People Inc. housing plan withdrawn

CCLC agrees to sell old school to investors

After provoking months of letters, debates, public hearings and surprise twists, People Inc.’s proposal to convert the Old Washington School gymnasium to low- and moderate-income housing has been withdrawn.

Tuesday afternoon (Jan. 22), People Inc. housing director Michael Rush wrote to town attorney John Bennett to officially withdraw the community-action organization’s application for a special-use permit, saying “it is my understanding that an agreement for purchase of the Washington School gymnasium has been reached.”

A private investment group – Washington Mayor John Sullivan, councilman Dan Spethmann and investor Bill Walton of Harris Hollow and possibly others – reached its agreement with the property’s owners, the Child Care and Learning Center, to purchase it, reportedly for slightly more than People Inc. planned to pay.

At the Jan. 14 town council meeting, Sullivan and Spethman recused themselves from the deliberation after announcing they and others sought to purchase the building. “A number of us got together . . . and said that we would be prepared to buy this building with the intention of . . . [figuring] out what the best use is,” said Sullivan at the meeting.

An initial offer of $585,000 was turned down by the CCLC board. Walton said by phone Wednesday that the investment group reached a deal “sometime over the weekend” with the board. CCLC chairman John Lesinski said Wednesday the investment group offered an additional $250,000 for the property, which would raise it above People Inc.’s offer of $833,000.

“We’re very pleased to have come to an agreement with this buyer’s group,” said Lesinski in a phone interview. Currently the contracts have not been signed, Lesinski said, meaning the deal is not yet legally binding, but added that they should be ratified “in the very near future. We expect to have everything finalized before April 15.”

Walton, referred to by Spethman as the group’s spokesman, said after the town council’s meeting last week the Mount Salem Avenue property is “not a real estate play . . . it’s more about owning the building so we can have some local say about how it’s used.”

To that end, Walton said this week, everything proposed at the previous meeting is still considered a part of the group’s eventual plan for the building. “Everything we mentioned before is still an option – affordable housing, a senior center, a community college branch.”

“We’re going to continue to run the building ‘as is’ for now, including the [existing eight market-priced] apartments,” Walton continued. “And have a six- to 12-month study period where we take a look at the property, as a whole, and decide the best use for the town and its citizens.”

Walton added that the deal will be formally announced in a joint press release “within the next few days.”

The continuation of last week’s council hearing, scheduled for 7 p.m. Jan. 23, was subsequently cancelled.