For those of you following the saga of Washington College’s efforts to tear down the historic Armory to build a luxury boutique hotel, here’s an update.
After filing its new, 118-page application as required for the December 7 Historic District Commission hearing, Washington College has withdrawn its application to demolish the Armory. I found out when Kees de Mooy emailed me on Thursday, November 30, stating “the College has withdrawn its demolition application pending some additional information that they are gathering. I’ll let you know when they decide to reschedule.”
This sent me looking at the HDC Guidelines. The College’s withdrawal was a unilateral action by the College—the HDC was not consulted; it was told that the College was withdrawing. Therefore, this is not a continuance or a tabling by the HDC, so the HDC has no obligation to act within 45 days of the date of the College’s first or second (now withdrawn) applications.
If the College decides to re-apply, then the process and the clock starts over. It must submit a new, complete application for whatever it is proposing, and if for demolition, do so at least 25 days prior to the regularly scheduled HDC meeting.
There has been no public announcement of this withdrawal, and as of Saturday, December 3, no agenda had been posted on the Town website for the December 7 HDC meeting.
On Thursday, December 1, I received an email from the Assistant Secretary for the Department of General Services (DGS). I had earlier inquired if DGS’s division, the Board of Public Works, which had transferred the Armory to the Town, knew about the College’s plans. Apparently, neither the College or the Town had shared these plans with the State. The Assistant Secretary’s email concluded, “We do not believe the proposed new proposal use conforms with the restrictive covenant in the transfer deed.” The Assistant Secretary also advised DGS would be emailing the Mayor, Town Manager, the College, and the HDC on Friday, December 2, of its conclusion and “…the DSG recommendation that Board of Public Works approval be sought for the proposed new use of the former Armory site.”
So, no demolition and no hotel at this point. It will be interesting to see what the College comes up with in this next round and how it and the Town chose to handle the situation this time. Let’s hope for lessons learned.
Which brings me to my next point. During my advocacy for transparency and honor of process by the College and the Town in their respective roles, I was admonished by a member of the Town Council for pointing out troubling actions of Town employees. This Town Council member pointedly directed me to file an ethics complaint instead. So, I tried to do so.
Guess what? The Town no longer has an Ethics Commission. Check out the website—there are five empty seats. There is a chairman, who I tried to reach by email and phone several times. (It took me almost an hour to track down his contact information on the Internet, by the way.) When I received no response from the chairman, I emailed the Town Manager (and copied the Mayor and Town Council members) on November 21:
”Also, I was shocked to see that the Town Ethics Commission has no members except a chair, Johnnie Johns, Esq. I have tried to reach Mr. Johns several times last week by phone and by email. None of my messages has been returned. Perhaps you can arrange for him to contact me since he has not been responsive to my direct inquiries. How long has the Ethics Commission been essentially defunct? This is a mandated Commission. What plans are in place to have it reinvigorated?”
When the Town Manager did not respond, I politely asked by email again on November 29:
“Also, have you had any luck reaching Johns re the Ethics Commission? I still need to speak with him. Also, what is the status of the Ethics Commission?”
He replied, “I am handling your questions as quickly as my time permits.”
As of Saturday, December 3, I have had no further response from the Town Manager or the Ethics Commission’s chairman. I was able to speak with the Town’s Ethics Counsel, who told me her job was to advise the chairman and the commission so I needed to speak with the chairman. Thus, I am back at Square One. It is very clear is that the Ethics Commission is not a Town priority and even the Town Council (or at least one member) did not know it was defunct. Who is minding the store?