Leesburg Council Approves Fast-Tracked Oaklawn Rezoning

April Grant, Leesburg Today | Posted: Wednesday, August 13, 2014 10:42 am

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In the face of resident objections and a recommendation of denial from the Planning Commission, the Leesburg Town Council Tuesday approved a rezoning application to build corporate headquarters for an expanding, but unnamed, Leesburg company along the Dulles Greenway in the Oaklawn development .
Town and county government representatives, who are working with the state government to assemble an incentive package for the project, have kept the company’s name secret, saying a confidentially agreement prevents them from identifying the applicant.
The plan involves building office space and a production center in Land Bay B of the Oaklawn property. The rezoning allows for light intensity industrial uses that did not exist in the land bay. The tenant also proffered land for a 120,000-square-foot sports complex, hotel or conference center on Land Bay A and to expand Hope Parkway to allow additional transportation for employees and truck traffic.
The vote was 5-2 with Mayor Kristen Umstattd and Councilwoman Kelly Burk opposed after residents have voiced concerns about the rushed pace of the application review process, and the air of secrecy surrounding it.
A dozen spirited residents again expressed their opposition with the application during Tuesday’s meeting, saying it represented no benefit to residents and all the benefit to the applicant.
Councilwoman Katie Hammler countered that notion, saying that the company would represent a win for both parties. She described it as a “huge economic opportunity for taxpayers and is the achievement of a major goal” and “will be bringing high wage, high quality jobs to the town.”
Vice Mayor Dave Butler, a resident of the Oaklawn neighborhood, said there would be sacrifices ahead for residents, especially in terms of construction, but that the benefits would outweigh the negatives. He pointed to the development of the Sycolin Road overpass, which opened earlier that day, as a representation of “the fruits of sacrifice.”
Council members Marty Martinez, Kevin Wright and Tom Dunn said they appreciated the residents’ concerns but supported the application.
Umstattd said her vote against the application was swayed by the clear opposition to the plan raised by residents, who between three public hearings—two before the Planning Commission and Tuesday’s council hearing—spoke more than 50 times against it.
The question is should the council make a decision that’s in the best interest of the town but places an unfair burden on one community, she said.
“In some ways I’m sad because I have such respect for the tenant but the situation you were put in wasn’t fair,” Umstattd said to the residents. “I don’t think the damage and injury done to the community is worth it.”
Burk said she was uncomfortable to vote with the lack of time allotted to residents and the town in this speedy process. Changing the zoning for Land Bay B to allow for light intensity industrial could cost the residents more in the long run, she said.
“What happens if the company moves away…and an electronics company were to come in” and “what if that company was using lead, what if they were soldering?” That would be a polluter but the town, because of this rezoning, would have no control over it, she said.
She had major concerns with the applicants’ proffer of 10 cents per square foot of commercial space toward a fire and rescue site on two acres of land, arguing that the standard is 20 cents, and that 16 acres was a more sufficient size. Burk also cited plans in the application for a sports complex, which she said would only create more traffic in the area.
“The applicant has been willing to make some changes, but I don’t think they’ve gone far enough to be able to mitigate concerns of the community.”
In the end the developers were not willing to budge on requests from the town and residents to amend the truck hours to 8 a.m.-7 p.m. or to increase the height and length of the fence to be used for screening on a portion of the property. They did agree to contribute $15,000 towards a pedestrian crosswalk signal on the intersection of Whipp Drive and Hope Parkway, which is the major truck route, to alert drivers when someone is crossing the street.
Immediately after the vote Supervisor Ken Reid (Leesburg) released a statement supporting council’s decision, calling it the right move for the town, county and the Commonwealth—the development is projected to generate a total of $20 million in tax revenue for the town and county and $41.2 million for the state—create more than 100 high-wage jobs over five years.
“It is unfortunate that the identity of the firm could not have been disclosed earlier to give some ease of mind to the Oaklawn and Stratford communities nearby,” the statement read. “But I am personally very familiar with the nature of this company’s product line, and know from experience how they add value to their communities.”
In addition to the rezoning the council signed onto a Governor’s Development Opportunity Fund Grant Performance Agreement that allows the town to provide incentives to company. Pursuant to the agreement, the town will waive $77,000 in land development fees and provide matching funds in the amount of $150,000 to apply for a Virginia Department of Transportation Economic Development Access Program Award to help build a portion of Hope Parkway.
Under the agreement, the county government will present the corporation with a $340,000 cash grant and waive approximately $110,000 in development fees and costs. The state also will make a cash grant of $450,000. In order to receive the GOF funds, the company must spend at least $28.4 million on its main facility and create a minimum of 97 new jobs with an annual salary of at least $103,000.
The developers said they hope to break ground in the next couple of months.