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Leesburg Town Council continues parking evaluation

Parking in downtown Leesburg has been discussed by Leesburg Town Council for years. Times-Mirror File Photo/Rick Wasser
Downtown Leesburg has enough public parking, according to a new study that may surprise many residents.

Leesburg Town Council hired consultant Wells + Associates earlier this year to study parking in the core downtown historic area. The study was meant to kick-start an effort to tweak current zoning ordinances and remediate the parking situation.

The study, shared during the Oct. 10 council meeting, recommended that Leesburg reduce a few of its parking ratios and encourage private-public parking arrangements. However, council bridled at a recommendation to keep payment in-lieu, a parking fee that council has discussed cutting for months.

“To continue to collect money for payment in-lieu and not have parking to supply for it is not a good solution,” Councilman Ron Campbell said.

Payments in-lieu allow commercial developers in certain parts of downtown Leesburg to lay fewer parking spots than required by the zoning ordinance in exchange for a fee.

Currently, developers must pay $6,300 for each unbuilt parking space for up to 50 percent of the required number of spaces. The fees are supposed to fund town public parking projects.

If a commercial area that is being redeveloped is within 500 feet of a municipal parking lot, payment in-lieu is waived. Wells + Associates recommended that the town expand the radius from 500 feet to 1,000 feet. If accepted, this would cover nearly all of the core downtown area. New buildings or developments on vacant land would still be subject to payment in-lieu.

Several councilmembers, including Ken Reid, Hugh Forsythe and Tom Dunn, expressed concerns that the cost of payment in-lieu is prohibitive for most residential development and that it might allow large developments to skimp on new parking spaces.

Three local developers spoke to the payment in-lieu recommendation, as well. Paul Reimers and Mike McLister agreed that payment in-lieu hinders development.

Blair White of Courthouse Square said, “If we were to do away with payment in lieu in its current form, we would not have the ability to … build commercial and park it.”

Leesburg and Loudoun County turned down an offer to buy 200 parking spaces from Courthouse Square last year and effectively stalled funding for the mixed-use development.

The Wells + Associates report acknowledged that a major issue in downtown Leesburg is a perceived lack of convenient parking. Over the past two years, parking has been filling up, though there are still spaces to spare.

Garage, surface and on-street parking now hovers around 60 percent full during peak times on weekdays and weekends, falling short of capacity at 85 to 90 percent. Parking crests during First Friday: The Town Hall Parking Garage was at 99 percent capacity during September’s First Friday, up from 86 percent in March 2015.
Council will continue to discuss the study and craft an ordinance at the Oct. 23 work session.

In other business Tuesday, council voted to raise Town Manager Kaj Dentler’s salary 3 percent and to ask Loudoun County to fund the Evergreen Mill road-widening project, the Tuscarora Creek Trail and current airport improvement projects.

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