Avon Hall draws a crowd again

When it was the in-town estate of the pointedly civic-minded William Carrigan, Avon Hall attracted remarkably fond crowds every Fourth of July for picnics and fireworks around the pond.

Monday night, a dozen years after the town purchased what is now a nine-acre spread from the estate of the deceased Carrigan, and almost a decade since the fireworks moved to Sperryville, a remarkably fond and thoughtful crowd showed up at town hall to offer ideas for Avon Hall’s future.

Among the most thoughtful — or thought-through — was Washington resident Allen Comp’s idea (“And, I stress that this is just an idea — not a plan, not a project,” he noted) to divide the property into a half-dozen or so half-acre lots, each with its own small residence, and preserve the Avon Hall main house itself on about three acres, including the pond and adjacent gardens renovated in recent years by local conservationists and master naturalists.

The smaller residential lots, Comp said, with connecting trails, public access and design and density standards that could be guaranteed in any number of ways by the town (since it owns the property), would be sold to private parties.

Comp, and others at the meeting, including realtors Alan Zuschlag and Butch Zindel, agreed that five such lots might easily bring $500,000 to the town — which originally purchased the Avon Hall estate to carve out room for a wastewater treatment plant, though officials always informally hoped the rest of the property, though sale or lease, would provide a way to pay down the $4.5 million cost of the plant, which opened in 2010.

Zuschlag said he liked the ideas put forth by Comp, a historic preservationist who most recently has rehabbed a church in Sperryville and the old Smoot home at the north end of Washington’s Main Street into residences (and sold a farm in Sperryville to live with his wife in the latter). But Zuschlag suggested the town consider even smaller lots, a quarter-acre or so, to extend the “town-like” character of Washington, rather than being more “suburban.”

Rappahannock native Karen Sanborn told the panel at the head table — town council members Gary Aichele, Mary Anne Kuhn, Patrick O’Connell and Mayor John Sullivan, and planning commissioner Judy De Sarno — that she came to the meeting primarily to urge the town to keep Avon Hall in some kind of public usage.

Possibly that could as the “Torpedo Factory-like” vision that artist Virginia Pates, a relative newcomer to Rappahannock, rose to describe. Pates is also dean of the art and music departments at Northern Virginia Community College in Annandale, and believes that a combination of leases, arts-related grants and creative thinking could bring a artists’ community to the property.

Former town resident Jay Brown, who’s building a gallery and studio with partner Kevin Adams on Gay Street, pointed out that the “Torpedo Factory-like” structure built by entrepreneur Jerome Niessen at the old apple-packing shed in Sperryville — now the home of River District Arts — is now on the market, and that Pates ought to include a talk with Niessen in her investigation of such a project at Avon Hall.

The primary decision faced by the town, as Sullivan, Aichele and others repeated attempted to frame for the 20 or so in attendance, seems to be headed toward: Keep it or sell it. And if selling it seems best, should it be sold as one contiguous nine-acre piece, or divided up further?

“It’s an old struggle, to either just say let’s be done with it, if a buyer is found, or to struggle further with the challenging and ambitious things we’d like to do with Avon Hall,” said Sullivan.

O’Connell suggested that dividing the property up would seriously decrease the value of Avon Hall as a private estate. “No one will want Avon Hall itself if it’s just the house and three acres,” he said.

Comp, and others, are expected to discuss the ideas further at another Sunday afternoon hearing sponsored by the town-appointed Avon Hall Study Group — a session now to be preceded by a tour of the Avon Hall main house and grounds.

That meeting is 3 p.m. Sunday, July 12, at town hall — with anyone interested in a brief Avon Hall tour meeting at the house an hour earlier, at 2.

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