Avon Hall: Sold

Council approves sale of estate, considers moving on in another area as well

After more than a decade of promising to do so, the Washington Town Council sold off its Avon Hall estate Tuesday night.

At a special meeting continued from the council’s June 13 session, the council voted 7-0 to approve an ordinance enabling the sale, for $750,000, of the long-dormant former Carrigan family estate to a D.C. couple who plan to restore it, live in it and retain public access to its pond and nature trail.

Tuesday’s vote followed more than a year of active study and community forums by the council, the town planning commission and the ad-hoc Avon Hall Study Group led by council members Gary Aichele and Mary Ann Kuhn.

Thus it was not a surprise that Tuesday’s vote also followed a public hearing at which just one member of the public, Sharron Proper, stood to say just that “this is exactly what Mr. Carrigan would have wanted.”

“Done,” said both Mayor John Sullivan and Treasurer Jerry Goebel, not quite in unison, after the vote. There was sustained applause by the dozen or so residents present.

Before passing the ordinance, the council also unanimously accepted the planning commission’s approval of the official plat drawn up after the buyers, Andrew Mitchell and William Fischer, asked and were last month granted a subdivision of the the original nine-acre lot containing the main house, the pond and gardens, into a 7.5-acre main lot and a smaller, 1.5-acre property along Leggett Lane, which contains a small tenant house.

Along with their $50,000 deposit, Fischer, a government contractor who specializes in cybersecurity, and Mitchell, founder and CEO of D.C.’s Fathom Creative marketing and branding agency, had submitted a 10-page “Proposal to Purchase” in May 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.”

The ordinance passed by the council also directed the town to use the sale proceeds to pay off the remaining balance, about $110,000, on the loan that it received in 2005 to buy the property from the Carrigan family. Part of the estate’s easternmost section was carved out to build the town’s wastewater treatment plant six years ago, and the town planned to sell the remaining property to help pay down the $4 million it borrowed to build the plant and the town sewer system.

In the matter of Konick v. the town . . .

In other actions, the council met in closed session after its public meeting to discuss a request by local attorney David Konick that is agree not to sue him, in exchange for his agreement not to sue the town, over any of the issues raised in several legal actions initiated by Konick in 2015 over its actions — in 2013 — to participate in a Town Beautification Project with the Inn at Little Washington and Trinity Episcopal Church. Konick’s suits against the Inn and the town alleged that the project involved violations of conflicts of interest and procurement laws and the constitutional ban on church-state transactions.

The release appears to be related to Konick’s separate pending settlement with the Inn, which countersued him, alleging abuse of process.

During the public portion of the council meeting, however, Sullivan repeated a brief history of the court battles with Konick, which last year cost the town more than $50,000 in additional legal fees, primarily to point out that the town, unlike the Inn, had itself never sued Konick. Sullivan listed the court decisions against Konick — including three by the circuit court, which twice found he hadn’t standing to sue, as a non-resident of town and one that found unwarranted his challenge of a decision by the Commonwealth Transportation Board to uphold VDOT’s release of the stub end of Middle Street west of Main from state maintenance.

“And three justices of the state supreme court chose not to kick it up to the main supreme court [his appeal of the circuit court’s ruling in Konick v. Town of Washington et als],” Sullivan said.

“The council may well, as an act of graciousness, consider this,” said town attorney John Bennett, speaking of the requested agreement not to sue Konick (which the town, as Sullivan pointed out, has declined to do throughout the process). “But my observation would be that the timing of this is rather curious.”

Sullivan, Aichele, council member Patrick O’Connell (the chef and owner of the Inn) and Vice Mayor Gary Schwartz made some comment on the effect that the court battles had had on the town’s governance.

“This is a close judgement call,” said Aichele. “On the one hand . . . when I think of the amount of energy and time that could’ve been devoted to other things that have consumed us because of repeated abuse of legal process, that has really damaged the council, and to some extent the town, and certainly the object of most of the litigation, in my personal view, to damage the Inn . . . to now say we’ll all just say we’ll let bygones be bygones . . . to set that precedent.

“On the other side, there’s something to be said for peace,” Aichele said. “And we have not had peace in this town for over two years, and maybe longer . . .”

Town clerk Laura Dodd said on Wednesday that the council made no decisions in closed session, and tabled the matter until its regular monthly meeting next Monday (July 11), though it was not clear whether it would be considered in public or closed session then.

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