‘We might be able to come up with something that gives them a brand new building that’s in town’
By John McCaslin and Luke Christopher
Rappahannock News staff
A private developer of U.S. Postal Service buildings has submitted an offer to buy a piece of property owned by the Town of Washington at the southwest corner of Warren Avenue and Leggett Lane with the aim of constructing a new post office.
“It’s a serious enough offer that we’re taking it seriously,” said Washington Mayor John Fox Sullivan, who took the Town Council into closed-door session Monday evening to discuss the proposal.
The property under consideration, which measures .59 acres and includes an abandoned clapboard house, has been on the market for approximately one year, according to the mayor.
Sullivan said the developer’s offer was submitted through a Warrenton-based real estate agent. Neither the developer or broker have been publicly identified.
Word of the proposal comes on the heels of U.S. Postal Service real estate specialist Rick Hancock announcing last month that “people at the top” of the agency had made an “operational decision” to relocate the post office outside of the historic town, where it’s been a fixture for 214 years, to a vacant property bordering Bank and Schoolhouse roads off Route 211 two miles south of Washington.
The decision to construct a new building in the central county location caught Sullivan and others who lobbied to keep the post office within the town’s limits by surprise. Over the course of the past year, several existing buildings in town were presented as options for the post office to consider moving into when it came time to abandon its present location at Main Street and Middle streets, a space it says it’s outgrown. Now it could be that the Postal Service has a building site in town to consider.
“The town has received a serious offer from a real estate agent on behalf of an established professional developer of post office buildings,” Sullivan confirmed in an interview this week, explaining how the developer “puts up buildings and then leases them to the post office.”
The mayor said it was his understanding that the developer and broker “have been in the background for months . . . but now have taken action once they learned about the [Postal Service’s] decision not to stay in town. So they gave us an offer, a proposed contract, where they would buy the property from the town at a dollar price that we find reasonable.”
Sullivan said he spoke yesterday (Wednesday) by telephone to Hancock, who is based in North Carolina.
“I had an encouraging conversation with Rick Hancock,” he said, “and the entity interested in developing the property and putting in a new building for the post office has been involved with senior level people at the post office, including Mr. Hancock, and they are aware of his interest, have dealt with him before, they are very familiar with him and his ability to deliver.”
Hancock made it clear, said the mayor, that the developer’s proposal would certainly be something to consider, along with others that are on the table.
“Their [the developer’s] offer is essentially contingent on their being able to do a deal with the post office and the town, to the extent that the town has to approve any zoning or other issues. It appears the post office wants a brand new building, and they say that they’d be happy to have it in town, and we might be able to come up with something that gives them a brand new building that’s in town,” he said.
Sullivan said the new offer was submitted last week. He said Town Attorney John Bennett will handle further negotiations between the town and developer.
Given the relatively small size of the property, Sullivan conceded: “I’m not an expert. All I know is that the potential buyer who has a post office development company has seen the space, seen the lot, and he must think it works. And they [the Postal Service] know him.”
As for a brand new development going up in a town filled with 19th century houses and buildings on blocks purportedly laid out by George Washington?
“The town has had the property for sale, the town wants to sell the property, and it is equally interested in the use of the property,” replied Sullivan, who is serving his last weeks of his second and final term in office. “And we’ve had discussions with several potential buyers over the last year, but [those proposals] never came to fruition.
“We want it to be a positive addition to the town,” he continued. “In this particular case [any new] building would be subject to review by the [town’s] Architectural Review Board. Unlike the county, the town would have control of the design. That’s a solvable problem. There are four entrances to the town. That is the main entrance to the town. So it’s in everybody’s interest to have a building that is both attractive and functional.”
Otherwise there is the old, if not historic abandoned wooden building on the property to consider. Rappahannock Historical Society executive director Judy Tole recently took the position that the building should be preserved. One option would be to move the building to a new location, where it could be restored.
“That is an issue what happens to the old building,” Sullivan agreed. “That’s step number two, three or four.”
Stub street policy
The Washington Town Council’s discussion of a draft resolution on its stub street policy took up 45 minutes of the council’s lengthy meeting Monday. The idea of having a process in place for requests to abandon or vacate unused street stubs first came up at the council’s June meeting, when co-applicants George Eatman and Fredette Eagle, along with their attorney Mike Brown, proposed that the north end of Gay Street, which exists only on paper, be vacated by the town.
Over the last month, the planning commission has been working on a draft resolution to formalize the process for the applicant. Council member and town planning commission chair Fred Catlin read from the document a four-point process that starts with the Architectural Review Board (ARB) approving the application, neighbors being properly informed and provided an opportunity to voice their opinion, review by the planning commission and finally the town council.
Council member Patrick O’Connell expressed concern that review of street abandonments are not the purview of the ARB.
“This is coming from someone who served as chairman of the board for 14 years and was on the board for 21 years,” O’Connell said. “Very often, the board members are confused about the extent of their control, and they start asking questions like where is the septic field going to go, where will the electrical wires go, at that point they have to be reminded that these are not architectural elements and that their scope is architectural compatibility and that it stops there.”
The rest of the council agreed with O’Connell’s notion, and agreed by consensus to have the town attorney ready a new draft policy at the council’s November meeting.
History and holidays
Local historian Maureen Harris, at the meeting to present a table of contents for her upcoming book, “History of the Town of Washington, Virginia, 1735-2018,” offered one teaser to the council: “There was an article in the newspaper recently about ‘Little Washington’ being on the 1860 maps. Well, I have a source where it was called Little Washington in 1804.”
Harris is seeking help for more tidbits; anyone with anecdotes, photographs or other nuggets can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The council also agreed by consensus to authorize the mayor to sign a letter of interest to lease or purchase the former Rappahannock County administrator’s office located at 290 Gay St., which the letter states would be “ideal space” for town offices, making them more accessible to all of the town’s residents and visitors. Council member and treasurer Jerry Goebel dissented, citing concerns about the cost.
In other matters, Sullivan reminded all that the town’s annual Halloween event is Wednesday, Oct 31; the annual Christmas parade on Sunday, Dec. 2; and the town’s own Christmas potluck for residents is the following Sunday, Dec. 9.