After getting a couple of history lessons, first from Richard Hoover on the breadth and depth of Warren County’s place front and center of American History from the Revolutionary War for independence from the British Empire, on through the Civil War that asserted federal authority to end states’ rights to continue the institution of slavery, to the mid-20th century-to-present-day fight for civil rights and racial equality; and then from David Downes on the 2005 Congressional declaration of April 6th as “National Tartan Day” in honor of the Scot and Scot-Irish immigrant contributions to American culture, the Warren County Board of Supervisors got down to business as a public hearing on the Fiscal Year-2022 Budget approaches.
That FY-22 Budget Public Hearing was set for Thursday, April 15, at 7 p.m. A special meeting to vote on approval of the FY-22 county budget, as promised without any tax increases, was set for Tuesday, April 27, also at 7 p.m.
But one other agenda item addition also prefaced that budget process scrutiny. That was Warren County Department of Social Services Director Jon Martz introduction of his staff as part of a request the County acknowledge by proclamation April as Child Abuse Prevention Month. For it is that DSS staff that works to, among other duties, identify and stop child abuse in our community.
Referencing her work in nursing, County Board Chair Cheryl Cullers commented on the emotionally taxing job of dealing with child abuse: “I just want to thank you all, you guys have a horribly difficult job – I don’t know how you do it, to go out and see the things you see. I remember when I first got out of nursing school and was working, I had two children under the age of 12 months (abused) … It broke my heart. I don’t know anybody can harm any child, any child but especially babies. You have a horribly hard job and I appreciate every one of you … Thank you all very much,” Cullers concluded leading to applause from those present for the emotionally draining, sometimes life-and-death work they do for the community and its children.
After other reports it was down to budget business. Among that business was authorization to advertise for Public Hearing an FY-22 Warren County budget of $124,614,829 – there must have been some late cuts to the $126,592,012 work session total presented March 20, further assuring there will be no tax increases tied to this budget. But if no tax hikes were a sure thing, not so on some departmental and school board requests.
About those Ford Explorer SUVs
First under the microscope was County Building Official David Beahm’s departmental vehicle request for a 2021 Ford Explorer through a State Purchase Contract at a price of $30,320.82. The agenda packet staff summary noted “the vehicle will be used by the office to perform daily job assignments which include site inspections, emergency calls, site investigations, meeting and other duties.”
Questioned about the type of vehicle, Beahm traced the department’s history with a pickup trucks, including extended cab models, which ultimately proved counterproductive to the type of space suited to departmental needs and protection of code books and other materials carried to jobs.
Responding to a price comparison question from Chairman Cullers, Beahm acknowledged a $2,000 cheaper price for a “Colorado” model SUV. However, Beahm pointed to 3 miles less per gallon that the Colorado gets compared to the Explorer. It had been calculated with the average annual mileage racked up by the department that equated to a loss of $500 per year in fuel expenses, which Beahm pointed out made the additional $2,000 spent to purchase the Explorer a moot point after 4 years.
While money could be saved buying used vehicles, depending on how used that would take some years off the length of service to the department. Interim County Administrator Ed Daley pointed out that the quoted price for a new model SUV of Explorer quality through the State contract was a good price. Daley also noted that various dealerships periodically offered “significant savings” incentives to switch to their models, making brand variables vary from year to year. Questioned about the dominant make of County-purchased vehicles, including the sheriff’s office, Daley said he believed it was Dodge.
After 21 minutes of grilling, on a motion by Delores Oates, seconded by Archie Fox, the purchase request was approved unanimously.
Next up was the same vehicle purchase request at the same price by the Planning Department, also through the State purchase contract. With the logistical questions around why this model at this price having been answered over the previous 21 minutes, Deputy County Administrator/Planning Director Taryn Logan saw the planning department’s request approved after a five minute Q&A.
School Surplus funding request
Also in the board’s budget cross hairs Tuesday was Warren County Public Schools Superintendent Chris Ballenger. Ballenger was present to answer questions about the schools budget, particularly the recent request that $2.38 million in FY-20 school system surplus funding be appropriated to the public schools FY-22 budget on three fronts. As the staff agenda summary noted, those fronts are the School Capital Improvement Fund ($1 million); the School Transportation Fund ($1 million); and the School Textbook Fund ($380,365).
Discussion by North River Supervisor Oates and Chairman Cullers indicated a desire to keep the surplus funding under direct control of the supervisors until specific requests for portions of it to specific uses as cited in the budget request were made by the school board. Acknowledging the board’s desire to dole out money for specific capital improvements and school bus purchases, Interim County Administrator Ed Daley expressed some confusion on the intent with the School Book Fund disbursement.
“You don’t want them to say, ‘We want to purchase this book or this book’?” Daley asked of board oversight of specific textbook purchases.
“No, we’re not getting into the selection of curriculum – we’re just making sure the funds are available when needed,” Cullers replied.
“Because they had requested the $380k to go to the School Textbook Fund directly for the textbooks, we’re kind of duplicating on that part if we set up a County Textbook Fund … if all you want to know is that it goes to textbooks because they can’t use it for anything other than textbooks,” Daley said of the process as applied to textbook purchases versus transportation or capital improvement funds that have myriad aspects to them.
“Basically what we’re doing is setting up a savings account for you – the money’s going to be there, and it’s assured to be there. I would think it’s kind of a win-win because you know you’ve got this, set off to the side and it’s not inadvertently on your side to be a temptation to pull from,” Cullers told the schools superintendent in his first year on the job here.
After another approximate 20-minute conversation on the appropriation dynamics of the surplus funding transfer, on a motion by Oates, seconded by Walt Mabe, the board unanimously approved the use of the $2.38 million by the school system as represented, without yet appropriating the money to the direct control of the school board.
That there were questions about past school budget appropriations and expenditures was illustrated in one page of the budget packet containing an April 5 email from Ballenger responding to a question raised by Chairman Cullers, apparently at a joint supervisors-school board budget work session. That question revolved around a current FY-21 appropriation to hike staff salary scales for teachers, Instructional Assistants and Nurses that did not reach the “IA’s or nurses. It might be noted that Cullers is a retired school system nurse.
After prefacing his explanation by welcoming the supervisors support and due diligence in exploring submitted budgets, Ballenger wrote, “Mrs. Cullers was correct in stating that the Board of Supervisors (BOS) gave Warren County Public Schools (WCPS) funds this year to help correct the IA and Nurse salary scales, as well as the teacher scale. The reason WCPS did not address the IA and Nurses scales this year was that WCPS was projected to receive a reduction in state funding.”
Ballenger continued to explain that after the FY-21 budget was approved the school board had received the news of “a hold back on state sales tax and to expect a reduction in overall state funding.” While not specified, that reduction was likely related to projected declines in state sales tax revenues related to the COVID-19 pandemic emergency responses limiting business activities due to social distancing parameters and executive orders in that regard.
“Since the majority of projected new revenue were state funds, we were not able to address all three salary scales,” Ballenger continued, adding, “Therefore, when going into this school year with the expectation of a revenue loss, WCPS decided to hold back the other adjustments to ensure that funding was available to make it through the school year.” Ballenger added that “In hindsight” the held salary scale funds had not been necessary to balance the budget but had been considered a necessary precaution to avoid a repeat of shortfalls experienced in 2009.
And so the Fiscal Year-2022 Warren County Budget process proceeds towards its April conclusion – without any tax increases, if with some pointed scrutiny of its own departments’ and the School Board’s shares of that $124.6 million dollar budget.
Supervisors approve Outdoor Sports Facility over recommendation of County Planning Commission, add to the Short-Term Tourist Rental count
The Warren County Board of Supervisors held a special meeting September 27th, largely to process a list of nine actions that were not able to be covered during the regular meeting on September 20.
The Board quickly approved two leases of county property, one for a property at 229 Stokes Airport Road to Skydive Front Royal, LLC, for $600 per month, and the other for an apartment at 136 Hillidge Street for $725 per month to Raymond K. Freeman. There were no public comments on either lease, and the Supervisors approved both unanimously.
After a lengthy public hearing, on a 3-2 margin, the Supervisors approved a Conditional Use Permit (CUP) for Cole and Danielle Haase for an outdoor sports facility on their property at 19959 Fort Valley Road. In July, the County Planning Commission held a public hearing and ultimately recommended denial of the permit, citing traffic and neighborhood concerns. Since that time, the applicants have downsized the proposal and worked to allay the concerns of the neighborhood. They intend that the majority of the activities will be inside and scaled back outdoor activities to daytime only. The Haases are also local business owners. The property was formerly used as a church and multi-activity center by Master’s Touch Ministries.
Public comment was brisk with 24 individuals either speaking in person, or submitting letters, e-mails, or videos. Eighteen were in favor of the permit and six against. Neighbors inveighed against possible traffic increases near an accident-prone intersection at Fort Valley Road and Route 55. Supporters praised the applicants’ commitment to youth sports, as an important factor in developing teamwork, athletic and social skills for young people. Sue Russell, whose property adjoins the site, opposed the permit and is worried about the effect of any groundwork or excavations resulting in flooding on her property.
Some of the supervisors recalled when outdoor concerts and events were held at that facility. Supervisor Vicky Cook appeared to be the leading opponent of the proposed permit, calling into question the applicant’s parking and traffic estimates. At the end of the discussion, Supervisor Oates offered a motion to approve, seconded by Supervisor Mabe, and the motion passed, 3-2. Chairman Cullers, joined by Supervisors Oates and Mabe, Aye, Supervisors Cook and Butler, No.
Michelle Moriarty is requesting a CUP for a short-term tourist rental for the property at 96 Cappy Road that she recently purchased in April of 2022. The applicant will use a local property manager and local professional services for emergencies, maintenance, cleaning, garbage disposal, and guest screening/reservations. There was one speaker who opposed the permit on the grounds that the area is residential, not business. However, the Virginia General Assembly and the courts system have specifically determined that short-term rentals are a residential activity, rather than a business operation. Under questioning by the board, the applicant indicated that she had already spoken with all the nearby property owners and provided contact information should any need arise.
Planning Director Wendling indicated that there had so far been no complaints or calls related to these properties. Supervisor Cook questioned whether the County Sheriff would necessarily know if there was a problem with a short-term rental. County Administrator Edwin Daley suggested that the County could investigate developing a registry list for approved short-term rentals to allow law enforcement in the Public Safety Communications Center to know who to contact if there was a problem. Finally, on a motion by Supervisor Oates, seconded by Supervisor Mabe, the Board unanimously approved the permit.
Kendra Hansen, Kathryn Stuart, Simon Sarver, and Michael Cherubin have applied for a CUP for for a Short-Term Tourist Rental Located at 97 River Overlook Road. The owners plan to use the property themselves throughout the year, but they would also like to be able to make the property available for short-term lodging for visitors of the Warren County area when they are not occupying it. The applicants will manage the property personally. There were no speakers for or against the application, and no discussion from the supervisors. On a motion by Supervisor Mabe, and seconded by Supervisor Cook, the motion passed unanimously.
CAZA Legacy, LLC has requested a CUP for short-term tourist rental for the property located at 241 Wildcat Drive. The applicants, Robert Chevez and Erin Kavanagh, purchased this residentially zoned property as an investment property and currently are renting the property long-term for over 30 days since purchasing it in February 2022. They do intend to also use it for themselves as a get-away from their homes in Northern Virginia. The applicants are requesting a waiver to the setback requirement of 100-feet from dwelling to dwelling. The dwelling to the west is 50 feet and the applicants submitted a letter from their neighbor giving his support of the application. The applicants will be contracting a local property management company to maintain the property and as realtors they will be marketing and managing the rental. The property was the subject of an approved permit for short-term tourist use in 2018, however the use was never established and that permit expired.
Two letters from neighboring property owners were submitted. One was in favor of the permit issuance, and one was opposed. There were no speakers at the public hearing, and on a motion by Supervisor Mabe, seconded by Supervisor Cook, the Supervisors voted unanimously to approve the permit.
Matthew Williams and Jay Gilbert have applied for a CUP for a short-term tourist rental located at 244 Delicious Road, Linden. The applicants plan to manage the property personally with assistance from local professional services for cleaning and landscaping. The closest dwelling unit is 115 feet to the northeast. There were no comments from the supervisors or the public. One letter supportive of the use was submitted. On a motion by Supervisor Oates, seconded by Supervisor Butler, the Board unanimously voted to approve.
Matthew Williams and Jay Gilbert have also applied for a CUP for a short-term tourist rental in an agriculturally-zoned property located at 115 Lonesome Flats Road. The applicants plan to manage the property personally with assistance from local professional services for cleaning and landscaping. The closest dwelling is 313 feet to the north. The planning department provided a letter by a neighbor, John Croft, who opposes the permit. Mr. Croft alleges that the Road is private, on his land, and has not granted permission to use it for guests. After a discussion regarding the legal status of an access easement to the applicant’s property, the supervisors decided to approve the permit, subject to verification that an access easement does exist. Supervisor Cook made a motion to approve, seconded by Supervisor Mabe. The vote to approve was unanimous.
Thomas Pigeon has applied for a CUP for a Short-Term Tourist Rental Located at 540 Lakeside Drive. The applicant will contract a local property management company, Shenandoah Valley Property Maintenance LLC, to manage and maintain the property if the use is approved. The owners plan to manage the rental of the property through Airbnb and will review any renters for a positive online ranking. All the required conditions for permitting are complete. On a motion by Supervisor Butler, Seconded by Supervisor Mabe, the Board voted 4-1 in favor of approval. Chairman Cullers expressed her concern and continued opposition to properties being purchased by owners with no connection to the area for this use.
The Meeting adjourned at 8:50 p.m.
Town Planning Commission adds a member, another short-term tourist rental; sees another attempt on Main Street micro-housing on the horizon
The Front Royal Planning Commission introduced its newest member at its regular meeting on September 21. Daniel Wells joins the commission, replacing retiring former Chairman Douglas Jones, who served on the commission for 15 years. Chairman Daryl Merchant expressed the commission’s appreciation for Mr. Jones’ hard work and long service.
A consent agenda portending a wave of new short-term tourist rental applications was approved for authorizations to advertise public hearings. The following public hearings would be at the Commission’s regular meeting on October 19:
- For Doug Ichiuji, a special use permit for a short-term tourist rental at 200 East Main Street in the Historic Overlay District.
- For Aaron Hike, a special use permit for a short-term tourist rental at 1116 North Royal Avenue in the Entrance Corridor Overlay District.
- For the Minick Group, LLC, a special use permit for a short-term tourist rental at 206 Lee Street in the Historic Overlay District.
Also on the consent agenda for authorization to advertise was a special use permit for SeeSuu, LLC, to convert an existing commercial structure at 131 E. Main Street in the Historic Overlay District to a greater number of dwelling units up to a height of sixty feet. The project description was very short on details, but the preliminary sketches look similar to proposals floated earlier in the year for a large-scale overhaul of the old Murphy Theater building on East Main Street to create a six-story building with 40 housing units as small as 320 square feet (s.f.), none larger than 640 s.f.
The proposal also states that valet parking will be acquired to meet any needed parking space. The description indicates that the first two stories are potentially retail/commercial spaces.
Regardless of how the project plays out, the conversion of such a prominent building in the Downtown Historic District would have a broad impact on the entire downtown and is certain to attract public feedback.
On its action agenda, the commission held a public hearing on a request from Vesta Property Management for a short-term tourist rental at 30 Fairview Court on property zoned Residential One (R-1). The Vesta representative, Chloe Phillips, answered commissioners’ questions. Chairman Merchant asked “for the record” if the rental was going to be owner-occupied. The Chairman has previously voiced his concerns, in particular during the development of the Zoning Ordinance amendment, about non-owner-occupied properties as short-term rentals. The answer was “No.”
Commissioner Gordon noted that the application indicated the applicant intended to rent the whole house, a maximum of six guests, and wondered if the parking would be adequate if the driveway only accommodated two vehicles. There followed a discussion about the language of the ordinance requiring parking “in driveways or other designated areas”. In many neighborhoods, on-street parking is allowed for residents; however, a question remains as to whether on-street parking can be considered a “designated area” for the purpose of short-term rentals. The Vesta representative indicated that the language of the ordinance did lead to confusion about which requirements were applicable to short-term rentals as opposed to bed and breakfast facilities or hotels/motels. Under those sections of the ordinance, owners must provide one parking space per guest room.
After the commissioners had discussed the difficulty of nailing down a specific requirement for parking for short-term tourist rentals, Planning director Lauren Kopishke agreed to take a look at the language of the ordinance to see how it can be made clearer.
On a motion by Commissioner Gordon, seconded by Commissioner Ingram, the Commission voted 4-1 in favor of recommending approval of the application. Chairman Merchant was the dissenting vote. The application will now go to the Town Council for final action.
Chairman Merchant announced that there will be a Civic Pride workshop entitled “Revitalize or Die” sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce on September 27 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Royal Cinemas on East Main Street. The event will feature consultant Jeff Siegler, and tickets are available at the Chamber office at 201 East 2nd Street.
Planning Director Kopishke gave the commission a summary of Planning Department activities for August – 26 zoning permits, 31 Code Enforcement Cases, seven land use applications, four sign permits, and 22 business licenses. Thirty-four new dwelling permits have been issued so far in 2022.
The meeting adjourned at 7:34 p.m.
Additional Public School Budget requests approved as part of Supervisors Consent Agenda
At its regular meeting on Tuesday, September 20, the Warren County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a 10-item Consent Agenda that included three appropriation requests from the Warren County Public School system (WCPS). Approval of the requests, including the transfer of $1,500,256 of $5,714,541 already appropriated into the school system’s Fiscal Year-2023 budget into four specific budget categories, comes in the wake of discussion by the Joint Finance Committee recently established to improve communications and the supervisors understanding of the public schools budgetary processes.
And the fact those requests weren’t pulled for additional discussion would seem to indicate that Joint Finance Committee is successfully accomplishing its mission of improved communications between the school administration and the supervisors who control the local portion of the public schools’ operational and capital improvement budgets.
In addition to the above-cited transfer of $1.5-million already appropriated funds into Administration, Attendance, and Health; Pupil Transportation; Operations and Maintenance; and Technology categories, the supervisors approved the transfer of $1,677,113 from the public schools’ FY-2020/21 surplus to three specific uses; and additional appropriations totaling $207,633 from outside funding sources to Operational/Maintenance and Instructional category use.
The outside source revenues included $38,500 from a “recently awarded Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Services (DCJS) grant” to Operations and Maintenance that will allow the school division to contract with a third party to create digital maps of each school that can be used by school administrators and first responders in emergency situations. Another $20,000 received “from additional State Medicaid reimbursements” (to Instruction) will be used to provide a $5,000 annual stipend to instructional assistants with an active Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) license.”
And a final $149,133 “from a greater-than-anticipated Federal Title VI-B funding” will be divided in the Instruction category: $33,133 to fund one Special Education Instructional Assistant position, with the remaining $116,000 used to cover special education costs for contracted services and instructional supplies.
The transfer of $1,677,113 in surplus funding from the last fiscal year was authorized for use: To the County’s Capital Improvement Fund for School Projects ($1-million); To the County’s Asset Replacement Fund for School Buses ($409,913); And to be retained by the County in the General Fund Contingency Reserves ($267,200).
Other matters included in the Consent Agenda approval were:
“Approval of the FY-2023 Performance Contract with Northwestern Community Services Board” and “Adoption of a Concurring Resolution Regarding a Financing by the Northwestern Community Services Board”;
“Approval of a Transfer Request and Award Notice” to the Warren County Sheriff’s Office for four vehicle replacements. The previously awarded contract to Hall Automotive of $164,358.60 was approved, along with the transfer of $1,597.86 from an FY-2023 budget line item. The staff agenda summary also noted a previously authorized funding total of $260,000 for the vehicles and operational accessories, with the final cost of $261,597.86 requiring that late line-item transfer.
“Award for Senior Center Phase 1 Restrooms and Mechanical Renovations” in the amount of $393,300 to Lantz Construction Company of Winchester. The Senior Center is being relocated to the 15th Street Health and Human Services Complex at the old middle school site. The staff agenda summary noted a total project cost estimate of $850,000.
Several personnel matters rounded out the Consent Agenda. They included:
The reappointment of Art Saffelle and Thomas McFadden to the Warren County Board of Building Code Appeals, for four-year terms ending September 30, 2026;
The appointment of Gregory Huson to the Shenandoah District seat on the Warren County Planning Commission to fill the remaining portion of the four-year term of Joe Longo, expiring on December 31, 2023. Longo resigned recently over what he called a lack of transparency from the county government regarding the use of Shenandoah Farms Sanitary District tax revenue he asserted may have been transferred, perhaps illegally, to uses outside the Farms Sanitary District.
And the nomination of Christy McMillin-Goodwin for reappointment to the Shenandoah Area Agency on Aging Board of Directors for a four-year term ending September 30, 2026.
Earlier in the meeting, one person appeared to address the board on non-agenda matters during Public Comments. That was Linda McDonough, who was critical of a recent “News Letter” she said had been issued by the Property Owners of Shenandoah Farms (POSF) critical of the County’s management of the Farms Sanitary District. And surprise (not really) – long-time POSF critic McDonough berated POSF for the content of its News Letter and lauded the County’s management of the sanitary district.
Following board and staff reports and its approval of the Consent Agenda, at 7:28 p.m., the supervisors moved into Executive/Closed Session. The motion to close indicated discussion of EDA legal matters related to “possible liabilities of the EDA, the recovery of EDA funds and assets, and the outstanding indebtedness of the EDA” as well as the dueling litigations initiated by the Front Royal Town Council over lost asset claims. While the County and EDA had a big month of July with civil case rulings in the EDA’s favor for the return of about $15 million in assets and punitive damages, attorneys for all four civil case defendants found liable have filed motions to overturn the jury verdicts, requiring additional legal expenses to counter those filings. There were no announcements or actions out of closed session, and the meeting was adjourned at 8 p.m.
County Planning Commission recommends data center zoning ordinance amendment to allow data centers by right in industrial and light industrial zones
A combined work session/regular meeting of the Warren County Planning Commission was held Wednesday, September 14. The work session consisted mainly of discussing ongoing work on the County’s Comprehensive Plan. Planning Director Matt Wendling provided the commission members with a sheaf of background information, much of it made available from the 2020 Census data, which has begun circulating for Federal, State, and local government agencies to use for planning and decision making.
Some of the statistical data come with a caveat, however. The margin of error for some categories is 10% of the total value with the warning: “Take care with this statistic.” According to the Census data, the county population is just under 41,000 people, almost exactly half of whom are women. The median household income is $70,000. Warren County lags behind the Commonwealth of Virginia median by over $6,000. Census data for the county can be found here.
The commissioners also discussed the increasing number of applications for short-term tourist rentals in the county. The phenomenon is sweeping the country, and Warren County has more than 100 properties either approved or in the approval process. The Royal Examiner has previously reported on this movement. Investors from the Washington D.C. Metro area find the combination of relatively low sales prices, relatively low property taxes, and the area’s natural attractions as advantages of purchasing properties in Warren County and converting them to tourist rentals.
The question is, what are the long-term impacts on the community? Will property prices be driven up? Will vehicle traffic increase? Will working people who want a home to live in be priced out of the market? What about crime? It really is too early to tell, but some facts should be considered. A short-term tourist rental could bring a property owner between $15,000 and $50,000 annually by renting only weekends. As far as traffic is concerned, transportation studies indicate that short-term tourist rentals actually reduce traffic dramatically over full-time occupied dwellings. And in Warren County’s experience, crimes reported related to short-term tourist rentals so far have been limited to one complaint about on-street parking.
Meanwhile, short-term tourist rentals account for .006% of the housing units in Warren County. For decision-makers and county residents, It is worth continuing to watch for signs that the positives of increasing tourism, improved property condition, and tax revenue are not outweighed by the negatives of inflated property prices, reduced availability of housing for residents, or additional burdens on infrastructure.
Immediately following the work session, the 4-member Commission held its regular meeting and began by considering amendments to the County’s Zoning Ordinances, carried over from its August meeting. In previous public hearings, the commission was urged to require a Conditional Use Permit for such uses as Data Centers to ensure a review process and public hearings for each permit application. The Town Zoning Ordinance amendment eventually approved by Town Council did require a Special Use Permit for such development.
However, the County commissioners chose a different approach than the Town in recommending approval of the Zoning Ordinance amendments by inserting language that made Data Centers a by-right use in Light Industrial (LI) and Industrial (I) zones. All development projects will still require zoning permits, building permits, Health Department and environmental clearances, site plan review, and Board of Supervisor approvals, so citizens will still have input opportunities.
In the entrance corridor Overlay District, if the proposed building would exceed 50,000 square feet, the Zoning Ordinance text amendment would still require a Conditional Use Permit and a public hearing for it. Chairman Robert Myers recused himself from the vote citing his involvement with the development of data centers, and Vice-Chairman Hugh Henry called for the vote, which passed by a 3-0 vote, Myers recused, and one seat was still vacant.
The Commission then turned to the advertised public hearings for permit applications:
1. – Gillian Greenfield & Richard Butcher have requested a Conditional Use Permit for a short-term tourist rental for their Residentially zoned (R-1) property at 1164 Riverview Shores Dr. in the Shenandoah Magisterial District. The applicants cited their experience with Short-Term Rentals, owning and managing multiple properties in Winchester City and Frederick, Shenandoah, and Warren Counties. There were no speakers during the public hearing, and on a motion by Vice-Chairman Henry, seconded by Commissioner Richardson, the commission unanimously voted to recommend approval.
2. – Elizabeth A. Saman has applied for a Conditional Use Permit for a Short-Term Tourist Rental at 431 Cindy’s Way. The property is zoned Residential (R-1) and located in the Shenandoah Magisterial District. Planning Director Wendling told the Commission that the property does not meet the setback requirements outlined in the Zoning Ordinance and that a waiver for that would be required. The property is 85 feet from the nearest dwelling rather than the required 100 feet.
The applicant told the Commission that she had purchased the property as a residence but that her father was undergoing cancer treatment in Northern Virginia, requiring her presence there more regularly, so she made the decision to offer it as a short-term rental to help offset expenses. In contrast to the previous application, this public hearing generated five speakers, all of whom were opposed to the short-term rental. Jonathan Lopez cited repeated instances of guests pulling into his driveway confused about which property was their destination. The applicant’s property is in a cul-de-sac. In the end, on a motion by Vice-Chairman Henry and seconded by Commissioner Scott Kersjes, the commission unanimously voted to recommend denial of the application based on the lack of setback distance. Vice Chairman Henry commented, “The ordinance specified the setback requirement for a reason.”
The application will now go to the Board of Supervisors for a final decision.
3. – Stacy L. Lockhart requests a CUP for Private Use Camping (non-commercial). His property is on Harris Drive in the Shenandoah Magisterial District. Planning Director Wendling told the Commission that the applicant was wanting to bring the property within zoning compliance and would be required to maintain the property in compliance with all Health Department requirements, which include storing all associated materials in a neat and orderly fashion, removing them when not in use, obtain building and zoning permits for any development, structure, or fencing, and post the property with a lot or parcel number for Fire/EMS services. The requirements also direct that there be an emergency egress plan for the removal of Recreational Vehicles or portable commodes before any predicted flood event. There was one letter of support from a neighboring property owner and no other public comment, so on a motion by Vice Chairman Henry, seconded by Commissioner Richardson, the commission unanimously voted to recommend approval of the application.
4. – Jaden & Tori Walter – A request for a CUP for a Short-Term Tourist Rental. The property is located at 80 River Oak Drive. The property is zoned Agricultural (A) and located in the South River Magisterial District. Planning Director Wendling told the Commissioners that the applicants had provided all required documents and the property met the Zoning Ordinance setback requirements. There were no speakers at the public hearing, and the Commission voted, on a motion from Vice-Chairman Henry, seconded by Commissioner Kersjes, unanimously to recommend approval.
5. – Vesta Property Management has applied for a CUP on behalf of the property owner, Dori Greco Rutherford, for a Short-Term Tourist Rental at 194 Venus Branch Road. in the Shenandoah Magisterial District. The applicant supplied all required documents, and the property meets the zoning ordinance requirements. There were no speakers for the public hearing, and the commission voted unanimously to recommend approval. The motion was made by Commissioner Richardson, Seconded by Commissioner Kersjes.
6. –Vesta Property Management has also requested a CUP on behalf of owners Chad and Donna Marie Anthony for a Short-Term Tourist Rental at 86 McCoys Ford Road. The property is zoned Agricultural (A) and located in the Fork Magisterial District. The Application package was complete, and the property met all other requirements. There were again no public speakers, so Vice-Chairman Henry offered a motion, seconded by Commissioner Kersjes, and the Commission voted unanimously to recommend approval.
7. – Jeffrey Steven Taylor has applied for a CUP for Private Use Camping (non-commercial). The property is a vacant lot located on Howellsville Road. and zoned Residential (R-1) and located in the Shenandoah Magisterial District. This application drew significant opposition from neighboring property owners, who cited the present condition of the lot as an eyesore as the rationale for opposing the permit. The applicant acknowledged that the property’s appearance needed to be improved but that he had been wrestling with several issues with registering the RV on the site and with the cleanup.
His intentions were to use the property recreationally, but his personal circumstances have precluded him from doing that so far. Planning Director Wendling told the Commission that approval of a permit would allow the applicant to bring in power for his camper and build an accessory storage structure with the issuance of a building permit. In the end, the voices of the neighboring property owners prevailed, and on a motion by Commissioner Kersjes, seconded by Commissioner Richardson, the Commission voted to recommend the denial of the permit.
The Consent Agenda was for Authorization to Advertise three Conditional Use Permits and a Rezoning request for public hearing:
- For Ryan Wesley Eshelman – A request for a CUP for a Commercial Repair Garage with Single Family Dwelling. The property is located at 1034 Rivermont Drive in the Fork Magisterial District.
- For Cindy L. Duvall – A request for a CUP for a Short-Term Tourist Rental. The property is located at 197 Marissa Court in the Shenandoah Magisterial District.
- For Jay Newell – A request for a CUP for Private Use Camping (non-commercial). The property is zoned Residential One (R-1) and located in the Shenandoah Magisterial District.
- For W.P. Associates –c/o Ray M. Pennington III – A request for rezoning from Residential One (R-1) to Agricultural (A). The properties are located in the Blue Ridge Reserves subdivision and are vacant lots in the Shenandoah Magisterial District.
These applications will be advertised for public hearings at the next planning commission meeting on October 12.
Finally, the Commission reviewed a final plat for a class B subdivision of 9 lots for Strawberry Fields Farm, LLC off Route 631 (Gooney Manor Loop) in the South River Magisterial District. After a brief discussion, the Commission unanimously approved the plot plan.
The Commission adjourned at 8:15 p.m.
After hour delay to achieve a quorum, council quickly approves three CUP requests, two for Short-Term Rentals, before convening to work session
The Monday, September 12, Special Meeting of the Front Royal Town Council began with an hour’s delay with only two council members present (Thompson, Gillispie), along with Mayor Holloway at the called 6 p.m. starting time. The Special Meeting was scheduled to accommodate three public hearings originally scheduled for the August 22nd meeting, a meeting canceled for lack of a physical quorum.
At 7 p.m., the September 12 meeting convened with four of its current five members present in the Town Hall main meeting room. Vice-Mayor Lori Cockrell and Amber Morris joined Letasha Thompson, Gary Gillispie, and Mayor Chris Holloway, with Zach Jackson absent. Controversially resigned/un-resigned member Joe McFadden was also present, maintaining his string of appearances despite council’s late (Aug. 29) acknowledgment of his August 8 verbal resignation rescinded in writing four days later.
With its quorum achieved with the necessary four active members physically present council got down to its meeting business prior to convening to a work session to discuss coming meeting topics and ongoing projects. First up of three Special Use Permit (SUP) requests was Ramzi Beidas’ for two residential “dwelling” units on the ground floor of his property at 650 West 11th Street. According to the agenda packet staff summary, there are currently two dwelling units on the second floor of the two-story building in the Commercial-1 (C-1) District. The first-floor spaces had previously been used as a brewery and laundromat.
With a Town Planning Commission recommendation of approval and no speakers at the public hearing, Councilwoman Thompson read a motion to approve as presented by staff in the agenda packet with recommended conditions, including resurfacing of the existing parking lot and inspections by council members or designated representatives at “reasonable” times to see that enabling conditions and zoning requirements are met. Her motion was seconded by Vice-Mayor Cockrell. However, after discussing points raised by Councilwoman Morris, the resurfacing and council-ordered inspection requirements were removed on Morris’s amendment to the original motion.
Responding to questions, Planning Director Lauren Kopishke explained that the parking lot repaving condition was inherited by the current owner when he bought the property due to plans of the previous owner to establish commercial uses on the first floor that were never realized. Morris also observed that inspections by council members or their reps seemed superfluous when the regular zoning process, including complaints for non-compliance would lead to staff inspections within existing regulations.
Council agreed, and Morris’s motion to amend the original motion with those deletions, seconded by Thompson, was approved by a 4-0 roll call vote.
Next up was the first of two SUP requests for Short-Term Rentals, this one from Joy Allen and Patrick Masch for a property located at 425 North Royal Avenue. The request is to rent three bedrooms out to a maximum of six people at a time in the C-1 property. On-site parking for up to six vehicles was cited in the staff agenda summary.
Again with a recommendation of approval from the planning commission, this time with no specific conditions, there were no speakers at the public hearing. Councilwoman Morris made the motion to approve, seconded by Thompson. After an observation by the vice-mayor that the wording of “no more than six people at a time” was a tad vague as to how that six-at-a-time might be attained, two per bedroom or six in one bedroom if the other two were unoccupied, council approved the request by another 4-0 roll call vote.
The final public hearing was on Jerry and Martha Britton’s SUP request for a Short-Term Rental at 18 East Stonewall Drive. The applicants are seeking up to eight occupants in four rooms. The staff summary noted onsite parking for three vehicles in a driveway. Council hit the trifecta of no speakers at the public hearing, leading to Councilwoman Thompson’s motion, seconded by Morris, to approve without specific conditions. Vice-Mayor Cockrell inquired if parking would be a problem with three onsite parking for four rental rooms. But with on-street parking also available, the motion passed on another 4-0 roll call vote.
Work Session Agenda
That led to adjournment after 11 minutes. Council then went immediately into its work session with an agenda review of five items slated for public hearings on the September 26 regular meeting agenda; 13 items earmarked for the September 26 Consent Agenda of routine items generally defined as of a “housekeeping” nature, and five items related to ongoing projects.
Those latter five included amending Town Code 142-4.1 to require residential owners or occupants of residential properties fronting Town-owned sidewalk right-of-ways to be responsible for removal of snow and ice from those sidewalks within 24 hours of winter storm events, as commercial and industrial occupants already are required to do. Public comments from a citizen dating to January 24, noting citizens having to walk in cleared streets (in the South St. and S. Royal Ave. area) after a snow event creating a hazardous situation for those pedestrians with passing vehicular traffic was cited in bringing council and staff’s attention to the need for a code update.
Also recommended for routine approval on September 26 was a Resolution of Support for a three-year-term, joint wind energy purchase through the Town’s municipal cooperative membership in American Municipal Power (AMP). The joint municipal power purchase would lock in a $47.50 per MWh (Mega Watt hour) price from October 2022 thru September 2025. The agenda summary noted that “AMP recommends Front Royal commit to a 2 MW purchase to help hedge against the current volatility of the wholesale power market as well as provide replacement power for a scheduled fall outage at the Prairie State Coal Fired Plant.” The AMP membership included 132 municipalities in eight states (Ohio, Pa., Va., W Va., Md., Kty., Ind., Mich., and one joint agency membership in a ninth state (Del.).
The collective purchasing power and member sharing of excess production capacities at reasonable costs has long saved the Town on energy costs. But with a turnover in council membership in recent years and the retirement of some related department heads, council decided to take a harder look at the relative costs associated with its AMP offers and power purchases. The result of that hard look was a staff recommendation of approval of the most recent joint purchase opportunity locking in fixed prices over a three-year term in a volatile energy market. The purchase involves power produced by Locust Ridge Wind Energy out of Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania.
Also discussed was the necessity of the Town authorizing the transfer of $1 million from paving projects to the 8th Street bridge replacement project due to VDOT’s readiness through its Revenue Sharing Program to split the $3-million cost of that project 50/50 at this time. The staff summary noted the Town has put aside $500,000 with the intent to provide the additional one million dollars when the project reached VDOT’s list of ready-to-proceed projects, which it now has.
Fourth on the projects list was an update on the Town’s lengthy effort to establish and enact a Property Maintenance Program and codes to enforce a basic standard of property and building maintenance. The staff update on the program included: “Drafted policies/procedures for inspections and blighting properties; LBBCA board advertisement and application form; Updating renter responsibility guide: and Creating property maintenance page on town website.”
Finally, there was an update on policies moving forward with the Town’s unilateral Front Royal Economic Development Authority (FREDA). Council is totally responsible for funding FREDA, unlike the half-century-old joint Town-County EDA the Town withdrew from, in which it had no operational funding responsibilities in recent years, only debt service on its EDA-overseen Town projects. The Town’s withdrawal from the FR-WC EDA was decided upon when council chose to litigate against the joint EDA over lost assets related to the FR-WC EDA “financial scandal” of 2014-18, as opposed to sitting down to engage in offered “good faith negotiations” to determine who was owed exactly what as a result of the alleged unauthorized movement of Town, County, and EDA assets during the tenure of former executive director Jennifer McDonald.
The staff agenda summary noted: “At the August 8, 2022, Work Session, Council requested a future work session to discuss the set up/support of the Front Royal Economic Development Authority (FREDA), Staff is recommending the October 11, 2022, Council Work Session.”
See the special meeting and work session in part or their entirety in the Town Video labeled “Town Council Special Meeting Sept. 12,” the first 11:30 of which is the Special Meeting, the remainder the Work Session.
Broadband service expansion timeline, costs presented to supervisors prior to Closed Session, including discussion of ‘abolition’ of a sanitary district and non-annexation agreement with Town
Reports from several outside agencies and contractors dominated Tuesday morning’s Warren County Board of Supervisors meeting, prior to adjournment to a multi-topic closed Executive Session.
Those reports began with a status report on processes and scheduling of the Regional Broadband Services Expansion Initiative guided by provider All Points Broadband the County signed onto last year, joining seven other regional communities.
Other reports included an update on moves toward compliance with state or federal mandates on implementation of “Best Practices” policies through the Lord Fairfax Soil and Water Conservation District regarding pollution in the Shenandoah River as it impacts the Chesapeake Bay cleanup effort; the monthly update of Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) work around the county; and a state-required formal update on the County’s Performance Contract and financing of services provided by the Northwestern Community Services Board related to its intent to borrow $2.2-million in funding to acquire a property in Page County for the establishment of an outpatient clinic there. The meeting agenda was amended so that latter report from the NWCSB originally scheduled for a post-meeting work session, could be delivered earlier in the day. That rescheduling was fortunate, as the work session was cancelled in the wake of the power outage at the WCGC.
The remainder of work session updates on various projects is rescheduled for 3 p.m., Friday.
There were no public hearings or new business on the meeting agenda, and other than the above-cited reports, just a 19-item Consent Agenda to precede a five-topic Closed Executive Session. The board pulled two of the Consent Agenda topics for additional discussion. Those were approval of the extension of the county public schools contract for use of the Santmyers Youth Center for the
“Elements Program” for an additional year; and authorization for a public hearing on a text amendment to the county zoning codes to allow Data Centers as a by-right use in Light Industrial-zoned areas.
After some discussion of future plans for youth centers in the community, the board unanimously approved the extension of the Santmyers Youth Center contract for the Elements Program. That program helps special needs students transition post-graduation towards adulthood, according to staff information in the agenda packet.
However, after expressions of concern by board Chair Cheryl Cullers about the “by-right” aspect of the zoning text amendment regarding data centers, on the recommendation of County Administrator Ed Daley, the board tabled a decision on that matter. Daley explained that additional time would allow the matter to go to public hearing before the planning commission for a recommendation, which has not yet occurred as is the normal process on planning matters. The remainder of the Consent Agenda featuring authorization to advertise public hearings on six short-term-tourist rental requests, was approved as amended without dissent.
Lengthy Closed Session
Following its discussion and votes on the above-mentioned pulled Consent Agenda items, the board adjourned to a five topic closed Executive Session at 11:55 a.m., after which no action was taken. It was estimated the closed session adjourned around 2:30 p.m. after a power outage hit the government center. Perhaps most interesting among those closed-door topics were “the abolition of a sanitary district and the Voluntary Settlement Agreement with the Town of Front Royal.”
With variables involving current issues with the Shenandoah Farms Sanitary District management and project financing a matter of ongoing closed session board discussion, it would appear the potential of “abolition” of the Farms Sanitary District has been added to that discussion. The 1999 Voluntary Settlement Agreement involved expansion of Town central utility services into the County’s north corridor to facilitate commercial development north of the I-66 interchange without the necessity of a contested annexation battle between the Town and County over portions of the corridor.
Looks like things could be poised to get interesting on a variety of legal fronts for the county government in coming months.
When do I get my broadband service upgrade?
Of interest to what was cited as 2,110 “unserved sites” in poor broadband reception areas in Warren County is a project completion date in July 2025, with physical installation work beginning in the second quarter of 2023. The project involving eight communities, half those in the Northern Shenandoah Valley Regional Commission (NSVRC) service area, was called “the largest broadband (expansion) project in Virginia’s history”. It involves eight communities, which in addition to Warren County which authorized participation in June of 2021, includes Frederick, Clarke, Page, Rappahannock, Rockingham, Fauquier and Augusta Counties.
NSVRC Director Brandon Davis noted a nearly $97-million grant through the Department of Housing and Community Development towards what he cited as a $300-million investment by the involved communities, their private-sector partners, and governmental agencies that will involve 41,000 “pathings” and over 3700 miles of fiber to be laid over the three-years of infrastructure development, as cited above now scheduled to begin in the second quarter of 2023, with a targeted completion date by the end of July 2025.
Davis introduced remotely linked All Points Broadband Director of Governmental Affairs Kyle Rosner, who traced his company’s logistical path in coordinating development of the huge project.
That project involves, as Davis noted in introducing Rosner, partnerships with utility providers Shenandoah Valley Electric Cooperative, Rappahannock Electric Cooperative, and Dominion Energy Virginia. Rosner noted that all private-sector developmental contracts were in place as of July 26, as the project prepares to transition from the recruitment and planning stages to the nearly three years of infrastructure development.
“As part of this project, the private sector investment in this is over $140 million. When you think about the amount of infrastructure that’s being laid – yea, the state is putting up a big piece of it, which we are very thankful for – but also the private sector is taking some risk here as well. It doesn’t work unless folks sign up for it,” Davis told the county supervisors.
That led to discussion of ongoing dissemination of relevant information in targeted areas to potential customers throughout the county, and region. Rosner pointed to the twice-a-year scheduled presentations to involved county boards, more if requested, as well as public events that will be scheduled as the infrastructure work progresses through the involved counties, as well as media coverage further getting the word out on how to participate for currently unserved broadband citizens.
“I think the number one thing, folks will see us in the field when we are constructing the network, folks will know because they’ll see it on the electric poles. They’ll see a lot of activity in the county.
And then eventually our sales team will move in and be very aggressive in our marketing and sales to insure that every resident in Warren County, whether they want to know or not, will know that
All Points Broadband is bringing fiber broadband to the unserved portions of Warren County. So, the challenge is going to be, probably not getting the word out – but managing expectations, because everybody needs it – ‘and I wish we had it yesterday’,” Rosner explained of an evolving process accompanying the 2023 to 2025 infrastructure development project versus the hope of those in need of the upgrades for a quick turnaround on receiving that service upgrade.
South River and board Chair Cullers recounted her experience being in a statistically unserved area and acquisition of information as the project has been in the planning and developmental stages. “So, it was a real easy process (to access the information). And on my end to make sure, Dr. Daley and I went on Mike McCool’s and did a little video (Royal Examiner Publisher Mike McCool’s Town Talk series) to get the information out. And I just went knock on doors handing out a paper: this is what you need to do; here’s the information. I put my card on it … and since then I’ve been getting a lot of calls and emails of course – ‘When’s this going to happen? When’s this going to happen?’ since December, Cullers observed of her experience of managing constituent expectations.
Addressing “service levels and affordability” Rosner pointed to his company’s involvement in a federal “affordable connectivity program” of $30 per month for qualifying customers. He said the program can be searched online for information on qualifying standards, and will be posted on the company’s website, as well as available from federal sites. While he noted an undiscounted “standard installation fee” of $199, he pointed to discounted prices of $59.99 tied to a 50×50 program involving upload speeds. He also presented charts with standard versus various discounted costs.
North River Supervisor Delores Oates pointed to “a staffing shortage in this country” wondering if that could become an issue in the project hitting its timeline milestones.
“We’re going to be contracting out a large, if not all, majority of the construction work. So, that’s not going to be All Points employees, that’s going to be fiber-construction vendors,” Rosner began, pointing to his company’s position in the state marketplace on this type of work: “We’re a big customer and we pay competitive rates. We have a ton of work, not only on this project, but all around the state. We’ve already developed great relationships with big vendors through our project in the Northern Neck that we’re building currently. So, we feel very confident that we can mitigate those challenges … and meet all the milestones we put forth.”
“Thank you,” Oates said in response to that detailed reply indicating that All Points Broadband wasn’t just going to flip a coin when the time came to see if it had the labor in place to achieve what it has promised time-wise on the infrastructure expansion side of the project.