Inn’s ‘homophobia’ claims are smokescreen, lawyer says
Meanwhile, town approves Inn’s transaction with gallery
In a response to the Inn at Little Washington and owner Patrick O’Connell’s attempt the week before to quash attorney David Konick’s lawsuit against the town of Washington and the Inn for their allegedly unlawful actions in a “Town Square Beautification Project” in 2013, Konick said this week that all of Inn attorney David Fiske’s claims about his motivations for bringing suit are “absolutely false.”
Meanwhile, at a crowded and sometimes loud Washington Town Council special meeting last Wednesday (April 15), the council and planning commission unanimously approved a boundary adjustment that would allow the Inn to sell a reduced-in-size Stonyman/Sunnyside property on Gay Street to artist Kevin Adams, who intends to open a gallery and studio there.
Konick’s response was filed Monday (April 20) in circuit court.
“Each and every one of the wild claims by Respondents about Complainant being a ‘homophobe’ . . . pursuing a ‘vendetta’ . . . against O’Connell or anyone else, allegations of the ‘use of the courts as a vehicle for . . . personal animosity’ . . . and that Complainant is on a ‘crusade against Respondents,’ Konick wrote in the response, “are absolutely false and constitute an improper and pernicious attempt to sensationalize this case and to inflame the passions of the Court and the public to divert attention from the gravamen of the Complaint . . .”
Konick then summarized the gravamen, or grounds, of his lawsuit, as “the legality of the appropriation of funds all or a significant portion of which went to benefit [Trinity Episcopal] Church property, whether or not the giveaway of Middle Street to one of the Respondents was done in accordance with applicable law, and whether or not a member of the Town Council engaged in conduct prohibited by the Virginia State and Local Government Conflicts of Interest Act.”
“While very colorful and titillating,” Konick wrote, the Inn’s motion for sanctions (in which the Inn claimed Konick’s longstanding “vendetta” against town council member O’Connell and the Inn constituted an “improper purpose” for filing a lawsuit), the Inn’s allegations “are absolutely irrelevant to the subject matter of the complaint and have utterly no bearing on it.”
Nowhere in the complaint, he wrote, “is there any mention or allusion to, or hint about . . . O’Connell’s personal lifestyle choices or his sexual orientation, or those of anyone else. The attempt to inject such issues into the case is a pernicious smokescreen designed to sensationalize it and to avoid a rational review . . . of the legal issues.”
Fiske’s motion included emails (which Konick described as “privately written,” although they found their way onto Rappnet, a local email listserv with more than a thousand subscribers), one of which included Konick’s comment to a local gay couple: “Do us all a favor and go sojourneth somewhere else before the land vomits us out as the Bible teaches it shall for even tolerating perverse kind of abominable filth like the two of you among us.”
The circuit court, with Judge Jeffrey W. Parker scheduled to be the bench, will apparently only hear one of Fiske’s motions on April 28 — his motion for a demurrer, which challenges Konick’s “standing” to bring the action, in part because he’s not a town resident, because Fiske claims the deeding over by the town of the stub end of Middle Street had a 60-day window for any challenges to be filed, and other reasons.
Inn boundary adjustment approved
In an occasionally emotional special session at town hall last Wednesday night, the town council (following the town planning commission’s unanimous recommendation minutes earlier) unanimously approved a contested property division by the Inn at Little Washington that would enable artist Kevin Adams to open a studio and gallery at the former Stonyman/Sunnyside mercantile store.
The council’s 90-minute session — marked by applause-inducing comments made primarily by town residents who supported the Inn’s intention to sell a reduced-size property to Adams and his partner Jay Brown — ended with a closed-door session at which the council discussed the pending lawsuit against the town and Inn for alleged violations of procurement, conflict-of-interest and church-state-separation laws.
The council appropriated $20,000 in July 2013 to the Inn’s reportedly $200,000 project to beautify the “town square” — the properties at Main and Middle Streets, most of which are owned by the Inn, except for the parking lot the Inn leases from Trinity Episcopal Church. The council also vacated the 171-foot stub end of Middle Street. Konick has challenged both actions, and filed an additional lawsuit (though its papers have not been served) against O’Connell and the Inn for allegedly violating conflict-of-interest laws. After its closed session, the council authorized advertisement of public hearings next month on actions it may take to undo, and possibly redo, the contested 2013 actions.
The council’s Wednesday session began with an assessment by town zoning administrator John McCarthy — who is also the county’s zoning administrator, and was due at a county planning commission meeting 25 minutes after the council’s meeting began. McCarthy explained why he originally recommended the council approve the boundary adjustment.
In cases where any of the resulting properties of a boundary adjustment are under the minimum lot size specified in the town’s zoning ordinance, McCarthy said, the measure has to come before the town council — which can consider granting a “variance, a waiver or modification.”
When the request first came up at March’s town council session, it was Konick (a former town zoning administrator) who challenged it, saying the request was clearly for a variance, and as such required the requestor (the Inn) to show a “hardship.”
“You can’t just do a thing on the basis of ‘that’s what Patrick wants,’ ” Konick said at March’s session.
McCarthy repeated his belief Wednesday that no hardship need be proven for the council to allow a “waiver” or “modification” in this case. The property adjustment creates a nonconforming lot for the smaller Sunnyside tract, he noted, but the former Clopton House tract becomes larger and conforming. (Previously both properties were under the minimum lot size.)
“There is no detrimental effect on the public interest,” McCarthy said. “There is no new development. From the street, everything will remain the same.”
Though Konick wasn’t there Wednesday, his “hardship” argument was taken up by several citizens — most of them vocal critics of the town council of late who live elsewhere around the county — at two recent council meetings, including the joint council/planning commission meeting last Wednesday night.
The council and commission members — after several town residents and business owners rose to support the action, their comments eliciting applause from the 30-plus attendees — disagreed that any hardship was necessary, siding with McCarthy and town attorney John Bennett, who said the action also was in keeping with the town’s comprehensive plan’s wishes to “encourage in-fill development” in town.
During the public forum portion near the end of the meeting, Sperryville residents Eric Tollefson and Beth Gyorgy, rising to address the town’s 2013 beautification actions, were both interrupted by council member Jerry Goebel and Mayor John Sullivan.
“Does this have something to do with what we’re doing here tonight?” Goebel said to Tollefson, who had begun discussing points Konick made in his lawsuit. After interrupting Gyorgy — who began speaking about the same actions — Goebel later apologized.
“These issues are being addressed in the legal system, as you are surely aware,” Sullivan said.
“And we will find out if people are behaving ethically, in court,” he added. “Not on Rappnet.”
The council also agreed to seek more bids for a proposal to connect a fire hydrant on Piedmont Avenue, about a half mile west of Main Street, which was disconnected years ago when that segment of the town’s old iron-pipe water system was taken offline.
Sullivan said the town had received an estimate of $24,000 to reconnect a hydrant — although Piedmont Avenue resident Bill Metcalf, who rose at Wednesday’s meeting to make the case that safety concerns trumped budget worries, said he’d received an estimate from a contractor of closer to $5,000.
While Sullivan suggested the council just look into the cost of having the hydrant removed, council member Gary Aichele countered with a recommendation that the town solicit more than just the one estimate — which is what they agreed to do.