Washington’s first mixed-use development could break ground as soon as early next year
Washington Town Council on Monday unanimously approved a special use permit for Rush River Commons, allowing construction of what is likely to become the first mixed-use development in town.
The approval, which marked the culmination of months of planning and carefully curated review of the proposed development on the behalf of the town government, also made way for an extension of the sewer service district and a rezoning of a portion of the property where the development is expected to sit.
The site plans include a cluster of commercial offices for local nonprofits, including a new location for the Rappahannock Food Pantry, along Warren Avenue and a separate cluster of rental units fronting Leggett Lane to be built with the intention of providing affordable housing to working people in the county.
Washington resident Chuck Akre owns the property and proposed the project at his own expense, describing it as his way of giving back to the community. In an interview following the meeting, Akre said construction of the development could break ground as soon as early 2022, with a goal to complete at least part of the project by August 2022 to begin housing the food pantry when its current lease in Sperryville comes to an end.
“Everybody’s worked really hard for a lot of months, and I will give great credit to the planning commission and the Town Council for the thoroughness in which they conducted their review of this,” Akre said. “And we’ve got great experts on our team that have made this come to fruition.”
The project has undoubtedly at times been contentious among factions of Washington and Rappahannock County, with some concerned the development could tarnish the county’s treasured rural aesthetic and pave the way for additional construction.
During the meeting, nearly every seat in the Town Hall was occupied and applause erupted following the roll call vote where the project was formally approved.
And all who spoke during the public hearing were in favor of the project. They argued the approval of Rush River Commons is an essential step in the direction of ensuring the long-term viability of Rappahannock County as an attempt to attract business and provide housing in an area where it’s scarce as the population ages and fewer young families move in.
“The landscape, scenery and demographics are changing, while simultaneously becoming endangered in a way because of our fear to creatively evolve,” said Rachel Escobar, of Flint Hill. “The Rush River Commons plans and discussion feel like a genteel and needed willingness to move toward the direction of growth and preservation.”
“From the food pantry and nonprofit office space to affordable and inviting living spaces that will hopefully be filled with young, full-time families who wish to further invest in the economy, such as I do, the Rush River Commons should not be seen as a gateway to further unwanted development, but rather is a desirable addition to help serve the people who call this place home,” Escobar said.
Diane and John MacPherson, the former owners of Three Blacksmiths, the nationally acclaimed Sperryville restaurant that sold in recent weeks, spoke in support of the development, saying there is a “dire need” for additional housing in the county. All five of their full time employees when they owned Three Blacksmiths were unable to live in the county, Mrs. MacPherson said.
Mrs. MacPherson, who alongside her husband also previously owned the Foster Harris House bed and breakfast in Washington, noted that Three Blacksmiths’ new owners, Jake and Sarah Addeo, who are parents to three daughters, are currently living in temporary housing since they haven’t been able to find a permanent home in the county.
“We want to know that small businesses like our’s can survive in a county like this. We’ve been very lucky to be able to do it for as long as we have, but I worry that people who want to start businesses in this county — it’s hard enough to find good help, but it’s much harder if they can’t find places to live nearby,” Mrs. MacPherson said.
Town Council also broached the question of whether to entertain the Rush River Commons developer’s request to expand the town’s corporate limit so that the entirety of Akre’s lot, a portion of which is where Rush River Commons will be located, falls within Washington’s jurisdiction.
At the recommendation of Washington Mayor Fred Catlin, the body agreed to appoint a group, led by town resident Gary Aichele, to study the proposition and determine whether there are other entities within the town that also wish to seek a boundary adjustment.
The boundary adjustment request, which had been made in the past but was withdrawn, resurfaced in August when Akre’s attorney, John Foote, sent an unsolicited draft boundary line adjustment agreement to county officials and town leaders informing them of their intent to seek an agreement between the two entities.
Any decision on boundary adjustments would be between the town and county, with both having to independently approve changes then receive the OK from a circuit court judge.