A divided Leesburg Town Council voted on March 27 to approve a special exception that will allow structured parking for the Courthouse Square project in downtown Leesburg.
The town’s had recommended denial of the application earlier this month, while town staff had recommended conditional approval of the special exception.
Calling it “a terrific opportunity for a structured parking garage as part of this project,” Council Member Katie Hammler made the motion to approve the special exception.
Council Member Marty Martinez pointed out that the town had considered building a parking garage on the site years ago, and that with the approval of this project, a private developer would instead bear the cost of the parking structure.
The 336-square parking garage is part of the Courthouse Square project that is proposed for a 1.7-acre site in the block bounded by Market, Church, Loudoun and King streets in downtown Leesburg, behind the existing building.
As planned, Courthouse Square would include 113,650 square feet of office space, shops and restaurants.
Under the B-1 zoning for the property, the Courthouse Square development could be built “by right” – without the need for the council’s approval. The council’s vote on Tuesday was to allow a special exception for the parking structure. In separate votes, the council also approved interim waivers to reduce the amount of parking spaces that would be required, and the relocation of three metered street parking spaces.
Although the votes mostly pertained to parking, much of the public comment that preceded the vote, as well as the council’s deliberations, concerned the overall Courthouse Square project.
Several speakers said that the project is out of scale with the character of downtown Leesburg. Others, including the owners of several downtown buildings, raised concerns about traffic congestion and the blasting that would be required to build two levels of parking below ground.
“I think you’re trying to put ten pounds of apples in a five-pound bag,” said downtown businessman Stanley Caulkins.
“This is the heart and soul of Leesburg,” said downtown property owner Ad Barnes. “Once this big project comes in here, you cannot undo it.”
Supporters said that the project would add up to 500 jobs in the downtown, which would help revitalize the area, and that it would provide a link between Market Station and businesses on King and Market streets.
“It is such an opportunity that not only meets our economic motives…it hits all the key things that we are looking for in this town,” said Leesburg resident Don Ashbaugh. “We have a very unique opportunity here to capture this great project.”
Mayor Kristen C. Umstattd and Council Member C. Terry Titus opposed the special exception. Titus raised several concerns, including the size of the project, traffic, blasting and fire safety. “I don’t think this building looks anything like the downtown,” he said.
Umstattd’s comments were even more pointed. “I see in this the beginning of the end for the historic district in downtown Leesburg,” she said.
Vice Mayor Kevin D. Wright and Council Members Hammler, Martinez and David S. Butler all voted in favor of the special exception, citing the economic benefits of the project and the additional parking spaces the structure would provide. Council Member Thomas S. Dunn was absent for the vote.
The Board of Architectural Review will be the next step in the public approval process for the Courthouse Square project.