On Monday evening, July 9, the Front Royal Town Council got a brief preview of a review of the new restore-redevelop plan of the Afton Inn that its Board of Architectural Review (BAR) would get the following day from engineers of project developer 2 East Main Street LLC (formerly MODE LLC).
And that more detailed presentation than the one summarized by Town Planning Director Jeremy Camp Monday night is essentially a recap of the information released upon the April 27 vote by the Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority Board of Directors to approve a lease agreement with the 2 East Main Street developers (named for the Afton Inn address) to facilitate the altered project.
The change to the preservation of some of the 150-year-old building’s crumbling exterior structure will be a welcome one for an appointed architectural review board that unanimously rejected then MODE LLC’s demolish and rebuild plan last September. For council, the change in plans was likely less satisfying than it will be for the BAR.
On September 25, 2017, two weeks after the BAR denial of the EDA request to allow demolition of the Afton Inn to facilitate economic redevelopment of the property, council unanimously voted to overturn the BAR decision. The EDA brought the demolition request to the architectural review board on August 8.
However stunningly, seven months after the council’s reversal of the BAR vote the EDA announced the dramatic change in the developer’s plan. The lease agreement announced by the EDA on April 27 will allow the EDA to maintain ownership through the redevelopment process to assure the project proceeds on a planned schedule. Once the renovation is completed “2 East Main Street LLC” will take over ownership.
“The EDA and Town did not want to hand over ownership and take the chance of having the building sit vacant for another 15 years,” EDA Board Chairman Greg Drescher explained of the arrangement in April. “We feel this is a great opportunity with 2 E. Main Street, LLC and have no doubts they will complete the renovations as promised, but we also want to protect the investment the Town has made with the swap of the former Town Hall.”
Drescher added that in addition to maintaining ownership through redevelopment, the lease agreement allows the EDA to maintain “control over the materials used in the redevelopment, and some control of ultimate tenants in the property.”
As for those tenants, on Monday night Town Planning Director Camp reviewed the developer’s plans for the building – which are pretty much as they were before within context of the demolish-rebuild scenario.
That plan is for a mixed commercial-residential development that includes a first-floor pizza restaurant-beer garden, with upscale studio and other apartments on the upper floors. A rear section addition will house an as-yet-undetermined use, possibly something related to the arts.
One question that arose from council Monday night was parking for the renovated building. Camp replied that while there was not much in the way of parking specific to the property, it was possible the developer would negotiate with an adjacent property owner for some shared parking access. Otherwise street and the town’s Peyton Street parking lot would be the likely destination for commercial and residential parking tied to the building.
The developer and EDA have estimated a year to year-and-a-half construction timetable once all the necessary local and state permits are in place. And Tuesday’s appearance of 2 East Main Street LLC engineers before the BAR begins that local permitting process.
Projected costs closely align with the developer’s original estimates of $2.1 million for demo-rebuild versus as much as $2.6 million for preserve-rebuild. Their current project estimate is $2.5 million.
What is now known as the Afton Inn opened in 1868 as the Montview Hotel. It is believed to be the oldest remaining structure in the Historic Downtown Front Royal Business District. Into the first half of the 20th Century, the building retained a reputation as a cultural centerpiece of downtown Front Royal.
On May 8, eleven days after the EDA announcement of the changed plans, a Richmond-based group “Preservation Virginia” included the Afton Inn on its annual list of “Virginia’s Most Endangered Historic Places”. As Preservation Virginia personnel noted, the nomination of the Afton Inn for that designation was made and confirmed prior to the April 27 announcement.