Leesburg Planners Irked by Unapproved Renovations to Downtown Building

One year after a fire gutted the South King Street building, crews were at work for much of August making repairs to the former home of Caulkins Jewelers. This week, the building’s owner was called to appear before the town’s Board of Architectural Review to get permission for the completed work.

Crews work on repairs to the fire-damaged building at 11 S. King St.
Crews work on repairs to the fire-damaged building at 11 S. King St.

Concerns of BAR members and town planners during Tuesday’s meeting centered on the replacement of 29 windows and three doors on the building at 11 S. King St. Under the town’s historic district regulations, property owners wishing to make exterior modifications must get Certificate of Appropriateness approval in advance from the BAR, which reviews the designs and materials to be used.

BAR members said it wasn’t clear why all the windows were replaced and raised concerns that some of the new windows did not match the design of the originals—a tightly enforced standard on most historic district projects.

Owner Michael O’Connor said he has largely been at the mercy of the insurance company in trying to repair the building, but was assured the replacement windows were similar to the originals and would meet the town’s specifications. “The windows that were in there were just single-pane, crummy 60-year-old windows,” he said, adding that some did not even open.

But BAR members said the right windows were the original windows, with as few as three having been significantly damaged in the fire.

“I find this really disturbing because this is not the applicant’s first rodeo,” member Teresa Minchew said, noting that O’Connor owns and has renovated several historic district properties. “I’m sorry if you think we’re picking on you, but everyone else does this.”

After an hour of questions, the BAR voted to continue its review of the case until Oct. 3 and to conduct an inspection of building to review the changes that were made.

Reached this week, the insurance broker handling the fire damage said the claim was settled in January and the insurance company has not been involved with the construction project.