The Washington Town Council will contribute $20,000 to an upcoming beautification project meant to turn the Trinity Episcopal Church parking lot, and much of the surrounding intersection of Main and Middle streets, into a new town square.
The project, as Mayor John Sullivan said at the council’s regular meeting Monday night (June 17), is a partnership between the council, the church and the Inn at Little Washington (whose proprietor, Patrick O’Connell, is also serves on the council), and has been in the works for some time.
O’Connell said he has contacted a professional landscaper to create a “harmonious look” for the church parking lot, the Inn and the stub of Middle Street that runs by the two-story, Inn-owned building that houses the town post office, the Country Cafe and other offices. The design goals are to make the area greener (i.e. supporting more trees), safer, more accessible and more attractive overall, Sullivan said.
O’Connell said the current plans include placing hedges around both the Main and Middle street entrances to the church lot, “tightening up the entryways” while still allowing cars to enter and exit. O’Connell said he plans to lay brick on that parking area in front of the post office and Cafe and make the sidewalk level with the front door, eliminating the hazard of the current one-step drop-off.
As for the Trinity parking lot, the landscaping plans O’Connell and Trinity’s Rev. Jennings Hobson showed the council include a new stone wall built around the existing fountain, new concrete entry ramps (surrounded by a 12-inch brick band), brick walls between some of the parking spaces, new shrubbery planted around the entrances and a new stone wall between the lot and Clopton House, which the Inn is presently renovating into additional guest rooms.
“It’ll still have the same use, it’s just going to look a lot nicer,” said Hobson, whose church has a long-standing agreement with the Inn to share the parking lot among churchgoers and dinner guests, most of whom keep non-conflicting hours.
O’Connell said his contractors had agreed to renovate the parking lot in two separate two-week phases, ensuring it remains usable for town residents throughout the construction process.
The final piece of the renovation is the stub street beside the post office. The 171-foot stretch of road is now owned by the town of Washington, though Sullivan introduced the idea of ceding ownership of it to the Inn.
That would put O’Connell in charge of the upkeep of the road and enable him to more fully include it in the beautification project. “The town puts forth no real effort to maintain that street,” Sullivan said.
Renovations to the street would include a long-overdue repaving and the installation of a brick crosswalk. Trees would also be planted on either side of the street in custom planting boxes, O’Connell said, which would most likely include shrubbery and other plants as well.
The renovations, O’Connell said, will cost between $160,000 and $180,000, and though he said the Inn is prepared to pay most of the cost, there will also be a fundraiser later this year to raise additional money for the project.
“I think this is a good place to put some of the town’s beautification funds,” said Vice Mayor Gary Schwartz, who added that he’d like to see some sort of safety lighting installed around the Trinity lot.
“It’s time to do it,” agreed council member Mary Ann Kuhn, “and I’d like to see the town help [out] in some way.”
Kuhn then suggested the council donate $20,000 from its budgeted beautification funds toward the project – $15,000 unspent from this year’s budget and $5,000 from next year’s. Kuhn pointed out that landscaping costs are steep, and suggested that anything less than $20,000 wouldn’t go very far and would make it seem as if the council wasn’t really behind the idea.
“I think it’s an absolutely fabulous idea,” said Sullivan, who added that he had heard from several people encouraging the council to work on the town’s attractiveness as a way to attract visitors.
The council agreed with Kuhn’s suggestion, voting 5-0 to donate the funds. (Council member Dan Spethmann was absent from the meeting; O’Connell recused himself from the vote.)
O’Connell said the church parking lot would most likely take about a month to complete, while the post office area could be completed in as little as two weeks. Construction on the project could begin as early as August.
In other business, the council approved a request by Rappahannock Farm Tour committee chair Cathie Shiff to allow the fifth annual (and recently renamed) Farm Tour & Festival to use the Avon Hall property and adjacent Leggett Lane as part of its headquarters for this year’s festival.
Shiff said the space would be used as an operations center for the festival, and would likely include tables with food, booths with local wares for sale and perhaps even some child-safe animals for the kids. Shiff said the interior of the building wouldn’t be open to the public and she herself would be on-site throughout the whole two-day festival, which is scheduled for Sept. 28-29.
Shiff said the tour sold about 400 tickets last year (tickets are are sold per car, not per person) and she expected similar numbers this year. Housing the festival headquarters in town could also boost local businesses, Shiff suggested, as festival patrons would have other businesses within walking distance.
The festival had originally planned to use the county library property as its main venue, but Shiff said the space had already been reserved by the county’s Civil War sesquicentennial committee for a commemorative event and reenactments the same weekend.
“I think it’s a good idea, and someone would actually be using Avon Hall for something,” said Kuhn. The council approved the decision 5-0 (O’Connell had left to attend to a function at the Inn).
The council originally planned to have a public hearing on the issue of allowing B&Bs to serve meals to non-boarders, but didn’t approve a final ordinance change at Monday’s meeting. An exact date for a public hearing hasn’t been set, though the matter itself will be discussed again at the council’s July meeting — which was moved to July 15.