As light snow began to fall Monday night outside town hall, the Washington Town Council moved through a similarly light monthly meeting agenda in just under an hour. As with the threatened blizzard, not much actually happened.
The only actions the council took were to set dates for its fiscal 2018 budget work session — 10 a.m. Tuesday, April 4 at town hall — and to table indefinitely any action on its long-term cable franchise agreement with Comcast, a once-a-decade formality. The contract’s boilerplate terms are primarily determined by the state of Virginia, and by evermore non-negotiable demands of the country’s giant communications companies.
Town attorney John Bennett recommended the council table it, however. He said its language did not make allowances for the town’s historic-district regulations — for example, denoting that any cabling would be done via existing overhead lines rather than the underground cabling preferred by the town’s historic district rules.
“I brought this up probably 10 years ago,” he said, “and they never got back to us about it.”
When the contract eventually returns to the council’s table, a public hearing is required. At the Rappahannock County Board of Supervisors’ public hearing on its own 20-year franchise agreement with Comcast in November 2015, not a single member of the public spoke. And the biggest changes in that contract’s terms primarily accommodated Comcast’s vastly increased costs of laying cable since the agreement was first signed in the early 1990s.
Town planning commission chair Fred Catlin reported that a new draft of the town’s comprehensive plan had been finished; commission member Gail Swift said efforts were underway to post the draft on a new planning-specific page of the town’s website at washingtonva.gov, and hoped that would be done by the end of this week.
Meanwhile, Catlin said, there are three comprehensive plan-specific meetings at which public input — from town and county residents alike — would be most welcome: The commission’s regular monthly meeting 7 p.m. March 27; a special Saturday comprehensive plan public forum at 10 a.m. April 8 at town hall; and a 7 p.m. April 17 joint work session with the town council.
Bennett also recommended the council consider the legal expense of amending its zoning ordinance, and making technical changes to the comprehensive plan — to bring both documents into compliance with changes made to the Code of Virginia since both documents were last revised. Council members agreed, most vocally Gary Aichele and Mayor John Sullivan, but the council took no action on the expense, pending an estimate from Bennett.
The council met for nearly an hour in closed session, the announced subject being the proposed sale of the half-acre property the town owns at the corner of Leggett Lane and Warren Avenue, originally part of the Avon Hall estate it sold last year to Drew Mitchell and Bill Fischer.
“The property is still very much for sale,” said Sullivan later.
Though the property and its long-empty two-story frame house are now zoned residential, town officials have said they’re open to any commercial offer or concept that makes financial sense and would be useful to town residents, and would be architecturally appropriate.