The fate of Avon Hall — or what remains of the vacant, weather-worn former estate of William Carrigan, which has been in the town’s hands since shortly after Carrigan died a decade ago — was much discussed, and hardly decided, Monday night (Nov. 18) by the Washington Town Council.
Sparked by a late-meeting suggestion by council member Mary Ann Kuhn that the town consider having the property appraised, and encouraged by several of the half-dozen citizens in attendance in the half-hour discussion that ensued, council members seemed to agree that it was time to . . . well, not exactly decide, but set a time frame in which to decide — most likely, over the next year.
“We always talk about what we’re going to do with Avon Hall,” said Kuhn, after town attorney John Bennett and council member Jerry Goebel suggested that the timing, and the market, might not be ideal for a positive appraisal. “And meanwhile,” she added, “it’s just rotting away up there.
“We said we’d convene a committee to consider the future of Avon Hall,” she said. “But it’s always ‘the future.’ I think the day is today.”
“I agree with Mary Ann,” said Jean Goodine, a former council member who was at Monday’s meeting for a special-use permit (see below). “When I was on the council, every month — well, not quite every month — we said we’d do something about Avon Hall, but nothing ever got done. It’s an eyesore.”
Said Nancy Buntin, a town resident nearly all her life and a regular attendee at the council’s meetings: “It seems things keep being done to that property which keep it from being attractive. The [county sheriff’s radio] tower went up, and the sewer plant [built on the Avon Hall property in part to save the town from having to purchase a dedicated tract] . . . and with the nature trail project, the natural-growth area that will be around the pond, I understand it’s good for the pond, but it’s not necessarily attractive to someone who might want to live there. Things keep being done around the place that seem to say you don’t really want to get rid of it.”
“I want to strongly take the position that what’s going on with the nature trail is not just environmentally attractive,” said Mayor John Sullivan, “but attractive in every way, including beauty.”
“I would support what Mary Ann said,” said B&B owner Gary Aichele, who suggested that the town set some kind of time frame, perhaps a year, that focuses the town’s thinking. “Either there’s a creative public use that has the support of the council and the town, or a private use that would contribute to the tax base,” he said. “It’s a major chunk of the town, and it’s now deteriorating and losing its value.”
Sullivan said, “I don’t disagree with anything that’s been said. And I don’t disagree with setting a one-year time frame . . . but I’d like to be very clear. The term ‘kicking the can down the road’ that’s been used several times here. The town has chosen, purposefully, not to sell Avon Hall yet — but it is a very high priority to figure out what to do with that property, and to do something that is best for the town in a large, and ambitious, and positive way.”
No action was officially taken by the council — but on Tuesday, Aichele said he intended to accept the invitation of several town officials and apply for appointment to the town planning committee, which has a vacancy.
Furniture maker Peter Kramer, a former mayor and longtime shopkeeper in town, rose at Monday’s meeting to ask the town to think about providing off-street parking and a public restroom facility.
“Considering all the activity I see happening in town these days, and it seems like that kind of activity is only going to grow,” he said, referring to the recent — or impending — opening of new retail, food and lodging businesses along Main and Gay streets, “I’d like to see the town and the county get together and put in what would be a ‘hidden’ parking area.” Kramer suggested a landscaped, low-key parking area could be built somewhere within the county-owned property behind the courthouse complex and the town’s Avon Hall property.
“Also I think the time has come for the town to have a public restroom facility and information center,” Kramer said. He suggested the Jett Street “stub” between the RAAC Community Theatre and the county administrator’s office.
“It is indeed something we should think about, and talk about,” said Sullivan. “Either the town has a parking problem now, or someday will. And the public facility is also a good question.”
Sullivan said he’s already had discussions with Rappahannock County administrator John McCarthy about such possibilities, and McCarthy said the county would be paving the unpaved portion of its employee parking area behind the courthouse.
Combined with the closing next July 1 of the county’s jail when the new regional jail opens in Warren County, Sullivan said McCarthy told him, “it should take some pressure off the parking along Gay Street.”
Sullivan said McCarthy’s “basic attitude is, really the town should be driving this, with the county being engaged in how we solve the problem. I think both ideas are something we should be talking about,” Sullivan said.
“As the town becomes more attractive, more vital — more engaged, let’s say,” said Aichele, who moved to town with his wife, Wendy, when the couple purchased the Gay Street Inn B&B six months ago, “it makes sense that a series of civic improvement projects would follow,” he added, specifically referring to the public-restroom idea.
“On Halloween, people told us, ‘Be ready for 400 kids,’ ” Aichele said, grinning. “We thought it was a joke; we didn’t realize, it was a threat. We had about 400 trick-or-treaters come by that evening. And I’m sure somebody’s bushes took a hit . . .
“Christmas is coming, artisans are drawing more folks to the town and county — it would seem naive to think this kind of planned growth isn’t going to happen,” Aichele said.
“It’s incumbent on us to consider the impact of increased growth,” Sullivan said, acknowledging (as he has often done) the town’s four-year-old wastewater-treatment plant as the largest driver of that growth. “But we do want to control what happens in this town, not have it be a hodgepodge.”
After a brief discussion, the council voted unanimously to grant a special-use permit to Jean Goodine that would allow her tenants at 353 Main St. — the Wine Loves Chocolate shop and tasting room opened by Little Washington Winery two weeks ago — to expand their retail operation upstairs.
McCarthy recommended approval of the permit, which is required for retail space exceeding the zoning ordinance’s 1,000-square-foot limit. Goodine also told the council that county building office chief Richie Burke’s inspection determined the area behind the structure would meet any additional-parking requirements.
The action also granted Goodine’s request that the permit’s term not be limited to the current tenants. It comes up for an automatic review in 18 months — the length of the tasting room’s initial lease — but is thereafter renewed automatically every year, as long as the property is owned by Goodine, her family or heirs. Town attorney John Bennett said the council retains the right to review, and revoke, the permit at any point if any of the circumstances, or the use of the building, changes significantly.
Vice-mayor Gary Schwartz said the additional retail space would not be likely to require any change in sewer-usage fees.