The Leesburg Town Council is poised to decide this week on a proposal to create a flex lane along two blocks of King Street. If approved, the lane could be converted as needed from parking spaces to an expanded sidewalk for outdoor dining in the downtown area.
After giving the proposal mixed reviews in a meeting last month, council members are scheduled to discuss the proposal again at its work session Monday night and may take action at their Tuesday meeting. Council members said that a decision is needed soon to avoid further delays to improvements along King Street.
Under the proposal, which is being promoted by a group called Voices for an Amazing Place, a convertible curb would be installed on King Street between the parking spaces and southbound traffic lane from Cornwall to Loudoun streets. During times designated for sidewalk dining, such as weekend evenings, the curb could be raised to turn the parking spaces into sidewalk space.
Money and time were the two biggest concerns raised at the council’s April 22 work session. Assistant Town Manager Scott Parker told the council that installing the convertible curb would increase the project costs by $500,000 to $1 million over the amount currently budgeted for King Street improvements. He said it would also lengthen the construction process by as much as six months over a previous plan to widen the sidewalk permanently.
“The concept is viable,” Parker told the council. “If you wanted to, there probably is a way to make this concept work. Unfortunately . . . we do feel it’s going to be more expensive and take longer to do.”
Parker said that a water main and gas line would have to be relocated to install the convertible curb and that “real world” field testing of the curb could delay construction by a year or two. He estimated that engineering and testing of the convertible curb would cost $250,000.
Council members Kevin Wright and Fernando “Marty” Martinez said they were concerned about the time delays and increased costs involved in the proposal. Leesburg Mayor Kristen C. Umstattd went further, saying she would oppose any plan that takes away a significant number of parking spaces in front of restaurants and other businesses on King Street.
“The level of disruption that this would cause . . . will put people out of business,” Umstattd said. “It happens every time we have a major project in that area. . . . People just stop driving downtown because they can’t get through easily.”
Umstattd said she would prefer to limit the King Street improvements to installing old-fashioned streetlights and redoing the brick sidewalks.
Council Member Thomas Dunn called the proposal “an interesting concept” but said many issues would need to be resolved.
Council members Kelly Burk, David Butler and Katie Hammler spoke favorably about the proposal. Burk said she supported the project “100 percent.”
“I think this is what Leesburg needs,” Burk said. “The ambience of being outside makes the town much more attractive, much more desirable, much more profitable.”
Hammler suggested that the town seek partnerships with the business community, “Main Street” organizations or a university to help provide funding for the convertible curb project.
Leesburg lawyer Peter Burnett, a proponent of the convertible curb option, questioned town staff cost estimates for engineering and testing the curb. He also said it is “completely unfair” to attribute the estimated $500,000 cost of replacing the water line to the project, because the water line has exceeded its expected life span and would have to be replaced soon anyway.
There is no alternative plan for making improvements along King Street if the council rejects the convertible curb option. The council rescinded an earlier plan to widen the sidewalk after some downtown business owners objected to the loss of parking spaces. Burnett subsequently suggested the convertible curb as a possible compromise.
The council asked staff members to analyze the project further, explore the possibility of outside funding, get input from the business community and report back to the council at its work session Monday.