The Washington Town Council Monday night (Nov. 14) unanimously appointed Bradley Schneider, a longtime planning commission member, as the newest member of the council.
Schneider, who lives on Piedmont Avenue with his wife, Wendy Murdoch, fills the vacancy created by the retirement of former Vice Mayor Gary Schwartz. An election of a new vice mayor was on Monday’s agenda, but was put off until next month’s meeting. Circuit Court Clerk Peggy Ralph could not be at the meeting to swear in Schneider (who visited her office for the official ceremony the following morning).
And that was the easy part of the council’s meeting.
The next agenda item was consideration of a special-use permit to allow the potential new owners of Foster Harris House, the B&B on Main Street, to continue present owners John and Diane MacPherson’s specially permitted service of dinner to up to 10 non-guests. The MacPhersons obtained their permit three years ago, but it was valid only as long as they owned the inn; any new owners would have to re-apply.
Unable to leave home in Los Angeles because of a family medical emergency, would-be Foster Harris House owner Klaus Peters, retired from a career managing hotels large and small around the world, was represented at the council meeting by Sperryville real estate agent Martin Woodard. At the start, Woodward said conversationally that he’d lived in Rappahannock for 40 years and this was his first town council meeting.
He didn’t say so, but there could be some similar delay in his next town council meeting attendance.
It was nearly an hour later that the council finally voted — unanimously, no less — to approve the permit to allow Peters to do what he has told the MacPhersons (John MacPherson said) he’s always wanted to do: Exactly what the MacPhersons have been doing, including providing fine dining for guests and non-guests, and no more than 10 at a time. Peters plans to bring in his own chef, and he and his wife will live at the Inn, and (he wrote in a letter to the council) will look forward to becoming part of the Washington and Rappahannock community.
Six members of the public spoke in support of the permit during the hearing that preceded the council’s own discussion. Council member Gary Aichele worried about changes in lighting and noise, though he said he essentially was prepared to vote in favor of the permit. It was after town attorney John Bennett suggested that the council could vote to issue the permit for one year — instead, as they’d been discussing, approving the permit with a built-in one-year “review,” which does not require the permit holder to reapply and go through a public hearing — that Woodard began to bristle, and said, “I don’t think that’s fair.”
Aichele agreed that a “provisional approval” was not enough reason for someone to invest in a new town and a new venture, and suggested the one-year review be a condition; Mayor John Sullivan and the other council members agreed, unanimously.
The council also voted unanimously, after not quite as long a discussion, to approve a change to a special-use permit for White Moose Inn owner Jim Abdo to allow his hotel management to live in either the old Pullen House on Main Street (which is where the current permit allows management to live), or the Schwartz’s recently vacated home on Piedmont, or across the street at 48 Piedmont Ave. Abdo owns all three properties; the two not occupied by a hotel manager will likely remain as residential rental properties.
The council also voted unanimously to spend up to $3,000 to remove the non-functioning fire hydrant on Piedmont Avenue, which Washington Volunteer Fire and Rescue officials have said is not necessary to provide adequate coverage for firefighters (as there is another hydrant sufficiently close). The hydrant, though marked and known to the local fire companies as defunct, could still cause confusion or delay if firefighters not familiar with the area try to use it, Sullivan said.
Fred Catlin, elected recently as chair to the planning commission after Schwartz’s departure, gave the council an update on the commission’s work on a revised comprehensive plan, which, he reported, the town hoped to have in its final draft form for council approval by July 2017.
Aichele asked if the document outlining “key ideas from comprehensive plan public forums” held in October be posted on the town’s website (washingtonva.gov/government); town clerk Laura Dodd said that would be done soon.
Aichele said he would “encourage people who are interested in the future development of the town of Washington to check it out. . . . We did have good turnout at the meetings . . . but this is an important document . . . an excellent vehicle for people who might want to enlarge it, add to it, or challenge it.”
Sullivan reported, in both cases to spontaneous applause from the moderate crowd at town hall, that longtime town resident Betty Buntin (whose daughter Nancy was in attendance, as she is at nearly every town council meeting) had recently turned 100; and that council member Patrick O’Connell, who is also chef-proprietor of the Inn at Little Washington in his spare time, should be congratulated for the Inn’s recent award of two Michelin stars in the first-ever Washington D.C. Michelin Guide.
O’Connell nodded and smiled at the crowd. “Yes,” he said, and deadpanned, “we are seeing Russian guests now.”