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Leesburg council votes to widen sidewalks along King Street

Wider sidewalks — and, potentially, sidewalk dining — will be coming to King Street in Leesburg’s downtown historic district.

The Leesburg Town Council approved a $1.2 million plan Tuesday that will replace a majority of the street parking with wider sidewalks on a two-block stretch of King Street, between Cornwall and Loudoun streets. Proponents said the added sidewalk space will revitalize the area by improving pedestrian flow and allowing restaurants to offer outdoor dining.

The council had voted for a similar plan to widen the sidewalk in 2010 but rescinded its approval after some downtown businesses objected to the loss of street parking. But after considering compromise plans that would retain more parking, members voted, 5 to 2, to adopt the 2010 proposal.

The council chose the sidewalk expansion, labeled Plan A by town staff members, over two compromise plans. Plan B would have retained some parking by widening only relatively small sections of the sidewalk near mid-block crosswalks. Plan C would have created a “flex lane,” in which street parking could be converted to sidewalk space with a retractable curb.

A fourth plan, supported only by Mayor Kristen C. Umstattd, would have retained all of the street parking and limited improvements mostly to replacement of the brick sidewalk.

The decision came after the council heard from 19 speakers, many of whom represented downtown businesses. All but two of the speakers supported the concept of sidewalk dining offered by plans A and C. Several said additional sidewalk space was needed to make downtown a destination for arts and entertainment.

Michael O’Connor, owner of Palio restaurant and other downtown properties, said the area desperately needs revitalization.“Nothing stays the same. You have to grow,” he said. “If we leave Leesburg the way it is today, I believe it will dry up, and people will go elsewhere.”

Stanley Caulkins, who has owned a jewelry store on King Street for 62 years, agreed. “We need some sort of infusion into spicing up Leesburg,” he said. “I have hours of time when there’s never a soul on the street or in my business.”

Several speakers advocating for wider sidewalks were from Voices for an Amazing Place, a group formed to build consensus for the revitalization effort after the 2010 plan was rejected.

Leesburg lawyer Peter Burnett, who had proposed Plan C’s flex lane as a compromise, said he would personally underwrite the $250,000 cost of putting in the retractable curb. His offer failed to attract a majority of the council.

Council members Katie Sheldon Hammler and Thomas S. Dunn II, who had been considered swing votes on the issue, joined Vice Mayor David S. Butler, Kelly Burk and Fernando “Marty” Martinez in voting for Plan A.

Hammler said she changed her mind at the meeting after hearing from so many business owners and learning that there was little support for Plan B.

Umstattd said she is very worried about how the “drastic loss” of street parking will affect businesses. Council member Kevin D. Wright, who joined Umstattd in voting against Plan A, said an aggressive business retention plan will be needed to support King Street businesses that rely on street parking.

After the vote, Burnett said that although he preferred the flexibility and unique design of Plan C, “I think the restaurants will ultimately be glad [the council] voted for Plan A, because that will bring people to the street, and that’s the name of the game.”


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