Virginia Village owner Brian Cullen is hoping his redevelopment application for the decades-old shopping center off Catoctin Circle and South King Street is more warmly received at the Town Council than it was at the town’s Planning Commission. Initial indications are Cullen at least has the support of many longtime town and county residents.
On Tuesday night, three applications for the Virginia Village redevelopment had their initial public hearings before the Town Council. The meeting followed a months-long stay at the town Planning Commission, where ultimately commissioners recommended denial of perhaps the most critical component of Cullen’s vision—a rezoning of the 18.48-acre property.
The proposal involves three requests: a Town Plan amendment to change 2.68 acres of the 18.48-acre property from a Downtown designation to Crescent Design District; rezoning the entire 18.48 acres to CD-RH (Crescent District-Residential High Density) or CD-CC (Crescent District-Commercial Corridor); and a special exception to permit alteration of the floodplain along a portion of the Town Branch to permit the construction of a pedestrian bridge linking the development to Harrison Street and Raflo Park.
In what Cullen has characterized as a litmus test of sorts for the council’s vision for the Crescent District, his redevelopment plan calls for a mixed-use community with ample green and amenity spaces, parking structures mostly hidden within buildings in keeping with the town’s Crescent Design District standards, and 643 residential units—the majority of which are multi-family units for rent—with over 165,000 square feet of commercial uses throughout the property, the majority of which are located below residences.
While the Planning Commission was supportive of the requested Town Plan amendment and floodplain alteration, it recommended denial of the rezoning, citing concerns with the project’s fiscal impact, phasing of residential units, parking, density, traffic, and building heights.
Although he discribed to his experience at the Planning Commission as “disappointing,” Cullen likely left Tuesday’s council meeting with a much warmer feeling. Dozens of members of the public turned out in support of the plan, filling the Council Chambers and spending an hour ticking off the reasons the council should green light the proposal.
Peyton Herring said, like many native Leesburg young professionals, she has had to continue living with her parents as she begins her career because of a lack of housing options.
“Simply put there is no affordable housing in Leesburg. For this community to thrive and for its longevity there have to be inroads for young people who are starting out their careers. There are lots of us … who are trying to decide if Leesburg is worth staying in. Sitting in our childhood bedrooms is not the most appealing option,” she said.
Others pointed to the need for a more pedestrian-friendly environment both within the development and along Catoctin Circle. Crescent Place resident Cheryl Sattlemyer expressed her and her neighbors’ excitement over the proposed Ours Overlook pedestrian bridge.
Cheri Garvin, owner of the Compounding Center, which is located in Virginia Village, noted her own long history with the shopping center. Her parents owned the former Ben Franklin store and she now lives around the corner from the development herself, in addition to owning a business there.
“I’ve seen a lot of change in Virginia Village over the years,” she said. “The key here is change and it’s time. The shopping center is old and really needs an update.”
Perhaps no one in Council Chambers on Tuesday night was as intimately familiar with the shopping center as Brian Ours, whose family owned the shopping center since the 1960s before selling the property to Cullen in 2017. He said the shopping center was “truly ready for renewal” and said its redevelopment could spur the same transformation in the Crescent District as the shopping center did for Leesburg upon its arrival half a century ago.
“The Crescent District has languished virtually unchanged since its formation. This is a prime opportunity to finally get it going in the desired direction,” he said.
Planning Commissioner Keith Reeve pointed out the commission was in support of two of the three applications involved with the project, but said “the devil is in the details.” He cited the commission’s lingering concerns and said he hoped work to iron out those issues could be done in concert with the applicant and council.
“If we would work out those five problems I’d be the first one to jump up and down and be there at the groundbreaking,” he said.
Historic district resident Don Ashbaugh said, if approved, the project could do “wonders” for the town’s workforce, town tax rolls, and small businesses that would benefit.
“My biggest concern about this project is it doesn’t get approved,” he said. “We should not miss this opportunity as a town or we won’t see it for years.”
The council will further scrutinize the redevelopment plan at its Dec. 13 work session, with the possibility of a vote as early as the next evening.