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May 9, 2018

Warrenton finally agrees: Museum back to home

File Photo/Lawrence Emerson
Town-owned Brentmoor has remained unused since the museum closed in November 2014.
Photos/Lawrence Emerson
A college science professor and history buff, Kirk Goolsby said he likes the prospect of people dropping by the historic home where his family plans to live.
Brentmoor Inc. President Birge Watkins makes the case for the $450,000 offer and another attempt at making a museum work in the house.
Public Hearing
• Topic: Agreement to sell the town-owned Brentmoor to Kirk and Rebecca Goolsby of Warrenton for private residence. 

• When: 7 p.m. Tuesday, May 8.

• Agency: Warrenton Town Council.

• Length: About one hour.

• Speakers: 20, with 14 supporting and 6 opposed.

• Where: Town Hall, 18 Court St., Warrenton.

• Action: Council voted, 6-1, to approve the sale.

• Property: 4,200-square-foot Italianate home, built in 1859, and 1.3-acre lot.
• Where: 173 Main St.

• Asking price: $595,000.

• Sale price: $425,000.

• History: Town bought house and 3 acres for $460,000 in February 1999 for development of John S. Mosby Museum. 

• Details: Converted to museum with donations and grants; no kitchen or bathrooms.
By .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
Staff Journalist
For the first time in more than two decades — if all goes as planned — a family will live in Brentmoor, the historic Warrenton home that briefly housed the defunct John S. Mosby Museum.

After a contentious public hearing Tuesday night, the town council voted, 6-1, to sell the 159-year-old Italianate house to Warrenton residents Kirk and Robin Goolsby for $425,000 — about 26 percent less than the appraised value.

The Goolsbys plan to sign the contract, with several contingencies, by week’s end, according to their attorney.

The council rejected a last-minute offer of $450,000 from Brentmoor Inc. Former members of Mosby Foundation and supporters chartered the corporation May 4 in their bid to reopen Brentmoor as a museum and “cultural center.”

But, most council members suggested it would be unfair to accept that offer after four months of negotiating with the Goolsbys.

Tuesday’s decision ends three years of debate about what to do with the house, where the museum operated from March 2013 to November 2014.

The couple plans to share the 173 Main St. home with history and architecture buffs.

“One of the things that will happen with a family moving into that house again is that it will live again,” Mr. Goolsby said during the public hearing. “People lived in that house for more than a century. It has been dead for more than 18 years. Even as a museum it is dead.

“One of the things that excites me the most is to continue to share the place with people,” he added. “I know people are going to come walk up to the door.”

Packing Town Hall for the hour-long hearing, citizens offered opinions about why it should be sold as a private home or reopened as a museum.

“We know Brentmoor very well,” said Birge Watkins, president of the new organization that made its offer at 8:30 a.m. Tuesday, about 11 hours before the hearing. “We renovated the house from head to toe. We will protect and restore Brentmoor . . . . We know repairs are needed and are prepared to address them in short order, no matter how significant.”

A former town councilman and member of the former museum board, Mr. Watkins said his new group could close the deal by June 20 — with significant financial support from a descendant of John S. Mosby, a Confederate cavalry colonel and Fauquier native known as “The Gray Ghost.”

Five others spoke in support of the Brentmoor Inc. bid, including historian Dave Goetz, who noted that a council-appointed task force in March 2016 recommended museum use for the shuttered house.

A Gray Ghost descendant, John Mosby Russell of Rhode Island testified that he planned to provide significant financial support if Brentmoor Inc. purchased the house.

But, 14 spoke in favor of selling the property to the Goolsbys. Loud applause followed most of those speakers.

“If you dreamt of the perfect family to take over the Mosby house, you couldn’t have dreamt of a better family,” town resident Jim Lawrence said. “This is a providential stroke of good fortune for the town. The Goolsbys’ willingness to take this property on — with all its restrictions — is a gift to the town.”

For about three years, town officials have struggled with the vacant building’s fate. Some council members wanted to sell it; some wanted to give a Civil War museum another chance under new management.

“The integrity (of the Goolsbys) stands out to me,” Councilwoman Linda “Sunny” Reynolds (At-large) said Tuesday night. “The Goolsbys have acted in good faith.”

Jerry Wood (Ward 1), who made the motion to accept the couple’s offer, said: “The Goolsbys have come through on this. The Goolsbys have gone through the process.”

Alec Burnett (Ward 2) cast the dissenting vote because he wanted to consider the other last-minute offer from Brentmoor Inc.

Several speakers expressed concern about re-establishing a privately-run museum on town-owned property.

“If it sells to the highest bidder . . . they are going to come back asking for more money,” town resident “Dink” Godfrey said. “We are beating a dead horse again.”

Last year, 96 town citizens signed Mr. Godfrey’s petition in favor of selling Brentmoor and the adjacent Warrenton-Fauquier Visitor Center.

“If you fail the Goolsbys and their good faith negotiation to do business with the town, you will certify that Warrenton is a terrible place to do business,” resident and business owner Tony Tedeschi said. “Get this place back on the tax roles. Don’t get fooled again.”

The couple made a full price offer in November. But, the house's condition led to a lower sale price through negotiations with town officials.

Brentmoor needs an estimated $280,000 worth of work, including a new roof, foundation repairs and stabilization of outbuildings, according to the Goolsbys’ assessment conducted in conjunction with the Virginia Department of Historic Resources, which holds an easement on the house.

They would spend another $200,000 to add a kitchen and bathrooms.

The Goolsbys hope to sign the contract on Brentmoor by the end of this week, the closing contingent upon financing, a driveway easement and obtaining a title report.

They have received preliminary financing approval from their bank for about $700,000, according to their lawyer Merle Fallon.

The purchase contract requires them to open the house to the public at least twice a year.

Mr. Goolsby works as a science professor at Northern Virginia Community College. Mrs. Goolsby works at Brumfield Elementary School in Warrenton as a reading specialist.

The town in 1999 bought the property for $460,000. 

A $1-million historical renovation — funded with donations and grants — converted it from a private home to the John S. Mosby Museum. The house has remained unused for 3-1/2 years, with the town maintaining it.

The museum project restored Brentmoor to 1870 conditions, removing a kitchen addition and bathrooms, while upgrading the electrical system and installing geothermal heating and cooling.

Richmond-based Central Virginia Appraisal Service last year appraised the house and one acre at $574,000.

The town listed the property for sale in October 2017 with an asking price of $595,000.

On Tuesday, the council also unanimously approved a special use permit allowing the building to be occupied as a single-family home. The property has public semi-public zoning.

The town will need to subdivide the three-acre parcel that includes the visitor center on Calhoun Street.

May 8 public hearing powerpoint on Brentmoor sale by Fauquier Now on Scribd

Draft Contract for Sale and Purchase of Brentmoor by Fauquier Now on Scribd

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Rover 530 · May 16, 2018 at 8:06 pm
This was a great decision by the town council. Getting rid of this white elephant and failed museum was the right thing to do. The whole drama surrounding this property was a fiasco. The original asking price of the house was lowered because the town most likely failed to maintain the property and it now requires extensive repairs. The sale was not an auction. A deal is a deal. Putting the property back on the tax rolls is a big deal and is positive for the county and the town. The property as a town-owned entity would be a continuing drain on the town's budget.

Also, The Eppa Hunton House (Napoleon's) was not allowed to disappear -- it was destroyed by fire.
Mayday · May 14, 2018 at 2:46 pm
I'm astounded at the drive to wipe out Warrenton's history. The Eppa Hunton house (Napoleon's) was allowed to disappear and now the Mosby House will just be a house. Good luck touring the house now. By the way, I seem to recall a requirement in the original 1999 sale that the house not be resold. Further, I have to agree with TooTrue about bilking the taxpayers when there was a viable higher offer. Speaking of taxpayers, I can't see the thrill some have about the home returning to the tax roles. Private homes don't generate much tax revenue. Of course, in Warrenton, business is not encouraged and the tax burden does fall on residential owners. And people wonder why few visitors hang out in Warrenton.
TooTrue · May 11, 2018 at 9:32 am
Alex made the right decision. Is it even legal to take a lower offer on public property and just trash $25,000 of the public's money?
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