Leesburg Planning Commission Hands off Town Plan to Council

It may come later than initially envisioned, but Leesburg could have a new Town Plan by early 2022.

The town’s Planning Commission officially handed off review of the Legacy Leesburg Town Plan update to the Town Council by voting to certify the document at its Dec. 2 meeting. 

The 4-2-1 recommendation, with Chairwoman Gigi Robinson and Commissioner Ad Barnes dissenting, came after eight months of work and 15 commission work sessions. 

“It’s been a long trail getting here,” Robinson said.

The long trail began more than two years ago, when the town staff launched a public input effort to garner resident, business and stakeholder feedback on what Leesburg’s new comprehensive plan should look like. The COVID-19 pandemic elongated the timeline considerably, with more behind-the-scenes work by the staff and town consultants on developing a draft to present to the commission, with the initial public hearing occurring April 1 of this year. 

Town Council members at times have appeared impatient at the length of time the document was under review at the commission, with a joint meeting of the two bodies Aug. 16 identifying the remaining unresolved areas of concern on which commissioners spent much of the past three and a half months focused. 

The 237-page draft document, the fourth version that came before the commission for review, includes several revisions made by the commission, including a newly updated Transportation Improvement Plan. What has not changed throughout all of the commission’s revisions, senior planner and project manager Rich Klusek said, is a move to a more proactive rather than reactive document, and one that continually harkens back to the character of the town.

Acknowledging that the town is almost completely built out and there will be little greenfield development going forward, a proactive approach, Klusek said, “[is] the more effective approach for redevelopment and enhancing communities.”

Commissioner Earl Hoovler, who has overseen many Town Plan updates over his many terms on the commission, said this go-around was “certainly a lot different” than previous reviews. He said initially he was hesitant to adopt the “playbook approach” laid out in the new plan. Under that structure some items, including planning context, guiding principles, community character assessment and goals, stay unchanged. However, the playbook concept allows the town to pivot or evolve as market conditions change through new strategies, focus area recommendations and the growth and conservation maps. 

“As we went through our work sessions I found [the playbook approach] does indeed have a lot to offer,” Hoovler said. The document, “focuses on the character of Leesburg and I think that’s important. I think that’s the real innovation here.”

While no speakers came to the commission’s Dec. 2 public hearing to share their thoughts on the draft plan as a whole, several members of the development community came to focus on certain parcels in the plan. 

One of those was a five-acre tract off Edwards Ferry Road, behind the Dick’s Sporting Goods shopping center and directly to the south of the REHAU North America campus. It has been owned by German grocery chain Lidl, with the intent to develop the property into its first Leesburg store, but the cost prohibitive site work on the land has deemed that impossible, said Molly Novotny, senior planner for Cooley LLP. With the property listed for sale for two years, there has been interest from users desiring industrial uses, such as a self-storage business, or for multi-family residential development. In Legacy Leesburg, the property is still identified for retail development, and both Novotny and Megan Sizemore of Lidl US asked the commission to consider flexibility for the property.

Novotny also spoke on behalf of Kettler, which last week submitted a Town Plan amendment to permit new uses on the two remaining undeveloped lots in its the Village at Leesburg development. The land, which borders the town/county line, is across the street from Wegmans and surrounded by residential units. It has long been planned and zoned for industrial uses, she said. Kettler’s proposed Town Plan amendment would pave the way for the development of residential units on those parcels, a use that would better fit in with surrounding neighborhoods, she said. 

Whether there is flexibility allowed with those properties will now be up to the Town Council, which is expected to hold its own public hearing on the plan and begin its review next month. While all on the commission lauded staff members for their oversight of the Legacy Leesburg review, and all the work that has gone into it the past few years, both Barnes and Robinson ultimately said they were not on board with the document as written. 

While Barnes said his concerns centered on western Leesburg, Robinson said there was too much ambiguity for her to feel comfortable in endorsing it.

“I have a hard time with a document that is not a plan, it’s a range of things to think about, and places an emphasis on outcomes rather than specific ways to achieve them,” she said. 

Commissioner Nick Clemente was absent for the meeting. 

To see the current Town Plan draft, go to legacy.leesburgva.gov

krodriguez@loudounnow.com

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