Town Council defers action on downtown dorms

Posted on Wednesday, August 21, 2013 at 4:04 pm

Tuesday night, Town Council deferred action until next month on an ordinance change that would open the doors to dormitories in downtown Ashland.

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A pending ordinance change would allow the Henry Clay Inn to operate as student housing for Randolph-Macon.

The request came from Carol and Ray Martin, owners of the Henry Clay Inn, who had hoped to sell the landmark building to Randolph-Macon College, which would then use the stately inn for honor student housing and offices.

The Martins were abroad at the time of the Aug. 20 meeting in Town Hall. The request to defer the ordinance change came from Nora Amos, director of planning and community development, who asked that Council allow the Martins to plead their case.

If passed, the amendment would allow dormitories to operate in any B-1-zoned districts with a conditional use permit.

At the time of the meeting, both staff and the Ashland Planning Commission were recommending denial of the change. An accompanying staff report notes that the request goes against the town’s comprehensive plan, which “clearly states that the College should not expand its footprint beyond what is shown” in the College’s 2009 master plan.

However, in the future, college uses may find their way past the confines of campus. As part of the zoning ordinance rewrite, the Planning Commission is looking at separating the town’s B-1 district into two subsets, which would differentiate the businesses lining the train tracks from those on Thompson Street.

“This could allow for incorporating uses, such as student apartments above retail [businesses],” Amos said.

The staff report also adds “when properties are owned and used by the College they are no longer eligible to be taxed currently.”

Hanover County’s 2013 assessment of the property was $1,038,400, according to data available though the county assessor’s website.

In a Powerpoint presentation provided by the town, which was also presented to the Planning Commission, the Martins said their original vision in 1991 was to improve downtown Ashland by bringing back the Henry Clay Inn. However, that vision never became profitable, forcing the scheduled Oct. 19 closure of the Inn.

Talks between the Martins and Randolph-Macon date back to 2008. The College Board of Trustees agreed to purchase the inn Feb. 9, 2013 for an agreed-upon price of $1.1 million, subject to the town’s approval. The Martins, both in their 70s, hoped the sale of the inn would fund their retirement.

Amos told Town Council that staff has been working with the Martins “to explore other options for the property,” which could include retail or restaurant uses.

Two alternative scenarios for the sale and future use of the building have not taken flight.

Town Council will again take up the Martins’ request when they meet Sept. 3 at Town  Hall.

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