The City of Fredericksburg remains in a conundrum as it seeks a resolution to the vacant Mary Washington Monument Caretaker’s cottage.
A joint work session between City Council and the Fredericksburg Economic Development Authority last week yielded little clarity.
Councilman Matt Kelly expressed frustration that both the city and the EDA have publicly stated they have no interest in becoming residential landlords.
“As much as we say we’re not supposed to be in the real estate business and we don’t want to do this, we accepted a property and we’re responsible for it,” Kelly said.
The Mary Washington Monument Park property is located on Washington Avenue. It was deeded to the city in 1966 with the understanding that all 4 acres would be kept intact as a memorial to George Washington’s mother.
Members of the city’s Planning Commission and others have said that dividing the lodge from the property so it could be sold would violate that trust. So the city has proposed the EDA lease the lodge for five years, effective April 1, 2021. The EDA would then sub-lease the home to a residential tenant.
Members of the EDA said they’re open to doing the city a favor to get it out of a bind, but residential real estate is outside the scope of their mission. One EDA member, Will McIntosh, said the authority is more interested in becoming a commercial landlord because it fits with its goal of assisting businesses.
“The conversation that the EDA had sort of revolved around the fact that we didn’t see how this in and of itself fits into our economic development strategic plan,” McIntosh said. “It didn’t seem like the kind of thing the EDA thought it should be doing on its own.”
Kelly doesn’t agree. Kelly said while he understands the EDA’s position, it is “basically a part of the city” and operates through city resources.
“If they need any support, staffing-wise or otherwise, it’s going to be city staff,” Kelly said.
Kelly said Washington Heritage Museums—which oversees the Mary Washington House, Hugh Mercer Apothecary, Rising Sun Tavern and St. James House—has been in contact with city officials about coming aboard and providing a donation to help ease some of the EDA’s financial burden. City Manager Tim Baroody mentioned the possibility of having a joint work session between City Council, the EDA and Washington Heritage Museums.
But that remains “somewhat up in the air,” said Fredericksburgs Economic Development and Tourism Director Bill Freehling.
“I don’t love the idea [of taking on the project],” EDA member Mitzi Brown said during that board’s separate meeting last Monday. “We’re stepping in to solve a problem for the city and they’re asking for money to solve a problem that’s really theirs.”
Brown said she wants to help the city, but doesn’t think the EDA should endure any financial loss in doing so. She said a primary drawback is that the EDA would supply $25,000 in the first year with no promise that it would “end the maintenance nightmare.”
She said with the proposal not being profitable in the first year, the city is asking for a lot for very little return. The EDA estimated it could rent out the home for $2,500 per month or $30,000 per year based on the current rental market in the city.
According to the proposal from the city, the EDA’s monthly lease rate would be $833 or $10,000 per year.
The EDA would also place $15,000 in a reserve fund to be used for major expenses such as a new HVAC system. Any amount remaining in the reserve fund would be invested into home improvements unless the lease is extended.
The EDA would hire a property manager and take responsibility for all building maintenance. The tenant would pay for utilities. The city would maintain all landscaping on the grounds of the lodge and the adjacent monument/cemetery property.
“We’re at a time right now where putting out money for non-business related things we don’t think is in the overall city’s best interest and not what the EDA does,” Brown said.
The EDA members are considering coming up with a counter-proposal.
Kelly insists that City Council, the EDA and Washington Heritage Museums come to the table as soon as possible and work out a deal.
“We’ve had enough time of everybody chatting off to the sidelines,” Kelly said. “I think it’s time for this to come before the council and for somebody to bring a proposal forward.”
Taft Coghill Jr: 540/374-5526
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