Virginia Village owner Brian Cullen is well aware that his proposed redevelopment of the shopping center off Catoctin Circle and South King Street is a pioneering project of sorts to test out the Crescent Design District regulations.
“What we’re trying to demonstrate is how [the regulations] can be used,” he said. “There hasn’t been a case done yet to use the Crescent District the way it was intended.”
When the Crescent Design District was created in the early 2000s, with the accompanying zoning regulations adopted in 2013, the vision of town leaders and the planning staff was to create an urban, walkable environment, reminiscent of the nearby historic district. Form-based code zoning, which differs from traditional zoning in that it focuses on building form and site design rather than uses, was used in its development. The Crescent District encompasses approximately 428 acres and 215 parcels in an area generally along East Market Street, Catoctin Circle and South King Street north and west of the Leesburg Bypass.
But the changes have produced few results for Leesburg, as developers have often lamented that the regulations were confusing, cumbersome and an obstacle to development in the district, and thus new development or redevelopment in the area has been rare.
Cullen hopes his application will be a realization of what the Town Council dreamed up years ago.
“What we did was look at what they gave us, what is the Crescent District’s intent, and the [zoning] ordinance as well. First and foremost I hope they live by their documents. We expect to have some back and forth on different things, but I think that we’re in the bullseye of what they asked for in the Crescent Design District,” he said.
What Cullen has proposed has only changed slightly since he first submitted his concept to town staff in 2019. The application calls for a rezoning of the 18.48-acre development to allow for high-density residential development along with commercial uses. It envisions 643 residential units, a combination of townhouses, two-over-two units and multifamily units, with the latter comprising the majority of the units, at a total of 562. Cullen said those units will be predominantly studio and one-bedroom apartments, a rarity in such proximity to the historic downtown. Up to 175,000 square feet of commercial uses, including office, retail and other uses, is also proposed in the application. In addition to the rezoning, Cullen also is seeking approval of a Town Plan amendment to make changes to the Crescent District Land Use Policy Map, the Building Heights Policy Map, and the Future Streets Policy Map.
The proposed development also includes green space, including passive recreation areas and a pedestrian bridge connecting the development to nearby Raflo Park along Harrison Street.
The biggest changes along the plan review way have come with the orientation of proposed townhouses and two-over-twos on the property.
“Staff really wanted the orientation different than what we were using. In the end, I think they were right. We probably lost eight to 10 units, but the orientation actually feels good now,” he said.
In another instance, Cullen said one building needed to be redesigned three times to accommodate feedback from the Fire Marshal’s Office.
He compared it to a Rubix cube, in terms of the ripple effect that one change can have on other facets of the property. Cullen also acknowledged the needed density to achieve the desire to screen the structured parking on site, and to offset its cost.
Feedback from the public has been just as important along the way, with Cullen using the CoUrbanize online platform to post updates on the project and to solicit feedback. He reported the site has had 7,500 engagements since its launch, with 1,150 comments. He’s also held a half a dozen “very constructive” meetings with area neighborhoods.
Cullen said he has also stayed in close contact with Virginia Village’s current tenants. He said leases have been staged to meet the timeline of when they will break ground on certain phases of the project, assuming they receive the necessary approvals. Phase one will first focus on the western side of the development, opposite from The Compounding Center and Deli South. No one will need to pack their bags anytime soon, he emphasized. Cullen predicted it will probably take at least a year and a half from securing legislative approvals to groundbreaking.
The Virginia Village application heads to the Leesburg Planning Commission at 7 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 5, with a public hearing on the project scheduled for that evening.
For more on the project, go to the CoUrbanize site at courbanize.com/projects/virginia-village/information.
A previous version of this article misstated the reasoning for the requested Town Plan amendment.