Planning for a $7.4 million expansion of Leesburg Town Hall will go forward, despite significant opposition from several Town Council members.
Architects are drawing up plans for the 26,500-square-foot addition, which will provide new office space for town employees, as well as a visitor center and retail space.
Debate about the project has roiled the council this summer. The group was scheduled to vote on a resolution confirming its support for the project Tuesday night but decided to forgo any official tally after debate indicated a majority continues to support the expansion.
But council opponents, who insist the expansion is much larger than the town needs and will be too expensive, remained vocal.
Town planning commissioner Ted Kalriess, who works in the construction industry, told the council Monday that he has analyzed plans for the project and believes it could cost as much as $10 million. That prompted council member Kathryn S. Hammler to urge that the project be put on hold, at least until a replacement is hired for Town Manager Robert S. Noe Jr., who is retiring in October. She said the town's new manager might find ways to improve efficiency or consolidate departments, meaning requirements for expansion could change.
"I know there is frustration that this project has reeled out of control," she said.
The Town Hall expansion was originally designed to include only 15,000 square feet of new office space, at a cost of $3.7 million. The council voted last summer to enlarge the project and its cost. Still, Leesburg Mayor Kristen C. Umstattd -- who voted against the new design -- told fellow council members Monday that she believes cheaper office space could be found to rent at a different location, perhaps near Leesburg Executive Airport.
Opponents say the Town Hall expansion would require a tax increase of up to 3 cents per $100 of assessed property value. Noe said Monday that he believes the town will need an additional two-cent tax increase next year to continue to fund town services at their current levels.
"The real question is, are you willing to vote for a five-cent tax increase next year?" asked council member Robert J. Zoldos. "I certainly am not."
The project's backers again argued this week that town staff members are too crowded and desperately need new space. As for including a visitor's center and space for businesses along Loudoun Street, council member Susan B. Horne said the group should in fact strive to be expansive.
"I would like for people to say when I'm pushing up daisies that I was a visionary," said Horne, who suggested exploring whether the project could be built in partnership with a private developer.
When architectural plans for the expansion are complete, the council will have to vote on the project again to solicit bids from construction companies.