‘We are opening a door for the first time to development’
After a joint public hearing with the town planning commission, the Washington Town Council Monday night passed an amendment to the town’s zoning ordinance to permit Planned Unit Development (PUD), a new set of standards for development that was among the recommendations made last year by a town task force charged with finding ways to bolster the town’s tiny population (at last count about 130).
The measure, reviewed for the past five months by the town’s planning commission and by the council for the last two months, is meant to encourage development — housing in particular — by allowing plans to combine varied and compatible land uses, including housing, recreation and commercial.
Following its own public hearing, at which only three members of the public spoke or asked questions, the planning commission voted 3-1 to recommend approval of the PUD ordinance to the council. The single no vote was cast by Allen Comp, who’d said during the discussion that he worried the ordinance put much discretion in the hands of the town council for design-related decisions.
During that same discussion, former council and commission member Gary Aichele rose to point out that the council could always consult in such matters with the Architectural Review Board (ARB), which reviews all building permit applications in the town’s historic district. Town attorney John Bennett also pointed out that the PUD applies specifically to properties in the town’s sewer system service district — a district that happens to share the same boundaries as the historic district in which the ARB has jurisdiction.
The council’s vote to approve the PUD ordinance was 5-1, with council member Patrick O’Connell abstaining. Casting the single no vote was Mary Ann Kuhn (who the council had unanimously voted to appoint as its vice mayor earlier in the meeting).
Kuhn said she agreed with Comp’s comments, and wished the PUD ordinance had “more spine,” urging the council to delay the vote at least another month. “What’s 30 days, when this is such a big step?” she said.
“We are opening a door for the first time to development,” she said. “It’s huge. So we have to be extra careful, we might not be on the council in four years, or 10 years, so we should be sure to dot all the i’s and cross all the t’s.”
Comp added that he worried that the council would pass an ordinance that “does not allow you to protect yourself,” explaining that the town is “the only place in Rappahannock County with a viable sewage disposal system [Sperryville’s system is ‘marginal,’ he said], thus making the town a development target.”
In other action, the council approved the proposal that it vacate the unimproved north end stub of Gay Street, and at the start of its meeting, the panel passed two resolutions to recognize and thank two of its former members: Jerry Goebel, who served on the council for more than 18 years, much of that time as town treasurer; and John Fox Sullivan, who joined the council in 2007 and started his eight-year stint as mayor three years later. Both received standing ovations after Mayor Fred Catlin read aloud the resolutions.
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. The meeting agenda and related documents are online at the town’s website: http://washingtonva.gov/government-2/.