Town officials: Post office move would lead to loss of community, rural feel

‘In two years, we’ll wonder how did this happen?’

During the public comment session of last Monday’s Board of Supervisors meeting, former Town of Washington Mayor John Fox Sullivan invoked one of the most terrifying words known to county residents: stop light!

“I am here to talk about stop lights, school safety, citizen involvement, and lack of transparency,” said Sullivan, speaking about the proposed relocation of the Washington Post Office to Bank Road off Route 211. The site is next to the Union Bank & Trust and across Schoolhouse Road from the Rappahannock County Elementary School and the School District offices.

Rumors of the Washington Post Office closing began in late 2014. In recent months, representatives of the U.S. Postal Service (USPS), which leases the Washington location from the Inn at Little Washington, have been considering alternate locations that would better accommodate the agency’s growing fleet of large trucks.

“The USPS has become a trucking business,” Sullivan noted, due to increased package deliveries from companies like Amazon. Wherein lies part of the problem.

“I don’t know what the number’s going to be, but just visualize large trucks and 200 or 300 people showing up at this new location. What will be the traffic impact?” asked the former mayor, who spearheaded efforts to keep the post office inside the historic town limits, where it’s been for 215 years.

“And then twice a day,” he said, “the sheriff actually has sheriff cars out in order to protect the safety of the students. So now what are we gonna have? The students, the buses, the trucks, and cars and people going in and out of the post office.

“Now how long do you think it’s going to be before people reasonably say, ‘We should have stop lights here. Is that the outcome people want?’”

Sullivan assailed the lack of local government and resident input to the USPS process.

“Somebody might say this is just a bunch of stuff,” he said, “but let me just ask you a question — has there been any public input? If a Dollar Tree or McDonald’s or whatever just surfaced and showed up, would the people tolerate that?” He said he was also not aware of any traffic studies having been done at and around the potential site.

“Have they [the USPS] contacted you?” Sullivan asked School Board Superintendent Shannon Grimsley and Rappahannock County Sheriff Connie Compton who both attended the meeting.

Both answered no. As did BOS members.

“Then two years from now . . . you’re going to be at that stop light on 211 and wonder ‘how did this happen?’”

In addition, the Postal Service does not deliver mail in Washington. Instead residents, businesses, and government offices located in the Washington Zip Code are assigned Post Office Boxes in the Washington facility.

The USPS plans to continue that practice if and when it moves to Bank Road. “The USPS has said they are not going to deliver mail to the town of Washington,” Sullivan observed.

In the evening session of the meeting, Fred Catlin, who was elected Washington mayor in November, commented on another implication of placing the Post Office on Bank Road.

“One of the focuses of the county’s comprehensive plan was to concentrate the county’s population in the villages,” Catlin said. “I thought that was a good idea from a planning perspective and also a great idea as a resident of the county. The benefit of doing that is it creates a sense of concentration and feeling of community and preserves the rural nature of the county.”

But moving the Post Office to Bank Road would threaten that sense of community, he said, “destroying the concept of villages and the rural nature.”

Zoning issues

The Board also reviewed the county Board of Zoning Appeals Record of Decision in a permit appeal action brought by a group of Ben Venue Road neighbors regarding Williams Tree Service that operates on the same road. (Editor’s note: the writer of this story is one of the Ben Venue Road neighbors).

At last month’s BZA meeting, the neighbors, accompanied by their attorney Gifford Hampshire of the Fairfax firm Blankingship and Keith, presented evidence that the WTS operation has violated conditions of its permit. In 2007 the BOS granted Greg Williams, WTS’s owner, a Special Exception Permit to operate under a zoning ordinance that defines “Contractor’s Offices, Shops and Materials Storage Yards.”

The neighbors argued that since that time the WTS Ben Venue Road operation had grown dramatically, despite another SEP issued in 2010 for the business to “move the vast majority of the operation” to the former E-Cow location at the intersection of Routes 729 and 211.

After nearly two hours of testimony by sworn witnesses and presentation of 102 pages of photos and other documentation of WTS violations, the BZA sided with Zoning Administrator Michelle Somers in her ruling that WTS was complying with permit conditions, except for one breach that had since been corrected.

In the BOS meeting, neighbors Sandra Renzy, Bill Freitag, Bob Mann and this reporter spoke, reiterating their arguments that the 2007 permit had been illegally granted, as the WTS operation does not fit the zoning ordinance definition of a Contractor’s Yard. And that the neighbors had observed and documented numerous violations of WTS’ operation, including having 11 workers on the property, almost three times the number allowed by the permit; constant daily noise; using larger trucks that allowed; and operating after the allowed business hours.

County Administrator Garrey Curry told the BOS that Somers had inspected WTS and found only one violation. He did admit that Somers’ “inspection is a snapshot in time” and that she needs to observe the violations herself. Curry suggested that Somers could continue to send letters to WTS and make spot visits.

County Attorney Art Goff said that there is no evidence of violations except what the neighbors observed.

Piedmont supervisor Christine Smith — the only supervisor to attend the BZA hearing — said that “specificity is important” referring to the residents’ evidence. This left the residents perplexed about how much more specific they had to be.

Stonewall-Hawthorne Supervisor Chris Parrish said that Williams had a by-right privilege to operate his business in an agricultural zone. However, as the road residents pointed out in the BZA meeting, the WTS operation is not an agricultural enterprise, as defined by the county zoning ordinance, but instead is a commercial wood processing facility that belongs in a commercial or industrial zone.

Curry told the BOS that revoking the WTS permit would most likely result in Williams suing the county. However, the Ben Venue Road residents also told the board that if they couldn’t get their concerns addressed, they were also considering suing the county.

In the end, the BOS made no decision except agreeing to enforce the conditions of the existing permit.

In other action, the BOS heard of Curry’s efforts to identify potential contractors to provide architectural and engineering services to the county to repair and renovate historic buildings on Courthouse Row.

The board also unanimously voted to officially recognize the combined 39 years of contributions Geraldine Bailey and Harold Beebout have made to the Sperryville Volunteer Rescue Squad and the community.

An unedited video of the supervisors 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 boarddocs.com/va/corva/Board.nsf/Public.

About Patty Hardee 271 Articles
Writer, consultant, actor, director, recovering stand-up comic, Patty covers the county’s courts and other topics of interest for Rappahannock News. She lives with her grape-growing husband Bill Freitag in Flint Hill.