The Leesburg Town Council has voted against initiating a discussion on a measure that would permit townhouse condominiums to be built in the B-1 downtown business district.
The vote was close, with council members Katie Hammler, Kelly Burk and Marty Martinez and Mayor Kristen Umstattd opposing the measure and council members Tom Dunn and Kevin Wright and Vice Mayor Dave butler in favor.
The B-1 district is slated as commercial. The proposal would involve staff writing an amendment to the current zoning to allow townhouse condominiums to be built by-right. By-right means that while certain parameters could be established, there would be no legislative process for the building design or proffers, a point of concern for some council members.
“I've said all along my problem is with the process,” Burk said. “We lose the right to get things we want on this prime location.”
Waterford Development approached Leesburg staff with the proposal for townhouse condominiums, which would require the area be converted from commercial to mixed-use (commercial and residential). Brian Boucher, deputy director of planning and zoning for Leesburg, said the current plan would have 16-20 units per acre, with hopefully some open space and trees on the property.
Boucher told the town council that many other jurisdictions have utilized townhouse condominiums.
“It's something people in Leesburg are interested in,” Boucher said.
Jan Zachariasse, president and CEO of Waterford Development, came to the meeting to speak in favor of the amendment.
“The reason we're here is to ask you to amend the zoning ordinance that would allow us to build this particular development in Leesburg,” Zachariasse.
Dunn reminded his fellow council members that the vote didn't guarantee that Waterford Builders would be able to construct the condos, it simply initiated the process of staff constructing a text amendment.
That still didn't assuage council members. In addition to concerns of not being able to include proffers, council members also worried about burdening taxpayers. By going the text amendment route, taxpayer funds are used to examine changing the zoning; during the re-zoning process, applicants are charged a development fee.
Additionally, council members were hesitant to approach the process for just one group.
“At its essence, the fact that we would be initiating this text amendment tonight for what reason?To initiate a by-right use that would increase density very specifically to support the financial requirements of a builder has nothing to do with what we want as a council,” Hammler said. “Our responsibility is to be stewards of the vision of downtown.”
Hammler did acknowledge she had received campaign contributions from Waterford Builders, however could still not support the measure.
Martinez added that he hadn't heard anything that would alleviate his concerns.
Waterford Development now has the option to attempt a rezoning application, which requires them to go through not only town staff, but also the planning commission and the town council. The process is estimated to take two months.
“It takes time and patience to achieve the vision that we want,” Hammler said.
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