SBDC Space Plan, Traffic Study Reviewed at First Leesburg Budget Working Session

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Two points captured the majority of the attention and debate during Leesburg City Council’s first fiscal year 2023 budget working session on Tuesday.

The budget work session, which preceded the regular board business meeting, was to focus on two sections of the budget proposed by General Manager Kaj Dentler – the General Fund Improvements and the Capital Improvements Program.

These are two of Dentler’s proposed improvements – $75,000 to lease office space to house both the Loudoun Small Business Development Center and a new employee of the town’s economic development department, and a traffic study of $250,000 – which generated the most debate.

Council members interviewed the SBDC’s funding partners, with Economic Development Director Russell Seymour reporting that the county government has committed to funding SBDC programming and staffing costs, while the city would be responsible for providing and fund physical space. The city’s $75,000 annual contribution previously covered rental costs for offices and the first-floor conference room for the SBDC at the Mason Enterprise Center on Church Street. The MEC will cease operations on June 30, with the city and county deciding to end the contract there.

Seymour said staff are not tied to any particular space for the SBDC, but want to ensure the operation remains in Leesburg. He added that the space must meet the requirements established by the SBDC.

He said the focus of the proposed new position in his department, a business development coordinator, would be to have someone who can identify the needs of the local small business community and work directly with the SBDC. This person could also be key in helping the city navigate the four-tier process to establish a Main Street organization.

Council members also reviewed the proposed traffic study, which was recommended by the Planning Commission.

“When staff seek to structure the study, they will combine all traffic impact analyzes [typically provided as part of land development applications] into the Catoctin Circle loop to study the net impact on the city’s traffic network,” said Renee LaFollette, Director of the Department of Public Works and Capital Projects.

LaFollette said studying just one facet of a traffic change in the grid system, such as making a certain street or streets one-way, “creates a domino effect in the grids.”

Councilor Suzanne Fox suggested focusing the study on Market and Loudoun streets and starting from there.

Dentler said that before proceeding with a traffic study, which is expected to take 12 to 18 months, the council must first decide “what you want to know”.

“What are your goals before spending $250,000? ” He asked.

The Planning Commission’s goal, LaFollette said, was to ensure that the traffic impact analyzes provided by developers provide accurate information.

Councilwoman Kari Nacy raised concerns that the city would fund the study, only for it to gather dust on a shelf.

“A traffic study should be an action plan that solves legitimate traffic problems. Is that really possible?” she asked.

Nancy also suggested that the best use of the funding might be for a new position, a transportation planner, as opposed to an expensive study.

Planning and zoning department director Susan Berry-Hill noted that the city government previously had a transportation planner, but the position was part of the downsizing implemented by the former director. municipal John Wells during the economic recession and has not been funded since. Consequently, the city’s old transport model was not maintained and is now obsolete.

Dentler said he would return at a future board meeting with options on how to ensure it doesn’t happen again. He noted that transportation planners are hard to find and represent a significant cost from a staff perspective. Therefore, hiring an external consultant to regularly update and maintain the model may be a better option for Leesburg.

“If we cannot sustain the effort you have initiated [with the traffic study] so we wasted money,” he said.

Whether council decides to add a transportation planner or use the services of a consultant to maintain a new traffic pattern will be a decision for a future budget cycle, given the 12-18 month timeline of the council. study, Dentler added.

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