It was invigorating to watch Leesburg residents engage with their governing body earlier this month as they pushed for a more vibrant, business-friendly downtown.
It was even more welcome to see that Leesburg council members may – may – finally be ready to concede an 8 p.m. noise ordinance in a town with so much potential is downright foolhardy.
Brava to Jill Weiss, a 20-year Leesburg resident, who spoke out against the 10-year-old ordinance during council's Sept. 10 business meeting.
“I've never seen the nightlife so vibrant,” she said. “I have never looked forward so much to spending time in Leesburg on the weekends … I've been hearing people talk about for decades, 'revitalizing the downtown' – it's happening. And it'd be a real shame to stop that progress from moving forward by keeping the ordinance at 8 o'clock.”
Weiss went on to note the odd inconsistencies in town code that allow for fireworks, construction and loud equipment like chainsaws and jackhammers to continue until 10 p.m. every night of the week.
“These noises are permissible for two hours after the bands have to stop playing. That doesn’t make sense to me. I think most people would probably prefer to hear live music for two hours than a jackhammer, but that’s my opinion,” Weiss said.
Kudos to Steve Skemp, a manager at MacDowell Brew Kitchen who has worked to build a grassroots coalition calling for more robust nightlife in historic Leesburg.
“I think it needs to be amended to support the emerging downtown business district that appeals to both residents and visitors alike,” Skemp said. “It’s hard to find another jurisdiction in the surrounding area that has such a restrictive time frame.”
Indeed, Manassas and Alexandria work off a 9 p.m. noise ordinance, while Herndon and Fairfax County allow noise amplification until 10 p.m., according to Leesburg Councilman Joshua Thiel.
“It's kind of crazy to think that we're stopping bands at a strict 8,” Thiel said.
Skemp, meanwhile, reasonably contends a Leesburg ordinance need not be town-wide or uniform for every day of the week. A Tuesday night in February could surely be treated differently than a Saturday in June. The downtown business core is unique from residential neighborhoods elsewhere in Leesburg.
Council ended up voting 6-0-1 to advance amendments to the ordinance, with Thiel absent for the Sept. 10 business meeting vote. That vote was procedural to move the process forward, and several members were quick to note they've yet to make up their mind on what, if any, noise ordinance adjustments should be made. A public hearing on the issue is expected later this fall.
“There's no question that we have to revisit this,” Councilman Neil Steinberg said. “ … We need to start this discussion.”
Discussion, research and empirical evidence is not unwise. But sometimes common sense kicks in – and common sense says an 8 p.m. restriction on live music for a town seeking new life is unsound policy.