Fairfax County site, the Liberty lot is also the site of a former landfill. Spera suggested that, because what lies underneath the surface of the parking lot is not completely known, it may not be a bad course of action initially to investigate the costs of a soil analysis. That information would be shared with any potential development partner, he said.
In addition to pricing out a soil analysis, the council also expressed support for Burk’s suggestion of scheduling a community meeting to hear ideas of what types of uses residents would like to see on the site.
While council members will wait to hear from the public before deciding how to move forward, some offered their own hopes for the property during Monday’s work session.
Councilman Zach Cummings, a Realtor, said he would like to see affordable housing for seniors age 55 and over. This type of housing would particularly serve those looking to downsize from a single-family home, but unable to find options. Having an affordable option for this segment of the population to move into age-restricted housing would free up their single-family homes for eager young families looking for options in that market, he said.
“If we’re really serious about affordable housing and attainable housing, we need to help to eliminate the mushy middle,” he said, using a real estate industry term.
Vice Mayor Marty Martinez said he wants to see the council take the bull by the horns. He pointed to his almost two decades on the council dais, with different development ideas for the Liberty Street lot floated by individuals from time to time, but nothing ever coming to fruition.
One idea worth considering, he said, is using the property to put an expanded headquarters for the Leesburg Police Department—a project that is currently under design—and using the existing space on Plaza Street for an annex or community center.
“The Liberty parking lot is our property. We should be doing something,” he said. “I am not ready to wait again and again and again for a [public-private partnership]. I think we as a council should take the initiative and do something with that property. It’s our property; the vision is only limited by what we can think of.”