Leesburg Commission Eyes Lengthy Review for Virginia Village Application – Loudoun Now

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Loudoun’s Community-Owned News Source
It took five submissions and more than two years for the redevelopment application for the Virginia Village shopping center to make its way to the Planning Commission. It will likely remain there until November.
The public hearing on the Virginia Village application, and commissioners’ first chance to review the large-scale development, occurred Aug. 5. Toward the tail end of a 40-minute staff presentation on the subject, Deputy Director of Planning and Zoning Brian Boucher, in recognition of the many elements up for consideration for the project, said the staff recommended that commissioners break down their review of the project into several work sessions, with each meeting focusing on a different facet of the project. To meet with the 100-day deadline for action before the commission’s recommendation is due to the Town Council, a final commission vote on the project would happen by Nov. 4.
Keane Enterprises and its founder Brian Cullen are the applicants behind the redevelopment plan. Cullen acquired the shopping center in 2017 from the Ours family, the original owners of the shopping center who brought it to life over the second half of the 20th century. His vision for the “reimagined” property involves a mixed-use community with ample green and amenity space, parking structures mostly hidden within buildings in keeping with the town’s Crescent Design District standards, and hundreds of residential units with just over 100,000 square feet of commercial uses beneath them. 
Boucher said the application involves three requests: a Town Plan amendment to change 2.68 acres of the 18.48-acre property from a Downtown designation to Crescent Design District; rezoning the entire 18.48 acres to CD-RH (Crescent District-Residential High Density) or CD-CC (Crescent District-Commercial Corridor); and a special exception to permit alteration of the floodplain along a portion of the Town Branch to facilitate the construction of a pedestrian bridge linking the development to Harrison Street and Raflo Park.
Construction of the project is proposed to be split among four phases, Boucher said. The first phase includes the five-floor Building A, with 224 multi-family units, 25,500 square feet of ground floor commercial space, and 472 parking spaces in an internal garage. The second phase includes the largest building proposed for the site, Building E, with 266 multi-family units, 23,500 square feet of commercial space, and 510 parking spaces within a garage, over six floors. The third phase includes two buildings: Building D, a residential-only building with 72 multi-family units and an internal parking garage; and Building B, a three-floor, 67,500-square-foot building solely with commercial uses. An additional three-floor, 67,800-square-foot commercial building is eyed for the final phase of the project. An additional 1,500-square-foot commercial building also is identified for the development, but with no determined phasing. 
In total, the proposed development includes 643 residential units—562 multi-family units, primarily studio and one-bedroom apartments; 53 townhouses; and 28 two-over-two units. More than 165,000 square feet of commercial space is identified—100,800 square feet of office space and 65,000 square feet of retail and other uses. Just under 1,600 parking spaces are promised for the site—1,469 in internal parking structures, and 130 on the street or in private driveways. 
 Andrew Painter, an attorney with Walsh Colucci that is representing the applicant, said the project is a unique opportunity to be a catalyst for redevelopment in the Crescent District, and to execute the vision town staff, commissioners and council members put forward in designing the district decades ago. For the applicant, the design drivers were five-fold, he said—reconnecting the town; providing strong streetscape elements; improved commercial space and offerings; a mix of housing for attainable living; and meaningful open spaces.
“It’ not every day we get the opportunity to conceive of a new neighborhood,” Painter said. “This is all about converting Virginia Village from an aging shopping center to what we believe will be Leesburg’s next great mixed-use community.”
Those who spoke during the public hearing were largely supportive of most elements of the project. Ethan Van Oerkel pointed to the amount of housing provided, with units that are desired by young professionals. 
“Leesburg has a very evident housing affordability problem. It’s appalling that housing in Leesburg is sometimes more expensive than housing in Arlington,” he said. “This project will demonstrate that Leesburg will be able to solve the issue.”
The residential units proposed by the applicant also includes 33 units enrolled in the county’s Affordable Dwelling Unit program—four townhouses and 29 multi-family units.
But some believe the large amount of residential units may be the Achilles heel for the project.
            “I fully support infill and redevelopment. However, I’m not convinced of the community benefit with replacing commercial with primarily high-density residential,” said town resident Julie Bolthouse.
For the staff, Boucher expressed some hesitation regarding the project’s timing, or phasing.
“The phasing plan puts 70% of commercial square footage in the last two phases after 89% of the residential has been built,” Boucher said. That could mean it will take years for the town to realize the full fiscal benefit of the project, though Boucher acknowledged it would be a net gain for Leesburg. 
Boucher also noted that many of the proposed amenities would not be built until the later stages of the project, too, with Ours Overlook—where the pedestrian bridge would be located—and Town Branch Park not scheduled to be constructed until 571 residential units are occupied.
The applicant has offered several proffers to offset its impact, including a new traffic signal at the development’s intersection with Catoctin Circle, and other pedestrian-friendly enhancements for the area; $527,000 in contributions for offsite transportation improvements; and $3.7 million for Loudoun County Public Schools. The development is projected to generate around 200 students, Boucher said.
The application will be back at the commission for its first scheduled work session Sept. 2. To learn more about the project, go to courbanize.com/projects/virginia-village/information.
I am glad to read the Leesburg Planning Commission plans to take its time with this review. Mixed-use options are ideal for downtown Leesburg but I question the total amount of residential units–643–to be squeezed into that space considering the traffic on existing roads. Is a single traffic signal at the intersection of the development and Catoctin Circle enough for that additional vehicle volume? Pedestrian improvements, paid for by the developer, should be a given.
How many times have we seen the request to build out most/all residential units and then have the proffers/amenities kick in–and, oops, a developer declares bankruptcy or pulls out of the final phases before it happens? And please don’t let the developer convince you that 33 of 643 units of affordable dwelling is an act of generosity and good will. If the town is serious about affordable housing, play hard ball and secure more (Leesburg, you’re calling the shots here.)
The plan has merits but it’s oversized and will definitely impact Catoctin Circle’s existing traffic flow.
Planning Commission, their plans are upside down.
Residential in the front has people living on Catoctin with a low quality of life from inhaling car fumes, while the commercial businesses are hidden in the back, out of sight out of mind, and will be constantly going out of business.
Let Leesburg’s residents live away from 4+ lanes of traffic. Put the commercial units on the street and with more parking and I’ll be able to support the businesses that move in.
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Editor: I attended the Leesburg Halloween parade yesterday and was very disappointed by the political tone of the parade.  It was
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