“Apart from the Rush River Commons, it’s a fairly negative picture. We’ve lost businesses, we have more politicization…”
Akre: 20 more housing units could be built if RRC expansion — and boundary change — is approved
The Town of Washington Planning Commission met on Monday to hold a brainstorming session with residents to begin revising and updating Washington’s comprehensive plan to chart a course for the town over the next five years.
The meeting, which was attended by a handful of town residents and other public figures and officials, resulted in a wide-ranging conversation between everybody in attendance on the current state of Washington, what it's lacking and what can be done to improve it in the coming years.
Here are are the topline takeaways from the meeting:
The town’s population is shrinking
When Washington’s last comprehensive plan was compiled in 2017, officials set a goal of reaching a total population of 250 to bolster the local economy, bring its faltering wastewater system to capacity and inject more life into the town. But 2020 census data shows the population decreased by a few dozen residents, leaving the total number below 100 residents, according to Planning Commission Chair Caroline Anstey.
To grow the population, in attendance felt that additional housing and more businesses within the town could help attract people.
Some lacked optimism for Washington’s future
Since 2017, the town’s popular Tula’s Restaurant and Bar closed, leaving a void in the area for meals and drinks and a location where residents can gather.
Some pointed to The Inn at Little Washington’s expansions, including the recently opened Patty O’s Cafe, as examples of positive developments within town, especially as the business and other bed and breakfasts have helped to significantly boost Washington’s meals and lodging tax fund. But some expressed a desire for Washington to carve out its own identity separate to that of The Inn.
Rev. Elizabeth Keeler, rector of Trinity Episcopal Church, said that while her parish is growing, people lack a reason to stay in town once services are complete.
When asked what’s changed most in the town since 2017, Washington Mayor Fred Catlin lamented what he feels has been a growing rift between residents of Rappahannock County and those who live within the town.
“Apart from the Rush River Commons, it’s a fairly negative picture. We’ve lost businesses, we have more politicization, we’ve lost a watering hole for people,” Anstey said, referring to the loss of Tula’s.
Rush River Commons to soon break ground; more housing possible
County resident Chuck Akre, who's behind the planned Rush River Commons in Washington and was in attendance at the meeting, said the development’s first phase, expected to be the town’s first mixed-use, could break ground as soon as March in a race to construct a new space for Rappahannock Food Pantry to move by the time its Sperryville lease ends in August.
He also said that if the development’s second phase is approved (it’s been caught up in controversy over his efforts to adjust Washington’s boundary to accommodate the expansion), there could be an additional nearly 20 housing units built on top of the 18 already planned for phase one.
Many people at the meeting praised Akre as the most significant player in altering the town in recent decades.
Allow additional growth while preserving character
Many in attendance appeared to be in agreement that the town should continue to be more welcoming to the idea of change and growth than out in the county are. Akre urged the body to consider facilitating more use of accommodating zoning measures such as the Planned Unit Development ordinance that was passed to help get Rush River Commons off the ground. But there was consensus that the town should strive to continue preserving its rural character, while carefully accommodating further residential and business development.