I attended the Sept. 15 meeting of the Washington Town Council to hear the discussion of the special-use permit requested by Deborah Winsor to have her residence at 199 Main St. run by the same off-site innkeepers as the White Moose Inn.
So welcome, White Moose South (technically it’s known as a tourist home), to the overpopulated B&B community in Rappahannock County.
Enter Elizabeth Buntin, 98 years old and a resident of Little Washington for 64 years. She wrote a letter to the town’s zoning administrator, John McCarthy, strongly opposing the White Moose request for reasons of both a decline in her property value and worry about losing the peace and quiet and the feeling of safety that she’s known over the years. “I think this plan has plenty of potential for trouble; only tourists who see this as an opportunity to misbehave would be happy with it.”
Then the absurdity started. The White Moose Inn owner assured the council that the innkeepers lived only seven houses away (he counted them out loud) and that a button would be installed in each room to summon them! Boy, they better be able to run really fast and not go out together or sleep too soundly! The button and innkeepers running around town were deemed acceptable by the council.
The only mention of Mrs. Buntin’s letter and that of another town resident, Wendy Murdoch, was when the town attorney told members that the letters were in their packet of documents. There was no examination of the applicants as to how they would address the objections of these town residents, supposedly the council’s constituents, and how, in turn, the council might add some restrictive language to the permit.
As to the White Moose South’s guests who would be in residence only when Ms. Winsor would not (she could not give the council any idea as to how often she might be), the owner of the main White Moose replied that they would be “spill-over” guests such as families, and maybe parties and wedding receptions — some of Mrs. Buntin’s worst nightmares, I’m sure.
The comment was not picked up by the council nor did the owner say it again — no wonder! But the council assured itself that given the space limitations on White Moose South’s lot there would be no space for such events. This, even though Mr. McCarthy had recommended to the council:
“I might observe that the property being at some remove from the White Moose Inn, and further still from the residence of the proprietor, that a reasonable limit on the groups or numbers of users might reasonably be placed in order to ensure that transient occupancy is of minimal impact to neighbors.”
And in the town’s “special-use permit guidelines,” it’s stated:
“The town governing body may issue a special-use permit if it finds that the use for which the permit is sought . . . will not be detrimental to the public welfare or injurious to property or improvements in the neighborhood, or to the quiet enjoyment of property or improvements in the neighborhood.”
Can it be any more obvious whom the town council is serving? One earlier letter writer termed it “the special interests of the business juggernaut.” The residents have become second-class concerns of this so-called “governing body.”
As the mayor said in addressing Ms. Winsor after the approval of the application (with only one condition — review in one year), “This is all about feel, I think there’s something unique about what you want to do.”
He then asked Ms. Winsor and the White Moose Inn owner if the permit’s conditions were acceptable to them. Aren’t the applicants supposed to meet the council’s requirements rather than the other way around?
I recount all this to urge revocation of the town charter that allows such a charade to continue. In addition to the arguments that others supporting revocation have articulated so well, I would recommend that this so-called governing body be dissolved via revocation so it can’t irretrievably damage or destroy the town and the county we all love so.