D.C. couple plans to buy, restore and live in estate; proceeds pay down wastewater debt
The town of Washington has found buyers for its Avon Hall estate who intend to fix it up, in a historically sensitive manner that is not new to them — and to live there, and to even invite the rest of us over at some point.
Not surprisingly, since the town has been unable to execute a plan to monetize the former Carrigan family estate since buying it a decade ago and placing its new wastewater treatment plant on a small section of it, the announcement generated a good bit of applause.
At the town council’s regular monthly session Monday night, in fact, spontaneous applause from the two dozen in attendance erupted at least four times after Mayor John Sullivan introduced the buyers — Bill Fischer and Drew Mitchell, a D.C. couple who have already handed the town a $50,000 deposit and signed a contract, without contingencies, promising to pay $750,000 for the nine-acre portion of the estate containing the main house and its iconic pond.
The potential sale addresses several recent town problems, Mayor John Sullivan pointed out later, including the town’s ability to pay down the debt on the six-year-old wastewater system, which totals $178,000 a year (toward which the proceeds of this sale would be specifically earmarked, Sullivan said); and the town’s retention of a commercial/residential lot at the corner of Leggett Lane plus some three acres along the western edge of the estate, for possible new development.
Although it had considered developing the entire tract into some kind of mixed-density residential district, as recommended by its Avon Hall Study Group last winter, the council rejected that idea in January and said it would offer the tract for sale as a single property. Apparently Fischer and Mitchell appeared on the scene shortly after that decision.
Other than town attorney John Bennett, council member Gary Aichele (who headed up the Avon Hall Study Group formed two years ago) and himself, Sullivan said at the start of the meeting, “everyone is going to be learning of this agreement tonight at the same time, in the same place.” Other than Bennett’s negotiations over the last three months with Fischer and Mitchell and their real estate agent, Alan Zuschlag (a process, as Bennett pointed out, state law allows to be conducted in private), “this whole process has been a very public process.”
The council scheduled a joint council/planning commission meeting for 7 p.m. June 13, at which time both bodies will host a public hearing on the sale agreement, which divides the nine acres into a large (7.5-acre) lot including the main house, pond and gardens, and a smaller (1.5-acre) lot along Leggett Lane.
Fischer, a government contractor who specializes in cybersecurity, and Mitchell, founder and CEO of D.C.’s Fathom Creative, an established marketing and branding agency, submitted a 10-page “Proposal to Purchase” during the negotiations, outlining their plans for (and experience in) preserving a historical structure. (That experience includes the 9,000-square-foot, three-story brick Victorian structure in D.C.’s Logan Circle neighborhood, where they live and where Fathom Creative is based, and where local nonprofits are often given use of the large, open, second-floor “gallery” and adjoining rooftop deck for meetings and fundraisers.)
“. . . unlike manor homes in other parts of the county,” they wrote in their purchase proposal, “Avon Hall has been and would remain and intimate part of life in Washington. In order to flourish, Avon Hall needs to be lived in, not just looked upon. It should be more than a home for us but also a place of belonging for neighbors and friends, now and in the future.
“Although it would be impossible to fill Mr. and Mrs. Carrigan’s shoes,” it added, “we will do our best to carry on their legacy by being highly active in the community, throwing open Avon Hall’s doors and lawns for a variety of community events, and spending the rest of our lives helping Washington continue to maximize its potential.”
“I have to say, I think this is a good outcome,” said Sullivan later. “These prospective owners are clearly passionate about the place, and have a dream for what to do with the property that is consistent with what, as we found in the last two years of study, most people in the town and the county seem to want.”