The Washington Town Council elected council member Mary Ann Kuhn as the town’s new vice mayor at Monday night’s (Jan. 9) regular monthly session, during which it also heard an update on the Inn at Little Washington’s Middle Street stub parking lot, landscape and post office renovations.
The council also approved, for the second year in a row, the scheduled one-year review of a special-use permit issued two years ago to Little Washington Wellness & Spa owner Jackie Meuse to operate a tourist apartment on the second floor of the spa building on Main Street. In the process — and after a protracted discussion of whether all special-use permits should be reviewed annually — the council resolved unanimously to end the need for further annual reviews of the Meuse apartment.
Kuhn, who was elected to her first term on the council in 2010, is proprietor of the Middleton Inn B&B; she is also one of three council members in the hospitality business (the others being Gay Street Inn co-owner Gary Aichele and renowned Inn at Little Washington proprietor and chef Patrick O’Connell). A longtime journalist, Kuhn has also served several tours of duty as editor of this newspaper.
Following a complicated explanation by Town Attorney John Bennett of the process of nominating a vice mayor—a process allowing for a seemingly infinite number of nominees to be fairly voted upon and/or dropped in succession—Aichele piped up and nominated Kuhn, whom he said “always has good judgment,” calling her work for the town “meticulous.” O’Connell seconded the nomination, which also heard expressions of support from council members Katharine Leggett, Mayor John Sullivan and the council’s newest member, Bradley Schneider, who was appointed in November to fill the term of departing vice mayor Gary Schwartz. (Council member Jerry Goebel was absent).
After a motion was made to elect her, the council was told by Bennett that it had to conduct a roll call vote. When the roll came around to Kuhn, she started to say “Aye” and interrupted herself to ask, “Wait, can I vote for myself?” The answer to her question, and the vote itself, was unanimously “Aye.”
Also unanimous was the council’s decision to approve Meuse’s apartment permit review and to eliminate the need for further reviews — following a discussion during which Schneider suggested that the council routinely consider yearly reviews of such permits.
“Are you suggesting we have annual reviews of all special permits?” asked Sullivan.
“Well,” Schneider said, pointing out that many have expressed the view in recent years that there might be too many B&Bs and not enough plain residential homes in town, “it would not be a burden on the town council to do so . . . .”
“It’s not so much that it would be a burden on the council,” O’Connell said later in the discussion. He said the annual review of special-use permits, which are generally meant to become an asset attached to a property — not to the property’s owner — would deflate “the value of every special-use property.”
“It would have a chilling effect on development in general,” Aichele added.
Sullivan had pointed out that there had been no complaints, written or otherwise, about the use of Meuse’s apartment over the past two years; spa manager Ciera Backe told the council that the apartment is rented primarily through Airbnb.com, and that reviews by visitors have been universally positive.
Asked by Sullivan for an update on renovations to the Middle Street parking lot, landscaping and post office renovation project, O’Connell said the project was nearing its final phase, and deferred to the Inn’s director of business development, Bob Fasce, seated in the front pew, for the details.
Fasce said the paving of the street will be completed in spring, when a final sealer coat will be applied to the asphalt that was laid late last month; line-painting of the parking spots behind the building, which Fasce said were “increased substantially,” will also await warmer weather.
Plantings and flowers will also be evident and abundant in spring, Fasce said, and renovations on the post office building itself — in which the current mail-loading entrance facing Middle Street will become the main entrance to a fully accessible and renovated post office — will begin in earnest in February.