On Tuesday, August 10, some draping on the fence surrounding the Afton Inn shell appeared, along with a graphic post of plans for the redevelopment of the 153-year-old building site dating to its 1868 opening as the Montrose Inn during the Civil War “Reconstruction” era. A 2023 completion was cited for the building planned for redevelopment in a combination of upscale apartments on upper floors and commercial spaces on the first floor and in a building addition on the North Royal Avenue side. For Royal Examiner’s coverage of developer 2 East Main Street LLC’s plans for the site, see the linked late December 2020 story “From Town Eyesore to Downtown Anchor: Reimagining the Afton Inn”.
On Thursday, August 12, Front Royal Town Manager Steven Hicks issued a press release citing 2 East Main LLC’s movement into the second phase of its redevelopment plan, and current cooperation between the Town and developer. Were only that it had always been that way.
Coincidentally, the same day some cleanup work was seen at the old Town Hall building across North Royal Avenue, for which the Warren County Economic Development Authority (EDA) “swapped” to gain control of the Afton site for marketing for redevelopment in 2014. The move became necessary after then Afton owner Frank Barros decided to let the Afton Inn shell sit deteriorating after, in a questionable move, the Front Royal Town Council decided to sue its own Board of Zoning Appeals to reverse the BZA decision to allow Barros’s redevelopment plan, including a first-floor indoor fountain, to proceed. That 2007-08 BZA review was necessary because the plan would result in the renovated Afton Inn being about 10-feet taller than the Warren County Courthouse across the street. Building taller than the courthouse downtown was and is forbidden by town zoning codes.
His plans shelved by the Town’s legal action against itself, Barros refused to communicate with the Town, even threatening legal action for harassment if continued attempts to contact him were made. The EDA intervened on the Town’s behalf, gaining developmental ownership, and offering Barros the “swap” for the vacant old Town Hall dating to the late 1930s which the town government had recently abandoned as too small for its continued use as the town government center, though in much better physical shape than the Afton Inn.
Current part-time Town “Business Development Project Manager” and recent Interim Mayor and Interim Town Manager Matt Tederick made several appearances before Town Council in 2014, vocally leading opposition to the swap. The current Afton redevelopment plan was delayed for a good part of 2020 during Tederick’s recent interim stint with the Town, as the Town claimed ownership of the Afton, blocking the EDA’s Afton sale to 2 East Main LLC. But eventually, with the EDA-2 E. Main LLC deal facing a deal-killing deadline and the Town’s $750,000 Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) and downtown façade improvement funding linked directly to Afton redevelopment plans, the town government relented, allowing the sale and planned redevelopment effort to resume after over six months of delay through 2020.
Another confusing, but not atypical chapter in the governmental soap opera sometimes affectionately(?) known as the “Helltown Chronicles”.
Rugged Terrain Crossfit takes home the trophy at the Waggin’ for Dragons 2022 race
Waggin’ for Dragons 2022 is a wrap.
Thank you to all of the participants and volunteers who spent their day with us down on the Shenandoah River with the 22Dragons crew. This year this fun boat race will benefit the Humane Society of Warren County, Front Royal-Warren County Chamber of Commerce, and United Way of Front Royal.
Check out this lineup of teams this year! All of these boats raised at least 1,000 as an entry fee. There were several fierce rivalries that added to the energy and fun!
- Humane Society of Warren County – Foster Fleabags
- Rotary – Rotary River Rats
- Warren County Sheriff’s Department
- State Farm – Good Neighbors
- Element Risk – Risky Business
- Rugged Terrain Crossfit
- Valley Health
- Skyline High School
- Coldwell Banker Blue
The winner of the race on the water was Rugged Terrain Crossfit! Congratulations!!
This tough crew came out and gave it their all. Fun banter between the Sheriff’s team and Crossfit because there was wife vs husband action on the two boats! Be sure to stop by the Rugged Terrain gym to see this gorgeous Waggin’ for Dragons trophy in person. Bragging rights and good luck will live at this gym for the next year!
- GOLD Rugged Terrain Crossfit 1.01.4
- SILVER Warren County Sheriff’s Department 1.01.88
- BRONZE Coldwell Banker Blue 1.02.08
(Numbers are appropriately correct)
There were two other categories that were judged. Most funds were raised and the most spirited teams. The Rotary River Rats brought home both of these honors netting a total of $5,011 in funds raised, a full $2,000 more than next in line. All three of our local Rotary clubs were represented on the boat – Rotary Club of Warren County, Rotary Club of Front Royal, and the Rotary Club of Northern Shenandoah Valley. The team had a representative from the House of Hope, Department of Social Services, and I’m Just Me Movement (a local non-profit that supports our youth through mentoring and positive reinforcement) rowing as well!
Chamber welcomes Kells Belles to Front Royal
The Front Royal/Warren County Chamber of Commerce, along with Town Mayor Chris Holloway, Councilman Gary Gilespie, and friends welcomed Kells Belles to Main Street in downtown Front Royal. Kells Belles is the dream of Kelly Wahl to provide a women’s fashion boutique to the Front Royal community.
Kells Belles is located at 213 E. Main Street in downtown Front Royal. Kelly says she will be open on Wednesday to Saturday from 10:00 am to 6:00 pm and on Sunday from 1:00 pm to 5:00 pm, closed on Monday and Tuesday.
Find out more on Facebook or call 540-551-3157.
Higher adult meal prices, more preschool slots, new division leader on School Board agenda
The Warren County School Board during its Wednesday, August 3 regular meeting unanimously approved several items — including additional preschool slots and higher prices for adult meals served at the schools — and met a new school division assistant superintendent.
Warren County Public Schools (WCPS) Superintendent Christopher Ballenger introduced board members to the school division’s new Assistant Superintendent of Instruction Heather Bragg, a WCPS Instructional Resource Team member for the last five years who specialized in English, history, and foreign language instruction. Bragg replaces Alan Fox, who formerly held the position before retiring in June.
“I believe that my time here [with WCPS] over the last five years… has prepared me to begin the job, but I know that I’ll have a lot to learn and look forward to engaging in those partnerships and continuing those relationships with the principals, teachers, and staff that I’ve already established,” Bragg said, adding that she’s “truly passionate about instruction and curriculum and the positive impact it can have on the lives of our students.”
“They no longer have to quarantine,” said Hirsch. “Persons who test positive for COVID should isolate for five days. If they are asymptomatic, their symptoms are resolving, and they’ve been fever-free for 24 hours, they may return to programming after five days.”
Ballenger added that contract tracing by school nurses also is no longer required. “We’re going back to ‘if you’re sick, stay home; if you’re not sick, then come to school,’” he said.
In School Board action, all members were present, including School Board Chair Kristen Pence, Vice Chair Ralph Rinaldi, and members Antoinette Funk, Andrea Lo, and Melanie Salins.
The board unanimously approved 10 items on Wednesday. Among the highlights were approvals for:
1) The 2022-2023 Dual Enrollment Contract between Laurel Ridge Community College and WCPS that sets out the terms and conditions for which courses will be offered to high school students who opt to take college-level courses and receive both college credit and high school credit toward graduation.
2) The first amendment to the lease agreement between Warren County, the Warren County School Board, and the Samuels Public Library for the development and maintenance of an amphitheater adjacent to the library. The original lease agreement between the School Board and Warren County, as well as the lease agreement between Warren County and the Board of Trustees of Samuels Public Library did not permit the library campus to be used for anything except a library, according to WCPS Assistant Superintendent for Administration George “Buck” Smith. The first amendment allows for a portion of the library campus to be used for the construction and operation of the open-air amphitheater, as well as the library, he said.
3) Increasing the adult breakfast rate to $2.40 and the adult lunch rate to $4.00 effective August 9, in order to meet the 2022-2023 Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) minimum Adult Price requirement. Smith explained that adult meal prices must be high enough to compensate for the total paid reimbursement and the commodity value that is not provided by the federal government for these meals. “The paid reimbursement and commodity rates change each school year, meaning adult meal prices may change each year,” said Smith.
4) One additional Virginia Preschool Initiative (VPI) teacher and three additional VPI assistants at a cost of $145,000 and $5,000 in non-labor funds for a total of $150,000, covered by an increase in the VPI state allocation. The superintendent is also authorized to request additional appropriations from the Warren County Board of Supervisors. Hirsch said that WCPS has experienced an increase in pre-K enrollment that, in turn, warranted an increase in the allocation from VDOE. “Our new allocation is 173 slots, which brings our dollar allocation to $714,044,” he said. “Our current appropriation for this school year was $564,044.”
5) Five wheelchair-accessible vehicles to transport students that will be largely funded through the $309,038.12 American Rescue Plan flowthrough grant WCPS was awarded in July 2021. Hirsch said the vehicles will alleviate space issues and support social distancing in vehicles. The total cost of the vehicles is $298,450. The balance of $10,588.12 will be used to support plexiglass, car seats, and other accessories that will enhance COVID-19 mitigation strategies, said Hirsch.
Public Advised to Avoid Contact with Algal Mats in sections of the North Fork of the Shenandoah River near Town of Strasburg, VA
An Algal Mat Alert has been issued for the North Fork Shenandoah River for the Town of Strasburg. The alert area begins above the town at approximately Route 644 (Deep Hollow Lane), to include the Deer Rapids Road Bridge, to below the town at approximately Route 611 (Long Meadow Road), for a total of approximately 11.5 miles. Potentially toxic algae mats could be widespread or patchy in areas within this vicinity. Recreational use may continue providing those using the waterway take caution to avoid contact with the algae mats. If mats appear unavoidable in an area, the public should discontinue recreational activities there.
Algal Mat Alert signs have been posted near the boat ramp at Deer Rapids and at public access points along the North Fork Shenandoah River in Strasburg. The area of the river where algal mats have been investigated can be seen on the interactive Harmful Algal Bloom Map.
While this alert applies to this particular area, everyone is reminded to avoid areas in any natural waterway that have algal mats or discolored, scummy water. People should also avoid allowing their pets to swim in areas where mat material is observed. Contact with these mats may cause skin rash and gastrointestinal illnesses, such as upset stomach, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. If mats are producing toxins, consumption of mats could be fatal to dogs and other animals when ingested. Sadly, animal deaths may occur suddenly following exposure. Humans should never consume water or material from a natural waterbody because this water is not treated water and is not suitable for consumption.
Although cyanotoxins were either below or just above detection in water samples tested from these locations, it is important to remember that toxin concentrations within the mats may be much more highly concentrated than those that may be in the water column. Avoiding contact with mats should avoid the release of toxins to the water, if mats are producing them.
VDH has observed no evidence of impacts to drinking water at this time. The Office of Drinking Water is working with drinking water utilities to protect drinking water sources.
The North Fork of the Shenandoah River is a popular local recreation area for boating, swimming and fishing. Please look for Algal Mat Alert signs posted along the river shoreline at public access points and observe the advisory precautions. Recreational uses may continue provided proper caution to avoid mats is observed. It is best to ensure pets, livestock and horses do not have access to this section of the river when mats are present.
Algae blooms can occur when warm water and nutrients combine to make conditions favorable for algae growth. Most algae species are harmless, however, some species may produce irritating compounds or toxins. Avoid discolored water, scums or mat material that are green or bluish-green because they are more likely to contain toxins.
To prevent illness, people should:
- Avoid contact with mats which may be present in North Fork Shenandoah River above and below the Town of Strasburg.
- If mats are unavoidable, do not attempt to recreate in the waterbody.
- WHEN IN DOUBT, KEEP PEOPLE AND PETS OUT! Use your best judgment before recreating in natural waterbodies.
- Do not allow children or pets to drink from natural bodies of water or consume material in the water or along the shoreline.
- Keep small children, pets, and livestock out of the areas experiencing an Algal Mat Alert. They do not understand the risks associated with mats and may drink river water or consume mats which could cause illness.
- If you or your animals experience symptoms after swimming in or near the area under an Algal Mat Alert, seek medical/veterinarian care. You may also contact your local poison control center.
- Additional resources for pet owners and veterinarians are available from the CDC at www.cdc.gov/habs
- To ensure fish filets are safe to eat, properly clean fish by removing skin, discarding all internal organs, and cooking fish to the proper temperature.
- To view the Algal Mat Alert area, view the HAB Map online or the Algal Mat Status Report for the North Fork Shenandoah River 8.5.22.
- To report an algae bloom or fish kill, use the online report form.
- If you suspect you or your animal experienced health-related effects following exposure to a bloom, contact the Virginia Harmful Algal Bloom Hotline at 1-888-238-6154. Please do not call this number for updates on sampling or status reports.
The Virginia Harmful Algal Bloom Task Force, which includes the Virginia Department of Health, Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, and the Old Dominion University Phytoplankton Analysis Lab, will continue to monitor mats in the river. In general, Algal Mat Alerts may be lifted following two consecutive observations where mats are not widespread and unavoidable and preferably, as resources allow, when water column cell counts and toxin concentrations are below safe swimming thresholds. An Algal Mat Alert may also be lifted or maintained at the discretion of the health department. For example, after one test an advisory may be lifted if results are within safe levels for swimming if other information indicates exposure or human health risk is low.
For more information about harmful algae blooms, Algal Mat Advisories and Recreational Water Advisories visit www.SwimHealthyVA.com.
17-year-old charged with ‘Driving Under the Influence’ in fatal Rockingham County two-vehicle collision – speed also cited as factor in ongoing investigation
According to Virginia State Police (VSP) a 17-year-old driver has been charged with “Driving Under the Influence” in the death of a 71-year-old driver in a mid-evening two-vehicle collision Wednesday, August 3, in Rockingham County. According to the VSP press release on the accident the northbound 2008 BMW driven by the unidentified 17-year-old minor male was “traveling at a high rate of speed” when it and a 1997 Mercury Villager attempting to make a left turn onto Route 42 after stopping at a westbound stop sign on Route 765, collided. There was one passenger in each vehicle, another 17-year-old male in the BMW, and a 78-year-old female in the Mercury. The investigation into the accident continues.
Both occupants of the Mercury, driver Gerald L. Will (71) of Hinton, Va., and Jean E. Will (78) also of Hinton, were transported from the scene with life-threatening injuries. The State Police Press Release from the desk of VSP Public Information Officer Sgt. Brent Coffey reported that the two involved 17-year-olds suffered “minor injuries” and were also transported from the scene for treatment. Ms. Will was transported to the UVA Medical Center, the other three involved parties to the Sentara RMH Medical Center. VSP reported that all four involved people were wearing seatbelts when the accident occurred.
Below is the VSP release on the fatal collision in its entirety:
Virginia State Police Trooper J. Joseph is investigating a two-vehicle fatal crash in Rockingham County. The crash occurred Wednesday, (August 3) at 9:25 p.m. at the intersection of Route 42 (Harpine Hwy) and Route 765 (Buttermilk Creek Rd).
A 1997 Mercury Villager was traveling west on Route 765 when it stopped at a stop sign. As the Mercury attempted a left turn onto Route 42 it collided with a northbound 2008 BMW 328I. The BMW was traveling at a high rate of speed.
The driver of the Mercury, Gerald L. Will, 71, of Hinton, Va., suffered life-threatening injuries due to the crash and was transported to Sentara RMH Medical Center, where he later succumbed to his injuries. He was wearing a seatbelt.
A passenger in the Mercury, Jean E. Will, 78, of Hinton, Va., suffered life-threatening injuries due to the crash and was transported to UVA Medical Center for treatment. She was wearing a seatbelt.
The driver of the BMW, a 17-year-old male, of Harrisonburg, Va., suffered minor injuries due to the crash and was transported to Sentara RMH Medical Center for treatment. The male was wearing a seatbelt.
A passenger in the BMW, a 17 year-old male, of Rockingham, Va., suffered minor injuries and was transported to Sentara RMH Medical Center for treatment. He was wearing a seatbelt.
The driver of the BMW was charged with driving under the influence.
The crash remains under investigation.
Warren Coalition presents Larry M. Funk Award to Roger Smelser
On July 28th, Warren Coalition members and staff gathered for the annual Awards & Appreciation Luncheon at the Warren County Community Center. This event has traditionally recognized the Warren Coalition Member of the Year and demonstrated appreciation for members who have shown consistent dedication throughout the year. This year, there was also a new award presented: the Larry M. Funk Award for Outstanding Service to Children in Warren County.
Larry M. Funk was a member of Warren Coalition for more than 20 years, serving in a number of positions to include Vice President and President during that time. He was the Warren County Sheriff’s Office D.A.R.E. instructor and Community Policing representative for 27 of his 28 years of his law enforcement career, and frequently went above and beyond his role in service to the children of Warren County. He was also an elder at his church and served as assistant Sunday school superintendent and as a youth Sunday school teacher. During the luncheon, Larry was remembered with fondness.
“Larry loved children. The Coalition was the apple of his eye,” his wife, Linda, said.
“It’s really hard to follow a man like my father,” his son, William, acknowledged. “He was a wonderful man. He cared so much about kids, and treating others the way you want to be treated was also a priority for him.”
“He was such a cheerleader for the Coalition,” said Christa Shifflett, Warren Coalition Executive Director. “The uplifting words, the posts online that he was pleased and honored to be a part of such a great organization supporting the kids of Warren County. Continuously promoting, promoting, promoting.”
Submissions for the award were accepted from early May through June 3rd. A committee of three members from the Warren Coalition independently reviewed the nominations and sent their top four choices to Christa. Three people were selected by all three committee members, and a fourth received two votes. Christa forwarded those four nominations to Linda and William for the final decision.
Of the 18 nominations submitted, five of them were for this year’s recipient of the Larry M. Funk Award for Outstanding Service to Children: Roger P. Smelser, Jr.
Roger has been a coach, manager, and President of Front Royal Little League for over 30 years, serving even during times of illness. “Roger is there for the children and would do anything for any of these children in the league,” wrote one supporter. “[He] would give you the shirt of his back if he needed to. [He] is a role model to all the baseball children which he has been coaching for over 30 years.”
“His kindness, his honesty, his hard work, his dedication to the youth in our town and county has endured for many decades. He continues to amaze me how much he cares for our children,” another person wrote in.
“[Roger] maintains community outreach, knows the kids by name, donates his time every day, maintaining the fields, umpiring games, and especially great relationship and much respect from all the kids,” wrote another.
While there were many worthy nominees, the choice of Roger Smelser for the first Larry M. Funk Award for Outstanding Service to Children was clear. “What really struck me was that everything he does is volunteer-based,” Linda commented.
As Christa presented the award to Roger, she said, “Sir, thank you so much for your dedication to the kids in Warren County. Trust me when I tell you the community loves you and recognizes how much you have given to the kids.”
Clearly moved by the award, Roger thanked everyone, saying, “It’s an honor. I know with Larry, it was all about kids. To even be considered [for this award] in his name is special.”
Roger received an engraved crystal award and a $500 cash prize. In addition, his name has been engraved on a plaque that will list each year’s honoree and be kept in the Warren Coalition office.
In addition to presenting the Larry M. Funk Award during the luncheon, the Coalition recognized Nick Croft as the Member of the Year. This is the second consecutive Member of the Year Award for Nick, who has received the award multiple times during his tenure with the Coalition. Despite facing serious challenges this past year, he still continued to provide much-needed technical support and website assistance to the Coalition. Nick also hosts the Coalition website on his own server.
Additional awards included a Perfect Attendance Award for Robbie Seal of the Warren County Sheriff’s Office, and three people received the Attendance Award for being at 80% of the Coalition meetings: Jessica Dandridge from WCPS, Alexia Rosen from Family Preservation Services, and Susan Smith with WCPS.
Warren Coalition is a nonprofit agency established in 1994 to help fill the gaps in health care and substance misuse awareness to the community. The Coalition began under the guidance of Warren Memorial Hospital as an outreach project, but it has since grown and was incorporated in 2001. The office is currently located in the Warren County Community Center. Their mission is to make Warren County a safe, healthy, and drug-free community through many programs and in collaboration with 15+ member agencies.