Members of the Leesburg Town Council joined the Planning Commission for its Thursday evening meeting to discuss their vision for the end product of the Legacy Leesburg project, a comprehensive re-write of the Town Plan.
The commission was recently handed the first draft of the revised Town Plan, the culmination of a more than year-long effort that involved town staff, paid consultants and input from the general public. Commissioners have set a review schedule, which has them handing off their recommendations on the plan to the Town Council by the first week of August. Council members hope to adopt the new Town Plan before the end of the year.
The discussion of the character of the county seat took up the bulk of Thursday’s discussion.
“Character is fundamental to all that follows,” Commission Chairwoman Gigi Robinson said.
“You’re really looking at what makes Leesburg so special, but there are some components I’d like to have you consider,” Mayor Kelly Burk said in beginning the discussion.
For Burk, she emphasized the importance of having plentiful open space in the almost completely built out town. She said the COVID-19 pandemic brought to light the importance of open space in maintaining mental health.
“I would really encourage you to make that a priority as you’re talking about what development comes in and what that looks like,” she said.
Burk and others said the Town Plan is an opportunity to create a guidebook of what Leesburg expects when it comes to development or redevelopment. One area she admitted the town had not held the development community to a high standard was in environmental technology.
Councilman Neil Steinberg also said connectivity was an important theme to have woven throughout the finished plan.
“Leesburg is nearly built out. As we continue to build in the areas we have left and as we redevelop, not only should these communities and businesses be connected within themselves, we have to strongly consider how we connect them to each other. Hopefully we can work out ways so that all these communities don’t wind up being separate and distinct,” he said.
Councilwoman Suzanne Fox said the plan needs to address the delicate balance of affordable housing and development.
“There’s conflicting statements we get all the time from constituents—‘We need affordable housing’ and ‘We need to stop developing.’ Those things are in conflict. I’d like us to figure out what our plan would be to have both, if we can have them. If we’re going to add close to 10,000 homes over 20 years [as the plan envisions] how is that going to look and how is that going to affect our community character,” she questioned.
Several council members and commissioners said they wanted the plan to encourage extending the vitality and vibrancy of the historic downtown throughout Leesburg.
“Somewhere I would like to have the transference of vitality not just in the historic district, but everywhere,” Robinson said. “So when you walk down Market Street there’s a sense of wanting to stop to talk, to shop.”
Steinberg echoed Burk’s sentiment on the importance of the plan creating predictability in the development process.
“If we make it clear this is our vision when people come here to do business and/or develop they understand what it is that we’re looking for, and we insist we get what we devised over a long period of time,” he said.
The Planning Commission plans to hold an April 1 public hearing on the Town Plan. An additional public hearing will be held once the plan is before the council. A copy of the draft Town Plan re-write and updates can be found at legacy.leesburgva.gov.