Council approves spa’s overnight rentals

The Washington Town Council approved one special-use permit allowing Jackie Meuse to rent out an apartment above the Little Washington Wellness & Spa.

At Monday’s meeting (Feb. 10), Meuse and her husband Joe told the council that they have been renting out the one-bedroom apartment since 2006, though the leases were generally six to 12 months long. Meuse said her new plan was to rent it on a nightly basis, “as an enhancement of the existing spa.”

The council’s primary question, and one raised by County Administrator John McCarthy when recommending approval of the permit, was who would manage the apartment. Meuse said that that spa manager would be in charge during normal business hours (until 6 p.m.), after which management responsibility would fall to Meuse herself, who lives nearby in Sperryville.

The apartment, Meuse said, also includes a full kitchen, though she added she wouldn’t be offering any meals. There’s also no access from the apartment to the spa’s deck in back, Meuse said.

Mayor John Fox Sullivan admitted he had some concerns about what Meuse’s permit could allow others to do. “We try to strike a balance between encouraging things that are an economic value to the town balanced by . . . what this town provides to people who come to it,” Sullivan explained.

Sullivan added that he was in favor of Meuse’s application, “only because the building is in a mixed used (i.e. commercial) zone. I would be adamantly against such overnight lodging rental in residential areas.”

Because the apartment has less than than six rooms and isn’t offering on-site meals, it’s legally considered a tourist home — something which has traditionally only operated in a residentially zoned area. “You’re in a commercial area, not a residential one,” Sullivan pointed out. If Meuse were applying in a residential area, Sullivan said he’d vote against it, as “it opens the door for the people after you.”

Still, the council unanimously approved the permit, 6-0, with a one-year review period attached. (Council member Daniel Spethmann was absent.)

“A one-year review — does that mean we come back in a year and tell you what’s been happening?” asked Meuse.

“Or they tell you,” responded town clerk Laura Dodd, drawing laughter from the council and small audience in attendance.

ARB, planning spots and grant reports

The rest of Monday night’s 90-minute meeting was a hodgepodge of topics, as the council voted to reappoint several members to the town planning commission and Architectural Review Board (ARB).

Vice-mayor Gary Schwartz and Katharine Miller were reappointed to the planning commission, 5-0 (Schwartz abstained from the vote). Their terms are scheduled to expire in 2017 and 2018, respectively. Three people were reappointed to the ARB: Ernesto Flores, Beverly Sullivan and Susan Stoltzman; all three terms will expire in 2017.

Sullivan also informed the council of two grants currently being sought, one by RappFLOW (Rappahannock Friends and Lovers of Our Watershed) and the other by the Old Rag Master Naturalists.

RappFLOW is seeking a $3,400 grant from the Virginia Department of Forestry to help pay for some of the plants around the property of Avon Hall, the weather-worn former estate of William Carrigan whose future is a “priority” for the town to determine this year. Sullivan added that he’s writing a letter of approval on RappFLOW’s behalf.

The Master Naturalists, Sullivan said, are pursuing a grant offering up to $30,000 from Dominion Power to help the restore the pond at Avon Hall. Sullivan cautioned, however, that he expected the grant might come through at $15,000 to $20,000 rather than the full amount.

Lastly, council member Mary Ann Kuhn informed the council that the former Virginia Department of Transportation building on Fodderstack Road — just outside the town limits — is for sale as part of an online auction.

The town had previously made an offer on the three-acre property, Kuhn said, which includes a number of buildings and even a small graveyard. The property is one of eight VDOT properties being auctioned off.

Schwartz noted that it seemed VDOT was willing to take whatever they could get for the property, and might be willing to sell low, but the council didn’t make any sort of formal offer on the property.