An application to rezone a key piece of property in Leesburg’s southern quadrant had its first appearance before the Town Council on Tuesday night.
Van Metre seeks to rezone about 24 acres next to its Meadowbrook Farms subdivision for the development of a commercial center, with a grocery store tenant as its key anchor. The application also seeks approval of six special exceptions, including three to allow for drive-through eating establishments. Also proposed is a 24/7 service station with car wash and other inline retail and office uses, as well as a public plaza-type atmosphere.
It was standing room only in the Council Chambers as residents in neighborhoods near the property turned out to voice support or opposition for the application. Of those who spoke during the public hearing, it was about a 50/50 split between opposition and support.
Supporters came mostly from the adjacent Meadowbrook neighborhood. Many of those residents said the location of a commercial center next to their neighborhood—allowing them to walk to restaurants and shops with access to a nearby gas station—was a big reason they chose to move to Meadowbrook.
Casey Thompson said the access to shopping was a strong appeal for her to buy her home in Meadowbrook and she believes the growth of the commercial center could help increase home values for residents there in the future.
“We have a unique opportunity to become a community not just a housing development,” if the project is approved, she said.
Critics centered their objections largely on the number of requested drive-through restaurants, impacts on local traffic, and what many described as overdevelopment they had been seeking to escape when moving to Leesburg.
“Is this what we want our little town to be? Is this the direction we want to go,” Country Club resident Cindy Boyce questioned. “We don’t know what we’ve got until it’s gone. And I think we’re heading a long way to having our little paradise gone.”
Residents outside of Meadowbrook also said they felt the developer did not keep them in the loop about project plans, with the last community meeting being over a year ago. Conversely, the developer met with Meadowbrook residents as recently as last week.
Molly Novotny, senior urban planner with Cooley, LLP, who is representing the applicant, said the project plans mirror what was envisioned for the area in the Town Plan 13 years ago. She also noted that Van Metre has been responsive to residents’ concerns—changing the location of the service station to be further away from homes and limiting the hours of operation for the drive-through restaurants. On the latter point, the hours of operation were initially proposed to be 24/7, but after hearing concerns from both residents and members of the Planning Commission, the decision was made to cap the hours of operation from 5 a.m. to 1 a.m.
Offering their initial comments Tuesday, council members appeared unimpressed.
“Going to 20/7 doesn’t solve the problem,” Mayor Kelly Burk said, regarding the proposed hours of operation for the drive-through restaurants. She also encouraged Van Metre to use the time leading up to the next council meeting to reach out to residents in communities outside of Meadowbrook to hear their concerns.
“I think you’ve come a long way but you’ve got a ways to go here,” Burk said.
Vice Mayor Suzanne Fox and other council members noted that they had received well over 100 emails from residents on the project.
“There’s a lot of shock, a lot of outrage, a lot of concern, and a lot of that came from the fact that they said they hadn’t been talked to. From their perspective there’s been absolutely no outreach,” she said. “The positive comments we’re getting from folks in Meadowbrook … makes sense because they’ve had outreach.”
Councilman Ron Campbell also said the council could be entering uncharted territory of locating a commercial area so close to residences.
Council members voted to keep the public hearing from Tuesday open until their next meeting Tuesday, June 12, when the application will come back before the council and discussion is expected to continue. Only Councilman Tom Dunn dissented on that motion, saying he was prepared to vote on the application that night.
“I’m prepared to vote no today and tomorrow,” Dunn said.