The Leesburg Town Council has passed a Town Code amendment that paves the way for alcoholic beverage service on downtown streets and sidewalks, for both outdoor dining at eating establishments and during some special events. The changes apply to the town’s B1 District.
With a 6-1 vote Tuesday night, the Council changed the law. Councilman Tom Dunn opposed the measure.
The Town Code amendment was initiated by the council in December. In her presentation last night, Town Attorney Barbara Notar said many town departments had been involved in the logistics of how the regulations would be applied. Among those involved in the review process were the Leesburg Police Department, the Parks and Recreation Department, and the Economic Development Department.
Gwen Pangle, chairwoman of the town’s Economic Development Commission, was among those who spoke in favor of the changes. She said commissioners enthusiastically, and unanimously, voted to support the initiative.
“We really believe that, in addition to all the studies the county is doing about boosting the nighttime economy, it’s a great idea for Leesburg to do the same thing,” she said.
Restaurants that are able to offer outdoor dining on the sidewalks will need to have their ABC permit extended to include the outdoor space. Under the town ordinance, alcoholic beverages can be served at the outdoor tables until 11 p.m. The businesses must also apply for a special permit from the town, which can be revoked by the town at any time. There also may be black out dates at the town’s discretion, Notar said.
The outdoor alcohol regulations also apply to events on town streets in the B-1 District. An event organizer would need a special event permit to serve alcohol. Notar pointed out that in 2015 alone there were 23 events that closed town streets. Street festivals or events put on by community organizations, churches and even race organizers could now serve alcoholic beverages if they are granted permits.
Finally, the council also permitted alcoholic beverage service during special events at the Leesburg Executive Airport, the Leesburg Town Green, Mervin Jackson Park and Festival Field at Ida Lee Park, where the gazebo sits. Again, alcoholic beverage service would be permitted in these places only if a permit has been received by the event organizer.
Mayor David Butler’s motion for a condition that outdoor tables that serve alcohol be at least seven feet from the street curb found only the support of Councilwoman Suzanne Fox, with Dunn abstaining on that vote. Ultimately, Vice Mayor Kelly Burk’s motion to place the setback at five feet passed, with Butler and Dunn dissenting. Fox gained unanimous support for her motion that states that the town will not waive any fees for event organizers who are applying for a permit for an event where alcohol will be served.
Those who supported the measures believe it will be yet another tool to add vibrancy to the downtown area. Burk pointed to existing restaurants that have outdoor dining and outdoor alcoholic beverage service—MacDowell Brew Kitchen, for instance.
“They’re packed during the warm weather months,” she said. “This is something that’s really going to revitalize the downtown, get people out and about.”
Several restaurateurs who spoke at the public hearing concurred. Even though the ordinance will not impact his business because the sidewalk in front of the store is too narrow, Shoes, Cup and Cork Club General Manager Curtis Allred was a proponent.
“People want to eat and drink outside. It’s an experience that attracts people to the downtown,” he said. “If you don’t have those things your downtown is going to die.”
Wine Kitchen owner Jason Miller also pressed the council to help “level the playing field” for downtown businesses with more “fake downtown” options popping up in Loudoun County, namely town centers like the Village at Leesburg and One Loudoun. He also pointed to the downtown area of Frederick, MD, where the Wine Kitchen has a location.
Frederick is “filled with people on streets, dining. It lets people see there’s life,” he said.
But not everybody at Tuesday’s meeting was supportive.
Wirt Street resident Fred Williams said he was not convinced a five-foot setback would be sufficient for pedestrians, strollers and even wheelchairs to pass. He said those walking on the downtown sidewalks would end up stepping in the street as they navigate around the roped-off areas for outdoor dining and alcohol beverage service.
Dunn said he had reservations about allowing alcoholic beverage service on town property.
“Sidewalks were never going to be the answer to everything downtown. There has to be a purpose for coming downtown and it has to be a good enough purpose. It’s up to the business to provide that,” he said.
Businesses that have the adequate sidewalk space to accommodate outdoor alcoholic beverage service must now coordinate with both the state ABC and the town to obtain permits.