Waily Whang, owner of the popular Leesburg restaurant China King on Sept. 10, turned to the crowd at the Leesburg Town Council, beckoning all of those who were there to speak out against the King Street renovations.
“Listen to the citizens, please,” Whang implored. “We've been here 25 years and we don't want to lose it.”
The King Street renovations were passed on May 14 in a 5-2 vote, with Mayor Kristen Umstattd and Council member Kevin Wright dissenting. The changes, which had been shelved by previous town councils over concerns of cost, will bring widened sidewalks, one mid-block crosswalk in the vicinity of Leesburg, widened crosswalks at the intersections, new street lights and the addition of 10 street trees between Loudoun and Cornwall streets.
But the expanded sidewalks will also result in the removal of parking spots – eight of the 12 spots available on King Street in between Loudoun and Market streets and five of the 12 spots from Market to Cornwall. In total, the adjustments are expected to cost $1.2 million.
Whang's restaurant on King Street is one of several businesses that will be affected by the elimination of parking, which will expand the sidewalks from 8 feet 2 inches to 11 feet. Since the May vote, China King has been mobilizing support, including from patrons to speak out against the decision to eliminate parking.
Close to 20 people came and spoke against the renovations at the Sept. 10 meeting.
“Businesses cannot survive without their parking,” said Carleton Penn III, who spoke in opposition to the renovations. “You're going to take away their parking for three feet?”
The abundance of speakers was akin to the May meeting – except then it was those speaking in support of the renovations, called Plan A.
Originally, Plan A seemed to be off the table after being halted by the council in 2010. Plan B eliminated just five parking spaces. Plan C, catering to those who still supported wider sidewalks, employed pop-up barriers to convert street parking to dining spaces in the evening, but also came with a $2 million price tag.
In response to the criticism, Umstattd scheduled another vote on the project Oct. 8, this one to rescind Plan A and reinstate Plan B. Umstattd said she is not confident the vote will be favorable, said this vote will give both sides ample time to, as Councilman Tom Dunn said, “gather the forces up.”