After overwhelming support from local residents, Leesburg Town Council unanimously voted Tuesday to set aside a future work session to consider town plan amendments and rezoning applications for the proposed redevelopment of the Virginia Village shopping center.
The project, proposed by Keane Enterprises — which owns the shopping center — would transform the current Virginia Village from a 1960s shopping center with a sprawling parking lot into a walkable mixed-use development.
“I think we’re all very excited about this project. We just want to make sure we’re doing it right,” Mayor Kelly Burk said.
The community would include 643 residences, including 81 townhouse or attached residences and 562 apartments. About 165,000 square feet of commercial and office space, four wrapped or mostly-wrapped parking garages, a dedicated area for the Leesburg Farmers Market, a pedestrian bridge over Town Branch, green space and the dedication to the town of park land adjacent to Raflo Park complete the proposal.
According to Andrew Painter, attorney for Keane Enterprises, the project would take less than 10 years to build and would happen in two phases, with residences among the first to be constructed.
More than 20 people, from current Virginia Village business owners to young professionals, spoke in favor of the project at the town’s public hearing.
Sherry Garvin, the owner of The Compounding Center pharmacy, has a long history with Virginia Village. Besides her pharmacy, her parents owned a Ben Franklin store in the shopping center.
“The key here is change, and it’s time,” Garvin said. “The shopping center is old, and it really needs an update… Of my 40 employees, five of us live in Leesburg. It would really be great if they didn’t have to commute from outlying areas.”
Like Garvin, many were enthusiastic about the potential for a large number of affordable apartments. More than 75 percent of the apartments would be studios or one bedroom, Painter said.
“There is no affordable housing in Leesburg… There have to be inroads for young people who are starting out their careers,” said 28-year-old Leesburg resident Peyton Herring, who currently lives with her parents due to a lack of local affordable housing. “We young adults want to spend our money here. We want to live here. And apartments in Virginia Village would do that for us.”
However, some council members balked at outstanding issues that weren’t approved by the Leesburg Planning Commission. At its Nov. 4 meeting, the Planning Commission unanimously voted against the development’s rezoning application, with one of its seven members absent and another seat vacant.
The commission voiced concern that Keane Enterprise’s request to decrease commercial square footage to 22.18 percent of the development would reduce fiscal contributions to the town to less than $1 million a year, “which appears inadequate,” a staff report said. In addition, the planning commission cited concerns about how late in the process certain residential amenities would be built, the height of several buildings and an insufficient level of parking.
Currently, the development has asked for 858 spaces for the 643 residences, proposing the downtown parking standard instead of the standard for the Crescent Design District. Commercial parking would include 1,469 parking garage spaces and 130 street or driveway spaces.
Several council members agreed that the planning commission’s concerns, especially those of parking, deserved further discussion. They asked staff to devote the entirety of the Dec. 13 work session discussion to Virginia Village.
“This is a really unique opportunity for our town,” resident Don Ashbaugh said. “My biggest concern about this project is that it might not get approved.”