The Leesburg Town Council on Tuesday night rejected plans to rezone 53 acres of vacant commercial land to build a mixed-use community in the town’s Crescent District redevelopment zone.
A vote to approve the 53-acre Crescent Parke development failed on a 3-4 vote, with council members Katie Hammler and Suzanne Fox and Mayor David Butler in support.
The council first considered the application in November when the applicant, Lansdowne Development Group, narrowly won a council vote for a Town Plan amendment to allow residential development in the area. The rezoning application had been before the council for review since the spring, but a vote had been previously delayed at the applicant’s request to better integrate recommended changes.
The application sought approval for 198 townhouses, 96 stacked townhouses and 96 multifamily dwelling units. Nonresidential uses would have included a maximum of 110,550 square feet of office space, 137,175 square feet of retail, an area for a future hotel, and a 2,000-square-foot community room. The land stretches from the terminus of Gateway Drive to Davis Drive along the edge of the Leesburg Bypass. The land assemblage also includes the Olde Izaak Walton Park, land currently leased by the town but which the developers offered to donate to the town.
In a packed Council Chamber on Tuesday night almost a dozen audience members wearing some shade of red to show their opposition to the development. Some of these same residents spoke during the petitioner’s section of the meeting, when they called on council members to vote down the development.
Town resident Scott Billigmeier presented the council with a petition with signatures from more than 300 opponents. Billigmeier, who had more than a decade ago been involved in encouraging the town to explore a way to lease or purchase Olde Izaak Walton Park, said that while positive changes have been made by the developer, the project remained too dense for the area.
“Proffers really can’t fix that to me,” he said.
The proffers offered by the developer were often cited during resident and council member comments, both positive and negative. In addition to purchasing the park for the town, millions of dollars in capital facility contributions were offered, along with the upfront construction of road networks throughout the property and a $75,000 cash contribution to study to remove from the Town Plan an option to extend the Dulles Greenway through the property, to name but a few.
Councilwoman Katie Hammler, who made the initial motion to approve the project, pointed to the proffers as a reason for her support of the project.
“I believe that accepting projects with significant proffers is a much better deal for the town than any other subsequent by-right development that wouldn’t mitigate its impacts,” she said.
Butler also noted the types of use—ranging from banks to factories—that could be built on the property without any council approval and without any proffers to improve roads or address other town needs. He said inevitably more houses would be built to house the region’s growing workforce and “urban infill is the best way to develop.” He said the proposed development was the “least impactful” to nearby residences. Crescent Parke “doesn’t destroy the neighborhood, it protects it,” he said.
But those on the majority side said despite the strides the developer had made with the project, it was just not the right fit for Leesburg.
Burk said the development did not mix uses well, and is not the pedestrian-friendly, walkable development envisioned in the Crescent District, where Crescent Parke would lie. She also pointed to the phasing of the project, which would only require 5 percent of non-residential uses to be built before the 214th housing occupancy permit was issued.
Councilman Tom Dunn said he felt that the inclusion of Olde Izaak Walton Park had been too great of a focus in the application.
“There was an effort to look for reasons to approve [the project] because the park was being thrown into the mix. I really felt this application should stand on its own merits and not be something that is bargained with citizens’ quality of life issues in an effort to get a park that we already have,” he said.
It had been an interesting week leading up to Tuesday night’s vote. Reports initially surfaced late last week that calls originating from caller ID sandbox.com had been going out to residents asking them to support the construction jobs and new road links that would result if the project was approved. One town resident, who asked not to be named, said the caller ID number that showed up on his phone was registered to a political election coordinator from the Mid-Atlantic region of the Laborers’ International Union of North America. According to reports, residents receiving the calls were asked to tell Burk or Councilman Marty Martinez to support the project.
Hobie Mitchel, the developer behind Crescent Parke, on Monday denied any involvement in the phone campaign and said he did not know who was behind it. Mitchel said he made no promises to hire union help should the project be approved.