A drone’s-eye view of the project site near the entrance to the Town of Washington. The development’s former namesake, the old Black Kettle Motel, is in the foreground.

Now called Rush River Commons, the former 

Black Kettle development moves forward

The project formerly known as Black Kettle Commons has been reborn with a new name: Rush River Commons. And with the new name comes a new strategy for developing the nine-acre Washington parcel bounded by Warren Avenue, Leggett Lane and Route 211 which straddles the line between the county and the town of Washington. 

The proposed mixed-use development would serve as the new home for the Rappahannock Food Pantry as well as provide space for local nonprofits, retail, walkways, picnic areas and community gathering space. The Rush River Commons proposal also includes affordable rental housing.

The property owner, investor and businessman Chuck Akre, of Washington, had originally hoped county officials would approve a boundary line adjustment to bring the entire nine acres into the town, as doing so would allow the whole property to be hooked up to the Washington’s water and sewer lines. 

But the new plan for the Rush River Commons does not require a boundary line adjustment. In fact, it does not require county involvement at all (yet). “The plan that we submitted deals with only the property that is in the town,” Akre said in a press release. “It does not deal with the property which is in the county. And that’s because we wanted to move forward with this and we didn’t want to get bogged down in the debate about whether doing a property line adjustment was appropriate or not.” 

It remains unknown whether political will among the Rappahannock County Board of Supervisors might have favored — or still might favor — such a boundary adjustment. In late March, Board Chair Debbie Donehey said she hadn’t rejected the notion wholesale but was sensitive to fears among some of her Wakefield constituents that making an accommodation for this project could lead down a slippery slope. “I know people are concerned that if we do one boundary line adjustment there will be more,” she said. Regardless, the project team’s new strategy avoids the hassle of entering the political thicket altogether. 

On Friday, April 23, Black Kettle, LLC moved its plan forward, filing an application with the town for a special use permit to begin developing the property. Akre also submitted a letter to John Bennett, the town’s attorney, requesting that the property be included in the town’s current sewer service area. “As you will see from the Development Plan that is submitted with the Special Use Permit Application … sewer service to this property will be a critical requirement for its successful development for the uses that are proposed, both commercial and residential,” Akre wrote.  

Construction will take place in phases, beginning with a single office building along Warren Avenue “with the food pantry next door.” Akre stated that toward the southern end of the property will be “a section of affordable housing units, all of which will be for rent — some flats, as well as townhouses.”

According to the press release, the project team hopes to break ground late this year or in early 2022. “There are a lot of steps we have to go through,” Akre said, “but we’ve done an enormous amount of work with engineers and hydrologists. [The project] is a very significant undertaking. We have 11 identified wetlands on the property which will be preserved. It’s all going to be very sensitive to the landscape.”

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