Summer is apparently the season of change in the town of Washington, as the town council voted Monday night (July 15) to move ahead with its town square renovations and hold a public hearing on the possibility of B&Bs serving meals to non-guests.
“This is an extraordinary opportunity to redo the center of town,” began Mayor John Sullivan, speaking of the partnership between the town, Trinity Episcopal Church and the Inn at Little Washington.
Last month, the council agreed to donate $20,000 toward the project, which will beautify the Trinity parking lot, as well as the space in front of the Country Cafe and post office, making it, as Sullivan said, “quite distinguished . . . greener, safer and more attractive.”
Inn proprietor (and council member) Patrick O’Connell said the current plans include placing hedges around both the Main and Middle street entrances to the church lot, and “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 present one-step drop-off.
As for the Trinity parking lot, the landscaping plans O’Connell and Trinity’s Rev. Jennings Hobson showed the council last month 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 the Clopton House, which the Inn is presently renovating into additional guest rooms.
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 last month.
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.
Construction on the project could begin as early as next month.
Monday night, several members of the public chimed in on the potential ceding of the side street, including new resident and Gay Street Inn co-owner Gary Aichele, who urged the council to “go forward . . . This opportunity might not present itself again.”
Planning commission member Bradley Schneider also encouraged the renovations, but suggested the plans include a more prominent sign designating the handicapped parking space in front of the post office, either with a more noticeable sign or a marking on the pavement. “I’ve even seen one of our illustrious county supervisors pull in there,” Schneider said.
Ultimately, the council unanimously voted (5-0) to cede ownership of the side street to the Inn, though the town still retains the easements currently in place on the street, as well as the right to issue new easements in the future. (Council member Dan Spethmann was absent, while O’Connell recused himself from the vote.)
“I’m excited, and I can’t wait to see what it all looks like – hopefully in the fall,” Sullivan said.
The council also continued its joint discussion with the town’s planning commission on the possibility of allowing B&Bs to serve meals to non-guests.
The issue was initially raised at the council’s May 13 meeting by John MacPherson, who owns and operates the Foster Harris House with his wife, Diane. At that meeting, MacPherson, who recently renovated his B&B’s kitchen to allow the Foster Harris House to serve dinner to its lodgers, said he spoke to County Administrator John McCarthy on the matter.
McCarthy said that while the county zoning ordinance allows B&Bs to serve dinner to outside guests, the town’s ordinance only allows dinner to be served to overnight guests at that establishment.
Monday, the council considered a proposal from town attorney John Bennett which would allow B&Bs to serve meals to non-guests via a special-use permit. Each B&B would have to apply for such a permit, which would be reviewed by the council on a case-by-case basis.
Additionally, Bennett’s proposal limited the number of meals that could be served (one seating each for breakfast, lunch and dinner), as well as the number of diners (the number of rooms times two).
Monday night, Diane MacPherson addressed one of the council and commission’s earliest concerns and presented a plan to add more parking spaces to the Foster Harris House. MacPherson said she and her husband intended to extend the parking lot into their backyard, providing space for 10 cars – five guest vehicles and five non-guest vehicles. “We may even end up with slightly more room,” said MacPherson.
Schneider wondered if there should have to be a minimum number of guests (at least one) present before a B&B could serve to outsiders. “Otherwise,” Schneider wondered, “isn’t it just a restaurant?”
MacPherson described that concern as a “self-correcting problem,” as the Foster Harris House, like any B&B, “wants to encourage overnight guests to dine with us first.”
Commissioner Nevill Turner wondered about the deadline for serving a meal, asking if the MacPhersons would consider opening the kitchen “on short notice” if asked by a non-guest.
“That’s not going to happen,” MacPherson said. “We usually start cooking three or four days in advance, so we don’t want our whole evening eaten up making dinner for just two people.”
The council agreed, 6-0, to hold a public hearing on the matter at its Aug. 12 meeting. After the meeting, the council can make a final decision on whether to accept or deny the new special-use permit.