We understand Leesburg Town Councilman Neil Steinberg's heartburn over the Church + Market development in downtown Leesburg.
“This has been the most difficult decision I’ve come to in the short time I’ve been on this council,” Steinberg said last week. “I’m not opposed to change ... I just can’t get past the six-story height in the heart of the historic district.”
While Steinberg and Councilman Tom Dunn voted in opposition, five of their colleagues fortunately backed the project, further green-lighting Leesburg's resurgence.
Church + Market will indeed alter the town's cityscape – although not as dramatically as some opponents claim. Yes, six stories of condos, shops and office space in the center of town will change the town's character. And yes, traffic will occasionally increase around the courthouse grounds and along King, Loudoun and Market streets.
But with the traffic and condos will come more people, more economic buzz and more residents hungry for a vibrant entertainment district.
The Loudoun County Government Center and its parking garage also changed the town's “skyline,” but few would argue that the government center hasn't been for the greater good of Leesburg residents and businesses. Now, the government center is just part of life downtown.
The potential – and likely – benefits of Church + Market can't be ignored. The 116-apartment, 30,000-square-feet-plus mixed-use development, paired with the in-progress King Street Station apartments near Town Branch, may well be the tipping point for downtown businesses. These hundreds of condos and apartments could transform the historic district from a place that fills up on weekends to a town filled with life on any day that ends in “y.”
We know that's not what everyone wants for Leesburg. But many newcomers and millennials do; let's remember, Leesburg's median age is 34 and 30 percent of the population is under 20. We commend the majority of council for realizing Leesburg's survival depends on change, creation and adaptation.
Restaurateurs, retailers and other entrepreneurs have increasingly placed their bets on Leesburg in recent years. With its vote, council has helped in delivering more potential customers to those small and medium-sized businesses.
That such a prized piece of property in downtown Leesburg sat vacant for five years always seemed a mystery – and, boy, did the inquiries to our offices persist. With a small town on the cusp of becoming the next Alexandria or Frederick, Maryland, it seemed inexplicable that a developer wasn't able to swiftly bring the project to fruition, and there are still hurdles to overcome with the town's Board of Architectural Review.
But make no mistake: Town Council's approval of Church + Market this week is a boon for downtown. The new Leesburg is coming, and you can count us among those pleased with how it's taking shape.