Nancy Leonard, whose home interior business stands quaintly and unassumingly in downtown Haymarket, bemoans the lack of pedestrian traffic along the town's main road, Washington Street. For Leonard and many others, Haymarket draws too few sidewalk passersby.
"There's not a whole lot of traffic, because there's not much to bring people in right here," she said.
Leonard's store, Wincrest Interiors, does good business, she said, but she added that she would gladly welcome more window-shoppers.
The Town of Haymarket spent $1.5 million last week on a block of land intended, in part, to revive its downtown by bringing in more pedestrians. The land, formerly owned by Phillip and Nancy Harrover, is about four acres, has two houses and is on Washington Street near Jefferson.
Discussions are set to begin soon on what the town will do with the land. Mayor David P. Taylor said the town may build a new municipal facility, along with a park to preserve open space.
"Although nobody spends $1.5 million casually, I think if you look at history, 10 or 15 years from now, this council is going to be praised for its great judgment in purchasing this property," Taylor said, extolling the benefits of a "pedestrian-friendly retail environment," in which neighbors see each other on the street and businesses enjoy an influx of new customers.
"Living in Northern Virginia as a whole, having a commercial district that meets many of the needs of the community is now an amenity," he said.
The town had previously shied away from buying expensive land, most notably a Washington Street property called Winterham, then estimated to be worth $400,000 but that later sold for millions, according to town officials. Past governments have been too cautious, Taylor said, and the Harrover property should appreciate in value.
Haymarket is in good financial standing to buy the property without the need for tax increases, he added.
Councilman Bob Weir said that moving the town hall to the Harrover property would do the town a service. Taylor said that the city might sell the current town hall location to developers. "The town hall is not exactly configured for the optimal use of the town," Weir said.
"In order to fully develop the blight that has been our downtown, we have to have someplace to go," Weir said.
Although the Town Council will soon start deliberating on the future of the property, a final choice will not be made without the input of residents and local businesses, Weir said.
Barbara Berry, owner of Berry's Photography on Costello Way and a Haymarket resident for 10 years, said she welcomes the city's action but worries about traffic, already a major issue.
"People are really concerned about the traffic," Berry said, noting that roads have not been expanded to accommodate the increased population that has resulted from large subdivisions surrounding the small town.
Weir and Taylor acknowledged that traffic is an issue, but they added that this is not the fault of the town, but rather of Prince William County for allowing subdivisions to surround Haymarket. The town should not stall revitalization because of the outside forces causing traffic, they said. In the past, proposed complexes of townhouses and condominiums have been met with vehement opposition from residents. New developments outside the town continue to rise, however.
"It's ludicrous on the part of the county," Weir said. "We have to look out for our residents."
"Development outside the town is tremendous," Taylor said, "whereas what we do in the town really contributes very little to the overall traffic problem."