Transformation is coming to the heart of Leesburg’s Crescent District, and one of Loudoun’s oldest retail centers.
In a 4-3 vote Tuesday night, the Leesburg Town Council gave a green light to plans to redevelop the Virginia Village shopping center into a mixed-use development, with 643 planned residential units, office, retail, and restaurant space, several parking facilities, and more greenspace than the property has seen in its 60-plus years.
The redevelopment project by Virginia Village owner Brian Cullen of Keane Enterprises involved a three-fold application: 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.
Cullen has long referred to the project as a “reimagined” vision of the retail area, and a test for the Town Council and the town at large on its vision for the Crescent District. The 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.
Lingering concerns voiced by town staff in the final staff report provided to the council were the phasing of the development, with 100% of planned residential units constructed by the end of phase 2b, compared to only 59% of commercial space. In addition, the staff voiced concerns that the proposed development would contain only 21% of commercial gross floor area, with the Zoning Ordinance requiring residential rezonings with the Crescent District to devote at least 40% of the gross floor area of a development to nonresidential uses.
In a revised proffer sent to the council ahead of Tuesday’s vote, Cullen addressed some of the outstanding concerns, committing to providing 33 Affordable Dwelling Units within the community, even if less than 643 residential units are ultimately built; increasing the number of parking spaces designated for the residential units; and opening the door to building the central commercial building earlier in the phasing plan.
Speakers addressing the council before the vote raised concerns over the scale of the buildings, the number of planned parking spaces, traffic impacts, and the size and timing of the commercial development. The town Planning Commission had recommended denial of the project after months of review and Chairwoman Gigi Robinson was among the speakers urging denial and continuing to push for more parking and commercial space in the plan. Other speakers supported the plans as an important redevelopment opportunity for the town, one in line with its adopted planning policies.
The council’s comments were similarly split.
Councilman Zach Cummings made the motion to approve the applications, stating the project fit with the Town Plan goals. Council members Ara Bagdasarian, Kari Nacy and Marty Martinez also supported the project, saying it would create a more vibrant, walkable community with a wide range of housing types and new economic development opportunities.
“This application is pioneering, with a nearly $200 million plus investment in Leesburg,” Cummings said, noting the number of proffered Affordable Dwelling Units would be the most ever built in town and expressing confident the development will spur new businesses and economic benefits for the town. “I see the potential and am excited at the opportunity to see Leesburg prosper with an investment of this nature.”
Bagdasarian recalled his time as a volunteer on the town’s Economic Development Commission more than a decade ago when plans were created to promote redevelopment in the Crescent District, to expand the downtown and keep higher density development closer to the town core. “We had a shared vision for a vibrant downtown that was a designation for arts, entertainment and dining and an ideal place to live, work and play,” he said.
“We all have different perspectives about what the future of the town will look like. We all want to maintain the character of the town. We all want a more walkable community. We all want plenty of parking and manageable traffic,” he continued. “Rather than try to predict the future, we have an opportunity to build the future. A future that has been envisioned by our community for decades.”
Mayor Kelly Burk and council members Neil Steinberg and Suzanne Fox voted against approving the applications, citing concerns over parking, traffic, the ratio of residential and commercial space and the mass of the proposed buildings.
Burk said that, as someone who lives near the property and frequently walks to the shopping center, she was disappointed to not be able to support the project. Although it included many positive elements, she said the outstanding concerns were too many to overcome.
Steinberg raised concerns about putting the high-density project in an area of town with a limited transportation network and the large number of policy modifications needed to accommodate the project. He suggested the council wait for a different proposal to come in for the property.