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Council defeats Property Maintenance Code with Rental Inspection District

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Chris Morrison has been passionate about protecting the town’s renters – but a council majority now views enforcement of specific rental property standards as too expensive or too problematic. File Photos/Roger Bianchini.

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”.

The owner of rental property at 122 S. Royal Avenue was cited as a likely target of rental protections by current and past tenants during a Sept. 25, 2017 public hearing.

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.

Local landlord and businessman William Huck urged passage of a rental inspection district to hold all landlords accountable to minimum standards of habitability as defined by the Town.

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.

Local Government

Council aligns with Planning Commission: No exemption from off-street parking

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The Virginia Beer Museum at 16 Chester Street, may have to nix expansion of its backyard Beer Garden following a Council vote denying an exemption for off-street parking for museums and art galleries. / Royal Examiner File Photo

FRONT ROYAL – A motion to amend Front Royal Town Code 175-127.3 to exempt museums and art galleries from off-street parking requirements failed Monday evening (Jan. 14, 2019) at its second and final reading, as the Front Royal Town Council voted down the measure 4-2.

Councilman Jacob Meza and recently-elected LeTasha Thompson voted in favor of the code change to allow the exemption, while Councilmen Sealock, Tewalt, Gillispie and Holloway voted against the measure.  Prior to the vote Sealock addressed his concerns about a lack of parking data and also reminded the panel that they had originally agreed to affirm the Planning Comission’s  decision.

Virginia Beer Museum owner David Downes had previously submitted a request to receive an off-street parking exemption to expand the entity’s beer garden. The parking spots he hoped to eliminate are behind 14 and 16 Chester Street, where Downes’ law office and the museum are located.

He previously told Royal Examiner that his request was an attempt to be treated the same as the businesses on Main, Jackson and Chester streets, which are exempt from off-street parking requirements.

Last September, the Planning Commission unanimously recommended that Downe’s request be denied in favor of a town-wide parking study after a public hearing in which 14 citizens spoke in favor of the exemption, with three speaking against it.

In other business, the Town Council’s Monday:

  • Appointed William C. Gordon to the Planning Commission, term expiring August 30, 2020.
  • Appointed Eugene Tewalt and Jacob Meza to the Audit & Finance Committee, term expiring Dec. 31, 2019.
  • Appointed William Sealock as Vice-Mayor. He will serve for two years, until the end of his term.
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Local Government

Town Summit – Part 6, Town Director of Finance B.J. Wilson gives us an ‘Financial Overview’.

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Town Director of Finance B.J. Wilson. Photo and video by Mike McCool, Royal Examiner.

In this 6th and final presentation of the Town Council Summit, Town Director of Finance B.J. Wilson gives us an ‘Financial Overview’.

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Local Government

Town Council Summit – Part 5, Town Attorney Doug Napier addresses the EDA

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Photo and video by Mike McCool, Royal Examiner

In late 1967, Town Council and the Warren County Board of Supervisors, by reciprocal ordinances, jointly formed the “Industrial Development Authority of the Town of Front Royal and the County of Warren, Virginia”, pursuant to State statutes. This local Industrial Development Authority (“IDA”) currently is known as the Economic Development Authority, or “EDA”. This session, Town Attorney discusses the EDA and its relationship with the County and the Town.

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Local Government

Town Council Summit – Part 4, Town Attorney Doug Napier addresses ‘Roberts Rules of Order’

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Mayor Hollis Tharpe asks Town Attorney Doug Napier about Roberts Rules of Order. Photo and Video by Mike McCool, Royal Examiner.

In this fourth presentation of the Town Council Summit,  Town Attorney Doug Napier addresses ‘Roberts Rules of Order’:

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Local Government

Town Council Summit – Part 3, Town Attorney Doug Napier addresses ‘Conflict of Interest’

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Photo and video by Mike McCool, Royal Examiner

In this third presentation of the Town Council Summit,  Town Attorney Doug Napier addresses issues with Conflicts of Interest:

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Local Government

BOS Reports from County Administrator; County Attorney; WCPS; VDOT

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At the Board of Supervisors meeting on January 8, 2019, the monthly reports from the County Administrator Doug Stanley, County Attorney Dan Whitten gave their reports:


Also Warren County Public Schools – Greg Drescher


And report from Ed Carter, VDOT

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