The cover story from two issues ago [“Inn, town, post office await VDOT decision,” Oct. 22] and again last week’s story, “VDOT exits Middle Street” [Oct. 29], did not do justice to the real story because of gross omissions and incorrect facts. I would like to provide the omitted information and set the story right.
On Sept. 4, I filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request with VDOT to obtain information regarding the town’s petition to remove a portion of Middle Street in Washington from the State Secondary Highway System. The documents I received in VDOT’s response to my FOIA clearly demonstrated that VDOT had been deceived about the road work, that there was no permit for the work, that the Inn was quite unhappy about the VDOT hearing, and that VDOT only investigated what was really going on when they began getting inquiries from citizens asking why pavement was being removed.
Initially, the Inn’s landscape architect, Guy Williamson, told VDOT that the work was for the town and not for the Inn and that the contractor doing the work was hired by the town to repair a water line. But when VDOT called the town clerk, she claimed to know nothing about the “repair” and referred VDOT to the Inn. By letter dated Aug. 24, the Inn’s attorney wrote to VDOT stating there was no authority for VDOT to intervene in the town’s affairs and hold a public hearing on discontinuing maintenance on the stub street and that the Inn was troubled by VDOT’s attempt to impede the town’s authority. An internal VDOT email dated Aug. 24 summarized a telephone call between the Inn’s attorney and VDOT in which VDOT repeatedly told the Inn’s attorney that a permit was needed for the work already underway. The Inn’s attorney stated that the work would not stop.
In that internal, Aug. 24 VDOT email, a frustrated VDOT official suggested calling in the Virginia State Police to force cessation of the unauthorized road work until a permit was approved. VDOT responded to the Inn’s attorney by email dated Aug. 26 and stated that a hearing was not required, but still necessary for the Commonwealth Transportation Board to hear from all sides on the issue. Then, on Sept. 2, VDOT sent a letter to Mayor John Sullivan stating that VDOT had conducted an on-site inspection on Aug. 28 and informing him that “… no work shall be performed on any real property under the ownership, control or jurisdiction of VDOT until written permission has been obtained by VDOT.” This is important because the town approached the discontinuance and vacation of the stub street in the wrong sequence. VDOT maintenance continues until a discontinuance is approved. Only then was the underlying street really eligible for transfer of ownership from the Town to whomever. This is why VDOT sent the letter about unauthorized activity to the mayor instead of to the Inn, which was paying for the work.
I hand-delivered the entire FOIA response to the Rappahannock News on the morning of Sept. 25. Later that day, the Inn at Little Washington applied for a permit for the work it had started on the stub street, more than three weeks after VDOT cited the town for not having a permit. Coincidence?
The statutory requirement for discontinuance is whether the road is required for public convenience. That’s it. It’s not a matter of whether a majority is “for” or “against” discontinued VDOT maintenance. And what does the town’s 2012 Comprehensive Plan say about its roads? Section II, Subsection K states: “While Washington continues to handle a significant [sic] traffc [sic] load, its streets remain fairly narrow as dictated by much of the older building construction that borders so closely on existing roads. While this somewhat constricts traffc [sic], it is clear that the existing roads and pattern of streets laid out in the survey of 1749 are inherent and critical parts of the Town’s historic character. Thus, the Town seeks to retain (existing) roads in the face of any changes the Town might undergo….”
Although the Commonwealth Transportation Board is supposed to take the provisions of the locality’s Comprehensive Plan into account, as well as the traffic count, the CTB and the Rappahannock News totally ignored these facts.
On Oct. 20, I filed a second FOIA request with VDOT, and in that response found that VDOT ‘s official position was neutral and not favorable towards discontinuance, as reported by Rappahannock News. Oddly, VDOT also provided me 2013 traffic counts of approximately 400 vehicles a day that they’d failed to disclose in the first FOIA response. Given the traffic counts, the town’s own comprehensive plan, and the actual public benefit requirements section of Virginia’s Administrative Code, which state that public convenience is implicated where there are, among other things, 100 vehicle trips a day on the street or where the street in question is part of the network of streets envisioned in the locality’s comprehensive plan, it’s hard to understand how the Commonwealth Transportation Board could conclude that the statutory requirement had been met to demonstrate that the road was no longer required for the public convenience. I wonder if the decision would hold up in an appeal to the Circuit Court.
I am disappointed that none of the documents I gave to Rappahannock News back in late September was printed, nor the important details of what really happened reported. And aren’t these details important to the readership? I think they are. It casts an entirely different light on the story of the stub street, one that is clearly unfavorable to the Inn, to the Town Council, and to the Rappahannock News.