Preserving a key parcel of local Black history will be the end goal in a rezoning application headed for the Leesburg Planning Commission this week.
On Thursday evening, the Planning Commission will hold a public hearing on a rezoning for 20 Union Street NW. It’s an area that has historical significance, as it was the former center of education for the county’s Black students from the early 1880s to 1958, first as the Leesburg Training School, then the Leesburg Colored School, and later as Douglass Elementary School. More recently the school system has used it for storage, and also to house its Child Find program.
A little more than two years ago, Loudoun County Public Schools transferred the property to the Board of Supervisors. Both the Douglass Alumni Association and the Loudoun Freedom Center have expressed interest in repurposing the former school as a museum and/or cultural center honoring African American heritage, according to a staff report.
According to a statement of justification submitted by Loudoun County government, the current plan is to restore the building and reopen it as a museum, displaying artifacts of Black education in Loudoun and a “Hall of Fame” that tells the stories of the teachers who taught at the school and the students who attended. The long-term plan for the property also includes retrofitting the facilities to promote STEM activities, developing programs on how to grow food as part of the educational outreach of the museum, and establishing a DNA lab at the site to process materials that may be found at slave cemeteries, an area that has been of particular interest to the Loudoun Freedom Center.
According to Loudoun County spokesman Glen Barbour, the Board of Supervisors has not identified any specific organization to serve as curator of the property. It is anticipated that the board will provide more direction in that regard once the land development process is complete.
The Town of Leesburg has a role to play in that area. Ernie Brown, Loudoun County’s Director of General Services, wrote to Town Manager Kaj Dentler to request the Town Council concurrently consider approval of both a rezoning application to change the property’s zoning designation to either R-HD or R-6, as the land falls in both zoning districts, and to add museum and office as uses permitted under those zoning designations. But after town and county staff members put their heads together, another option was ultimately selected—to consolidate the property into the G-C (Government Center) District and the Old & Historic District, and to do so concurrently with zoning text amendments that support the addition of the property in those zoning districts, according to a staff report. The G-C District allows museums as a by-right use, and adding the property to the historic district ensures that the historic buildings on site will be adequately preserved.
Following a recommendation from the Planning Commission, the rezoning application heads to the Town Council, which has final approval authority.
Tonight’s Planning Commission meeting begins at 7 p.m. in Town Hall Council Chambers.