The Leesburg Town Council is preparing to preserve at least a portion of the Rogers Farm property before it is developed into a residential subdivision.
On Tuesday night, the council voted unanimously to initiate an expansion of the H-1 Overlay Old & Historic District to include 12 acres in the northwest portion of the property, among the largest undeveloped tracts in town. It is located along Dry Mill Road, Lee Avenue and Davis Avenue in the southwest quadrant of town. Including properties in the historic district would require an extra layer of review for the demolition, or changes to, any structures deemed to be contributing historic resources.
It’s a move that’s supported both by the heirs to the property as well as its contract purchaser, Stanley Martin Homes. The developer has submitted a plan to the town to develop 162 single-family homes on the 62-acre property, under the town’s R-4 cluster option, or four homes per acre. It would be a by-right development, not requiring Town Council approval.
It’s a noteworthy piece of property in the town and one of the last remaining vestiges of rural life within town limits. The property, across Dry Mill Road from Loudoun County High School, is the largest undeveloped tract inside the Leesburg Bypass, and it long operated as a horse farm. The owner, Samuel H. Rogers, died in 2015, and his three children are heirs to the land.
If the council votes to place the 12 acres in the H-1 District, it will fall short of the vision of the town’s Board of Architectural Review. In June, that board adopted an updated list of structures for inclusion in the town’s H-1 District and included contributing historic structures on the Rogers Farm property. However, its recommendation to the council included an incorrect tax map number, so council members last month sent the recommendation back to the BAR for correction before taking action on any zoning map change.
But at the BAR’s Nov. 19 meeting, according to a staff report, members clarified that their original intent was to include the entire 62-acre property in the H-1. A recommendation to that effect was then adopted.
Randy Brown, of Stanley Martin, appeared before the council Tuesday night to express the developer’s support for including the portion of the property containing historic resources in the H-1. The applicant is advocating the placement of 12 acres in the northwest portion of the property in the H-1. This portion of the property contains the main house. The developer is proposing to move the barn and stable into that area. It also includes a substantial tree save area. Five new homes are planned in the proposed H-1 zone and would be subject to BAR review. Both Brown and Michael Hummel, who was speaking on behalf of the Rogers family, said they were supportive of this, as well as confused by the BAR’s apparent change in direction.
“We believe it’s a solution that can both benefit the town and us as the applicant as far as pulling this application together and moving forward on this by-right piece of property,” Brown said.
Hummel said the family is eager to resolve the matter, as they are dealing with additional angst related to an inheritance tax they have been fighting with the IRS about since 2016.
Brian Boucher, deputy director of the Planning and Zoning Department, told the council Tuesday night that, in speaking with BAR members, their original intent at their June meeting was to include the entire Rogers Farm property in their recommendation, not just a portion. Some members of the BAR since that June meeting have changed, and the town’s preservation planner also left town employ. No members of the BAR were present at Tuesday’s meeting.
Boucher said the council, following Tuesday’s initiation, could ultimately adopt less of the specified area in its zoning map change, but not more. The zoning map change would also go before the Planning Commission before coming back to the council for final action. Adding the entire 62-acre property to the H-1 would mean that each of the 162 homes would need to receive a Certificate of Appropriateness from the BAR prior to construction, something Councilman Marty Martinez noted would be time consuming both for staff, the BAR and the applicant.
“The bottom line is you’re adding a lot more work to the BAR and you’re not going to stop the development,” he surmised.
But the five homes in the development that are proposed to fall within the H-1 could set a positive aesthetic and architectural standard for the other homes, Councilman Josh Thiel suggested.
“If they have five houses in the H-1, I assume they’re going to come pretty closer to the other 157. Putting those in the H-1 sets a standard for the developer for the rest of the neighborhood,” he said.
Voting to include 12 acres of the property in the town’s historic district will likely be the council’s only say in how the land is developed, barring any changes to the application currently before town staff. As Stanley Martin seeks to develop the land by right under current zoning, the development would not go before either the Planning Commission or Town Council for legislative approval