The Leesburg Town Council is grappling with how to create a new economic engine just southeast of the historic downtown district when the town's largest private-sector employer leaves at the end of the year.
Almost nine acres at Catoctin Circle and Harrison Street SE will be available for redevelopment when Barber & Ross Co., a window and door manufacturer, moves to Winchester. The land is at the heart of the Crescent District, which is bordered by Catoctin Circle, the W&OD trail and South King Street, and includes Raflo Park and Town Branch.
Members of the Town Council and town staff said they would like the area to have a mix of homes, retail, office space and restaurants. Some are also eyeing the Barber & Ross site as a commuter parking lot for 18 months to two years.
Betsy Fields, Leesburg's economic development director, said that what happens in the Crescent District could set a precedent for future projects around the historic district.
"This area is going to redevelop whether the town does anything about it or not," said Fields, who said she sees the project as an opportunity to expand Leesburg's downtown. "We have this wonderful historic core, but the further you get away, the more you get a very generic suburban 'Anywhere, U.S.A.' "
Fields said she expected Mitchell & Best Homebuilders, which has agreed to buy the Barber & Ross site, to set the tone for the area by bringing in new residents who demand restaurants and other services. "Once you get that critical mass, there's less risk for a business to open up," she said.
Bob Mitchell, chairman and chief executive of Mitchell & Best, said the company hoped to submit a detailed plan and rezoning application to the town by November. Mitchell & Best would need town approval to build homes on the site, which is zoned for commercial use only.
"The only way we'll do this project is if it complements the town," Mitchell said.
He said the company's architects would rely on the historic district requirements for guidance in designing the project. He said that replacing the factory on the Barber & Ross site with homes and businesses similar to those at nearby Market Station and in the historic district could revitalize the entire area.
"Some of these other town centers, you have to build the town," said Mitchell. "Here, the town already exists."
The Town Council has discussed spending $50,000 to hire a consultant to prepare a land-use plan for the area that would be more detailed than the town's Comprehensive Plan.
No decision will be made until after a meeting next Thursday of the council and the Leesburg Planning Commission to discuss the Crescent District and other areas poised for redevelopment.
Mitchell & Best has proposed clearing the Barber & Ross site for a temporary commuter parking lot for Loudoun County residents who take a bus into the District. The lot would have about 300 spaces.
Residents have complained about traffic from the current temporary commuter parking lots at the Leesburg Airpark on Sycolin Road and along nearby Miller Drive, especially during rush hours and at the intersection with the Leesburg Bypass.
"Sycolin backs up sometimes all on its own, but this certainly -- in the perception of people who use it -- has worsened the situation for them," said Leesburg Mayor Kristen C. Umstattd.
She said that the county, which runs the bus service, would have to agree to the new commuter lot -- as would the town, which would have to change its zoning rules to allow parking on unpaved areas.
"I think it actually makes a whole lot of sense," said Nancy Gourley, Loudoun's transit program manager. Gourley noted that either of the two permanent Leesburg sites under consideration -- at the planned Oaklawn at Stratford development on Tolbert Lane and the Dulles Greenway or four acres at Philip A. Bolen Memorial Park on Sycolin Road -- could take two years to bring into operation.