By Arianne Aryanpur and Jonathan Mummolo
Washington Post Staff Writers
Sunday, July 8, 2007
Two Leesburg Town Council members have proposed a ban on drive-through service windows in a commercial zone between downtown Leesburg and the Route 7 Bypass, saying they want to make the area more attractive and pedestrian-friendly.
But critics say it is unfair to target banks and fast-food restaurants that depend on drive-through business. And Mayor Kristen C. Umstattd voiced concerns last week about the timing of the proposal, saying it came soon after the owner of a popular restaurant told town officials that he might sell his property to Chevy Chase Bank.
The ban, proposed at a council meeting June 25, would cover the town's B2 business district, an area that includes most of East Market Street and Catoctin Circle. Existing drive-through windows would be grandfathered.
Council members Kathryn S. "Katie" Hammler and Kevin Wright acknowledge that the main purpose of their proposal is to discourage banks and fast-food eateries from setting up shop in that zone. They argue that the area has become overrun with those types of businesses and their drive-throughs, discouraging walkability and creating an unsightly gateway to Leesburg's historic district.
"One of the things we always hear from residents is that they want a more walkable downtown," Hammler said. "This is essentially a bold step to achieve the Leesburg vision."
The proposal would change the town's zoning ordinance to prohibit businesses from building drive-throughs. Developers currently can build drive-throughs after applying for an exception.
The B2 district also encompasses much of Leesburg's Crescent District, a 275-acre area that the town plans to redevelop with houses and businesses to reflect the downtown's charm. Leesburg officials say they hope the redevelopment will promote economic growth.
Tony Howard, president of the Loudoun County Chamber of Commerce, said the ban would hurt Leesburg businesses and consumers, who would miss out on the convenience of drive-through transactions. He said the council needed to be more flexible in its approach.
"I understand that council members want to promote other businesses in addition to banks and restaurants," Howard said. "The wrong way to go about it would be an absolute ban on it to tie their own hands."
Umstattd called the measure "draconian."
"Banks really today feel they cannot survive unless their bank has a drive-through," she said.
Umstattd also said she was worried the proposal could be perceived as an effort to prevent Buddy Sadak, the owner of Johnson's Charcoal Beef House on East Market Street, from selling his property to Chevy Chase Bank.
Umstattd said Sadak met with her and several other Leesburg officials, including Town Manager John Wells and Betsy Fields, the town's director of economic development, to talk about the possible sale. Umstattd said she briefed Hammler on that meeting before the council member proposed the ban.
"I think it's a bad idea to launch a preemptive strike and outlaw that business's ability to pursue its interests," Umstattd said. "The timing . . . would make the Sadaks suspicious that the council was trying to preempt their efforts."
Hammler did not return a phone call Friday seeking comment on Umstattd's objections.
Wright said he was not aware of the negotiations between Chevy Chase Bank and Johnson's Charcoal Beef House when he proposed the ban. He said the proposal was not related to any particular sale or project.
"We've been struggling with drive-throughs for years," he said.
Sadak confirmed that Chevy Chase Bank officials had expressed an interest in buying his property. An official at the bank's corporate office did not return a phone call Friday.
"The timing is unusual," Sadak said of the ban proposal. "We talked to the mayor and a couple of other people, and the proposal comes a week or two later. It's likely [that it's related], but who knows."
The Town Council is scheduled to consider the proposal again at 7:30 p.m. tomorrow and could vote as early as Tuesday on whether to forward it to the Planning Commission for further review.