After serving as the driving force behind the recent creation of a special-use permit allowing bed and breakfasts to serve meals to non-guests, John and Diane MacPherson, owners and operators of the Foster Harris House, became the first successful permit applicants at the Washington town council’s monthly meeting Monday night (Sept. 16).
The MacPhersons originally approached the council in May about potentially opening their doors to serve meals to non-guests, explaining that they had just renovated the B&B’s kitchen to allow them to serve dinner to their lodgers.
MacPherson said he spoke to County Administrator John McCarthy on the matter, who explained that while the county zoning ordinance allows B&Bs to serve dinner to outside guests, the town’s ordinance only allows a B&B to serve dinner to its overnight guests. The creation of a special-use permit was finalized at the council’s Aug. 15 meeting.
“This has been a very good, very educational process,” said mayor John Sullivan at the beginning of the council’s meeting.
MacPherson presented the council with a site plan for expanding the B&B’s parking lot, explaining that he planned to create a lot with enough space for 10 cars — one for each potential dinner guest. MacPherson added that on-street parking in front of the B&B will house four additional spots. Renovations should be finished by the end of September.
“We will continue to make every effort to maintain a quiet and pleasant atmosphere and continue to be good neighbors to the residents of Washington,” read part of the letter of intent the MacPhersons submitted to the council.
The council members then went through a multiple-item checklist created as part of the permit by town attorney John Bennett, which outlined every issue raised by the council during the permit creation process.
Though the council decided several items — including changes to the parking lot’s ingress and egress and a minimum number of guests before meals could be served — didn’t apply to the MacPhersons, they did raise a few questions, including what time meals would be served and the necessity of on-site management during dinner.
“Well, we live there, so it’s pretty hard to get away,” joked John MacPherson, who added that he and his wife would always be present during the serving of meals. The MacPhersons also said they only intended to have a single, one-hour sitting for dinner — 6:30 to 7:30 — and non-overnight guests would have to be finished by 11 p.m.
Though MacPherson said he didn’t envision any lighting changes for the parking lot, if that changes, he must submit a lighting plan for approval from the town’s Architectural Review Board. The permit applies solely to the MacPhersons, meaning that if the property were sold, the new owners would need to obtain their own permit to sell meals to non-guests.
The council ultimately unanimously approved the MacPhersons’ request, 6-0. (Council member Daniel Spethmann was absent.) The council also attached a one-year review period to the permit; it won’t expire after 12 months, but it will be up for reevaluation, after which it can be extended for any length of time the council chooses.
The Foster Harris House can start serving meals immediately.
Sullivan continued the meeting by soliciting other council member’s thoughts on the idea of creating a walking tour guide for the town of Washington. The goal, Sullivan said, would be to provide visitors with a map of what to explore and let them know sites of interest in the town.
“It’s like a map, but with talking points,” Sullivan explained.
The tour would ideally highlight the town’s many businesses and restaurants, as well as more historic sites whose importance and history might not be readily apparent. “I want it to have a storytelling element to it,” Sullivan said.
The Inn at Little Washington, whose proprietor and chef Patrick O’Connell sits on the council, has been doing a walking tour for years, Sullivan said. O’Connell confirmed that the Inn still offers the tour (daily at 5 p.m.), though it’s now a smaller-scale version.
“Full tours of the town are only done by request,” O’Connell said.
With the other council members’ enthusiastic approval, Sullivan said he intended to approach Alex Sharp VIII about creating the guide. Sullivan added that he’d like to eventually make the guide an app that could be downloaded from the town’s website, though that would also require the creation of a town-wide wifi network.
The small audience Monday night seemed excited about the idea of walking tour, as Flint Hill resident Phil Irwin said he knew a similar tour was popular in Front Royal, and could serve as a great introduction to the Old Rag Master Naturalists’ newly created butterfly trail.