Avon Hall trail, pond access would remain, buyers say

As the town of Washington prepares for a public hearing next month on a contract to sell most of the Avon Hall estate it purchased 14 years ago, and for possible zoning and comprehensive plan changes to accommodate the property’s long-discussed return to private ownership, the buyers said last week that public use of the pond and the not-quite-adjacent nature trail would not be curtailed.

In fact, would-be buyer Drew Mitchell said after a town planning commission session Monday night, access would be enhanced, if possible.

Last July, wildflowers highlighted ongoing soil, water and vegetation restoration efforts at Avon Hall's pond.Roger Piantadosi | Rappahannock News
Last July, wildflowers highlighted ongoing soil, water and vegetation restoration efforts at Avon Hall’s pond.

Mitchell, who with partner Bill Fischer two weeks ago handed the town a $50,000 deposit and signed an agreement to buy, for $750,000, nine acres of the former Carrigan estate, including the pond to the north and tenant house to the east, said the couple would like to create a picnic area in the field between the pond and Warren Avenue.

Mitchell said he and Fischer have also discussed, with the owner whose long-unoccupied property along Warren Avenue comes between the pond and the trail, possible ways to connect the nature/butterfly trail to the pond area.

The pond has undergone significant restoration over the past three years, by Rappahannock Friends and Lovers of Our Watershed (RappFLOW) and other volunteer groups, and the Old Rag Chapter of the Virginia Master Naturalists have created the nature trail and “butterfly gardens,” in a joint venture with the town, over the same period.

The contract to sell the property — which comes before a joint council/planning commission meeting and public hearing at 7 p.m. June 13 at town hall — codifies in part the buyers’ stated intention to live in the house and maintain its longstanding connection to the community with the following clause:

“It is Purchaser’s explicit intent to become active members of the local community and to continue the legacy of Avon Hall as a community fixture. The Purchaser fully intends to: allow continued public access to the butterfly garden and the nature walk; create a picnic area near the pond for public use; and, on occasion, open the doors and lawn of Avon Hall itself for community events. The parties acknowledge these are good faith statements by the Purchaser. The Seller has relied upon these representations and good faith statements in its deliberations to sell the Property to the Purchaser. The Seller accepts the foregoing as good faith representations only of the Purchaser.”

The planning commission made no decisions at its Monday night special session, meeting primarily, as chair Gary Schwartz put it, to “get everyone up to speed” on how the town’s comprehensive plan (currently undergoing a once-every-five-years review) and zoning ordinance might need to be amended to coordinate with the sale agreement.

At least one zoning change that would need to be considered, Schwartz said, would be the buyers’ intention to subdivide the nine acres into one 7.5-acre tract containing the main house and the pond and a 1.5-acre property along the eastern edge, fronting on Leggett Lane and containing what is commonly called the tenant house. The smaller property, now zoned rural residential (as is the entire former estate), would not meet the minimum lot-size requirements for that zone, although it would if it were rezoned as village residential.

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