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R-MC PLAN FALTERS Randolph-Macon College housing plan blocked by Ashland Town Council

Town denies zoning for R-MC deal to buy Henry Clay Inn

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Posted: Sunday, September 8, 2013 12:00 am | Updated: 4:40 pm, Tue Jul 22, 2014.

A landmark Ashland hotel is expected to hit the market next month after an attempt to sell the building to Randolph-Macon College failed because of local land-use restrictions.

Ray Martin, who owns the Henry Clay Inn with his wife and one of his daughters, says he had reached an agreement with R-MC to sell the building for $1.1 million.

The private college would have used it to house honors students, according to Martin, and for office space and various gatherings.

“We just had no idea there would be a problem with the town,” Martin said. “I think it would have been a nice building for the college. … It’s sad, I think, that the town wouldn’t go along with it.”

The Georgian-style, 14-room hotel is on North Railroad Avenue, a short walk from R-MC’s campus on the opposite side of the railroad tracks. Several nearby R-MC office buildings are on the same side of the tracks as the Henry Clay Inn.

The Ashland Town Council voted unanimously last week to deny a zoning change that would have allowed college housing in a section of town generally designated for businesses.

“To put a dorm that has no retail … in the middle of a downtown — and we have a pretty small downtown — makes absolutely no sense,” Ashland Mayor Faye O. Prichard said in an interview last week.

Prichard was among Town Council members who emphasized in the meeting that turning the building over to R-MC would have meant a loss in tax dollars for Ashland. Prichard said the college’s plan was not in compliance with the town’s vision outlined in the comprehensive plan.

“We need to have business in the business district,” she said.

Resident George B. Field, who lives a few blocks from the Henry Clay Inn, also spoke against the prospective sale to R-MC.

“Frankly, I’m wondering if I’ll wake up one morning and find that I no longer live in the Town of Ashland but in the town of Randolph-Macon,” Field said. “I don’t think they should be over in this area.”

In a zoning case earlier Tuesday night, the Ashland Town Council set out to preserve the historical character of a rundown, inoperable BP gas station on Thompson Street that leads into downtown Ashland. The Town Council reached a deal with the property owner in which he’s now allowed to renovate the building for use as a business that could include a restaurant, but is prohibited from bulldozing it and building a new business building in its place.

Martin said it was minutes prior when Town Council members emphasized the importance of historical preservation of the inoperable gas station, yet they stopped a deal that he thinks would have been the best way to preserve the historical character of the Henry Clay Inn.

“We wanted to preserve the building as it is, and (the college was) willing to do that,” Martin said. “The problem now is that we have no idea who’s going to buy it. … I will sell it eventually, but I don’t know what they’ll do with it. They could tear it down and do something totally different.”

Paul T. Davies, vice president of administration and finance for R-MC, emphasized to Town Council members last week that the college had planned to keep the building nearly unchanged, with only “minimal” interior modifications.

“This would be just a wonderful place for us,” Davies said.

When asked about the fairness of the land-use restrictions imposed by the local government, Prichard responded: “I am a great believer in property rights, and that includes everybody’s property rights,” she said, adding that governments have to “walk a fine line” to support business owners and the people who live nearby.

The Ashland Hotel was built in 1858, according to the Henry Clay Inn website.

It caught fire in 1905 and was replaced with a reproduction, the Henry Clay Inn, which was used for R-MC balls and parties. It later housed money-strapped newlyweds, until fire destroyed the hotel again in 1946.

The Martin family re-created the earlier Georgian-style hotels using vintage photographs, to build the existing Henry Clay Inn in 1992. It has been a popular venue for weddings and other events.

Martin said the building will be closed to the public Oct. 19. His family hasn’t decided on a price, he said, though he expects it to be put on the market for more than the $1.1 million price that had been arranged with R-MC.

He said the inn hasn’t been profitable since the recession, and has struggled with a high vacancy rate. Rooms are advertised on the hotel’s website from $95 to $195 per night.

bshulleeta@timesdispatch.com

(804) 649-6391

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