Will Leesburg close down the beach — at MacDowell Brew Kitchen?


Gordon MacDowell (left) and Nils Schnibbe, co-owners of MacDowell Brew Kitchen in Leesburg, ponder their plans and zoning in light of a town inspector’s finding that their beach was six feet over their property line. They are hoping the Leesburg town council rides to their rescue Tuesday night. (Nils Schnibbe)

It’s not really a beach so much. It’s just a sandy oasis at the fairly new, very popular MacDowell Brew Kitchen on Harrison Street in downtown Leesburg. Inspectors from the town of Leesburg showed up one Friday afternoon late last month and said the beach had to be evacuated by Monday at 3 p.m., co-owner Nils Schnibbe said, because it encroaches six feet into the town’s right-of-way along the sidewalk.

Closing the sandy oasis outraged microbrewed beer and music lovers — bands play on a stage in front of the beach — as well as the owners, since Gordon MacDowell has owned and operated his kitchen contracting business on the same site since 1994. They started an online petition which has rung up almost 1,800 signatures. T-shirts emblazoned with “SOB — Save Our Beach” sold out quickly, Schnibbe said.

UPDATE: Leesburg spokesman Betsy Fields points out that town staff met with Schnibbe and MacDowell earlier in the week and the sides agreed the right-of-way would be cleared by June 27, but it wasn’t, leading to the June 28 ultimatum.

Nils Schnibbe, co-owner of MacDowell Brew Kitchen in Leesburg, models the latest in protest wear on the sandy beaches of Harrison Street. The abbreviation on the shirt stands for "Save Our Beach." But you knew that. (Nils Schnibbe)
Nils Schnibbe, co-owner of MacDowell Brew Kitchen in Leesburg, models the latest in protest wear on the sandy beaches of Harrison Street. The abbreviation on the shirt stands for “Save Our Beach.” But you knew that. (Nils Schnibbe)

And that leads us up to the dramatic Leesburg town council meeting Tuesday night, where the council will decide if the beach stays or goes. The brewpub’s owners are optimistic. “It looks very positive,” Schnibbe told me Monday night. “We love Leesburg and they love us. Now the council members are trying to fix it.”

The brewpub opened about a year and a half ago, as part of the sudden, much welcomed explosion of brewpubs in Northern Virginia and also as part of the “Beermuda Triangle” formed by the neighbors at the Tuscarora Mill and Fireworks restaurants in downtown Leesburg. The beach was added because “life is so fast and so serious around here,” Schnibbe said. “You can just have a beer and hang out, we don’t try to turn the tables over every half-hour. People really appreciate that, and we are feeling the love.”

MacDowell is a longtime Loudoun County resident and Loudoun County High grad who has operated his MacDowell Custom Kitchen business in Leesburg since 1987. In 1996, he saved the famed silver Mighty Midget Kitchen from demolition, restored it and moved it to its current spot on Harrison Street. He is also a home brewer, and the brewpub now brews three beers of its own in addition to carrying 20 different flavors on tap and 150 in bottles and cans, Schnibbe said. Closing the beach would hurt business, the owners claim.

Will the beloved beach stay or go? It’s in the politicians’ hands now, and technically the beach is on town property — no drinking on town property, y’know. So an amendment to the town law has been proposed to allow drinking on this particular one block long, 6-foot wide stretch of Harrison Street. Town lawyers recommended approval of the amendment, town documents show. We’ll be back here with the result on Wednesday. Meanwhile, here’s a post with links to many of the great brewpubs and breweries in the State of NoVa, and here’s the online petition.

Tom Jackman is a native of Northern Virginia and has been covering the region for The Post since 1998.
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Tom Jackman | July 8, 2013