Town Council rejects downtown dorm plan

Posted on Friday, September 6, 2013 at 9:04 am

There will be no mint on the pillow for the owners of Henry Clay Inn, who had hoped to sell their Ashland-based bed and breakfast to Randolph-Macon College for use as honor student housing.

Sept. 3, Ashland Town Council voted down an ordinance amendment that would have allowed student housing downtown with a conditional use permit. Town officials said doing so would have violated the town’s Comprehensive Plan and Randolph-Macon’s own master plan.

Henry Clay Inn

Town Council rejected an ordinance change that would have allowed the Henry Clay Inn to operate as Randolph-Macon student housing.

The town’s current Plan calls for retail and service-oriented uses along Railroad and Center streets, but Nora Amos, director of planning and community development, said the Planning Commission continues to discuss how, if at all, the college can integrate into downtown Ashland as part of its ongoing review of the town’s zoning ordinance.

The town delayed action on the change last month to allow the inn’s owners to appear and plead their case. Tuesday night, owner Ray Martin told Council that he didn’t believe he could sell his business as a bed and breakfast, pointing out diminished profits due to a lagging economy, increased competition from other hotels and fewer travelers.

“The profitability of the inn has become so poor that I realized it would be almost impossible to sell it as an operating inn,” Martin said, later adding, “I don’t have a business to sell, I have a building to sell.”

Talks between Martin and the college about Randolph-Macon taking over the inn go back several years. Martin said the idea of using it for honors housing came up last fall and the Board of Trustees signed off on the deal in February. In an earlier presentation to the Planning Commission, Martin said the parties had agreed on a purchase price of $1.3 million, but the sale was subject to town approval.

“I never really thought about whether the town would not approve this. It never dawned on me that the town would be opposed to this,” Martin said.

Randolph-Macon’s current honors housing facility is located on Patrick Street, which Paul Davies, vice-president of administration and finance for the college, said does not adequately reflect the program.

Davies said the college had not planned on performing any major modifications to the inn, which would have housed 23 honors students, the honors program, and serve as a gathering place.

Martin, who now plans to put the inn on the market, said he had preferred the Randolph-Macon deal because he felt assured they would maintain the character of the stately bed and breakfast.

“We’re trying to keep the inn looking like it is and we want somebody who will do that,” he said.

There are currently no active offers on the property, and Martin denied allegations that he has refused to meet with potential buyers.

Though it wasn’t a public hearing, Mayor Faye Prichard allowed citizens to speak.

Aside from Davies, no speakers supported the sale, calling instead for the continued use of the stately Georgian-style inn as a bed and breakfast.

George Field told council he objected to the sale, pointing out that the college has the ability to build on its own campus.

“Frankly, I’m wondering if I’ll wake up one morning and find I no longer live in the town of Ashland but in the town of Randolph-Macon,” Fields said. “I don’t see why, if they have an insufficient place now, they can’t build their own.”

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