Supervisors seek boundary change details and ‘ concessions’
The Rappahannock County Board of Supervisors on Friday sent a letter to the Town of Washington seeking additional details and probing what Wash-ington might be willing to provide in exchange for the Supervisors’ support of the town’s request that both bodies enter into an agreement to expand its corporate limit to accommodate further development of Rush River Commons.
The letter, which the body voted at its January meet-
ing to have Chair Debbie Donehey pen, outlines a list of questions for town officials as they relate to Rush River Commons property owner Chuck Akre’s efforts to adjust the town’s boundary so his property, which currently straddles the line between Washington and the county, can be brought entirely under the town’s jurisdiction to help with his mixed-use development proposal.
Washington’s Town Council has signaled support of Akre’s request but has not taken a final vote and has formally asked the county to take part in a joint public hearing since both bodies need to independently approve changes then receive the OK from a circuit court judge for the boundary adjustment to go into effect. But before a public hearing can take place, members of the Board of Supervisors are attempting to seek more specific information on what the town and Akre are proposing with the boundary change.
Washington Mayor Fred Catlin said the Town Council will hold a special meeting next week, primarily in closed session at the recommendation of legal counsel, to analyze the Supervisors’ letter and decide how to respond.
The first phase of Rush River Commons, expected to soon break ground as Washington's first mixed-use development, was approved by the Town Council in 2021 following a monthslong review to include affordable housing, a cafe and a new location for the Rappahannock Food Pantry. Akre wants to expand it further on a segment of his property outside the town's boundary, but doing so requires access to Washington’s sewer, which town officials say can’t be extended beyond the town’s corporate limit because of legal concerns, necessitating a boundary change.
It’s not certain what would be constructed on the remainder of the lot should a boundary change be approved, but Akre has proposed a community center and potentially space for the Rappahannock County Public Library to relocate should officials with the organization choose to move.
The Board of Supervisors in the letter asked for a “narrative description” of the expected use of Akre’s parcel, including a map to show the likely locations of buildings that may be planned for construction. They’re also seeking confirmation of whether Akre would be willing to be bound to the terms of a potential agreement reached between the two bodies.
To the dismay of town officials, the Supervisors asked them in the letter to name any potential “concessions (i.e. tangible, financial, or otherwise)” they would be willing to offer the county in exchange for the Supervisors agreement to adjust the boundary.
The request highlights the Supervisors’ attempt to secure something in return for potentially ceding county land to Washington since the boundary change has proven to be controversial among members of the community who argue the potential development is out of character with Rappahannock.
Supervisors hope their efforts to gain something for the county in exchange for the boundary adjustment could help buttress public support for the move among residents who fear Rush River Commons, and the boundary change effort that’s tied to it, could lead to a domino effect of development.
Catlin said in an interview the Town is open to holding discussions with the Supervisors about the boundary change. But he indicated frustration with talks being framed by the supervisors as a negotiation, noting that adjustments to the town and county lines have been done in the past — some involving the town gaining land, and others with the country acquiring territory — but didn’t draw calls for a transaction between both entities, monetary or otherwise.
Past boundary adjustments, however, did not involve a plot of commercial land that is poised to become among the most heavily developed locally in a county where anti-growth culture pervades.
“This is disappointing to see that people are trying to take what is a process and change it into something else,” Catlin said. “... We are very interested in trying to figure out a solution. We’re very interested in continuing ongoing discussions. But we’re very reluctant to put it in terms of a negotiation since that implies something is commercial, versus a community driven action.”
Catlin argues that Washington would derive little benefit from the boundary change beyond initial fees associated with water and wastewater hook-ups to the proposed development, and that it may even lose small amounts of money on annual administrative costs.
The benefit of a boundary adjustment, he argues, is to the Rappahannock community, which could enjoy the amenities that Akre suggested may be constructed, such as a new community center. The county, Catlin said, would be gaining between $15,000 and $20,000 annually in real estate tax revenue from Akre’s expanded development, which he maintained likely won’t be constructed without a boundary change because of legal concerns related to the town’s wastewater system.
“They’re losing touch of the bigger issue, which is: How does this project benefit the entire community,” Catlin said of the Supervisors.
In their letter, the Supervisors also asked that the town provide a “narrative explanation and supporting documentation” to explain why they’re not willing to extend the sewer line outside Washington’s jurisdiction.
Catlin told the Board of Supervisors in a letter last year that expanding sewer service out into county land opens “liability exposure issues … if there were a catastrophic event that occurred in the County portion,” he wrote. “There are jurisdictional limitations established as part of the initial bond agreement for the wastewater infrastructure that could be interpreted as preventing the Town from extending beyond its boundaries for normal usage.”
The letter continues, “If the Town allowed a precedent for the sewer line to be extended beyond the Town boundary, the Town would be unable to control the use of adjoining properties that, under this new precedent, would get a sewer hook-up and whose industry might sap all (or even exceed) the wastewater capacity of the Town, to the detriment of its citizens. The impact of an overstretched wastewater system could also affect the local County citizens who do not reside in the Town.”