Development ideas surprise Town Council

Proposal submitted for assisted living facility, family history museum — and an alternative site for post office

Washington Mayor John Fox Sullivan bids emotional farewell

At its regular monthly meeting Monday night, the Washington Town Council got a bit emotional and then, somewhat less emotionally, went postal.

John Sullivan, presiding as mayor at his last council meeting (he had declined to seek a third term), started the meeting with a short speech, during which he thanked all those he’d worked with over the last eight years. He singled out his wife, Beverly, for her unceasing support, as well as town attorney John Bennett (“He has essentially seen it all, and … has guided me through a lot of issues that were, at times, challenging”) and town clerk Laura Dodd, saying of Dodd that “she is as committed to this town as any human being, there’s no task too small for her to deal with, and she has been loyal and good and I love her dearly.” A minute or so later, someone kindly and quietly slipped Dodd a handkerchief.

Addressing a crowd that nearly filled the pews of town hall (and stood to applaud when he finished), Sullivan said: “Working with people, all of you in this room, and others who are no longer here, has … had a powerful impact on me, and given me a tremendous sense of satisfaction. Following in Gene’s footsteps [the late Eugene Leggett, Sullivan’s predecessor as mayor], we did our best to continue having a sense of community, where people work together with mutual respect, honor each other — yes, we could argue, have different opinions, even get grumpy with each other — but at the end of the day, there was enough trust that we got a lot accomplished.”

What was accomplished after Sullivan’s address:

First, Rappahannock County Circuit Court Clerk Peggy Ralph swore in council members Mary Ann Kuhn, Katharine Leggett, Patrick O’Connell, Brad Schneider and newcomer Joe Whited, as well as those council members who will also serve as mayor and treasurer of the county seat — respectively, Fred Catlin and newcomer Gail Swift.

Then, after much discussion, the council approved two actions to keep a U.S. Postal Service facility in town — this after the postal service announced two months ago that it preferred to replace its current post office at Main and Middle streets with a new, larger, truck- and handicapped-accessible facility on U.S. 211 next to Union Bank. The first was a resolution authorizing the town to sign a contract with Mid Atlantic Postal Properties Inc. for sale of a town-owned half-acre property on Warren Avenue at Leggett Lane for $135,000. The second was the council’s approval of zoning ordinance changes to accommodate a post office at that site.

Both processes were unexpectedly lengthened by the appearance of a developer who said he hoped to build an assisted living facility and adjacent museum and, potentially, a post office — directly across Warren Avenue, on the 14 acres there owned by Charlie Tompkins.

The sudden embarrassment of riches was offset by the notion of a clock ticking on the Leggett Lane property deal. Eventually, the clock won.

Mid Atlantic, which Sullivan said has built more than two dozen facilities for the Postal Service in the region over the last 30 years, has already made a proposal to buy the half-acre site, build the facility and lease it to the Postal Service, Sullivan said. A “fast” decision — contingent on the council’s actions Monday night — was expected, possibly by the end of the month, from Postal Service management, Sullivan added.

Tompkins, the first to stand during the public hearing on the Leggett Lane property contract, said parking and postal traffic there would be “an incredible burden.” Tompkins, whose property is about half within the town borders, said he’d heard from others that the town council “had approached me about this — but no one from the town council has approached me about this, and if you had, you would know that I had some development plans of my own … which would well accommodate a much better traffic flow than at that property.”

Maryland-based developer Craig Lussi, who introduced himself as Tompkins’ development partner, said he specializes in building community-minded assisted living facilities, which is what he and Tompkins have in mind for the Tompkins property, a complex that would also provide full-time employment for 70 to 80 people. “We’re prepared to buy the $135,000 property,” he told the council, where he said they would build a small museum (dedicated to the Tompkins family’s 100-year-plus history of construction in Washington, D.C., including both wings of the White House and the reflecting pool at the Lincoln Memorial). And, he said, the complex would include a post office — “with sufficient parking.”

Lussi said the plans have been in discussion for some time, but that the council’s impending action on the intended post-office property across the street brought them to the meeting.

“This plan was advertised more than a month ago,” said Schneider. “Why wasn’t anything done, or brought to the council, when this parcel was announced?”

“I love the sound of you being interested in developing some kind of assisted living on Charlie’s property,” said Sullivan. That said, he pointed out that the post office situation had been in the local newspaper for more than a year. “With regard to your observation about the space being inadequate for the developer … he’s worked out the logistics, to my understanding it’s not an issue of wetlands, and we have someone who’s already talking to the post office, and has been for 29 years, thinks it’s adequate, and they do, too.

“But … we’d be delighted to talk to you and Charlie,” he said.

In other actions, the council approved a joint public hearing with the planning commission next month on a draft Planned Unit Development (PUD) ordinance. Treasurer-elect Swift also asked if the council would agree to forego paying her the $8,000 budgeted as salary for the part-time position, and the council agreed — though it voted to pay her the nominal fee that is paid to all town council members.

An unedited video of the meeting can be found online at rappnews.com/video, or on the newspaper’s YouTube channel at youtube.com/RappNewsPlus.

Roger Piantadosi
About Roger Piantadosi 544 Articles
Former Rappahannock News editor Roger Piantadosi is a writer and works on web and video projects for Rappahannock Media and his own Synergist Media company. Before joining the News in 2009, he was a staff writer, editor and web developer at The Washington Post for almost 30 years.