At a spirited and unusually well-attended Washington Town Council meeting Monday night (July 14), a dozen residents, neighbors and business owners offered up eyewitness testimony of speeders along Main Street and elsewhere in town.
The next morning, as he’d promised, Mayor John Sullivan called the cops.
“She was very responsive to our concerns and I believe her actions will have a real impact,” Sullivan said Tuesday in an email to council members and many of those at Monday’s meeting, speaking of his meeting earlier in the day with Rappahannock County Sheriff Connie C. Smith. He said Smith promised to “begin immediately” assigning deputies to be “more proactive . . . which is to say monitoring, giving warnings and ticketing.”
Amid a crowd of more than 20 in the town hall’s church pews, town residents rose in a flurry to add their stories and suggestions, including Christa Weeks, Gail Swift, Nancy Buntin, Gary Aichele, Michelle Schwartz, Brad Schneider and Will Arthur, who said he’d lost two pets to speeding vehicles on Harris Hollow Road, one of them just last week, as well as council members Dan Spethmann and Katherine Leggett.
About 10 years ago, town leaders considered the problem of those who routinely disobey the town’s mostly 25-mph speed limit; among other solutions, including speed-monitoring devices placed by the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT), a stop sign was installed on Main Street at Porter Street.
The efforts worked for a while, said Diane MacPherson, co-owner of the Foster Harris House B&B, on Main Street in the south end of town.
“The problem is that after the stop sign, on our end of town,” said MacPherson, “people feel like they’re done with the 25 mile per hour speed limit. And it’s amazing how much speed they can pick up, just from that stop sign to our house.”
Mark Nesbit, who recently took over as VDOT’s Warrenton Residency administrator, said VDOT could bring back the electronic speed monitors, and would also conduct a study of traffic and speed within the town. He said results and recommendations, including possibly moving speed-limit signs to more visible or effective spots, or larger signs that also warned of fines, could be presented by the time the council meets in early September.
“I just want to say one thing up front,” Sullivan said, smiling as he addressed Nesbit. “No stoplights.”
Sullivan acknowledged that the town has more work to do to give its pedestrians more sidewalks and/or safer roadside walking paths, something Aichele had stood earlier to suggest. He said two issues should be addressed — the desire to emphasize that the town is a pedestrian-friendly place, and the issue of safety, of pedestrians and animals in town threatened by those who fail to obey or notice speed limits.
“I know the deputies have their hiding places, including one on Warren Avenue as you come into town off 211,” said Aichele. “It’s like fish in a barrel . . . but that effort seems more revenue-oriented than safety-oriented. I have never seen anyone get a ticket on Main Street.”
“Obviously, more enforcement would help. I will speak to the sheriff,” Sullivan said. “At the end of the day, some people will always do bad things, you can’t stop ’em,” he said, and retold a story he attributed to Eugene Leggett, his predecessor as mayor.
“After the stop sign went up, Gene was at Baldwin’s, and a guy who’d lived here all his life came over to him and said, ‘Mr. Mayor, I’ve been speeding through your town for 60 years, and if you think I’m going to stop at your stop sign, you have another thought coming.’ Gene said, ‘You know, I don’t think we’ve entirely convinced everyone.’ ”
In other actions, the council unanimously re-elected Gary Schwartz as vice mayor; heard from council member Patrick O’Connell about a project to populate the town hall lobby with framed photos of town leaders through the years; and tabled for a month an already once-delayed public hearing on the White Moose Inn’s application for a permit to operate a tourist home at 199 Main Street, a property recently purchased by Deborah Winsor. Sullivan said the necessary plans and other materials hadn’t yet been received, and that he’d been told they’d be ready for the council’s next regular meeting on Aug. 11.
As Sullivan reported to the council Monday, the town’s Architectural Review Board had approved last Thursday (July 11) “a basic outline” of new owner Jeff Akseizer’s renovation plans for the packing shed on the southwest corner of Gay and Porter streets.
At that meeting, ARB chair Ernesto Flores — after he and ARB members Susan Stoltzman and Beverly Sullivan followed Akseizer through preliminary floor plans and elevation drawings of the two-story, barnlike building — suggested that the ARB sign off on the plans, which he said would not significantly change the character of the building. Akseizer plans to rebuild part of the building’s foundation and add barn-wood siding to match the existing exterior, and to replace some windows and add a number of new but historically appropriate windows and doors.
Flores asked Akseizer to revise his plans for adding three French-style glass doors to the Porter Street side, suggesting that it was “a lot of glass” and “out of character” for a packing shed. Stoltzman and Beverly Sullivan agreed, provisionally approving the plans and allowing Akseizer to pursue building permits with the county.
The building’s only current tenant, JPC Designs, a woodworking studio, would be returning after the renovation, Akseizer told the ARB. Before the meeting, Akseizer said he’d also spoken to Stonyman Gourmet cafe owners Alan and Susan James, who might be looking for a new home, although the resolution of those talks, he said, awaited the ARB’s approval and building and health department reviews.
The James’ attempt to block the impending sale, to the Inn at Little Washington, of the Gay Street property they now lease failed in circuit court last month; this week, Susan James said, “We are exploring every option,” but she declined to elaborate, citing her lawyer’s advice not to speak about the situation.