Lawson Road Project Accelerated, Council Office Space Funding Deleted in Budget Markup

The Leesburg Town Council took its first whack at Town Manager Kaj Dentler’s proposed fiscal year 2022 budget Monday night.

In response to recent community outreach, the council unanimously supported accelerating improvements to address Tuscarora Creek at Lawson Road. Originally planned not to begin until fall 2026, design work will now begin this summer. The project addresses the deterioration of the low water crossing on Lawson Road, which was closed to vehicular traffic after the link of Battlefield Parkway connecting Kincaid Boulevard and Rt. 7 opened in 2008. The project will provide a new stream crossing for pedestrians and cyclists to access the nearby W&OD Trail, along with stabilizing the bank erosion 200 feet upstream of the crossing. Around a dozen neighbors of the nearby Beauregard Estates neighborhood petitioned the council to accelerate the project, citing dangerous conditions at the crossing and property damage many neighbors have suffered because of erosion. 

Council members said they understood the staff’s rationale to have capital projects navigate a predictable process, beginning in the seventh year of the Capital Improvements Program and working their way up. But they said that this project’s acceleration was justifiable, with many reporting shock at current conditions in the area.

“It’s dangerous,” Mayor Kelly Burk said of the crossing area. “I can’t imagine kids even attempting to cross that creek. Although it’s not the usual and we don’t want to make it the usual there are times that public safety [needs] come forward.”

Accelerating that project will mean pushing back the phase 2 downtown streetlight project, which Capital Projects & Public Works Director Renee LaFollette noted will require a significant amount of staff time on design and working with property owners. This phase of the project replaces the existing cobra-style streetlights with new fixtures on pedestal poles, according to the project page in the CIP. Phase 2 addresses the area that includes Loudoun Street between King Street and just west of Wirt Street; Market Street between Church Street and west of Wirt Street; and Wirt Street between Loudoun Street and Market Street. The phase 2 streetlights project will now begin design in fiscal year 2023, and construction the following year, according to LaFollette. 

Another change endorsed by the council was the deletion of one of Dentler’s three proposed General Fund enhancements—$60,000 for office space for the mayor and council members. Dentler had set that funding as a placeholder which would have covered leasing a privately owned space and other expenses like utilities, phone and Internet, and office or conference room furniture. Council members instead expressed a desire to find space for the mayor within town-owned property. That could mean relocating staff to outside Town Hall’s walls, Dentler said. One area he said the staff will look at is whether office space can be used within the Loudoun Museum’s log cabin, a town-owned property. The museum is not using that space but had planned to before the COVID-19 pandemic, Dentler said. Should the town staff or the mayor move into the log cabin, the lease with Loudoun Museum would need to be tweaked. 

Councilman Neil Steinberg proposed repurposing the $60,000 in office space funding to cover the cost of a colored bubble to go over some of Ida Lee Park’s tennis courts, as part of an upcoming project. The outdoor three-court pod will be covered with a new air structure in time for the colder months later this year. Allowing those courts to have year-round use and produce revenue will allow the town to quickly recoup the costs of the project. 

With the new air structure planned to be white in hue, like the existing tennis bubble, some residents and council members have requested a different color to blend in more with the environment. A staff report notes that changing the color of the new air structure would cost an additional $42,000, hence Steinberg’s recommendation to shift the office space funding. The manufacturer’s website, according to a staff report, had recommended gray to better blend in with the environment, although the staff had pointed out that having two tennis bubbles of different colors right next to each other may be visually displeasing. The current bubble is expected to have another 10 to 15 years of use.

Only Councilwoman Kari Nacy supported Steinberg’s proposal.

The council was voted Tuesday to cancel its March 20 budget work session. The Saturday work session was tentatively scheduled if the council believed it needed an additional session to review the budget. A public hearing on the budget was also held Tuesday, and budget adoption is expected March 23. The council’s final mark-up session will be the preceding evening. 

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