Closed for Construction: Not-so-Sunny Days at MacDowell Beach

The beach scene of barefoot attorneys, tank-topped musicians, and beer-sipping suburbanites basking in the Leesburg sunshine is on hold indefinitely.

MacDowell Brew Kitchen’s popular sandy patio along Harrison Street has been closed since July 12, the extended deadline the bar and restaurant had to make major improvements to its property under an agreement with the Town of Leesburg.

The outdoor bar, come to be called by regulars as simply “The Beach,” will remain closed until the work is done.

“I wish I could say definitely when we can reopen. I really don’t know,” co-owner Gordon MacDowell said this week.

Meanwhile, he faces a $500-a-day fine and an empty beach until the improvements are made.

But MacDowell and co-owner Nils Schnibbe shouldn’t be surprised by any of this, town leaders said.

The situation is an extension of a snafu from three years ago, when town staff discovered that more than 6 feet of MacDowell’s patio area was actually on land owned by the town. Legally, alcohol cannot be served on town property without exception.

Schnibbe and MacDowell agreed to lease the land from the town and change their insurance so the restaurant could continue to operate as is, and the Town Council voted to allow the restaurant to serve alcohol on that sliver of town property.

Plus, the beach portion of the property had to be rezoned from residential to commercial. As part of the rezoning agreement, MacDowell proffered to make improvements to the parcel to protect the nearby residential neighborhoods from commercial activities, as well as protect the town’s stormwater system.

For MacDowell Brew Kitchen to hold up its end of the deal, however, it had to finish on-site improvements—including a system to contain the sand—by June 1.

When the June 1 deadline came and went, the town agreed to give MacDowell an extension to July 11. The town brought the situation to the Loudoun County Circuit Court, requesting an injunction to enforce the proffers. On June 5, Judge Douglas L. Fleming Jr. ordered MacDowell to pay $500 a day beyond the July 11 deadline and close the beach until the work has been completed “to the Town’s satisfaction.”

Barbara Notar, Leesburg’s town attorney, said this week that the town finally decided to file a lawsuit “after months of inaction by Mr. MacDowell to complete the site improvements to ‘the beach.’”

Mayor David S. Butler said he has been supportive of MacDowell, one of the most popular destinations in town. “It’s a great business with a lot of good customers. … But, at this point, he needs to get the work done,” he said. “We really need to put it behind us as quickly as possible.”

He’s concerned customers could get hurt if the patio opens before the site improvements are done. “I stopped by Friday, and there were ditches and walls and equipment. It’d be difficult to have a lot of customers. I don’t want there to be a safety issue.”

While the patio is blocked off, MacDowell’s bar and restaurant is still in operation inside.

MacDowell said he wanted to get to work earlier, but he was waiting on the town to approve the final site plans, which were finally stamped in late May.

He had town engineers on the site last week to check on the work that had been done so far, which includes an 8-foot brick sound barrier wall, a dumpster enclosure and a wooden fence around perimeter of the beach. But the drainage system still fell short.

“I told them, ‘being closed over the weekend is going to cripple us. We’re going to have to lay off three-fourths of our staff if this keeps up. But they said ‘nope can’t open,’” MacDowell said.

Plus, the restaurant has a list of other required off-site improvements, including the addition of 9-feet-wide sidewalks, that need to be wrapped up by Aug. 1. Much of the work is required to maintain that beloved sandy beach.

MacDowell is even considering ditching the sand all together. “If the public wants to help, we’ll do an S.O.S., Save Our Sand campaign. We’ll scoop it all up.”

He and his crew launched a Save Our Beach campaign in 2013 that garnered more than 2,100 signatures in an online petition, which encouraged the town to work with the brewpub to find solutions.

MacDowell almost regrets pressing forward with the sandy patio idea.

“Had I known that this was going to cost us the amount of money and be this much trouble for the past three years, there is no way in hell I would do anything with the Town of Leesburg,” he said.

But the countless customers that make their way to the once-empty lot to relax and put their toes in the sand has him determined, now, to finish the last of the site work and reopen.

“Everybody loves that place,” he said, “and they all encouraged me to keep going, keep fighting the fight, and I do.”

3 thoughts on “Closed for Construction: Not-so-Sunny Days at MacDowell Beach

  • 2016-08-01 at 7:07 pm

    When I have a zoning violation, I can ignore it? If the town than has a court order taken out against me, I can disregard that? All it takes is “cajoling” the Town Council? I thought we had laws that you either follow or pay the consequences.

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  • 2016-07-20 at 8:59 pm

    Well Gordon, you are out of excuses and blames. This one is all on you. You have always done what you want and asked for forgivness after you disreguard the rules. Hey, I love the beach! the staff is great, cool vibe. but follow the rules and do what you are supposed to! When you are supposed to! It is not the towns fault or anyone elses! All yours Gordon!

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