ABINGDON, Va. — Abingdon Town Council spent Wednesday afternoon last week discussing the future of the sites of two former big-box stores, both owned by Marathon Realty Corp.
What was once Magic Mart at Washington Crossing shopping center is now slated for demolition to make way for a 98-room Hampton Inn, which could take up to 16 months to construct, according to Stephen Spangler, representing Marathon Realty Corp., at Wednesday’s Town Council work session.
That new Hampton Inn would replace Abingdon’s current Hampton Inn, which is set to be demolished when the Virginia Department of Transportation completes an upcoming project to improve access at I-81’s Exit 17, Spangler said.
A contract has been signed with Hampton Inn but is contingent on approval by the town’s planning commission to subdivide Washington Crossing, Spangler said.
“I’m glad you’ve found a location for the Hampton Inn,” Abingdon Mayor Wayne Craig said to Spangler, “because we’re going to be losing revenue when they tear it down.”
What will happen to another big-box store, the town’s former Kmart, however, has spawned a debate between Town Council and the Washington County Board of Supervisors all summer long.
County leaders have proposed making the Kmart, also represented by Marathon, the new location for the Washington County Courthouse and have now placed such a proposal on the Nov. 5 ballot for Washington County.
But the Abingdon Town Council and Town Manager Jimmy Morani oppose such a plan, saying it violates zoning ordinances.
On Wednesday, Town Council passed a motion by Vice Mayor Cindy Patterson rejecting the county government’s request that the council consider amending the zoning code. The council also agreed not to pass on the request to the planning commission or to add “courthouse” to the list of accepted uses for the town’s B-2 General Business District zones.
Jason Boswell, the town’s director of zoning, said allowing a courthouse to be built at the Kmart site would take the property off the tax rolls and would not be consistent with other zoning in the town.
Currently, a courthouse is only allowed in Abingdon’s Old and Historic District.
Craig called it “somewhat absurd” to allow a courthouse anywhere within the town’s B-2 General Business District.
“We are being asked to arbitrarily change our zoning ordinance,” Craig said.
Washington County Attorney Lucy Phillips addressed the Town Council on Wednesday and also sent a five-page letter to members of the council and planning commission. Phillips spoke in defense of a rule in the town code that allows the public to request zoning text amendments, which the town’s acting counsel, Cameron Bell, said violates state law in a Sept. 6 letter to Phillips.
Phillips urged the town to leave the rule in place. In her letter, Phillips said that section of the town code should be revised rather than repealed.
“The Town Manager and Town Attorney have asserted that it is improper for the Town to receive applications for amendment of the zoning ordinance from Town citizens because ‘only the governing body … may amend the zoning ordinance,’” Phillips wrote in her Sept. 18 letter, referencing Bell’s argument from his Sept. 6 letter to her.
“It is illogical to conclude that the acceptance of an application equals amendment of the zoning ordinance,” Phillips said. “The Town’s acceptance of an application brings a citizen’s request to the attention of the Commission and Council, which may initiate the process for amending of the zoning ordinance.”
Phillips also criticized Bell’s opinion that the code violates state law and, on Wednesday, asked the Town Council a question: “Can any one of you really accept that it’s beyond the scope of the town’s authority to receive requests for changes in the town’s zoning law from its own citizens?”
Citizen involvement in the legislative process, Phillips said, “is part of the bedrock of democracy.”