Leesburg’s Oaklawn residents voice concerns over new neighbor
At a public hearing held in the Leesburg Council Chambers July 31, Keane Enterprises Inc., the master developer at Oaklawn in charge of the building project, presented its plans and a plea for a proffer change before the town planning commission and a sea of concerned residents of the Oaklawn community.
Andy Shuckrow, general manager of the project, represented Keane, the applicant.
“I know that the circumstances around this application are a little unusual, and certainly the time frame is compressed, but we feel the opportunity...to the town, Oaklawn, and the surrounding neighborhoods is significant and worth doing some unusual things for,” said Shuckrow. “And of course the opportunity is the potential to develop a world headquarters and production facility for a high-growth tenant...”
The developers designed the building according to specific requirements from the tenant, who remains unnamed. However, Shuckrow and David Newman, representing Keane enterprise's partner Tramell Crow, said the client has an “international scope” and is committing to a long-term lease with Oaklawn.
The 146,000-square-foot headquarters facility includes features which allow for conferencing, research, light assembly, display and warehousing. Of the 146,000 square feet, 65,000 will be used for office space while production space takes up the other 80,000 square feet.
Just as the identity of the tenant remains a mystery, the developers did not name the product being put out by their client.
Shuckrow and Newman both stressed their belief that the new tenant can only be good for the town and the community at Oaklawn, providing high-paying jobs to bolster the town's economy, making an attractive addition to the community, and speeding the construction of Hope Parkway.
They also said that this tenant choice for land bay B will cause the least disruption for the neighboring residents.
“This is the least intrusive developing plan (for the community) that we could have adopted,” said Newman.
Oaklawn tenants disagreed. After the presentation, which was the first time the residents were brought in on the plan, the Planning Committee opened up the floor for discussion, questions and concerns. A lot of concerns.
The first of many issues listed was the speedy process. Residents were alerted to the application for development and rezoning with little notice.
“The majority of the homeowners I've spoken to...moved into the Oaklawn townhome development with the understanding that it would eventually become...a place where you can walk with restaurants and retail,” said Sally Atkins, treasurer of Oaklawn Homeowners' Association. “Quite frankly, the expeditious and secretive nature taken by this applicant and the whole rezoning request has taken many residents by surprise...”
Throughout the remainder of the evening, over 15 residents of the community voiced their concerns.
Multiple residents raised issue with the increased traffic the building would cause. Trucks making deliveries at any hour of the day or night mixed with the commuter traffic could mean louder noise, increased pollution, less safety for those crossing the street and greater overall traffic congestion.
Others were concerned about the appearance of their community. They said the plans called for a large structure that needed more screening than a few evergreen trees to avoid being an eyesore.
Furthermore, the “high-growth client” claimed to open up possibilities for expansion and attracting other businesses and industries to the area. Residents said that opens up the surrounding land bays (A, C and D) for future expansion which might be even less pleasant than light industrial use.
The Planning Committee voiced similar concerns and others, including their suggestions for changes to the application to make it more acceptable to all parties before it goes up to Town Council for a final decision.
“This is a very valuable company, but I don't think any of us can assume that the council will accept injury to the neighborhood,” said Leesburg mayor Kristen Umstattd. “I would just urge you (the developers) not to assume anything about how this vote will go when it gets to council. I think the council is going to listen to what both the neighbors came out and said and I just hope you all would too.”
Residents were encouraged to continue bringing their concerns and comments to the table either by attending the public hearing that was held Aug. 7 or through emails and phone calls.