Oaklawn residents seek common ground with K2M’s plans
“There has to be a [peace] branch stuck out somewhere,” said Oaklawn resident Phil Sproat. “Hopefully once K2M can be a little forthright about their position in this…we'll all get together and have some conversations…and we'll do our best to be neighborly to each other.”
Residents were angered last week when Leesburg Town Council passed a rezoning of the Oaklawn property without disclosing the name of the applicant, K2M.
Now, Sproat says residents would be better served in getting on board rather than being a tiny anchor on a moving frigate.
K2M is already a neighbor. The international company specializing in spinal devices and procedures originally opened in Leesburg and went public last May.
For residents, the issue isn't with K2M but with developers and town officials who decided to push through a rezone without disclosing details to residents. Even now, residents aren't sure what changes are coming.
“I wouldn't say I was surprised it went through because of the speed that everything happened,” said Oaklawn resident Lisa Aldrich. “It seemed like there was more behind it than what they were letting us know.”
The public hearings organized for residents to voice their concerns felt like a sham, said Frank Hayden, another Oaklawn resident.
“There's such a strong resident response to it, and it didn't end up mattering,” he said. “It didn't seem like the council even payed attention to it…You just want to know if they [town officials] have your best interest in mind, and it seems like they might not.”
If they had so little say in the decision with this rezoning, residents feel voiceless in what might come next to fill the remaining commercial land.
“I just hope they don't end up putting in a bunch of substandard businesses,” said Sproat. "That's the biggest vulnerability.”
The rezone and subsequent expansion of the tenant was touted as an endeavor that would bring in more business. Residents are concerned that the business it brings in won't benefit the community.
However, K2M's becoming a part of the Oaklawn at Stratford landscape could be the economic catalyst for bringing in the family establishments and restaurants so long desired by residents.
According to Town of Leesburg's environmental planner, Irish Grandfield, employees from offices and light industrial businesses are a built-in daytime clientele for eating and shopping establishments when residents are away at work.
“There's not enough daytime population out here to sustain all this stuff,” said Sproat. “We have to get some headcount out there so we can have those conveniences…I buy that. I know what it takes to run a business.”
Two Oaklawn commercial plots neighboring the community, land bays A and B, were the focus of the rezoning application recently approved by Leesburg Town Council. Land bay B is slated for K2M's new headquarters.
Originally, the land plots were zoned for office space, a freestanding restaurant or a 150-room hotel with meeting and conference center space.
The recent approval rezoned land bay A for a recreational facility on top of what was already zoned. Land bay B was changed to office/light industrial.
“[Light industrial means] it functions similar to an office on the outside of the building,” said Grandfield. “Expect impacts on traffic and visuals and the exterior to be basically the same as if it was an office. The difference is, it adds doing some light assembly on the interior of the building.”
As far as the remaining commercial plots in Oaklawn are concerned, no zoning changes were made, according to Grandfield.
The community's uncertainty and confusion about what lay behind the decision to approve the rezone and push K2M's expansion through created speculation and rumors that may have elevated unnecessary concerns.
In other words, a little transparency would have been nice, residents said.
“It was getting really out of control … because there wasn't good disclosure, and people weren't being let in,” Sproat said. “Who doesn't want the county to be successful? I just think the whole thing could have been approached differently. They could have done a lot to win residents' hopes and minds than they did with their arrogance.”