Year in Review: The Year of Elections and a Bit of Controversy in Leesburg

It seems that Loudoun’s county seat never quite gets out of election mode; that was particularly true during the past 13 months.

Starting in November 2017, the Town Council endured a whopping three elections—two special elections to fill vacancies and November 2018’s general elections.

Vanessa Maddox, who won her November 2017 special election to fill newly elected mayor Kelly Burk’s unexpired council term, found herself in the unenviable position of having to run two campaigns back-to-back. Her term was set to expire this Dec. 31. Maddox found herself on the losing end this November, however, finishing in fourth place for a full four-year council term. She initially toyed with the idea of seeking a recount, as she and third-place finisher Suzanne Fox had only a 0.49 percent differential—or 81 votes—between them, but eventually decided to forego one.

Her opponent in last November’s special election, Joshua Thiel, tasted victory this February in his special election, following Ken Reid’s surprise resignation announcement. Thiel bested Neil Steinberg and Gwen Pangle, who finished second and third, respectively.

But Steinberg also would not have to wait long win a seat at the dais. Shortly after his defeat in February, he made known that he would give it another try this November, when the seats of Maddox and council members Marty Martinez and Fox were on the ballot. Steinberg finished second behind Martinez and ahead of Fox, and now the three will serve new four-year terms beginning Jan. 1. Council challenger Kari Nacy finished fifth in the election.

Burk was successful in her re-election bid, winning a second term as mayor ahead of her council counterparts Tom Dunn and Ron Campbell.

Barring anything unforeseen, it appears that 2019 may be the first time in a while with no council vacancies to be filled. Burk’s two-year term as mayor will be up again in November 2020, as will the council terms of Campbell, Dunn and Thiel.

Controversy, Controversy

The mayor’s race took a surprising turn in late May, when a special meeting was called

by Campbell amid allegations that Burk had been spotted leaving a local restaurant inebriated and driving away. Burk accused Campbell of a “politically motivated” attack, and fellow mayoral challenger Dunn also objected to the need for a closed session to discuss the allegations saying they were based on hearsay. In the days following the special meeting, Campbell maintained

his reasons for calling the special meeting were valid, and said that some on the council and in the community had begun to start a smear campaign against him.

Perhaps the biggest controversy of 2018 in Leesburg, though, was the change in its trash and recycling contractor and schedule. Following months of inconsistency and displeasure with its previous contractor, Waste Management, the council voted to approve a new trash and recycling contract with Patriot Disposal Services in June. The contract took effect July 1, with the July 4 holiday adding to the challenge of the transition.

The biggest change for residents was the return to once-weekly trash and recycling pick-ups, following five years of twice-weekly pick-ups. The new contractor had the task of learning new routes, distributing new bins and disposing of old ones to 11,000 households, and being thrust into service two months ahead of schedule when a contract extension with Waste Management could not be worked out. However, by year’s end, town staff was reporting a significant reduction in residents’ complaints and overall satisfaction with its new contractor.

One controversial subject that looks to make its way into 2019 is a conversation on the best way to maintain, and who should maintain, a historic African-American cemetery on town-owned land inside Leesburg Executive Airport’s Runway Protection Zone. Community leaders have strongly criticized the town staff and council members for the unkempt nature of the Sycolin Cemetery, which contains burial sites linked to the Lower Sycolin African American Community from the late 1800s and early 1900s. A majority of council members initially resisted a town staff-endorsed plan to create an ad-hoc committee to put together a master plan for the site. Instead, the council issued a Request for Proposals to find an outside community group or individual to maintain the site, at a $1 per year lease.

The process was one strongly criticized by Loudoun’s black community leaders, who compared it to a sharecropper’s agreement from the Jim Crow era. In December, the council scrapped that plan and set a February work session to consider its next steps.

On the business side, council members, after several meetings of debate, voted to extend the allowance of food trucks to more of its business districts, but still could not find a majority to support them in the downtown B-1 district. Tents and shade structures were, however, approved for use in downtown, as were zoning changes to allow for a golf cart business to provide service to downtown patrons.

Still Growing

The business and development boom continued in Leesburg in 2018, and doesn’t show any signs of slowing down.

As the downtown business, particular restaurant scene, continued to explode, Leesburg

leaders looked to the future development or redevelopment of key properties around town. Two planning exercises look to command a lot of attention in 2019. The council is seeking a contractor to help with a comprehensive update to the Town Plan. The Eastern Gateway District small area plan, which contains the largest undeveloped tracts of land remaining in town, looks to be before the council for adoption early in the new year.

Dirt began moving on some big developments in town. As the year came to a close, trees were cleared on land for the Leegate development, which is approved for the construction of hundreds of thousands of square feet of office and retail space and 475 homes. The development must first construct a new road extension, which will extend Trailview Boulevard from the Cardinal Park Drive business area to Russell Branch Parkway.

Earth is also quickly moving for the Crescent Parke development, which will bring hundreds of residential uses and commercial space to 53 acres off the Leesburg Bypass, from Gateway Drive to Davis Drive.

But the council put the brakes on another potential development in town, with a rare denial of a commercial rezoning. The council voted in June to deny an application by the developer of the Meadowbrook community that would have brought a 200,000-square-foot commercial center off Rt. 15 near the southern town limits. It included, much to the ire of nearby residents who opposed the plans, three drive-through eating establishments. Less than a month following the denial, the developer filed suit against the town, though at press time the lawsuit had still not been formally served.

Key residential approvals by the council in 2018 included townhouse communities behind the Leesburg Plaza shopping center and adjacent to the Costco off Edwards Ferry Road.

One of the last vestiges of rural life in town also drew its share of attention this year, when the Rogers Farm property was sold to a residential developer. Council members bemoaned that the land could not be preserved, though the family made it clear that their parents’ wishes were that the land be sold to benefit their heirs. By year’s end, it appeared the council was approaching a compromise solution that could place some of the property in the town’s Old & Historic District. That change was initiated, but will still need to come back for a final vote.

Development plans for the Westpark Golf Club property, under contract to a residential builder, also could be back before the council in the new year.

Along with development growth, the town may expect some actual land growth in 2019. The council in September voted to initiate a boundary line adjustment with Loudoun County that could bring 517 acres on its southern border, including land that will soon include Microsoft offices and the Compass Creek development, into town.

Notable Recognitions

The year started off with the passing of a local legend, longtime downtown businessman

and community steward Stanley Caulkins. Not long after his passing, a movement led by Sunset Hills Vineyard owner Diane Caney began to erect a sculpture in front of Caulkins’ former jewelry store storefront on King Street. More than half of the money has been raised, and their goal is to install and dedicate the sculpture by mid-2019.

Longtime Robinson’s Barber Shop owner Nelson “Mutt” Lassiter also received some due recognition following his retirement. The Town Council voted to name the alley alongside the Town Hall parking garage, linking Loudoun and Market streets, Lassiter Place.

Long a champion of public art, the late Gale Waldron was also honored with the unveiling of a mural in her honor on the Town Hall parking garage.

Memorials to recognize some difficult moments in history were also approved. Outgoing NAACP President Phillip Thompson received the approval he needed from the town to erect markers noting the areas in town where lynchings had occurred. Markers will be placed at the former Potter’s Cemetery land at the northeast corner of East Market Street and Catoctin Circle, and the site of the former freight station along the W&OD Trail on Harrison Street.

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