FRONT ROYAL– By a voice vote of 6-0 on Monday night, January 8, the Front Royal Town Council began the process of removing the Rental Inspection District and its specific protections of town renters from the proposed Property Maintenance Code.
Chris Morrison’s motion to approve the first reading of the combined code failed by a 0-6 voice vote. During an adjournment in the January 8 meeting Morrison, who has been council’s chief advocate of adding town legal protections for renters, explained his “no” vote.
“You know what’s going on here; you were at the work session last week. I have to work with what I know can pass,” Morrison said. By joining the “no” votes, Morrison would be able to re-introduce the renter protections part of the failed ordinance at a future date when passage would seem more likely. The council majority has made it clear it plans to reintroduce the Property Maintenance portion of the ordinance proposal without the rental district.
Work session discussion on January 2 indicated a council majority did not support the rental inspection district or the costs associated with enforcement. During a July 2017 work session Mayor Tharpe estimated an annual cost of as much as $150,000 to create a position to oversee requested inspections and enforcement where violations existed. “We’ll see if our council will belly-up with a tax increase,” Tharpe said at the time. The eventual answer was “no”.
During the discussion six months ago Councilman John Connolly pointed out that revenue from one-cent of a past real estate tax hike had already been committed to fund a position that could handle such duties. Each penny of town real estate tax produces about $105,000, so another half penny hike could fund the position.
But in the immediate future, renters with serious complaints about the condition and circumstance imposed by some landlords will have to hope that the Property Maintenance Code portion of the proposed ordinance can be applied to assuring some basic living standards are provided to town renters. That appears to be Councilman Morrison’s hope in the short term
During a September 25 public hearing after which council tabled action on the proposed code, a number of renters at a highly visible property at 122 South Royal Avenue, described horrid conditions which several believe contributed to at least one’s respiratory health issues. The owner of that property, described as retired Doctor Mir Batouli of Great Falls, is one of a number of out-of-the-area landlords cited as perhaps less interested in basic maintenance than maximizing profits from their properties.
Several locally-based landlords spoke in favor of increased protections against absentee-landlord abuses, but also expressed concerns about some aspects of the code. Those concerns included inadvertent punishment of conscientious landlords for minor issues; or impacts on adjoining properties from declaring offending properties such as described by tenants of 122 South Royal Avenue as “blighted”.
Speaking in support of the code, former council candidate Linda Allen pointed out that landlord abuses generally target the community’s most vulnerable citizens. Those are citizens not in a position financially to either file civil actions or just up and move.
Another local landlord, C & C Frozen Treats owner William Huck, told council, “It is not a matter of if, but a matter of when you pass this.” Apparently the “when” involves a council willingness to add a half cent to the local real estate tax to fund enforcement.
And facing a 2.8-cent tax hike over the next six years to fund current or pending capital improvements like the new police headquarters, walking trails, sidewalks and physical improvements to historic downtown business district properties, the “when” remains in doubt. The Town’s current real estate tax rate is 13-cents per $100 of assessed value.
Suggested alternative methods of rental property enforcement suggested by another local landlord, David Silek, were cited by Town Attorney Doug Napier as unfeasible under existing legal definitions. Those alternatives included criminal prosecution under public nuisance or public health statutes. See related story: Town attorney responds to rental inspections questions
Reintroduction of the Property Maintenance Code sans the Rental Inspection District can proceed immediately following the first-reading vote against the joint ordinance. On January 2, Town Attorney Doug Napier explained that no second reading vote would be required once the first reading approval failed. Council has authorized re-advertisement for a new public hearing on the Property Maintenance Code, sans the Rental Inspection District.
Supervisors appear reluctant to forward Data Centers as a by-right use regardless of zoning amendment creating new Light Industrial District
Following a detailed presentation by County Planning Director Matt Wendling on the procedural requirements for authorizing the development of Data Centers in Industrial or Light Industrially zoned areas either by-right or by individual Conditional Use Permit (CUP) approval, on Tuesday, October 4, the Warren County Board of Supervisors authorized advertisement for an October 25th public hearing on a zoning amendment on the new zoning district and uses within it.
However, despite Wendling’s overview of the reasoning behind the planning commission’s cited 3-1 recommendation* of approval of a Zoning Text Amendment allowing Data Centers as a by-right use in the Light Industrial District the zoning amendment would create, a board majority appeared reluctant to pursue that recommendation. All four supervisors present – Happy Creek District’s Jay Butler was absent from the 9 a.m. meeting – expressed some concern over a blanket by-right designation, particularly regarding Data Centers.
While Planning Director Wendling cited “more flexibility in marketing”, the elimination of one public hearing in the approval process by eliminating Conditional Use Permitting, and consistency with planned Town Council zoning parameters, citing personal or constituent concerns the board majority indicated a preference for the extra scrutiny that additional permitting would allow. North River Supervisor Delores Oates pointed to constituent concerns about power grid and water usage variables connected to Data Centers, which it has also been pointed out do not generally create many jobs for the local job market.
“So, it concerns me that this elected body, who is elected to represent the people, would have no say in that final determination. That concerns me a lot,” Oates said in response to the rationale for the by-right designation.
Board Chair Cheryl Cullers of the South River District added, “I never want to take the short route … I’m willing to be here as long as it takes to do this … the by-right bothers me. We wouldn’t even have the final say. And what these building would do or produce or anything like that, it concerns me that by-right they could do it if it’s within parameters without any input from this board.”
Shenandoah District Supervisor Walt Mabe concurred, saying of too broad a by-right zoning code, “That’s not the way I see our government working because we’re protecting our community, and we’re protecting our power grid and water sources, and all things that are necessary to keep things on an even keel …”
Fork District Supervisor Vicky Cook questioned the relatively long list of proposed by-right uses accompanying Data Centers in the new Light Industrial District. “So, are we concerned about by-right use for only Data Centers or are we worried about by-right for the list of these businesses,” Cook asked. “Any and all,” County Administrator Ed Daley responded of the Zoning Text Amendment before them for authorization for public hearing and final board approval.
So, in the wake of Mabe’s motion to authorize the matter for public hearing, seconded by Cook, and approved by a 4-0 voice vote, the public will have a chance to weigh in during the Zoning Text Amendment Public Hearing slated for a 6 p.m. October 25th Special Meeting called to help the board wade through other pending public hearings.
The only other action item on Tuesday morning’s agenda was consideration of a 12-item Consent Agenda. That agenda, included authorization to advertise seven other Conditional Use Permit applications, five of those for short-term tourist rentals and two for private-use camping.
Another Consent Agenda item was approval of a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) with the Town of Front Royal and Discover Front Royal as a co-created 501-C6 non-profit organization for “Destination Marketing Services” promoting tourism for town and county destinations. Other matters approved on the Consent Agenda were authorization of a refund request for an erroneous tax assessment involving Warren Memorial Hospital; use of the courthouse grounds for the Veterans Day event hosted by American Legion Post 53; setting of a meeting schedule for preparation for the Fiscal Year-2023-24 County budget, as well as preliminary work towards the FY-2024/25 budget; an amendment to the sale of County-owned property at 30 East Jackson Street extending the closing date on the $240,000 sale to Blue Ridge Information Systems to “no later than November 30, 2022 to secure a survey of the property.”
At 10 a.m. the supervisors adjourned to a Closed/Executive Session discussion of EDA-related litigations, the recovery of EDA assets, and possible liabilities and indebtedness of the FR-WC EDA (aka WC EDA). A second item, the potential sale of property, was added to the motion into Closed Session. Nothing was announced and no action taken out of that closed session.
FOOTNOTE: Planning Director Wendling explained that the County Planning Commission vote recommending forwarding approval of the Zoning Text Amendment as presented was 3-0 with one abstention due to a potential conflict of interest, but that the abstention was considered a negative vote in bringing the recommendation forward.
As County-directed EDA develops detailed Strategic Plan for the future, it moves toward joint meeting with Town counterpart
The still legally named Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority (FR-WC EDA, more commonly now referenced as the WC EDA in the wake of the Front Royal Town Council’s circa 2019/20 withdrawal from participation*) held its regular monthly meeting for September, Monday afternoon the 26th, at the Warren County Government Center. With no action items on the agenda, the focus of County EDA Director Joe Petty and the five EDA Board of Director members were committee reports concerning discussion of a cooperative path forward and procedural adjustments surrounding a reworked Strategic Plan.
Asked about the EDA’s direction in the wake of the meeting, now full-time County EDA Director Petty said, “The meeting was productive in getting the Board of Directors thinking about assigned tasks for the upcoming Strategic Planning Session. There has been a lot of positive movement in the past few months and the Board is looking forward to continuing that momentum into the session by planning for the future. This includes having a cooperative relationship with the Town, FREDA, and County for economic development initiatives.”
Board Chairman Jeff Browne launched the cooperative tone during his opening Executive Committee Report. He sought input on a preferred date for, and legal advice regarding, a largely social “get-to-know” each other meeting with the newly created Front Royal Economic Development Authority (FREDA) Board of Directors. With the meeting planned chiefly as a “getting to know each other” session with no business or action items scheduled, Browne inquired of EDA attorney Sharon Pandak, present remotely, if it would require the same legal notification as regular board meetings. Pandak said that with the intent that the two full boards be present, yes, published public notice of the date and time of the meeting would be required as usual.
Later Browne noted a recent meeting with Vice-Mayor Lori Cockrell to discuss cooperative efforts between the now divided Town and County EDAs. And with Mayor Chris Holloway’s announced retirement from politics Cockrell is also essentially the Mayor-in-Waiting as the only person on the ballot for the mayor’s seat in the coming November Election.
Cooperative movement to a mutually agreeable end was also evident in discussion of a utility easement across WC EDA property at the Avtex site to allow Town crews to perform storm-water management work on existing infrastructure as needed in the future. A consensus was reached to put approval of at least a short-term agreement outlining what work and access is anticipated to eventually be on the table, on the EDA’s next regular monthly meeting agenda in October.
Also, during his Executive Committee Report, Browne noted an upcoming meeting with a senior member of the Council for Competitiveness regarding American companies, particularly supply chain businesses, planning to relocate from overseas seeking favorable locations in the U.S. “It seems like we’d be a really great location for them,” Browne said of the county with its Interstate Highway system crossroads location, as well as the Inland Port connection to the Norfolk Port Authority system.
After a brief discussion of some EDA properties insurance coverage issues forwarded by Jorie Martin, Jim Wolfe summarized work towards establishing goals for an upcoming Strategic Planning meeting slated for 8 a.m., potentially thru lunch time, on Friday, October 14. Chairman Browne pointed to a preparatory meeting envisioned for the previous Friday, October 7, where individually assigned tasks for board members related to the Strategic Plan update, budgetary and marketing matters would be reviewed to give the following week’s meeting a stronger jumping off point. Of the two-pronged October assault on the evolving Strategic Plan, Browne described a strategical perspective: “Focusing ultimately on the big picture – how do we assess competing priorities and reconnoiter them in terms of importance and their immediacy.”
That discussion segued into the Asset Committee Report of Greg Harold, who led off with the good news that with the Baugh Drive warehouse sale being finalized, that property was no longer on the EDA’s asset list. As to its remaining land assets, Harold pointed to the EDA’s recruitment of ULI (the Urban Land Institute) for assistance, particularly as to developmental and marketing issues with the redevelop-able 150 acres of the old 467-acre Avtex “Brownfield” site looming behind the EDA office complex on Kendrick Lane.
Queried later about ULI, County EDA Director Petty explained that “ULI is the oldest and largest network of cross-disciplinary real estate and land use experts in the world.” Of ULI and its membership, Petty pointed to a goal of “delivering the mission, shaping the future of the (real estate/land use) industry, and creating thriving communities around the globe.”
During his presentation Harold noted that ULI’s team of professional land developers could help the EDA determine, not only a highest or best-use of a given property like the aforementioned “Brownfield” Avtex site, but also “the most realistic” and achievable uses.
“It’s not free – it costs money,” Harold pointed out to his colleagues. But with a worldwide track record of success for its members, it could be money well-spent in jump-starting the long floundering Avtex/Royal Phoenix site redevelopment, Harold noted. “I’ve come to the realization that for me Avtex is too big for me to try to figure out what to do with,” the Asset Committee chairman observed of the gorilla in the room of EDA property assets.
“What you’re talking about, is where needed bringing a level of additional professionalism into it, to help make us make good decisions and avoid things that we may not, just from a lack of experience, know about,” Browne observed of the benefit of ULI input.
The Future, if not NOW – flashing back to coach George Allen’s “The Future is Now” slogan for his Washington NFL team – certainly appears to be on the horizon for the WC EDA.
*FOOTNOTE – Against the advice of then-Mayor Eugene Tewalt, during the term of Interim Town Manager Matt Tederick, circa 2019/20, the Town Council elected to ignore offered “good-faith negotiations” to determine who was owed exactly what in the wake of the estimated $26-million joint-Town-County EDA financial scandal, in favor of hostile civil litigation over the Town’s unilaterally claimed losses.
Council approves short-term rentals, one contingent on special exemption from parking
The Front Royal Town Council at its regular meeting Monday evening approved three short-term rentals, though one applicant must obtain a special exemption from the parking requirement before the property can be legally rented.
Vice Mayor Lori A. Cockrell, who led the meeting in Mayor Chris Holloway’s absence, and council members Gary L. Gillispie, Zachary Jackson, Amber F. Morris and Letasha T. Thompson voted unanimously to approve a special-use permit allowing a short-term rental in the Historic District, at 12 Chester St. The panel made the approval of the permit contingent on the applicant, Lea Justice, obtaining a special exception from the parking requirement.
Council members discussed speeding up the process by approving the exception so Justice can begin renting the apartment during the peak “leaf-peeping” season. Justice applied for the permit so that she could rent an upstairs apartment to no more than four people.
Justice already applied for the special exception from the parking requirements. Planning Director Lauren Kopishke told the panel that the special exception application must be considered by the Planning Commission—at a work session, followed by a regular meeting –for potential action.
Following that process, the council would need to act on the exception before Justice could legally rent the property on a short-term basis. Town Attorney George Sonnett Jr. advised council that they should follow the procedures for a special exception rather than approving the request at the same time as the permit.
Bruce Rappaport spoke in favor of Justice’s application, saying he was “pleased to hear” that the property would be a short-term rental. He cited the fact that Downtown Front Royal was a destination as well as the fact that it was zoned commercial C-2.
Council approved a short-term rental application for 12 Chester Street, owned by Lea Justice, with the contingency that she obtains a special exemption from the parking requirement. /Courtesy photo.
The council also considered and approved two other short-term rental proposals. Members voted 5-0 in favor of a motion to approve a special-use permit requested by William and Melissa Gordon for a short-term rental at 107 Highfield Lane, zoned residential R-1.
Mr. Gordon addressed the council during the public hearing, stating that he would cap rentals of the five-bedroom home to 10 occupants. The property provides onsite driveway parking for up to four vehicles. The Planning Commission recommended that the council approve the permit with no conditions.
Doug Hovest and Marlene Lundberg, both residents of the neighborhood, each said at the public hearing they opposed allowing a short-term rental on the street because visitors unfamiliar with the street might not obey the speed limit and could endanger children. John Lundberg addressed the council, asking they consider postponing a vote on the permit so that he and other neighbors could talk with the Gordons and address concerns.
Thompson said she understood the neighbors’ concerns about child safety, though visitors would be in the neighborhood with or without short-term renters. She suggested warning signs to alert drivers to children in the neighborhood.
Morris said she didn’t think the neighborhood would see more than a few vehicles at a time, and any complaints filed with the Planning and Zoning Department would be reviewed and addressed as necessary. She indicated that the council could revoke a permit if necessary.
Council members approved a special-use permit requested by Philip Vaught and Vaught Real Estate LLC for a short-term rental at 124 Luray Ave. zoned residential R-3. Vaught plans to rent five rooms to no more than 10 people. The property provides onsite driveway parking for up to seven vehicles. The Planning Commission recommended that the council approve the permit. West Main Street resident Bruce Rappaport voiced his concern regarding the property becoming a short-term rental. He told the council that a “transient aspect” might occur that could affect the value of surrounding homes if the permit was approved.
Also at the meeting, council voted to approve:
- An ordinance to amend Town Code Chapter 4 on the administration of government with changes to time of council meetings, remote participation by electronic means and residency requirements for certain town employees. No one spoke at the public hearing.
- An increase in the fiscal 2023 budget of $19,976 in funds from the Virginia Tourism Corporation and to allocate the money to Discover Front Royal. The town will remit the funds to Discover Front Royal once it has established itself as a 501C-6 non-profit organization and established a bank account.
- An increase in the fiscal 2023 budget of $23,494 from the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles Highway Safety Program and to allocate the money for reimbursement of overtime funds spent for speed and impaired driving enforcement operations.
- An increase in the fiscal 2023 of $2,276 from the Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Services Local Law Enforcement Block Grant Program and to allocate the money to help support public safety and crime prevention efforts.
- A contract amendment with Imperio Construction and to transfer $81,696 in the fiscal 2023 budget for the company to replace curb and gutter and install sidewalk along part of South Commerce Avenue, from Prospect Street to South Street.
- A sole-source procurement of services from Evoqua Water Technologies at a cost of $87,337 to make repairs to Clarifier #4 at the Wastewater Treatment Plant.
- A task order for CHA Engineering for $49,000 to complete the development and implementation of a water backflow prevention program to meet state waterworks regulations.
- A bid award for de-icing road salt at a cost of $89.09 per ton to Morton Salt Inc.
- Bids for fiscal 2023 water and wastewater treatment chemicals.
- A contract amendment to Dominion Energy’s water and sewage service agreement with Front Royal to speed up payments from the company to the town totaling $3.5 million.
- The conversion of one custodian position from part-time to full-time. The town pays the part-time position $15.66 per hour for 28 days per week. Converting the position to full-time will cost an additional $30,996.
- A resolution to approve the form and authorize the execution of the 2022 Locust Ridge Energy Schedule with American Municipal Power Inc. (AMP) Avingrid offered a 3-year power purchase agreement for wind power from its Locust Ridge Wind Project in eastern Pennsylvania with a fixed price of $47.50 per megawatt hour beginning in October through September 2025. American Municipal Power recommended that Front Royal commit to a 2-megawatt purchase to help hedge against the volatility of the wholesale power market and provide replacement power for a scheduled fall outage at the Prairie State Coal Fired Plant.
- A deed of easement granting the town easements for existing and new stormwater drainage infrastructure on property between Luray Avenue and Cherry Street owned by the Front Royal Presbyterian Church.
Council met in closed session to consult with legal counsel and discuss personnel.
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.