The Front Royal Planning Commission met Wednesday, Nov 18, 2020, in their regular monthly meeting. There was a larger than usual attendance at the meeting, at which Vice Chairman Joseph McFadden’s seat was empty. This may be due to his election to a seat on the Town Council, in the Nov 3 town Election.
The agenda and the minutes of the Commission’s Oct 21 Meeting were approved, and Chairman Douglas Jones opened the floor for citizen comments, an opportunity for anyone to surface a planning issue that is not on a regular meeting agenda. There were none.
The Chairman then opened discussions on the only public hearing scheduled for this meeting, to consider a request by local contractor Richard Spiewak to combine two lots into one in the Huffman Heights Subdivision in the 300 Block of Grand Avenue. The Director of Community Development and Planning, Timothy Wilson, briefed the commission on this proposal. The builder obtained two nonconforming legal lots that were 25’ wide and 217 Ft deep and wanted them to be consolidated into one 50’ wide lot, on which he is proposing to build a home. Mr. Wilson detailed the work the planning department had done in researching the request, including the Town Ordinance covering development on legally nonconforming lots. The standard for Residential lots for single-family homes (R-1) is 75’ in width and a minimum of 10,000 SF of area. The consolidated lots would be only 50’ wide but 11,035 SF in area. Staff found that the consolidation would tend to make the property more compliant but still not completely compliant, and under the ordinance would require Town Council approval.
The department also performed a standard comparison of properties in the area under the ordinance and found that the proposed dwelling has a finished floor square footage of 1,852, which exceeds the minimum required comparative house size by 745 SF. It is larger than 5 of the 14 homes in the review area. The staff deemed that the proposed structure is also consistent with comparative homes in terms of building orientation, scale, proportion, and site layout.
Mr. Wilson explained the formula in some detail related to minimum sizes and the approvals required for use of legally nonconforming lots. He also told the commissioners that the staff had received 5 letters regarding this proposal, all opposed, as well as a petition. There were 11 signatures on the petition from citizens living in the Huffman Heights subdivision. He stated that all letters and the petition had been distributed to the commissioners for their review, and will become part of the official record of the application, to be forwarded to Town Council with the Commission’s recommendation. That also includes the supporting or opposing comments made at the commission meeting in the meeting minutes.
Chairman Jones then opened the floor for public input and a very well-prepared neighborhood set of spokespeople responded. Derrick R. Green, by day employed as a Project Manager, seemingly moonlighting as a very capable lawyer, also a resident of the nearest property to the proposed site, calmly detailed his concerns about the project – Apparent violations of the Town Zoning ordinance, the consolidation of two legally nonconforming lots into one still-nonconforming lot, and the loss of sun exposure for his own property next door. He also alleged that the prior owners of both the property he had purchased and the two lots in question had split them off and sold them separately, causing deterioration in the equity and value of his home. Several properties in that subdivision included buffer lots between the homes to preserve green space and improve privacy.
Following Mr. Green’s comments, his wife Karissa issued a heartfelt statement – “We are absolutely heartbroken that we have to stand before you today to ask you to deny this permit” – and raised the issue of drainage from their property into the two lots in question, and that building a home there could cut off that drainage. She indicated that the two lots had been sold off separately with no notice to them when they would have gladly purchased them as part of the property.
Next to speak was Ray Ruhling, a Salem Avenue resident in the same subdivision expressed his opposition to the project. The subdivision’s minimum lot width was 75 ft. His objection was not to the style or size of the proposed dwelling, but the fact that it did not belong on that lot.
Richard Spiewak, the applicant, and owner of the two lots in question spoke to the commission. Spiewak is a local Class A building contractor who has done new construction and remodels in Front Royal for more than 15 years. As a member of the community in which he works, he’s happy to see his customers when shopping around town and stands behind any work he does. He had no preknowledge regarding the lots, they had simply come up on the market and he felt they would be a good opportunity. He took account of the sizes and styles of the surrounding homes and selected a plan that he felt fit well. He reminded the commission that soil and grading would be part of any site plan, his construction would take careful account of property lines and the street, and he would make sure proper drainage would be installed. Mr. Spiewak indicated he would be happy to work with the community to resolve any issues.
Pattie McHugh next addressed the commission with her concerns about the proposed dwelling’s proximity to its neighboring home, and the potential for draining problem due to the slope of the neighboring property. She also questioned the placement of the dwelling, extending 10 feet in front of the neighboring dwelling at 327. She felt parking could be a problem for residents of the new dwelling.
Finally, Mary Wood, a lifelong Front Royal resident, observed that there was not a good reason to utilize the two lots for that purpose. Other lots below it on that street might then be built on if the precedent is set.
Once these speakers had stated their views, the chairman closed the public hearing so the commissioners could discuss the proposal.
Commissioner Darryl Merchant asked Mr. Wilson and Mr. Napier for their comments on this issue: Normally a subdivision is platted with 50 ft lots, for example, Royal Village or Warren Park. In this case, there are two issues: one is the performance standard, and the other is the consolidation of two lots into one. Is the intent here is to create a new lot? Mr. Wilson indicated that one lot was being enlarged to 50 ft width and the other eliminated. It does not create a new lot. Mr. Merchant then noted that the performance standards included grading, but there was no engineering plan in the package. Mr. Wilson responded first that the use of grading and fill is common to most lots in that area. Second, that the special use permit was necessary to move forward with a zoning permit, and the engineering plan would be part of that. The staff views this as a compatibility determination. It does not excuse the applicant from any other requirement of the zoning permit process.
Town Attorney Douglas Napier advanced a question to Mr. Wilson and the Commission: In the November 16th letter from Mr. & Mrs. Green, they point out Town Code section 175-136 states that special use permits are not transferrable to another party. He asked if Mr. Wilson knew of any zoning official opinions whether the owner of the property, who is also the owner of the special use permit, were it to be approved by the Town Council, be able to transfer it to a third party? Such a restriction could be a problem for a bank loan, as it would be a “cloud” on the title. Mr. Wilson responded that he had only recently become familiar with this part of the code and was unaware of any practice like that. The special use permit should run with the property, not the owner. Not to allow that would mean that each time a property subject to a special use permit changed hands, it would require a new application, and the town has not done that nor had he seen any other town governments require it. Each new owner is obviously subject to the terms of the special use permit originally approved.
Commissioner Merchant made a motion to recommend denial of the special use permit. Second, Commissioner Marshner.
Commissioner Gordon commented that the Town attorney had raised an interesting question, and suggested the motion could be tabled to allow the Planning Director and Town attorney to research further, Finally, he indicated he supported the applicant’s proposal so would vote against the motion.
The chairman then requested a roll call vote. Yes: Commissioner Marshner, Chairman Jones, Commissioner Merchant. No: Commissioner Gordon
A very brief applause from the room as the Chairman announced that the Commission was recommending to the Town Council that the proposed permit be denied. There was some noise while the audience cleared after the announcement and Chairman Jones waited while the room cleared.
Under New Business, Commissioner Merchant asked the status of a process for amendments to the Comprehensive plan, as well as suggesting that at the next planning commission, the commission could begin forging ahead with finalizing the Town’s Comprehensive Plan update. He also asked about the status of the new membership criteria for the 5-member Planning Commission. Mr. Wilson said the Town Council was planning to address the Planning Commission membership at its December meeting.
Commissioner Marshner asked about the application procedure for membership on the Commission. Mr. Wilson said that applications were available through the Clerk’s office.
Commissioner Gordon asked if the commission could request a legal opinion concerning the special use permit and its transferability. He could foresee potential problems with it in the future if the language of the ordinance is as it appears. Mr. Wilson agreed to work with the Town attorney to discuss and bring back a legal opinion to the Commission.
There being no Commission member reports, the Chairman called for a motion to adjourn. The vote was unanimous.
County supervisors expected to approve extension of 2020 tax payment deadlines at May 18 meeting
Following last week’s authorization to advertise for a public hearing on adoption of an ordinance delaying imposition of penalties and interest on late payment of certain 2020 taxes, the Warren Count Board of Supervisors will hold that public hearing at tomorrow evening’s meeting on Tuesday, May 18.
Due to the shutdown of a good deal of Information Technology (I.T.) systems including departmental and staff emails following the March discovery that Warren County’s software had been “intruded” upon along with other systems across the nation, some tax bills have been late going out. Consequently, upon passage of the ordinance, no penalties or interest will be accrued on the June county tax payment installment until June 22. Impacted taxes include real estate, personal property, machinery & tools, and vehicle license taxes becoming due June 5.
The Town of Front Royal did not experience the same software “intrusion”. According to its Finance Department, while town taxes will become due by June 1, no penalties or interest are accrued until June 5.
The County has fallen short of terming the I.T. event a hack due to no evidence of the theft or manipulation of data discovered thus far. Since being identified as part of an unauthorized I.T. event across multiple states, the “intrusion” is being investigated at multiple law enforcement levels, including federal and state, across the nation.
County ponders off-hour citizen misuse of trash convenience sites
While the Warren County Board of Supervisors tries to figure out where it stands with the Town of Front Royal as far as threatened fees to compensate the Town for additional costs tied to direct shipment of treated sewage to the Page County landfill, during its May 11 meeting Public Works Director Mike Berry briefed them over problems with after-hour citizen disposal of trash at County solid waste convenience sites. Also, on the table for discussion, last Tuesday were increased funding needs to adequately staff Chester Gap Fire & Rescue Company 9. See that discussion in a forthcoming related story.
Fortunately perhaps, considering unresolved Town-County solid waste dispute variables including potential back fees the Town may owe the County for avoided commercial sewage disposal fees and the County’s financial contribution to federally and state-mandated upgrades to the Town Wastewater Treatment Plant, neither topic was new to the supervisors. Both have been the subject of at least one previous work session discussion.
On the citizen trash disposal side of the agenda, Public Works Director Berry explained that convenience site issues revolved around trash and other large-scale items like furniture being dumped after operational hours. North River Supervisor Delores Oates noted problems she has observed headed to or from church on Sundays with improperly discarded trash at the Cooley site “blowing everywhere and litter everywhere. – And so the community needs to understand that (they) need to be better stewards of the things that are provided to them,” Oates reasoned.
She observed that the so-called trash convenience sites are provided as just that, a “convenience” to county residents. It is a convenience that could be removed if it continues to be abused and was eventually judged too costly a convenience for the County to continue to provide. Alternatives to the convenience sites could be the long haul of residential trash to the Bentonville collection and transfer station; neighborhood contracting of their own trash pickup; or perhaps continued illegal dumping at random, remote locations. None of those would seem a preferable option for county citizens as a whole.
Oates was joined by Board Chair Cullers and Sheriff’s Office Lt. Robbie Seal in suggesting some sort of public relations campaign to raise awareness of the difficulties and additional costs to the County in dealing with the problem. “But they just need to understand that this is important to all of us, that we maintain a clean and beautiful community and not just throw your trash wherever you feel like it,” Oates concluded.
During the discussion, Lt. Seal and the sheriff’s office were commended for increased patrols trying to deter the after-hours dumping. Seal observed that people pulling up before or after hours who saw a marked sheriff’s office vehicle nearby tended to turn around and leave with whatever they had with them.
A variety of operational methods were raised to deal with the problem, including longer hours, opening on Wednesday and Sundays when the sites are now closed or operating at reduced hours; alterations to fencing and placement of open containers near or beyond entrances when the sites are closed. However, problems including costs for additional staffing and equipment and installation, overloaded open containers, and bagged trash being tossed over fencing toward containers catching, ripping and adding to the blowing trash and litter problem, were also cited.
Questioned by Fork District Supervisor Archie Fox on costs to keep the sites open seven days a week or for longer hours, Berry estimated $35,000 a year to open Wednesdays, along with additional costs for added site adjustments. To increase Sunday hours from the current 12-noon to 7 p.m., to 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. could add another $16,000 to $20,000, Berry told the board.
Cullers and Shenandoah Supervisor Walt Mabe took the stance that improved services with additional hours and altered facilities as necessary to meet off-hour customer needs as the preferred route. However, Cullers acknowledged problems even on fully operational 7 a.m.-to-7 p.m. days: “Even when we open at 7 (a.m.), my understanding is that there’s stuff piled up there before 7 in the morning, right?”
“Yes,” Berry replied.
Following a sixteen-minute discussion, Interim County Administrator Ed Daley summarized the apparent board consensus on a path forward:
“So, with the board’s concurrence we’re going to, number one, start opening the gates more, see what that does. If we run into problems then we’ll stop. But we’re going to try it.
“We’re going to look at the fencing like Lt. Seal was talking about – putting ups some more fencing, and also (Assistant County Attorney) Caitlen (Jordan) is working on this signage she said she’ll have for you in June …
“We’ll look at the cost of open containers and where they could be placed …
“And also looking at increasing the Sunday hours, and also Wednesday hours. We’re talking in terms of $50,000 as to what that total would be there.
“So, we will look at all these options in a progressive manner and start moving forward and see if we can get some of this cleaned up,” Daley concluded.
Berry sighted necessary personnel moves to accomplish the desired operational changes related to available hours and shifts, forecasting what he called “not too significant” a hike in those hourly personnel costs. Cullers questioned the public works director on those shifts, asking if there were staff working full 12-hour shifts. Berry replied that those 12-hour days were generally split between two six-hour shifts, other than Sunday when a seven-hour shift was pulled.
And with that discussion resolved, the board moved toward Sheriff Butler’s report on his department’s investigation of stinky treated sewage mixed with Town residential trash being dumped at the Bentonville Transfer Station as reported in our story “Illegal sewage dumping investigation closed with no charges – but is that the end of the story?” The convenience site portion of the meeting begins 39 minutes into the open meeting video right after the EDA Resolution and meeting adjournment and ends around the 61-minute mark.
At reduced numbers County Planning Commission considers rezoning requests and more storage facilities
The Warren County Planning Commission met Wednesday, May 12th, minus absent commissioner Joe Longo and with a continued vacancy for the seat previously held by Crystal Beall. Supervisor Cheryl Cullers indicates that fill for that vacancy will be voted on by the County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday, May 18th.
Several personnel changes in the Planning Department were also announced at the meeting. Former Zoning Administrator Joe Petty has assumed the position of Director of Planning, formerly held by Taryn Logan, and Matt Wendling has become the Deputy Director of Planning. Ms. Logan, in her new role as Deputy County Administrator, will continue to provide assistance to the planning department, much to the relief of Director Petty.
There weren’t any public presentations, so Chairman Robert Myers moved into unfinished business from the last meeting on April 14th.
Raymond Ditto had requested a Conditional Use Permit (CUP) for a short-term tourist rental for his residential property at 461 Thunderbird Road in the South River Magisterial District.
Due to the age of the property, The Department of Health had no records for it, and therefore couldn’t determine the allowable occupancy, so the commission tabled the request. The applicant has been working with the staff and the Health Department to complete their records and develop an occupancy limit. So, as not to further delay the approval, the planning staff recommended language in the approval motion to assure that occupancy would not exceed that determined by the health department. The commission then agreed without dissent to forward the application to the Board of Supervisors with a recommendation of approval.
There were four public hearings for the commissioners this month.
Salvador and Josette Barragan have requested a change to the Warren County Zoning map to rezone approximately 1.77 Acres from Residential (R-1) to Agricultural along Mint Springs Road in the Dungadin Subdivision, South River Magisterial District. The applicants want to extend their adjacent agricultural zoned properties to pasture livestock and construct a run-in shed for horses. The commissioners received a letter from the Dungadin, Inc. president, requesting the Board of Supervisors not approve the request, citing concerns over water supply and runoff issues. However, there were also communications from five neighboring property owners supporting the rezoning request. The Commission again voted without dissent to recommend approval of the request to the Board of Supervisors.
Ryan and Kelsey Speers are requesting a Conditional Use Permit for a guest house on their 20.9-acre property at Liberty Hall and Lands Run Roads in the South River District. A “Guest House” is defined by the ordinance as a living unit that is not intended for permanent occupancy and cannot be used for paid guests, as opposed to a short-term tourist rental. The Speers intend to eventually build their permanent residence on the property and will use their guest house for part-time residency until their primary residence is built. The planning staff recommended that in addition to the regular conditions, that a condition will be placed on the deed at the time of transfer to a new owner that rental or leasing of the structure for monetary compensation is prohibited and that it is limited to part-time occupancy up to six months.
One citizen, Jim Smith spoke during the Public Hearing for this permit request. He asked if the unit being built by the Speers could be rented out. Staff reiterated the prohibition in the recommendation that such use would be prohibited. Mr. Smith indicated that he had been hunting in that area for over 40 years and was concerned about people walking along the old right-of-way on the property. The property owner indicated their only plan was occasionally walking in the woods along the abandoned right-of-way toward the national park boundary, and would gladly coordinate with neighbors.
The commission again approved the recommendation for approval to the Board of Supervisors without dissent.
David Khol is seeking a Conditional Use Permit for his Agriculturally zoned property at 519 Freezeland Road in the Happy Creek District for a short-term tourist rental. The property is Mr. Kohl’s primary residence, and it will be available for rental on occasions when the owner is out of town. The Applicant has engaged a property manager to handle the property rental. The Commission again forwarded a recommendation of approval to the Board of Supervisors with no dissenting vote.
Melissa and Johnathan Greene submitted a Conditional Use Permit request for a guesthouse on their Agriculturally zoned property on Gooney Manor Loop in the South River District. The Greenes intend to build a home on the property but want to create a loft apartment in an existing barn, so they can spend weekends on the property in the meantime. Planning Department Staff again outlined the requirement that a guesthouse cannot be used for rental purposes and occupancy is limited to part-time up to six months in a calendar year. Once again without a dissenting vote cast, the commissioners present forwarded the request to the county supervisors with a recommendation of approval.
In the Authorization to Advertise for a public hearing section of the meeting, three CUP requests from 9700 Court, LLC were presented for a facility on Winchester Road in the North River Magisterial District for the construction of a climate-controlled 63,000 square-foot enclosed storage building, and an additional car, boat, and RV storage area at the back of that lot.
A representative for the applicant Scott Stickley provided a brief overview of the project, which would proceed in phases, depending on the business. Future expansion could eventually increase the total square footage of rentable storage to 84,000 s.f. The property is zoned commercial and lies within the Route 340/522 Overlay District, which has architectural, landscape, and overall appearance requirements that must be met. If approved, this project would be the fifth such facility in a 5- mile radius. However, the applicant asserts that industry studies indicate there is more than enough demand to justify the additional facility.
There were no citizen speakers regarding the project, and the commissioners approved advertising a public hearing for the project.
Newly assigned Planning Director Joe Petty briefed the commission on a schedule for a rewrite of the County Comprehensive Plan, with work scheduled to begin in earnest in July 2021, with completion forecast by July 2022. He also expressed confidence in the challenges ahead in his new role and his appreciation for his predecessor continuing to be available to provide her expertise as he “learns the ropes”.
Finally, the Chairman presented the outgoing planning director with a warm farewell augmented by flowers as a token of the commissioners’ appreciation and esteem for her many contributions.
The meeting was adjourned at 8 p.m.
Illegal sewage dumping investigation closed with no charges – but is that the end of the story?
If Town of Front Royal officials were looking for vindication in a report culminating Tuesday, May 11, with Warren County Sheriff Mark Butler telling the Warren County Board of Supervisors his department was closing its criminal investigation into a staff report of suspected illegal sewage dumping at the County’s Bentonville Transfer Station without charges – they got it Tuesday night, or at least their garbage truck crews did.
Butler did say the case was being closed without charges. However, his detailed power point summary of events leading up to and following investigative interactions with two Town garbage truck crews at the solid waste transfer station on April 20, concluded there may have been as much as a five-year pattern of purposeful dumping in violation of the agreement between the two municipalities for waste disposal and transfer. He also noted that both municipalities shared some culpability for allowing the process to continue past those initial concerns.
Butler included 2016 and 2017 communications from County Solid Waste Manager (and now Public Works Director) Mike Berry to county and town officials raising questions about “nasty waste” and possible commercial sewage being mixed in with residential garbage charged at different rates, being delivered to the Bentonville solid waste transfer site.
Sheriff Butler utilized photographs of waste in question taken April 20 during his department’s investigation that illustrated the treated, dried sewage being mixed with residential garbage and water that “rehydrated” the grit and screenings from their treated state. These were evidentiary photographs the sheriff said, other than one on his cell phone, the DEQ investigator refused to look at during his April 21 inspection of the Town’s Wastewater Treatment Plant. Contacted Wednesday, DEQ Water Permits & Compliance Manager Brandon Kiracofe said while he did not recall refusing to look at photos, agreed he had only seen the one cellphone photo. However, he noted that a solid waste inspector who visited the County Transfer Station April 21 in connection with the investigation, may have been more likely to inspect those photos.
Sheriff Butler also made it clear that the Town’s garbage truck crews were not the ultimate target of his department’s investigation. Following conversations that included Warren County Commonwealth’s Attorney John Bell and Interim County Administrator Ed Daley, the sheriff said, “All parties agreed seeking violations of County Codes was not in the best interest of the employees, who were merely just doing their jobs. The Criminal case at this time will be closed,” later adding, “The everyday workers should not be put in this situation jeopardizing their livelihood.”
In summarizing his conclusions near the end of his presentation, Sheriff Butler added, “Since the Town has agreed to never dump this waste at the Transfer Site again, Doctor Daley agreed with both the Commonwealth’s Attorney and the Sheriff, compliance with the law is the best outcome. The County does not wish to pursue charges of any kind currently.”
Could “currently” be an indication this story may not end legally with the closing of Sheriff’s Office investigation? Elsewhere in summarizing his department’s investigation, Sheriff Butler said this: “After reviewing all statements, agreements, evidence, policies, procedures, laws and codes, both the Commonwealth Attorney, John Bell, and the Warren County Sheriff’s Office believe this matter would be best handled as a civil instead of a criminal matter.”
Perhaps that looming sheriff’s report on the suspected sludge dumping investigation scheduled for Tuesday, May 11, explains an unknown portion of the Front Royal Town Council’s 4-1/2 hours of closed sessions the previous day to discuss, among other things, “legal matters” regarding an unspecified “MOA” and “claimed or potential financial obligations” and “actual or probable litigation.
Board Chairwoman Cullers explained her entry into the issue as stemming from campaign promises on addressing public safety issues along roads in her South River District. Among those concerns were waste dropping on the roads to the Bentonville transfer station and convenience sites. While expressing a desire to continue toward a good working relationship with the Town, as she has in the past, Cullers noted that it had to be achieved within the law and the parameters of agreements between the two municipalities in the best interest of the citizens and employees of both.
Royal Examiner will have more on this evolving story as the County and Town chart a future path through what has become a minefield of accusation, counter-accusation and increasingly tense relations, or as Board Chair Cullers was put on notice by Mayor Holloway last week, an absence of planned joint relations pending the unlikely meeting of Town demands, including firings and resignations of the interim county administrator and sheriff due to their roles in the investigation launched by concerns expressed by County Transfer Station Manager Jamie Lentz. During Tuesday’s discussion Lentz was commended for re-raising the issue of “nasty waste” in the face of municipal systems that had allowed questionable loads to continue to be received over a period of years.
In fact, Royal Examiner does have MORE on this issue already, having received a statement from Mayor Holloway through the town manager’s office while typing the above paragraph Wednesday afternoon. The statement was in response to a question posed the previous day on the decision to transport the disputed materials directly to the Page County Battle Creek Landfill.
Mayor responds on waste decision
This is the mayor’s emailed statement in its entirety:
“The County has never said anything about an odor or dumping of material. This could have all been avoided if they would just have picked up the phone and shared their concerns.
“They told DEQ that they didn’t want to accept this material anymore at the transfer station even though most towns do the same thing with theirs. This was the County’s decision not the Town’s. As a result, county citizens will pay additional costs because of their decision to haul to Page County. We will be invoicing them or we will stop taking the materials. Please keep in mind, the County has been accepting the material for years just like other localities do with their transfer stations.
“We are now having (contracted hauler) Republic haul the screening & grit from the Town treatment plant and the County Septage Receiving Station straight to the Page County landfill. Again, due to the County’s request – not us agreeing to it – it will increase the costs to county citizens. I want to emphasize the County can take the material per DEQ if they want to and save taxpayer’s dollar.”
Contacted about the “invoicing them or … stop taking the materials” reference, Town Manager Steven Hicks verified that was in reference to the Town’s receipt of county septic system waste for treatment at its WWTP.
Stay tuned for future developments in our daytime/nighttime drama “As the Sewage Travels” and/or watch the Sheriff’s report (at 1:01:45 mark), along with other business conducted Tuesday evening, in this County video.
Behind Closed Doors: Town Council closed sessions run toward EDA financial scandal lengths
Perhaps not surprisingly, after a nearly 3-1/2-hour closed session that opened their Monday, May 10th work session, the Front Royal Town Council made short work of the three open session agenda items – 1/ a staff briefing on suggested changes to Town policies on the use of the Village Commons public area at the heart of the historic downtown business district (related to one closed session item); 2/ enforcing the Blighted Building, Blighted Properties and Non-conforming lot codes (eventually enforcement may begin at council’s discretion on the process established); and 3/ the routine annual alignment of Town Codes with changes to state Motor Vehicle Laws.
Short work – Because surprise, surprise, after the approximately 18 minutes they spent on those three open session items, council re-convened to closed session at 10:45 p.m. to discuss three more of the eight closed session agenda topics yet covered. Two of those being property moves that Mayor Chris Holloway informed the council at the outset of the meeting nearly four hours earlier, that he would be recusing himself from participation in. Staff estimated the second work session as lasting about an hour, allowing them, council minus the absent Jacob Meza, and the mayor out of Town Hall shortly before midnight.
Among the closed session topics were: a/ discussion, interviews with candidates for “various Boards” appointments, no doubt including the new Town EDA; b/ an unspecified personnel matter; c/ “potential legal liability exposures of the Town regarding its Town-owned Town Commons under sub-section A.8”; d/e/ the aforementioned mayoral recusals from discussion of “disposition of publicly held real property” (as opposed to its imaginary holdings?), specifically as to “the sale or vacation of a Town right of way, being an alley (Carter Street and N. Royal Avenue)” where open discussion could “adversely affect the bargaining position or negotiating strategy” of the Town under Section A.3; f/ legal consultation of unspecified “specific” matters; g/ legal consultation “Regarding claimed or potential financial obligations, whether legal or moral” and briefings by staff or consultants on those matters, “including actual and probable litigation”; and h/ “With respect to an MOA (Memorandum of Agreement), consultation with legal counsel employed or retained by Town Council regarding specific legal matters” again not specified – though a good guess might be the solid waste disposal contract/agreement with the County).
DEQ ID’s disputed transfer station waste as acceptable materials with possible odor issues that could be rejected
A Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) inspection of the Town of Front Royal’s Wastewater Treatment Plant (WWTP) in reaction to an inquiry by the Warren County Sheriff’s Office regarding suspicions of untreated sewage at the Bentonville transfer Station appears to have cleared the Town of any wrongdoing. Reports regarding the transfer station at tonight’s Warren County Board of Supervisors Meeting by both Sheriff Mark Butler and County Public Works Director Mike Berry may add additional light on the matter.
But according to the DEQ official who made that inspection the day after what has become a contentious interaction between the sheriff and deputies and a Town garbage truck crew bringing “grit and screenings” sewage from the WWTP to the County’s Bentonville transfer station along with residential trash, there has been an agreement that the Town will no longer bring those materials to the Bentonville site. Rather, they will be transported by a contracted hauler directly to the Battle Creek Landfill in Page County, which is their ultimate destination, along with other sewage or sludge materials the local transfer station is not licensed to take.
The first official on either side of the dispute that Royal Examiner was able to reach Tuesday was Assistant Town Attorney George Sonnett, who was present during the April 21st DEQ inspection of the Town WWTP. Asked about an agreement on the direct shipment of the disputed waste to the Page County site, Sonnett said, “At this time I’m not aware of an alternative. It has been rejected – what choice do we have?”
DEQ Water Permits & Compliance Manager Brandon Kiracofe said treated materials he inspected April 21 at the Town’s WWTP matched acceptable, non-sewage-sludge materials. “Based on my experience they were consistent with what I’ve seen there (Bentonville) and elsewhere being accepted” according to treated sewage standards, Kiracofe told Royal Examiner by phone on May 10.
However, passages in a 2007 DEQ outline of processes related to disposal of various levels of treated sewage provided to Royal Examiner by the Town may offer a clue to the evolving situation here.
“If odor from grit and screenings becomes an issue at a landfill, then the waste inspector should: 1/ Remind the landfill that they can reject any load,” the February 26, 2007 memo from DEQ Water Quality Division Director Ellen Gilinsky and Waste Division Director Karen Jackson Sismour tells regional water compliance and waste program managers. And while the Bentonville site is no longer a landfill, one might guess that as a transfer station to Page County’s Battle Creek Landfill, the same right of refusal would come into play.
But that treated and dried “grit and screening” byproducts of the Town’s Wastewater Treatment Plant would be acceptable at the Bentonville Transfer Station is also indicated in the 2007 DEQ waste disposal process outline: “DEQ has deemed that grit and screenings do not fall under the definition of ‘sludge’ and therefore the stabilization requirement for sludge (which the Bentonville station is not licensed to accept, but Page County’s is) does not apply to grit and screenings from a wastewater treatment plant.”
So, it would appear that Mayor Holloway is correct when he said the Town has been cleared of any wrongdoing, particularly of a criminal nature, regarding the dumping of materials at the Bentonville site. We may find out if Sheriff Butler agrees tonight.
However, it would also appear that the County is within its right to reject loads of grit and screening if odor has become an issue with staff or patrons at the transfer station. Following the above-referenced exception of grit and screenings from being defined as sludge and prefacing that first bullet point right of rejection of treated loads, the 2007 DEQ document also states: “However, improperly maintained or operated grit and screening devices can produce waste that has a higher organic content that can contribute to odors at a landfill” continuing to encourage DEQ regional managers to work with staffs at the treatment and receiving end of sewage products “to ensure proper treatment of this material.”
However, with the current level of contentious hostility between the two municipalities over the County’s handling of the initial complaint with a law enforcement investigation of a perceived threatening nature to a Town solid waste truck crew, such a cooperative effort may not be in the offing. See Royal Examiner’s linked story “Town demands ‘reparations’, firings, and threatens ‘legal action’ for alleged ‘Sludge War’ on solid waste crew” for a full accounting of the evolution of that hostility expressed in an April 29 Town press release and letter to County Board Chair Cheryl Cullers, signed by Mayor Chris Holloway.
That letter notifies the county board chair of cancellation of all future joint Town-County meetings pending satisfaction of a list of demands, including the firing of Interim County Administrator Ed Daley and resignation of Sheriff Mark Butler.
Stay tuned for the next chapter of “(It’s not) Sludge Wars” as Sheriff Mark Butler and County Public Works Director Mike Berry weigh in during tonight’s Warren County Board of Supervisors Work Session following scheduled EDA-related Closed Sessions beginning at 6 p.m. and 7 p.m.