The landscape of downtown Leesburg is changing, and with a Town Council vote this week will come hundreds of new residents to the historic district.
The council voted 5-2 Tuesday night to approve the Church & Market development, which will bring 116 rental apartments and more than 33,000 square feet combined of retail, restaurant and office space on land that currently includes the former Loudoun Times-Mirrorbuilding off Market Street, stretching back to the parking lot and alley that borders Church and Loudoun streets.
It’s been a long and winding road for the developer behind the project, Landmark Commercial Real Estate. Formerly known as Courthouse Square, the once predominantly office development was approved by the Town Council in 2012 before the office market all but dried up. Then Landmark worked with joint venture partner The Branch Group to retool the project, turning to downtown’s hot, but nascent, residential market, and will offer a rare opportunity to rent an apartment downtown.
Those who spoke in favor of the project Tuesday seemed to realize the weight of the decision. Mayor Kelly Burk admitted that she went back and forth during the time the council was considering the project on whether she could support it, but was finally swayed by the developer’s presentation during Monday night’s work session that provided 3D visuals of how the development would be laid out.
“I think this is going to be a game changer downtown,” she said.
Lansdowne resident Sarah Carter, a former town resident, spoke in support of the project during the petitioner’s section of the meeting, and acknowledged the vast change the town has experienced in the years she’s lived in the area. While she admitted that she was not always a fan of change, she encouraged the council to embrace the project for what it could mean for the downtown’s future.
“I feel that we’ve put in so much time and effort to push us to get to that place that this would only help us out in the future,” she said.
Eric Byrd, a member of the town’s Economic Development Commission and the manager of the Loudoun Small Business Development Center, expressed the EDC’s support for the project. He noted that the project would be located in the town’s HUBZone—an area that gives businesses a leg up on some federal government contracts—and would be an attractive place to land for those who could secure jobs by living and working in such an area,.
In the end, the majority of the council agreed that the pros of the project far outweighed the cons. Often mentioned throughout discussion of the project has been its economic impact, with an applicant presentation noting the Church & Market project represents $44 million in taxable property, not including any potential revenue from Business Professional & Occupational License fees or meals taxes.
“Passing on this type of opportunity would be foolish for the council,” Councilman Josh Thiel said.
Council members Neil Steinberg and Tom Dunn were the dissenting votes on the special exception application. Dunn said he believed that those town residents who did not support the project deserved a voice on the dais, while Steinberg said he was uncomfortable with how the six-story-high building would fit within the Old & Historic District. A Zoning Ordinance change passed by a previous Town Council allows six-story buildings within a small area of the downtown, including the Church & Market site.
“This area offers us our last, best chance to have a positive, lasting impact on the downtown. My feeling is it’s just not quite there yet in this application,” Steinberg said.
Yet to be determined is how parking on the site will be configured, with two options proposed by the developer. Option A would provide 169 spaces inside the garage and an additional eight as surface parking around the building. Option B would place an automated lift system inside the garage. The garage could then accommodate 202 spaces, with an additional eight spaces provided as surface parking around the building. The inclusion of the automated lift system would, however, result in the reduction of 2,000 square feet of retail development that fronts on the alleyway. A total of 191 parking spaces are required for the development, but the applicant is seeking a shared parking reduction to 177 spaces for Option A, which would require approval from the Planning and Zoning Department. According to a staff report, the provision of the lift system envisioned in Option B is incumbent upon satisfactory agreement with the Town Council to provide an unrestricted public parking component to the plan.
Blair White, vice president of Landmark, said that parking for the former Times-Mirror portion of the project would most likely come through paying into the town’s payment in lieu of parking fund.