Leesburg’s beach is saved — MacDowell Brew Kitchen allowed to keep its sandy oasis

July 11, 2013
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A souvenir bag of actual “beach” sand from the “Save Our Beach” campaign on behalf of MacDowell Brew Kitchen. Could have become a collector’s item if the beach vanished. (Nils Schnibbe)

The small patch of sand outside the MacDowell Brew Kitchen in Leesburg, where bands play and barefoot beer drinkers frolic, will continue to operate even though it’s partly on a town right-of-way and partly on residential property. The Leesburg town council voted Tuesday night to amend town law to allow alcohol service on the town property, so long as the brewpub handles the insurance end as well as clears a couple of other regulatory hurdles.

“The beach is alive,” co-owner Nils Schnibbe said after the council’s 5-1 vote, with one abstention, “due to the amazing support from all our customers, family and friends.” The popular brew pub had been put on notice last month that they were facing a number of zoning violations, and when they didn’t cure them within a couple of days, they were told to close the beach.

Town spokeswoman Betsy Fields said the town’s zoning inspectors had not independently investigated the brewpub, but received a complaint and found several problems, one of which was that the sandy “beach” was encroaching on a swath of town property along the Harrison Street sidewalk, the “right-of-way,” about a half-block long and up to 20 feet wide inside the sidewalk.  The rest of the beach is located in the backyard of a house facing South Street, which is zoned residential, aka not for beer and bands, and not on the brewpub’s property. Gordon MacDowell, he of the namesake brew kitchen, owns the house as well as the Harrison Street lot. Also, the brewpub is in a historic district but had not submitted its historic beach alterations to the town’s Board of Architectural Review, Fields said.

MacDowell and Schnibbe launched a “Save Our Beach” campaign that garnered over 2,100 signatures in an online petition, while town officials began working with them on solutions. This included the brewpub adding the town as an insured party on the right-of-way, while working toward possibly selling the strip of land to the business. In the meantime, the council amended its ordinance, as it had done in 2010 for the La Lou Bistro next to the Leesburg Town Green and adjacent to the Tally Ho theater.

Schnibbe said he and MacDowell are submitting documents to rezone the “residential” part of the beach and to obtain architectural approval, “and then we’re ready to go.” Even though the beach is still technically in violation of zoning laws, “typically we don’t shut people down when they’re going through the process,” Fields said. “Once the memorandum of agreement is signed regarding the alcohol in the right of way, they can continue their operations.”

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