The Town of Washington looks to the future

‘Issues of concern’ include the Inn at Little Washington, lack of amenities

The Town of Washington’s Planning Commission this week released a rough draft of a reconstructed comprehensive plan, setting forth what the historic County seat should look like in next 20 to 50 years. By Lain Carney

The Town of Washington’s Planning Commission this week released a rough draft of a reconstructed comprehensive plan, setting forth what the historic Rappahannock County seat should look like in next 20 to 50 years.

But before stepping into the future, the draft calls attention to current “issues of concern” confronting the town — from a lack of sidewalks to a shortage of “community amenities” like coffee shops, a pharmacy, a grocery/general store, businesses that help promote and sustain tourism, and public restrooms.

The 27-page draft also singles out the world-renowned Inn at Little Washington, which will soon celebrate its 40th anniversary in the town of about 135 people.

“There is deep concern that the town is too dependent on the Inn at Little Washington, both as a source for tourism and as a source of revenue,” the draft states. “The community needs to bring a more diverse mix of tourist and non-tourist based businesses into the town to attract tourists and residents as well as provide more jobs for the local community.

“These businesses should be light manufacturing or service industries so that they minimally impact the local environment,” it adds.

The draft is also critical of the main Warren Avenue entrance into the 18th century town, said to be surveyed by George Washington: “[N]ot very welcoming, with a decrepit shell of a motel, three old houses in disrepair, and a commercial construction business as three of the first four images a visitor sees.”

That said, the preliminary document is far more laudatory of Washington than critical, calling it “a modern town that maintains its rural charm . . . with a unique blend of agriculture character and historic significance.”

“The location of the town, almost next to Shenandoah National Park, enables its citizens to enjoy panoramic views of the Blue Ridge Mountains,” the draft points out. “Washington’s mixture of open spaces, village-style commerce, historic residences, cultural offerings, and local government activities is fundamental to its economic, historic and aesthetic character.”

So what might Washington look like in the years and decades to come?

“The future town of Washington would be an attractive venue,” the draft foresees. “It would have its phone lines and cable lines buried, the street lighting would be sufficient . . . The buildings would be attractive, architecturally diverse, and represent different scales of size.

“There would be housing that was reasonably priced,” it continues, although the town “would not have housing subdivisions, would not have a number of houses each built to the same or similar specifications on quarter or half-acre lots.”

And yes, the draft assures, the town’s unparalleled view sheds would be preserved.

It should be pointed out that much of the draft is based on community comment at several public meetings of late, which allowed the opportunity for questions, discussion and even small-group brainstorming.

This first draft of the plan, released at the planning commission’s meeting on Monday evening, will be presented to both the town council and public later this month for review and feedback, with a second draft submitted around mid-April, and a third draft by the end of May.

When the finished comprehensive plan is ultimately presented to the town council for final approval in July, it will be only the second time that the document has undergone a major revision. The original comprehensive plan was adopted in August 1986.

The town’s draft should not be confused with Rappahannock County’s comprehensive plan, which is also currently being revised. That said, the town’s draft recognizes that Washington is an “integral part of Rappahannock County” and therefore its planning process should integrate with the county’s planning process and goals.

“The two entities must coordinate because the town is — and wishes to continue to be — the county seat [and] each entity’s comprehensive plan affects the other (for example, the current county comprehensive plan designates the town as one of three targeted areas in the county for population growth),” the draft states.

Fred Catlin, chairman of the town planning commission, tells the Rappahannock News: “As you know, the town of Washington . . . is undergoing a form of self-study and introspection. This is a pivotal time . . . The comprehensive plan serves as a blueprint for the town’s future.”

Fred Catlin, chairman of the Town of Washington Planning Commission, says this is a rough first draft of a “reconstruction” of the town’s comprehensive plan. By John McCaslin

Catlin stressed that this first draft is a “reconstruction and not just a revision” and while it incorporates “vision and guiding principles” it is still a “very rough first draft.”

He said the commission over the next five or so months will be counting on broad input from town and county residents, as well as business owners, as the document is improved and edited. There will be another public forum on April 8, public working sessions with the town council in April and May, and public meetings of the planning commission on the fourth Monday of each month.

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John McCaslin is the editor of the Rappahannock News. Email him at