By Michelle Baker | Photo by Joanne Maisano
Middleburg Mayor Bridge Littleton eats, sleeps and works in Middleburg, a town he grew up in and is proud to call home.
One year into his term, the 45-year-old businessman who moonlights as the mayor (a part-time position which is 24/7), has accomplished quite a lot. He took a few minutes to walk around town, discuss its growth, and answer a few questions.
“A couple of years ago, the town did a survey and had all the businesses send it out. We had like 1,500 people respond which is awesome, absolutely amazing,” said Littleton.
One of those questions was: What one word would you use to describe Middleburg? “Every word up there… save one.. was community, charm, small town, openness, friendship, it wasn’t a thing…it was an ideal. It was an emotional attachment to the place,” the mayor said. “All of that is the people, not the brick and mortar. What makes Middleburg what it is…is that sense of place. And that is our brand!”
“Everybody comes here because they can come here and touch a way of life which is rarer in this country, small town America. “If you like a dense urban environment and urban setting, you are made for New York, that is where you will move because [it is] what you like. If you like a small town, community feel, where it is almost like ‘Cheers’ where everyone knows your name, you come here.”
Middleburg Life: Do you think our main street/downtown is healthy and successful? What has the town done to affect this change?
Bridge Littleton: Middleburg has seen a dramatic revitalization over the last few years. In 2016, there were 14 empty storefronts in our retail district, representing about 20 percent of our main street retail space. Today we have just one vacancy. This is a very exciting time for Middleburg. This all happened because of the hard work of our town staff, the council and most importantly the business owners who continue to add to the charm and unique experience that is Middleburg.
This too is integrated with the surrounding wineries and equestrian businesses which support the greater Middleburg economy. When I talk to business owners in town, they are pleased with the direction of Middleburg. We can and always will strive to do better, but we are on the right path.
(Above: Middleburg Mayor Bridge Littleton shared photos of a few of the people who make this community so great-the town council members and police officers.)
ML: What’s more important for our town right now: building new homes and commercial space or rehabbing/expanding/better utilization of our existing homes and storefronts?
BL: The reality is that there is no one answer to this question. It is not about a choice of building new homes and new commercial spaces or redeveloping and revitalizing existing spaces. It is about: What are the needs of our broader community and what are the right long-term strategies to meet those needs for Middleburg?
Over the last several years we have been involved in rewriting the town’s comprehensive plan which is our long term land planning strategy – is it the town’s bible for how we will chart our future, and guides how Middleburg will be developed for the next 20 to 30 years. In the process, we identified several focus areas from our residents and businesses. First was attainable housing options for young families to afford to make Middleburg their home, and second was more open space for community uses. These are two key areas of focus for the town over the next 5-10 years. We will ensure Middleburg maintains its vibrancy, vitality and relevance for the future.
ML: If you could change one thing in the zoning code, what would it be and why?
BL: We already did it and it was very important. One of the most important changes we have recently made to our town ordinances is one involving dangerous structures and deteriorating buildings. Middleburg’s charm comes from our historic character and the need to maintain this appeal is critical to our overall success. Nearly all residential and retail properties in town are beautifully maintained, but from time-to-time some do fall into disrepair.
To help meet this challenge and incentivize owners to maintain their buildings, we passed a dangerous structure ordinance. This ordinance allows the town to directly work with the landowners and encourage them to maintain their buildings. If for some reason a property may fall into disrepair, this ordinance allows the town to make the necessary repairs on behalf of the owner to ensure it is in a safe and maintained manner. After repairs are completed, the town will then recover the costs of the repairs from the owner. We always chose to work with building owners, but there is a shared and collective responsibility of us all in the community to maintain the special character of Middleburg.
ML: You are working closely with area mayors. What mutual issues are you tackling?
BL: As Mayor, I have the privilege of representing Middleburg on COLT, the Coalition of Loudoun Towns, which is made up of the seven mayors of Loudoun’s seven towns. It is an amazing group of people that I get to work with. Working with the other mayors of Loudoun is truly one of the most rewarding parts of being there. All seven of us share deeply our desire to maintain the special places that are in our towns as well as the special place that is Loudoun County. We all have common interest in seeing that economic development is done the right way, that our transportation needs are met by the county and state, but most importantly that rural Loudoun County and the surroundings of our towns are maintained as the unique, open, historic and heritage areas that they are.
We have all worked very hard together over the last 18 months to ensure our voices were heard by the County in the new comprehensive plan that protects our way of life. Whether it is banding together to testify to the board of supervisors, holding special commission meetings with county staff or hosting three key board of supervisors debates for the upcoming election in November, the COLT is an amazing and dedicated organization which serves the citizens of our towns and of all Loudoun.
Last thoughts: Middleburg has seen many changes over its 232 years, and it has always sought to ensure the most important aspect remains intact. This is our sense of place and community – which is something that cannot be manufactured or bought, only experienced and passed on in how we treat each other – this is the Middleburg brand! ML
This article first appeared in the September 2019 issue of Middleburg Life.