More than a year after a controversy arose over a Leesburg restaurant’s popular outdoor “beach,” one key step toward a resolution has been made: MacDowell’s Brew Kitchen will keep its sandy patio intact by buying a small piece of land from the town.
The Leesburg Town Council recently approved the sale of the 1,100-square-foot area, which was previously zoned as a town right-of-way, to MacDowell’s for $24,000, officials and the brewpub’s owners said.
Since opening on Harrison street in historic downtown Leesburg in 2011, the brewpub’s sand-covered patio — festooned with palm trees, picnic tables, a boat-turned bar and other tropical decor — has been well frequented by families and by happy-hour fans. The brewpub quickly drew a gathering of loyal patrons and was named Best New Business at the town’s annual business awards ceremony last year.
But soon, a complaint was filed against the brewpub by a resident who said that MacDowell’s had not received approval from the town’s Board of Architectural Review for changes to the building’s exterior, meaning the less-than-historic-looking beach that is its primary outdoor gathering spot.
The complaint led to the discovery of other concerns, officials said. Town zoning inspectors determined that the restaurant was on a residential lot and said that part of the beach encompassed an area that was zoned as a public right-of-way, which meant that alcohol could not be served there.
At first, the problematic area was taped off, prompting the business to launch a “Save Our Beach” petition that quickly had thousands of signatures. Leesburg officials responded by amending the town code to permit alcohol to be served in the area, and the red tape came down.
But a permanent solution was needed. Officials said that the sale of the public property to the restaurant is an important step but that legislative processes, including the rezoning of the property from residential to commercial and Board of Architectural Review approval, are pending.
“This is still a process, but it’s getting there,” said Scott Parker, Leesburg’s assistant town manager. The rezoning application, which would designate the property for commercial use, will come before the council for discussion Aug. 12, he said.
Gordon MacDowell, the brewpub’s co-owner, said he was hopeful that the application would get a green light from the council. “We’re not expecting anything to be easy,” he said. “But we are in a position now where I think almost everybody agrees that this should be approved.”
The Board of Architectural Review’s decision would follow the rezoning approval, MacDowell said.
“The thing with us is that everything that we have [on the patio] is on a temporary basis — the boat, the alligator, the barrels and palm trees in pots. Everything is moveable, so technically the [Board of Architectural Review] doesn’t have purview over that,” MacDowell said. “But we do want to make them happy, so we have already done a landscape plan . . . but they won’t look at that until after the rezoning is done.”
Although the lengthy process is not over, and the costs involved have limited MacDowell’s ability to invest in the business, he looks forward to the end being in sight.
“There was a point there where I was feeling rather discouraged, just because of the number of unexpected meetings and permits and fees,” he said. “But it is going okay, and I’m positive that we will get it done soon.”