Vice Mayor Gary Schwartz announced his resignation from the Washington Town Council and the town planning commission during Monday night’s council meeting, citing serious health issues that have prompted he and his wife, Michelle, to leave their jobs in Fauquier County, sell their home on Piedmont Avenue and move to the vacation home they’d been building in the Outer Banks with the future in mind.
“Based on this last doctor’s [report], that future is now,” Schwartz told fellow council members Gary Aichele, Jerry Goebel, Mary Ann Kuhn, Patrick O’Connell and Mayor John Sullivan, after announcing his and Michelle’s “bittersweet” decision to head south next month, where they’ll also be closer to family, following Schwartz’s 13 years as a council and commission member. He described his medical condition as “serious.”
His official announcement followed the five council members’ unanimous decision (council member Katharine Leggett was absent) to approve a special-use permit for Schwartz — seated for the permit hearing on the front pew, after recusing himself — to operate the couple’s home at 35 Piedmont Ave. as a B&B.
Schwartz had agreed to sell the couple’s small two-bedroom home to The Ridge 35 LLC — aka longtime Rappahannock weekender and D.C. developer Jim Abdo, to whom the couple had also sold the adjacent Heritage House B&B four years ago. After extensive renovations and a not-insignificant volume of white paint, Abdo reopened the 10-room B&B as the White Moose Inn.
The sale contract with Abdo’s LLC was contingent on issuance of special-use permit to operate the small home as a two-bedroom B&B.
There ensued a nearly 40-minute discussion among the council members of whether a B&B permit was technically issued to the property or to the B&B operator — it’s issued for the property, it was decided eventually, with help from Jay Brown, both a B&B buyer and seller in town over the last decade, who was seated in the crowd of about 15 at the meeting. Town attorney (and now interim zoning administrator) John Bennett initially maintained that it was the other way around.
The issue arose after Aichele, one of three council members who are in the B&B or hotel business themselves, worried aloud about the town’s precedent of allowing off-site management of such establishments, as it has done in the past several years for the White Moose Inn (where the management lives in an apartment two doors from the hotel) and a tourist-home apartment above the Little Washington Spa, whose owners live in Sperryville.
“I think the [Schwartz] application’s in order and it’s fully my intention to support it,” Aichele said. “I do have a concern, though. . . . It seems that we move somewhat away from the historic pattern that is predominantly, but not exclusively, of owner-operated guest houses and B&Bs.”
The council eventually agreed to approve the special use permit for the B&B, on the condition that the off-site management by Abdo’s company be reviewed by the council at least once, a year from now — as with similar permits for the White Moose itself and with Deborah Winsor’s part-time tourist home further south on Main Street, also managed by the White Moose Inn. (The White Moose’s off-site management came up for review a year after issuance, and the condition was terminated, no complaints or problems having been reported.)
“Thank you,” said Gary Schwartz after the unanimous vote, his words echoed immediately by Michelle Schwartz. Both had remained significantly calmer than several others in the crowd who’d begun to fidget impatiently during the council’s meandering discussion.
“Gary has been instrumental in most everything that has happened in this town during the last 13 years,” said Sullivan later, after Schwartz officially announced his resignation. “Whether it’s overseeing the comprehensive plan, or helping to design the wastewater system . . . he was intimately involved in the implementation of the wastewater system. He was involved in the water system. I simply . . . you know that line about how no one’s irreplaceable — but I’m not exactly sure how we’re going to replace the knowledge and the talent and the spirit that Gary has brought to the table. He has spent endless hours of his own time working on these issues, and the town has benefited. . . .
“We really wish the two of you the very best,” Sullivan said. “And we really are going to miss you.”
“You also provided us with such a reasonable perspective on all the hot issues we’ve had to face,” said O’Connell, addressing Schwartz. “It was always a calm, balanced perspective, in spite of the wildly divergent views that are sometimes held in the town, and it helped stabilize the council. And it was an enormous privilege to work with you. . . .
“So I guess we’ll all just get wild and crazy now,” he said, to significant laughter.
“One of the things that always impressed me about Gary is that he always did his homework,” said Kuhn. “And one of the contributions that you and Michelle brought to town was helping to stop the speeding in town, with that stop sign [at Main and Porter streets]. I always think of you, and will think of you, when I stop at that sign.”
The council and crowd stood and applauded Schwartz, whose resignation is effective Sept. 30.
A new plan, and a new commissioner
Gail Swift, the only applicant for a longstanding vacancy on the planning commission, was appointed unanimously to the post. A four-year Main Street resident with husband Judd, Swift noted in a letter to the mayor and council that she’d served “on boards and committees, both on a local and national level, where strategic planning was an integral part of our responsibilities.”
“Gail had worked for quite some time for Hilton Hotels,” said Sullivan, “and has now retired, and has more time to help the town, and volunteer . . . I think she’d be a great addition.”
“Given the beginning of serious efforts on our comprehensive plan,” said Aichele, “and the departure of the commission’s longtime chair, I would think we’d want to make this appointment tonight, rather than wait another month.”
The vote to appoint Swift was 6-0.
Before he announced his plans to leave, in fact, Schwartz urged town and county residents alike to attend not only the planning commission’s next regularly scheduled meeting Sept. 19 but especially two special public forum sessions, with planner Milt Herd as facilitator, scheduled specifically to gather input from citizens in the process of the town’s revision of its comprehensive plan — “the strategic vision of the town’s future,” as Schwartz said, reading from a notice that had been sent out with the most recent water bills.
The sessions are 2 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 1, and 7 p.m. Monday, Oct. 3 at town hall. Town and county residents alike are welcome.
“The beginning of the process [of revising the town’s comprehensive plan] is not only a good time,” Schwartz said, “it’s the best time to get involved.”
Permit review, hydrant plans, property sale
The council also approved — and ended the need for further reviews — the one-year review of the adaptive-reuse permit issued last year to Rappahannock Investment Partners to operate the Old Washington School’s gymnasium/classroom building as commercial office and special-event rental space. For this relatively brief consideration, Sullivan recused himself and sat in the front pew, as he is one of those investment partners.
Town clerk Laura Dodd said her office had received no complaints, written or otherwise, about the use of the space.
Managing partner Bill Walton rose to report that the space was doing well, despite the recent departure of the young Forge Studios moviemaking company, with tenants including Racer Construction and Rapp at Home, and special event rentals including last year’s RCHS prom, the artists tour, the Food Pantry, 4-H club, the Benevolent Fund annual dinner and other events and classes.
He said the group had not had any complaints from the neighbors, including the residents of the eight apartments in the adjacent building.
Taking up briefly the issue of the non-working fire hydrant on Piedmont Avenue, which several residents have requested be reconnected over the past year, the council agreed to seek proposals for both the cost of replacing the hydrant — by moving it across the street, where there is a working water main — or of removing it entirely, a job that the Washington Volunteer Fire and Rescue Department, Sullivan said, could likely estimate. It was Washington fire company officials who reported last year to the council that disconnected hydrant posed no safety hazard, since the next nearest hydrant was sufficiently close for firefighters to work in the area.
The council also authorized Bennett to start advertising for sale the approximately half-acre property it owns at the corner of Warren Avenue and Leggett Lane, one of two properties retained after the sale two months ago of most of the Avon Hall estate to private owners who plan to renovate it and continue public access to the pond and nature trail areas. (The other property also still owned by the town is a 5.2-acre tract between the Avon Hall main house and the wastewater treatment plant.)
Sullivan said there had been interest in the property from potential buyers. Asked if there was a sale price, Bennett said there was not, but that “concept plans” for the site would be encouraged from interested parties, as the council and planning commission have discussed in previous sessions, and “to some extent, those plans will determine the asking price.”
The council voted to reschedule its next monthly meeting from Monday night (Columbus Day) to Tuesday night, Oct. 10 at 7 p.m.