After years of deliberation, several transformations and, most recently, three public hearings, the Town of Leesburg's Crescent Design District has a possible date for a final vote: Dec. 11.
That’s what Director of Planning and Zoning Susan Berry-Hill said during Monday night’s town council work session. After about an hour of deliberation over two alternates to the previously drafted Crescent Design District Zoning Ordinance Amendment and four other amendments to the Town Plan and other land use documents, the planning staff will have two weeks before coming back before council Dec. 10, when the decision will be made whether a final vote is ready to be cast during the following night’s meeting.
“We’re trying to move toward the finish line,” Berry-Hill said. “We hoped at the Dec. 11 meeting we’d be ready to go.”
The Crescent Design District, intended to extend the footprint of Leesburg’s historic downtown down East Market Street inside the bypass and along Catoctin Circle between South King and East Market streets, has received mixed reviews among council members for years as developers push for more by-right redevelopment opportunities in the area.
However, concerns over residential density, parking and traffic, water plant capacity and the lack of infrastructure funding available if developers aren't required to undergo rezoning and offer proffers have resulted in a council that is still not sold on the idea, particularly Mayor Kristen Umstattd.
“It seems like this has been an argument not for expanding the footprint of downtown, but for bringing in as much density as we can without planning for it,” Umstattd said. “So I’m very concerned by it.”
A new wrinkle was introduced Monday night by Deputy Planning and Zoning Director Brian Boucher, who has been presenting in front of council for more than a year on what was once called form-based code. He suggested allowing by-right, five-story development only along Market Street and Catoctin Circle, and rezoning required to build above five stories on smaller streets where tall buildings would have a greater impact.
The alternative addresses concerns several developers raised in public hearings before the council and the Planning Commission that the lack of by-right components—initially, nearly all development would have been by-right, and after division, very little would not have required a proffered rezoning—and some council members, such as Katie Hammler, praised the planning staff’s effort.
“It tackles, in a compromising way, some of the key goals,” Hammler said, “and in a bold way, we’re still trying to encourage economic investment.”
The end of the Crescent Design District debate is coming soon, but the council still appears undecided with regard to what, if any, changes the area surrounding downtown could see in the coming decades.