As construction crews continue to make slow progress restructuring the roads and sidewalks in Middleburg’s central business district, Town Council discussed at some length just how far the Town’s sidewalk should extend to the east, on the south side of Washington Street, Route 50.
The existing sidewalk, sited high above the main roadway, runs past two historic properties at the east end of town, the Allen and Blunt houses. One, the Allen House, was sold to the national non-profit Masters of Foxhounds Association on Friday on April 15 and is slated to become both that organizations headquarters and a museum.
The sidewalk was built, according to Councilmember Trowbridge Littleton, by his great grandfather who, at one time owned both houses.
Built of several different and ancient materials, all agreed the walk is in serious need of repair or replacement. The question is how and by whom and how far down the street the walk should go.
Cody Francis, Middleburg’s Town Engineer, pointed out two options at Council’s last work session: 1. Build a “standard VDOT sidewalk along the curb” at road level, or 2. Replace the existing high walk “with another brick sidewalk.”
Early cost estimates for the “repair” or “extended rebuild” ranged from $30,000 to $100,000.
Currently the walk serves only two houses.
After some discussion the idea of extending it to the Pinkney Street intersection was rejected. One Council Member described that option as “Building a sidewalk to nowhere.”
After lengthy discussion, Town Council, according to Mayor Davis, seemed clearly of a mind to retain something as close to the old historic sidewalk as possible, while making it safer for pedestrians, agreeing with Council Members Snyder and Littleton that, to change it radically would alter the very character of an area that was a signature main entrance to the town.
Town Administrator Martha Semmes noted that keeping the old walk in an improved form would depend on: 1 whether or not “VDOT would allow the town to do something with the old sidewalk” (VDOT owns the right-of-ways) and 2, whether Council would be willing to “use Town funds to do something if there were someone [presumably the new owners/developers of the Allen House] who were willing to help with maintenance.
After further discussion, Town Staff was instructed to work with VDOT to see what could be done legally, “with a preference to keep the sidewalk as it is.”
Artisan Trail Funding
Without dissent Council voted to approve a grant of $2,000 to the Middleburg Arts Council to support promotion of the Artisan Trail Network in Loudoun County. The funds are to be taken from the “contingency reserve” set aside in this year’s budget.
The Artisan Trail Network is a project supported by Visit Loudoun and a group of Loudoun County artists, designed to promote arts and crafts of all kinds in the County. Seed funding totaling just over $25,000 is being sought.
When asked by Councilmember Kathy Jo Shea why Middleburg was being asked for the same amount of funding as the Town of Leesburg, Peter Wood, Chairman of the Middleburg Arts Council, replied that the “amounts were not based on the size of a locality but rather . . . upon the impact of the arts.”
Woods sees Middleburg, including all its galleries, as both special contributors and special beneficiaries of the concept.
Town Administrator Martha Semmes, Council Member Mark Snyder, the Town’s Utility Committee and consultants are close to a final draft of Middleburg’s Utilities Budget for the coming fiscal year.
According to Semmes, if current utility rates are plugged into the Town’s computer model, Middleburg seems slated for NO increases in water rates and about a five per-cent increase in sewer rates in the next fiscal year.
On average that would amount to about $1.50 per billing cycle.
Town Council Member Kathy Jo Shea noted that the Town’s Utility budget not only covers the cost of running and maintaining Middleburg’s water and sewer systems, but 25% of the salary of the Town Treasurer as well.
Front Yards and Set Backs
Town Planner Will Moore brought Council up to date on a proposal from Salamander Development to revise the Town’s rules on the maximum distance a house can be set back from the street.
The rules are designed to prevent a house from being set so far away from the street that the “feel of a residential neighborhood” was destroyed.
Salamander’s concern was that current “set back” regulations would mean that some of the lots in the neighborhood they plan to develop on the north side of town would have to be seriously re-landscaped, to the detriment of their goals of minimal disturbance of the natural landscape.
The requested changes would apply to all districts currently zoned R-1 and R-3, but in reality, the vast majority of remaining undeveloped land so zoned belongs to Salamander.
The Town Planning Commission, Moore reported, “was sensitive to making sure this change was not just for one developer; however, he acknowledged that the benefit would go mostly to that developer, “ namely Salamander.
That said, Moore continued, after careful consideration, and in view of Salamander’s “great effort to respect the existing topography in their construction plans, the Planning Commission unanimously agreed recommend the changes requested.
BnB in the Burg
Since last fall Town Council has been discussing if, why, when and how short term property rentals like those associated with AirBnB.com, should be regulated in Middleburg.
At Council’s last work session Town Planner Moore noted that efforts to address the problem at the State level were still hanging fire. Language for such regulations had been “narrowly adopted” in Richmond by the State Senate, but had only passed the House with the proviso that “prohibited any of the language from being enacted unless it was re-enacted next year, and that only after being reviewed by a yet-to-be-convened “study group.”
Moore suggested that since nothing would be forthcoming from Richmond until, at best, July 1, 2107, the Town should move forward with developing its own regulations.
Council Member Mark Snyder noted that, in his view, “Council would end up agreeing that AirBnB types of uses would be allowed, but the the Town needed to regulate them to prevent to most egregious examples [of misuse], like the one [Town] staff had to deal with, which was essentially a house of ill repute.” He expressed concern that “what the General Assembly was doing would not allow the Town to do that.”
Citing fears that multitudes of unregulated short term rentals would, in Council Member Bundles Murdock’s words, “muck up” the neighborhood Council ordered Town Staff to begin work on a draft set of regulations.
Flags in the Dust
In the process of ridding the Town Offices of a long standing problem with mold, Town staff found, among other things a wool 48-star American flag and a Confederate Battle Flag dating, by best estimates from the 1940’s
At Council Member Mark Snyder’s request, staff was asked to contact the Loudoun County Museum in Leesburg to see if the flags could be given a “proper” home.