Frank A. Watkins and his wife, Lou Etta, don't like what they see from their window on South King Street in Leesburg's historic district.
White and yellow plastic containers, beer cans and wet cardboard boxes, broken glass and pieces of paper litter parts of the sidewalk in front of their fenced yard and the vacant house next door at South King and South streets.
"It didn't used to be like this," said Frank, 77, who has lived in the home since 1947. "It used to be I knew all the residents up and down this street."
Lou Etta, 72, chimed in: "It's not a nice neighborhood anymore because it's becoming a place where people just hang out. It's getting so average citizens can't enjoy Georgetown Park, which sits right next to us. You get these wild ones in here, and everybody's scared away."
The Watkinses and about 50 other residents, business owners and elected officials gathered Thursday night at the Leesburg police station on Plaza Street to discuss how to improve the area south of Loudoun Street to the Washington & Old Dominion trail, west to Dry Mill Road and east to Catoctin Circle. Along South King Street, there are mostly businesses, a few homes near Georgetown Park--one of which is abandoned--and a kitchen that operates a meal program for the poor.
After two hours of discussion at the "Downtown South Summit," some possible suggestions for improving the area emerged. Among them: creating a master plan specifically for the historic district; increasing police patrols in the area; and preventing people from dumping used mattresses and unwanted furniture at Blossom and Bloom, a thrift shop on the east side of South King Street.
A master plan, some leaders and residents said, could include designs for preserving the historic look and feel of houses in the area, many of which have been turned into businesses in the last decade. Residents and business owners said that could help keep the southern area of downtown from looking run-down.
"A master plan would at least give us some sort of blueprint," said Peter Burnett, a Leesburg lawyer and co-chairman of the Downtown South Subcommittee, part of the Downtown Committee of the Leesburg Economic Development Commission.
Other proposed solutions included town tax incentives for owners to repair or renovate properties. Some residents and small developers said the town's cumbersome zoning and building approval process has discouraged them from investing in older buildings within the town limits.
Lou Etta Watkins, subcommittee co-chairman, suggested that patrons of Daily Bread--a hot meals program operated by Loudoun Interfaith Relief a few doors from her home--be asked not to take food outside because the trash and remains often are dumped along sidewalks and in yards.
Laura MacLaurin, executive director of the program, said the takeout service is for parents who want to take food home to their children and may be embarrassed to come inside.
"We serve a real need, but we can be somewhere else," MacLaurin told the group. "I just want us to be in a central location that's easy for our clients to get to and not out in the middle of nowhere."
Some business owners at the meeting complained about public drunkenness, profanity, loitering and possible illegal drug activity in the small shopping center behind the thrift store. Many property owners and residents who live between the trail and the Safeway about a quarter-mile down the road said they worry about their property values declining.
"The fact is there's pervertedness and homelessness there," said Sandy Donaldson, of OSP Consultants Inc., a telecommunications company that has a branch office in the shopping center. "It needs to be policed. It's a nasty place."
The Watkinses said they feel frustrated and sad when people dump trash and use foul language outside their living room window. Routinely, they said, they can hear the noise as they watch TV together--she in her rocking chair and he in his favorite blue recliner.
"If people were leaving trash in front of the Laurel Brigade [a Market Street inn and restaurant], I'm sure they'd find a way to clean it up right away," Lou Etta Watkins said.
Frank Watkins, a former Army sergeant who retired from construction in 1985, shrugs off the idea of moving from South King Street. He laughed as he told how a few days after he paid $3,000 to buy the house, he found out that it was the house where his grandmother was married. Along each wall and shelf are trinkets, figurines and dried flower arrangements next to pictures of the couple's children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
"If I did move, I'd not just give this place to somebody," said Watkins, who was born a few blocks from his current home. "I'd really have to get something out of it. And I'd have to think about it long and hard."
Lou Etta shook her head and added: "It's just not right to do that. You're not supposed to have to move away when people break the law."