An on-again, off-again plan to widen sidewalks along King Street in downtown Leesburg appears to be heading back to the table after being approved last month.
Mayor Kristen C. Umstattd said in an e-mail that the Leesburg Town Council will revisit the issue at its work session and meeting this week, because the owners of Lightfoot Restaurant had requested that the plan be amended to retain the loading zone in front of the restaurant. She said that council member Thomas S. Dunn, who voted for the plan, indicated he is willing to take another look at the proposal.
A spokesman for Lightfoot Restaurant confirmed that the owners hope the loading zone in front of the restaurant will be retained.
On May 14, the council approved a $1.2 million plan to widen sidewalks for outdoor dining and improved pedestrian flow along two blocks of King Street, between Cornwall and Loudoun streets. The plan would replace a majority of the parking spaces on the west side of the street with wider sidewalks. Since that vote, owners of some downtown businesses have expressed concerns about the loss of street parking.
“I personally think it’s a huge gamble,” said Stilson Greene, who has owned a graphic design business in downtown Leesburg since 1980. Greene said he is especially concerned about how the loss of street parking would affect businesses such as China King’s and the Leesburg Vintner, whose customers regularly use street parking. The elderly and people with disabilities, in particular, rely on the spaces, he said.
“What will my mother do, who goes to lunch at Leesburg Restaurant, and she’s deathly afraid of that parking garage?” he said. “Where do I let her off if the loading zones are full?”
Waily Whang, owner of China King’s since 1989, agreed that the loss of street parking is a concern.
“Of course [the loss] will hurt the business,” she said. “Handicapped parking is a big thing. We have many old [customers], or handicapped, who can’t walk too far.”
Whang, 58, said that although she likes the idea of street dining, she has doubts about whether people would enjoy dining alongside a narrow, busy thoroughfare such as King Street.
“We’ve been talking to a lot of the customers,” she said. “They say, ‘Who’s going to sit outside [next to] a narrow street to eat?’ The street is so busy now. That’s what I don’t understand.”
The plan to widen sidewalks along King Street has followed a zigzag path since the council first adopted it as part of a broader downtown improvements program in September 2010. The council quickly rescinded its approval after some downtown businesses objected to the loss of parking spaces.
The next year, a group of professionals who later called themselves the Voices for an Amazing Place had a series of public meetings to try to build consensus for a downtown revitalization plan. Among the options was to create a flex lane that could be converted from parking to dining space by raising a retractable curb.
Instead, last month, the council approved the plan it had approved and subsequently rescinded in 2010: to widen the sidewalks permanently. Most of the speakers at the May 14 meeting, including downtown businesspeople and the Voices group, spoke in favor of that plan, which would retain 11 of King Street’s 24 parking spaces. Two spaces would remain for parking or loading at each end of the southern block, between Loudoun and Market streets. On the northern block, there would be three spaces near Market Street and four near Cornwall.
Assistant Town Manager Scott Parker said in an e-mail that Leesburg has not decided how many of those spaces would be used for parking and how many would be used only for loading.
Greene said that he thinks that all street parking in the southern block would ultimately be lost and that the character of the street will change dramatically.
“In my opinion, being a visual guy, we lose the kinetic energy of what downtown parking does,” he said. “To have people getting in and out of their cars, moving around, doing things. . . . It makes people driving by go, ‘Leesburg’s busy.’ Imagine King Street with not a car on it. It’s Disneyland.”
Dunn joined Vice Mayor David S. Butler and council members Kelly Burk, Katie Hammler and Fernando “Marty” Martinez in voting for the sidewalk-widening plan, which passed by a 5 to 2 vote. Umstattd, who opposes any plan that would remove street parking on King Street, said she was “not optimistic” that the council will change its mind again this time.
Whang said she would have to accept whatever action the council takes and hope for the best. “I really don’t want to fight anymore,” she said.