In town: People Inc. out, plantings move forward

The Washington Town Council voted to officially accept community-action organization People Inc.’s offer to withdraw a special-use permit application at its monthly meeting Monday night (Feb. 11).

People Inc. last month withdrew their proposal – to purchase the Old Washington School on Mount Salem Avenue from Child Care and Learning Center (CCLC) and turn its gymnasium into nine new low- to moderate-income apartments – after learning a deal to purchase the school had been reached between the CCLC and a private investment group. The group – comprising Mayor John Sullivan, councilman Dan Spethmann, investor Bill Walton of Harris Hollow and possibly others – negotiated with CCLC to buy the property for $715,000 (People Inc. had offered to pay CCLC $833,000), ostensibly to give the town more time to decide what to do with it.

As in January, Sullivan and Spethmann recused themselves from the vote and discussion on the matter, per the recommendations of Commonwealth’s Attorney Art Goff. The council, led Monday night by Vice-Mayor Gary Schwartz, who had been unable to attend the previous meeting due to knee surgery, voted 5-0 to accept People Inc.’s withdrawal.

Sullivan reiterated that the eventual “best use” for the building has not been decided and, in the meantime, the property (and its eight existing market-priced apartments) will continue being run as usual. Sullivan also said that public input on how the building is used will be sought after and listened to, but added that he and Spethmann will not vote or be involved in any town council decision.

“Although there will be an effort to reach out to the community as to what might be the best uses for the building,” Sullivan said, “the somewhat unusual situation is that neither Dan nor I can actually talk to any of you as council members during that process.”

The council then heard an update on some of the many environmental projects taking place at Avon Hall. Spethmann, who gave the short presentation, said the project had brought together several local organizations in a collaborative effort, including the Rappahannock League for Environmental Protection, RappFLOW, local Master Naturalists and others.

Spethmann said the groups were operating largely on their own, and had taken it upon themselves to reach out for grant money in the wake of the town’s failure last year to secure a large grant that would have enabled it to create a natural wetlands area by combining properties around Avon Hall, including the former Black Kettle site and a five-acre tract between that and U.S. 211 which the town hoped to purchase.

Spethmann noted that several projects, such as the Master Naturalist’s demonstration rain garden, have already found funding, with more possibly on the way.

A rain garden is a planted depression or a hole that allows rainwater runoff from areas like roofs  the opportunity to be absorbed. This reduces rain runoff by allowing stormwater to soak into the ground and generally improves water quality in nearby bodies of water.

Spethmann said he was pleased that so many separate groups have managed to come together with the common goal of cleaning up Avon Hall.

The council also expressed its condolences to the Miller family on the recent passing of Jackson Newbill Miller, a longtime county resident who had been extensively involved in local government, including a stint as mayor.

“He served this town with tremendous distinction,” said Sullivan. “This town was, in many ways, shaped by him and his superb fashion of service.”

Sullivan noted the council had sent flowers to Miller’s funeral, and had received a thank-you note from Carolyn Miller, Newbill’s widow.