This report contains changes to reflect information overlooked by the reporter in the print edition where it first appeared.
The Inn at Little Washington, Washington town officials and patrons of Washington’s U.S. Post Office — a longtime tenant of the Inn-owned Krebser Building at Main and Middle streets — are waiting for a decision by the Commonwealth Transportation Board expected next Tuesday (Oct. 27), when the Virginia Department of Transportation’s governing body meets in Virginia Beach.
Two weeks ago, more than 60 citizens squeezed into a meeting room designed for about half that many at VDOT’s Rappahannock County maintenance facility near the Flatwood recycling center. The occasion was a public hearing on the town’s request that VDOT discontinue its official maintenance of the stub end of Middle Street — a 50-foot section of the 170-foot dead-end deeded by the town to the Inn earlier this year, an action the town first took in 2013 as part of a “Town Center Beautification” project with the Inn and Trinity Episcopal Church.
The CTB is expected to approve the discontinuance resolution — as VDOT officials have recommended; their draft resolution, already on the meeting’s agenda online, notes that “the majority of public comments support discontinuance.”
The town’s vacation of the entire stub street, and its appropriation of $20,000 toward what’s been described as a $200,000 project directed by the Inn, became the subject of a lawsuit early this year by local attorney and longtime postal boxholder David Konick. Circuit Court Judge Jeffrey W. Parker, after four months of hearings and a countersuit filed by the Inn, dismissed Konick’s suit, citing the attorney’s lack of standing as a non-resident of town. The town adopted the “corrected” resolution to abandon the street earlier this year.
The Inn announced two months ago that it had extended the post office lease through November and was working with U.S. Postal Service officials on a new long-term lease and a reconfigured, properly handicapped-accessible facility, its entrance facing Middle rather than Main. Removal of pavement on the stub street began shortly after. The work was disputed by critics of the Inn’s plans, however, some of whom alerted VDOT; VDOT representatives made it clear to to the Inn that VDOT’s maintenance agreement was still in effect. Although a VDOT permit was issued for part of the road work (after the citizen complaints to VDOT), an Inn spokesperson maintains that the Inn’s position has been consistent throughout: It did not need a permit for the work it is doing.
At the Oct. 8 hearing, six post office patrons who don’t live in town, including Konick, spoke against the discontinuance of maintenance by VDOT. Except for Konick, who mostly deferred to what had already been said by others, and Ben Jones, the actor, former congressman and Harris Hollow resident, all of those opposed read from prepared statements that assured the head table officials (including the Culpeper district’s CTB representative, Alison DeTuncq) that the “public convenience” would not be served by such an action — which is VDOT’s primary basis for a decision.
Jones, a frequent critic of the Inn and what he has said is chef-proprietor Patrick O’Connell’s undue influence on local government (O’Connell also serves on the town council), was booed briefly for calling the street abandonment a “business deal” and saying other supporters’ claims that the stub street had become “an abandoned alley” was a “convenient canard.” Shortly after his three minutes — VDOT’s limit for comments — Jones left the room.
Twice as many rose to speak in favor of the town’s request, others submitting written comments, and when Washington Mayor John Sullivan asked, at the end of his own brief comments, for a show of hands of those who supported the town’s request — about 50 hands went up. Most in attendance, including Inn general manager Tom List and most of the town’s business owners, did not stand and speak. The hearing lasted less than an hour.
Inn attorney David Fiske rose to say, among other things, that “as far as I can determine, and I filed a Freedom of Information Act request on this, VDOT has never performed any actual maintenance on the stub street” since the town officially requested the agency take over maintenance in 1994.
Asked about those worried that the Inn’s ownership — or any future ownership — of what had been a public street might restrict public access and make parking more difficult around the post office, Fiske said by phone yesterday that the Inn’s plan would “of course” include “more than enough” parking for not only the post office but the building’s other tenants — the Country Cafe on the Main Street side, attorney Franklin Reynolds in back. The Inn and postal service architects, he said, are working on more specific improvements to the post office interior, and the Inn has tentative plans for improvements to the Krebser Building’s exterior.
At the VDOT hearing, Robert Ballard, a longtime Main Street business owner who also recently moved back into town, rose to say: “Even now, if the parking spaces in front of the cafe and post office are full — oh, I have to park across the street, in the beautiful parking lot the Inn has created [beside Trinity church]. It’s wonderful.”