FRONT ROYAL – Rather than a TV show featuring the dance-music-era “night life” of a community, Wednesday evening’s “Browntown at Night” gathering at a Warren County Government Center Meeting Room nearly full of South Warren residents showed that a clear majority is perfectly happy with their commercial nightlife status quo – NONE!!!
At issue at the January 10 Warren County Planning Commission meeting were zoning amendment and conditional use permit requests by Browntown property owners Michael and Judith Albarelli. Approved, those requests would allow an “agricultural events center” on an 87-acre portion of their 300-acre, Agriculturally-zoned property off Broad Run Road. A number of the 44 speakers at two public hearings – one on the zoning amendment, the other on a conditional use permit for the Albarelli property – expressed respect, admiration and even affection for the couple, as well as some of their preservation plans for their property. However, only five expressed outright support for their proposal to allow an agricultural events center estimated for 20 to 30 events per year, with guests numbering from 40 to 50 or 150 to 250 depending on perceptions of the proposal.
Consequently, by a 3-2 margin the planning commission voted to forward the zoning ordinance amendment request to the board of supervisors with a recommendation of denial. Commissioners Stickley, Smelser and Henry opposed the zoning amendment, with Myers and Rinaldi supporting it.
The Albarelli’s CUP application for their property was then postponed for 90 days on a unanimous voice vote. That “split decision” indicated a belief by the planning commission, and perhaps some of the speakers in opposition to the Albarellis’ application, that some variation of agricultural events centers on Agriculturally-zoned land is not a bad idea in principal.
At issue for the great bulk of Browntown residents opposing the proposal were the wide range of events sought in the application, as well as traffic safety issues on Browntown and Broad Run Roads. The list of events the Albarelli’s planned for their property included “company picnics and recreational gatherings, family reunions, retirement parties, fundraising galas, reception dinners, small weddings, educational retreats, seminars and workshops. Noise from some of those events carrying for miles across Browntown, or just across the street, was cited as a disruption of the quiet, rural lifestyle ambience most residents have either stayed or moved to Browntown to achieve.
A number of opponents pointed out that events like weddings, company picnics, recreational gatherings and fundraising galas were NOT “agricultural events”. Those same critics had less issue with educational retreats, seminars and workshops related to agricultural uses and preservation.
In fact, addressing his and his wife’s proposal to open the public hearing on the conditional use permit application, Michael Albarelli explained that he was seeking a revenue source to support his efforts toward “forest management” for the bulk of his 300 acres – “that cost is daunting” Albarelli said. He agreed that many of the events described in his proposal were not agriculture in nature, but he noted they would support his forest management efforts on his property.
Albarelli bemoaned a lack of communications with neighbors and what he described as misrepresentations of his proposal.
“Our specific property has been severely misrepresented, which is why there are so many people here,” Albarelli said. He added that social media or other descriptions of him related to the application were “a little bit of character assassination”. Albarelli said he was described as “an absentee landlord with a get-rich scheme – I assure you that is not true,” he said.
Albarelli observed that worldwide the Shenandoah Valley is recognized as “the best example … of nature reclaiming an area that was clear-cut for agricultural purposes.” Then he pointed to ongoing threats to that naturally-reclaimed Valley from gypsy moths, fungus and other threats from multiple environmental and other sources.
“Our ultimate dream is to undertake the kind of educational seminars … to support this type of activity,” Albarelli said of forest management and preservation of the natural wonders that Browntown has developed within.
And while most speakers would share the Albarellis’ concern and desire to develop strategies to preserve their slice of the Shenandoah Valley, the scope of the Albarelli application was too much for most to agree to.
So the postponement of a vote on the Albarelli Conditional Use Permit application to allow it to be reworked to deal with the nature, size, traffic and other variables may be a positive sign. That sign being that with ongoing cooperation, the Albarellis, their neighbors and the county planning staff may be able to come up with a compromise proposal that will be seen as a benefit to Browntown, Warren County and the Shenandoah Valley, rather than a detriment.
One crucial variable on a potential compromise will be traffic management and perhaps road improvements to both Browntown and Broad Run Roads. One man described Broad Run Road off which the Albarelli property lies as “not much wider than this podium” as he spoke at one of the public hearings.
“Who pays for road improvements – will VDOT help?” Happy Creek Planning Commissioner Robert Myers wondered. County Planning Director Taryn Logan observed there were no road improvements included as part of the original Albarelli application.
Fork District Planning Commissioner Hugh Henry pointed to aspects of a compromise, suggesting less vehicular traffic accessing events, no amplified music, one-day events only that would be concluded by a prescribed time, likely late afternoon or early evening – “I can support this, just not as it’s written,” Henry said prior to the vote to postpone the conditional use permit application.
“I think we all agree that Mr. and Mrs. Albarelli are very professional and squared-away people,” Shenandoah District Planning Commissioner Ralph Rinaldi added. “I agree with Mr. Henry and Mr. Myers that this should be delayed and redone to fit what was said here tonight … As was said, that property could be logged (by right in an Agriculture District). I’m all for property rights – as long as they work to the best interest, safety and welfare of the people in that area.”
Were a positive resolution on the Albarelli permit application reached three months down the road, the planners would have to revisit their initial 3-2 recommendation of denial of the zoning amendment that would facilitate that permit – or perhaps just tell the supervisors to ignore that recommendation, upon further consideration.
Also at the first county planning commission meeting of 2018, Scott Stickley, Robert Myers and Cindy Kokernak were unanimously re-elected as board chairman, vice chairman and secretary, respectively.
Ed Carter, VDOT report to Board of Supervisors: Route 55-High Knob gets more rumble strips
At the December 11th Board of Supervisors Meeting, Ed Carter from VDOT made his monthly presentation to the Board. Mr. Carter gives updates to VDOT projects in the County.
- Addressed numerous potholes on various hard surface routes with cold mix and anticipate the Same in December.
- Conducted grading and stone application on non-hard surface Routes 652, 610, 607,626, 613, 631 and 639. Several of these routes we covered several times as continued rainfall necessitated. They’ll continue this month as well.
- Used contractor pipe flusher on Routes 603, 638, 636, 650, 631 and 639. Will be continuing for an additional week in December.
- Completed all mowing operations and will cutting brush on Routes 652 and 656 in December.
- Performed shoulder repairs on Route 340 and will continue on various primary routes in December.
- Mobilized and responded to two weather events in November.
Lake Front Drive is awaiting finish pavement layer, which is scheduled for this week in December, weather permitting.
Ashby Station Road and Rocky Lane environmental permits were not cleared by November 30th. New date is December 10th. As soon as VDOT has the permits, staff will be meeting with the contractor to begin pipe replacements.
Existing rumble strips have been refreshed and a new set installed closer to the intersection at High Knob. Traffic Engineering is working to verify flasher sensor lights will work at this location. Residency Administrator met with High Knob Owner’s Association on November 12th to address their concerns.
Signal Group is evaluating timing at Country Club Road and Route 340/522 for extending green time from Country Club.
Town Council wrestles with new property maintenance authority
FRONT ROYAL – It’s rough having the power – especially when you’ve pursued it for so long, then finally achieve it.
That is the situation the Front Royal Town Council wrestled with at a December 3 work session – how to approach enforcement of a property maintenance code that allows it the same powers as cities and counties to enforce building maintenance standards within its boundaries.
As Royal Examiner readers may recall from tracking the issue over the course of the last year and a half, the dilemma is that while the town’s elected officials want the ability to enforce standards that will improve the overall look, livability and property values of Front Royal, how much is it going to cost the town government and its citizens to achieve these things?
The one dissenting vote to both readings of the new property maintenance code, Vice-Mayor Eugene Tewalt, has continued to predict unexpectedly high costs, even for what has been described as a lower-cost, middle ground option adopted by council nearly two months ago. Tewalt has also been critical of his younger council colleagues for continuing to approve capital improvements, and now additional code enforcement, without creating revenue streams to pay for either long-term debt service or required staff additions.
However, undiscussed thus far has been the potential return on investment from more aggressive enforcement if a corresponding rise in property values leads to increased real estate tax-base revenue.
After months of debate dating to at least July of 2017 for this council, on October 22, 2018 council approved the second reading of a new property maintenance code that took the above-described middle ground approach of five options presented by staff. That option, formerly known as Option C, enforcement-wise “addresses all structures in the Town”; “addresses maintenance issues” and “can be enforced on a complaint basis or proactive enforcement”.
At the December 3 work session Chris Morrison pushed for immediate implementation of that option – “I think things can be implemented now – tell me if I’m wrong,” Morrison challenged his colleagues.
He also suggested council give citizens some clarity on the parameters of what has been approved – that citizens can initiate action through complaints to the town government.
Morrison has been the chief council proponent of a new property maintenance code and a rental inspection program, the latter eliminated from consideration by a council majority as definitely too expensive to implement. And on the back end of his council tenure having failed to hold his seat in the November election, Morrison seemed driven to see a commitment to forward movement on what has been adopted by his colleagues before the end of his council tenure come January.
Morrison suggested outsourcing the role of a building inspector to make legal judgments on mandated repairs or demolition in the absence of council agreeing to fund creation of its own building inspection department. Morrison noted that council had set aside funds toward some kind of implementation of a building inspection operation. While he cited $40,000 available, staff appeared to put the amount as high as $75,000 in past work session discussion.
“So why can’t we outsource now … why can’t we do it immediately?” Morrison asked his colleagues.
“If we do it under those conditions I have no problem starting with blighted buildings,” Tewalt replied of a proactive approach with outsourcing as necessary when town mandates on corrective action are challenged by property owners.
Councilman William Sealock suggested bypassing use of Warren County’s Building Inspection Department and utilization of town staff for initial phases up to the point where a state-certified official whose opinion would have legal standing in court was needed. Morrison agreed.
Town Manager Joe Waltz suggested revisiting the option of partnering with the Town of Strasburg in enforcing a property maintenance code. Like Front Royal now, Strasburg has taken the first step of approval of a property maintenance code but has yet to begin enforcement due to cost parameters.
“We can put it out there and see what kind of prices are set,” Waltz suggested.
“We can start slow – there’s nothing wrong with doing it right,” Mayor Hollis Tharpe suggested of a measured, slow and inexpensive approach to implementation.
“We’ll let Joe get behind the wheel,” the mayor said of having the town manager explore enforcement and outsourcing options.
“We need time so the town manager can put a plan together,” Sealock observed.
“I will move as fast as I can,” Waltz replied.
Morrison said he felt some good had come out of the discussion that will allow the Town to move on complaints forwarded by citizens, as well as initiate proactive movement against derelict structures. However Morrison worried at the lack of “closure” on a process as council’s final meeting of 2018 approached on December 10.
Downtown parking: Mayor breaks tie vote on Virginia Beer Museum parking exemption request
There were two issues on Downtown parking at the December 10th Town Council meeting. The first dealt with designating and authorizing the Town Manager regarding the installation and placement of traffic signs and parking regulations and to remove all references to the On-Street Parking Policy in the Town Code by rescinding the 1993 Resolution authorizing approval of the On-Street Parking Policy. Download the this agenda item and background information here.
The second was a public hearing on exempting off street parking for the Virginia Beer Museum. Mayor Tharpe broke the tie vote on the first reading. Download the this agenda item and background information here.
These issues will be back on the agenda for the second reading.
BOS: Public Hearing Jan 22nd to adopt new rules for public presentations
At the December 11th Meeting of the Warren County Board of Supervisors, County Attorney Dan Whitten ask for authorization to advertise for a public hearing on January 22, 2019 to amend the Warren County Code Section 56-3 re: rules for Address to the Board of Supervisors by Nonmembers During Public Comment Period.
Watch the discussion.
Ordinance Amendment to Town Code Chapter 72 (Special Events)
During a recent Business Forum several business owners discussed concerns with parking during Special Events held in the Gazebo Area located at Main and Chester Streets in Downtown Front Royal. Town Staff has proposed amendments to Chapter 72 to help alleviate this concerns and has also changed other areas of Chapter 72 to make the Chapter more user friendly.
Town Council honors departing Connolly and Morrison
At the December 10th Town Council meeting, Mayor Hollis Tharpe presented each departing Councilman plaques in recognition of their service to the Town of Front Royal.