After a very brief public forum — which saw only one comment from the small crowd gathered at town hall Monday night (Aug. 12) — the Washington Town Council unanimously voted to allow bed and breakfasts to serve meals to non-guests, provided they receive a special-use permit.
The council also agreed to contribute $5,000 to a county-wide plan to create a Rappahannock-specific Artisan Trail Network to attract visitors via a new artisan-themed website and other promotional efforts.
The B&B meals issue was initially raised at the council’s May 13 meeting by John MacPherson, who owns and operates the Foster Harris House with his wife, Diane. At that meeting, MacPherson, a journeyman chef as well as inkeeper who recently renovated his B&B’s kitchen to allow the Foster Harris House to serve dinner to its lodgers, said he spoke to County Administrator John McCarthy on the matter, who explained that while the county zoning ordinance allows B&Bs to serve dinner to outside guests, the town’s ordinance only allows a B&B to serve dinner to its overnight guests.
The lone public comment Monday night came from Washington furniture maker (and former mayor) Peter Kramer, who voiced his support for the idea. “I don’t think it’ll endanger the Inn,” laughed Kramer, referring to the town’s (and county’s) No. 1 visitor attraction, the Inn at Little Washington.
Before voting, council member Mary Ann Kuhn said she had tried to put the council’s decision in perspective compared to the rest of the country. The mere suggestion of allowing B&Bs this right, Kuhn said, made headlines with the Professional Association of Innkeepers International, who republished the previous Rappahannock News story on this case in its online weekly newsletter.
Kuhn said B&B privileges like this varied from state to state, and even county to county within certain states. For example, Kuhn said B&Bs in Ohio are allowed to serve meals at any time — but can only serve 115 per week. Meanwhile, B&Bs in Wisconsin can only serve to registered guests.
Washington would, according to Kuhn, be the first city in Virginia to pass such an amendment.
Kuhn said she spoke to the society’s president Jay Karen, who said he’d never encountered a town passing such an amendment, but was pleased with the possibilities. “It’s very clever . . . I dig it,” Karen reported.
“I think we’ve given ourselves enough leeway [in the ordinance and special-use permit approval process] to address this uncharted territory,” said vice-mayor Gary Schwartz in support of the motion.
With that, the council voted, agreeing that B&Bs should be allowed to serve meals to non-guests if they so desire, 7-0.
This permit, however (unlike the special-use permit required to open a B&B), rests solely with the current owner, meaning if a B&B with this ability is sold, the new owner must reapply for the right to serve to non-guests. And no town B&B is “grandfathered” into this permit, meaning every B&B wanting this privilege must apply.
As the council was told by Sperryville glass artist Patti Brennan, who is spearheading a local effort to contract with the nonprofit Artisan Trail Network (ATN), the organization is the official state-designated artisan center and means to enhance economic opportunities for artisans as well as the communities where they reside.
The organization would work over the next year with the local artisan and business community to develop a theme, and a website, to attract visitors to the county, she said.
To get started in Rappahannock, the ATN requires $15,000, said Brennan. The Rappahannock Association for Arts and the Community (RAAC) and county supervisors have already pledged $10,000 in support of the project. Monday night, Brennan approached the town council to donate the remaining $5,000 and get the initial funding off the ground.
“Artisan doesn’t just refer to artists — it’s the whole culture of things made by hand,” Brennan said. “This will allow us to celebrate that [in our community] more than we have in the past.”
In a letter to the council, Brennan said that “over 25 Rappahannock businesses have paid and registered with the Trail,” including “craft artisans, fine artists, galleries . . . businesses/shops, restaurants, B&Bs and points of interest.”
“This comes on the heels of what the [RAAC’s] Art Tour is doing,” observed artist and gallery owner Robert Ballard. “This is perfect for people who want their name out there but may not have the means.”
Mayor John Fox Sullivan voiced his support for the AT, but also asked for feedback from MacPherson, Kuhn and Gary Aichele, the three B&B owners in attendance, as well as council member Patrick O’Connell, owner and proprietor of the Inn at Little Washington.
“I would only endorse this idea, if I were in your seat, if it was considered an investment,” said Aichele, who recently purchased the Gay Street Inn with his wife, Wendy. “People come to this area for two reasons — the Inn . . . and the quality of the town. It’s something Rappahannock has that other counties simply don’t . . . [and] if it was better promoted, that might increase our occupancy.
“Our guests always ask, ‘We have a few hours, what can we do?’ . . . with this, they could have their answer in just one click,” Aichele said.
“It seems to me that the one thing benefitting the town across the board is to have people stay one more night,” said council member Daniel Spethmann, in support of donating. “There’s a dynamic tension here between what people do and who benefits from it . . . There’s an attitude of, ‘the town is the town, the county is the county’ . . . I’d like to see the town continue its leadership and commit to supporting the county.”
The council members all agreed with Spethmann’s sentiments, voting unanimously to contribute the money and drawing applause from the dozen or so people gathered in attendance.
“Thank you very much,” gasped a visibly excited (and, evidently, greatly relieved) Brennan.