Chairing the first official Council meeting of his tenure as Mayor on Monday night January 9, Hollis Tharpe tied the known record for briefest Council Meeting on record at 17 minutes. Councilman John Connolly reminded us of a 21-minute meeting within his two-year tenure; however, according to one Council “historian” the 17-minute record dates back to the early 2000s at a meeting chaired by then Vice-Mayor Daniel Pond III.
CONGRATULATIONS, Mayor Tharpe on a job well done – and with almost an hour to spare until kickoff of the NCAA Division 1 National Championship game between Clemson and Alabama – AND by the way, CONGRATS to our Harrisonburg neighbors at James Madison University for their Division 2 (or whatever it’s called now) National Championship win over Youngstown State this past weekend – WAY TO GO DUKES!!!
And it wasn’t like there was no agenda to speak of or that nothing was accomplished Monday night. In addition to approval of a four-item consent agenda, including okaying the request of Maddox Funeral Home to rename the adjacent alley between West First Street and West Main Street “Maddox Lane”:
- there were two public hearings (neither drawing speakers and both passed by 5-0 votes):
- one authorizing Council members to participate in up to two meetings per year by remote, electronic means when “emergency” circumstances prevent their physical presence;
- and authorization to advertise for the sale of the former Electric Department building at 520 East Sixth Street;
- two Council approvals:
- one regarding the sale of the old FRPD headquarters building at 24 West Main Street, increasing the number of days for the buyer’s feasibility study from 75 to 120; and changing the listed name of the purchaser from Gerald W. Welcome, Jr. to “Linden Brew Krew LLC”;
- authorizing the sale of a 675 square-foot portion of West 15th Street to the Cool Harbor Motel owners to resolve a Right-of-Way encroachment issue dating back to the original owner and the building’s construction in 1949 (see details below);
- three committee appointments – Bill Sealock as Town rep to the Northern Shenandoah Valley Regional Commission; and Gene Tewalt and Jacob Meza to the Audit and Finance Committee;
- and the nomination and election of a vice mayor (congratulations Gene).
In making his nomination of Tewalt to succeed Tharpe as vice mayor, Connolly pointed to Tewalt’s experience in Town government and what he called Tewalt’s “intimate understanding of the process” of municipal government and Robert’s Rules of Order under which meetings are conducted.
As the roll-call vote reached Tewalt, the former Mayor and long-standing Councilman was holding a commanding 4-0 lead. Tewalt then drew some laughter as he abstained from voting for himself, but adding that if he had, had to break a tie “I would have voted for that guy too.”
Cool Harbor ROW request
The one agenda item leading to a split vote (4-1, Tewalt dissenting) and some discussion was the request of the Cool Harbor Motel’s new ownership (since February 2016) that the Town vacate, sell or extend a long-term lease on a Right of Way encroachment on the Motel’s 15th Street side. The owners appeared at the January 3 work session to explain they needed the long-term commitment of the ROW encroachment lease to enable a Small Business Administration loan to facilitate some improvements they wish to make to the property.
On January 3, Cool Harbor owners Mahesh “Mark” Patel and Ashika Deshpande told Council they have a chance to obtain a Motel 6 franchise but must make certain improvements to the facility. In order to receive a 20-year SBA loan to make those improvements they must have the lease the Town has extended to the motel’s various owners since at least 1956 authorized for the 20-year term of the loan. The current five-year lease renewed in 2015 allows the Town to terminate “at will”.
Tewalt admitted the ROW infringement was a long-standing issue dating back to Homer LeHew’s original construction around 1949. His objection to a sale or vacating the property centered on the Town permanently giving up land it now possesses – “Land doesn’t grow,” Tewalt told his colleagues at the January 3 work session, predicting, “Someday that’s going to be one of the biggest commercial areas of the Town.”
However, a Council majority preferred to focus on the here and now and the Town’s culpability in allowing the encroachment in the first place.
“It seems like (the Town) made a 50-year error,” Sealock said at the work session, adding of Tewalt’s prediction the Town might someday need the now unused 15th Street ROW, “I don’t see the future Gene sees.”
“I favor helping a business that’s already there,” Bébhinn Egger stated.
Connolly noted that the encroachment amounted to a seven or eight-foot intrusion onto an unpaved, unused section of 15th Street and said, “To force the owner to tear down that portion of the building … I wouldn’t be in favor of compelling the owner to do that.”
The owners estimated just under a $31,000 expense to tear down the portion of the motel that has intruded on the Town ROW for an estimated 67 years; as well as the potential loss of the Motel 6 franchise they are seeking if their SBA loan fell through.
And Monday night’s vote followed those lines as Tewalt stood alone in favoring a long-term lease of the ROW to the owners to facilitate their loan, but allowing the Town to regain control of the ROW-infringed property in 20 years.
In choosing the motion to sell the 675 square-foot ROW encroachment to the Cool Harbor owners, Egger explained that legal staff had suggest that as the preferable of the two permanent transfer options. She also observed that facilitating the motel improvements and franchising was likely to bring more lodging tax revenue to the Town.
Supervisors approve 20-day extension on deadline to pay first installment of certain County Taxes
In a perhaps record-setting meeting for brevity, the Warren County Board of Supervisors, minus one – Happy Creek Supervisor Jay Butler arrived a tad late for the 3-minute-29-second meeting – approved the lone agenda item following a Public Hearing at which no one spoke, and no letters by absent citizens were received.
Approved by a 4-0 vote on a motion by Walt Mabe, seconded by Vicky Cook, was adoption of an ordinance “to delay penalties and interest upon personal property, machinery and tools, and vehicle license taxes until June 25, 2022”. The 20-day delay in imposing late payment penalties on the above taxes is due to the ongoing delay in resolution of state budget variables by the General Assembly in Richmond.
With the matter having been discussed at length at previous meetings or work sessions, there was little board discussion preceding the opening and closing of the public hearing. Delores Oates wondered if the tax notices would be mailed out with the normal payment deadline of June 5th on them. Discussion indicated that while they would carry the normal June 5 (first installment) and December 5 (second installment) due date deadlines that are part of County Codes, an explanation of passage of the evening’s ordinance amending the imposition of first installment penalties and interest in 2022 would be added to the bills by the involved County departmental staff.
Supervisor Mabe asked if the late-payment waiver could be extended beyond June 25 if ongoing issues at the state level continued. County Administrator Ed Daley suggested a further extension not be done. He explained that the potential delayed revenue from specific County taxes did not impact the State revenue side of the County’s budget equation, so an additional payment extension locally wouldn’t be necessary regardless of further delays in Richmond. Much of the discussion locally on budget delays at the state level has revolved around Personal Property Tax rates, particularly as they relate to increased valuations on used vehicles due to supply chain issues with new vehicles.
Following those two brief board Q&A’s with the county administrator, Board Chair Cullers opened the public hearing to a meeting room with no public present at the 2:35 mark of the meeting.
Following Board Clerk Emily Ciarrocchi’s negative response to the chair’s question on receipt of any public correspondence on the matter, the public hearing was closed 13 seconds later, leading to Mabe’s motion to approve the 20-day extension on late payment penalties and interest.
And following the 4-0 roll call vote of approval, Mabe responded to the chair’s call for a motion to adjourn, which was enthusiastically responded to by a voice vote, as noted above, 3-minutes-and-29 seconds after the special meeting was convened at 6 p.m.
Town Council reviews $25 million in infrastructure improvements, recognizes scholarship awardees
At the regular Front Royal Town Council meeting on Monday, May 23, Mayor Holloway recognized the three recipients of this year’s Town Scholarship awards: Jocelyn Moyer, Skyline High School, and Anthony Carter and Ian Hoelsher of Warren County High School.
Scholarship Committee members Gary Gillispie and Letasha Thompson expressed their appreciation for all this year’s applicants and congratulated the winners. Councilman Gillispie said, “It’s one of the most enjoyable things we do as council members, and we know you all will hit it out of the park.”
Councilwoman Thompson, who, along with Gillispie again this year, oversaw the scholarship competition, agreed with Gillespie’s assessment, observing, “It’s almost like Christmas, and it’s tough to decide, but I’m very impressed.”
Due to a previously planned family getaway, Councilman Zach Jackson joined by teleconference the Front Royal Town Council for his first regular meeting after his surprise appointment by council at a May 9th special meeting (see report here). Mayor Holloway officially welcomed him to the council. Jackson, who announced a November run for council at a February Warren County Republican Committee meeting, will hold resigned councilman Scott Lloyd’s seat until a November Special Election allows voters to determine who will fill out the rest of Lloyd’s term ending December 2024.
With a happy holiday wish, Town Manager Steven Hicks reminded the Council that the town offices will be closed on Monday, May 30th, in observance of Memorial Day. He also reported that this year’s Wine and Craft Festival on May 21 was the largest on record, and he commended the Town Staff and the Chamber of Commerce, and all who assisted in making it a successful event the Town can look forward to a repeat of next year.
Hicks provided an overview of the infrastructure projects that are ongoing or soon to begin in town. There is a lot of preparatory work going on – repairing water lines and so forth, before the new asphalt overlay. “I call it ‘Pardon our dust,’” he said.
Over the past year, Council has committed to investing over $25 million in infrastructure projects – curb and gutter projects, crosswalks, line painting, and paving, many of which – including the infamous bumpy hill at Royal and Commerce Avenues, will be kicking off in June. He also listed the waterline upgrade project, sanitary sewer repairs, stormwater management systems, redundant waterline project scheduled to start this summer, and the continuation and completion of the Automated Meter Reading system.
Mr. Hicks concluded, “I know that it is sometimes inconvenient, and it may sometimes look that the roads don’t look good, but there is a method to the madness. At the end of the year, the town is going to look different.”
Vice-Mayor Cockrell commended the Town Planning Department’s Comprehensive Plan public engagement sessions – one on May 20 and two on May 21 during the festival, where a good crowd of citizens provided input with maps and forms and discussions. Material developed so far is posted on the Town’s Comprehensive plan website.
Councilwoman Thompson reminded the public to mark the date of Saturday, June 25, for a “Block Party” for George Banks Blvd. Last month, council unanimously voted to rename part of Edgemont Avenue and all of Scranton Avenue as “George Banks Blvd.” for the former mayor.
The council moved on to its consent agenda items, and Vice Mayor Cockrell asked that item “I” be pulled from the Consent Agenda – a Resolution Authorizing the Execution of the 2025-2028 Fixed Volume Energy Supply Schedule with American Municipal Power (AMP), the Town’s eastern regional municipal energy cooperative. Vice Mayor Cockrell indicated that since the subject of the supply schedule had been discussed at the Council’s work session, but the resolution was not complete at that time, the council might wish to discuss it prior to voting on it. Council unanimously agreed.
The remaining Consent Agenda items included:
A. Purchase of Bucket Truck for Department of Energy Services Department
B. Engineering for Design of Shenandoah Avenue Streetlights
C. Maintenance Agreement for Nutrient Analyzers
D. Septage Receiving Station Mixing System
E. FY22-23 Budget Amendment Engineering Consultant for Water Tower Antenna for T-Mobile
F. Revise Resolution “To Provide Water and Sewer Services to Certain Out-of-Town Lots”
G. Virginia Municipal League (VML) Policy Committee Nominations
H. Resolution for Solar Generated Energy Purchases/Execution of 2022 Solar Energy Schedule
J. Refer to Planning Commission an Ordinance Amendment to Town Code Chapter 175 re: Data Centers
The Consent Agenda, as amended was passed unanimously.
On the subject of the AMP power agreement, council declined to vote on that item until it can be further discussed at a work session. Despite a lengthy track record of reduced-cost energy purchases enabled by the AMP municipal cooperative’s group purchasing and production power, Councilman Gillispie observed that it would benefit the town to research other energy purchasing sources as well. Councilwoman Morris agreed, and the full council followed suit.
There being no other public business, Mayor Holloway then adjourned the open meeting, and the Council went into closed session.
Topics included the town attorney and town manager positions, as well as the dueling FR-WC EDA litigations with the County EDA and former Council Clerk Jennifer Berry-Brown’s federal discrimination lawsuit against the Town.
There were no announcements following the closed meeting.
Farms POSF board members, supporters ask supervisors hard questions on Sanitary District management transfer strategy
As noted in our first story on action items on the Warren County Board of Supervisors meeting agenda of Tuesday, May 17th, a contingent of seven speakers supported by five written messages forwarded to the board by people who could not attend the meeting, leveled scathing criticism at the county board and staff for actions or inaction related to the Shenandoah Farms Sanitary Districts’ management future.
And for a board majority elected over the past three years on a “reform” platform related to oversight lapses allowing the Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority financial scandal to boil over to the tune of $21 million dollars, it must have been difficult to listen to accusations of possible financial misappropriations, coverups, and a lack of good-faith communications with taxpaying citizen stakeholders directed their way.
Weren’t those the very type of things these supervisors, particularly the three-person majority of Cheryl Cullers, Delores Oates, and Walt Mabe elected in November 2019, ran on platforms to change for the better?
But some constituents with roots in the Farms’ geographically sprawling subdivision in Mabe’s Shenandoah Magisterial District appear to feel those supervisors, along with the more recently elected Vicky Cook and Jay Butler, have collectively failed to live up to campaign promises concerning transparency, accountability, and constituent communications. Due to the Public Comments format, there was no response during the meeting by board members to the criticism leveled their way. Should a subsequent response be offered by board members to what they heard during the May 17 Public Comments, it will be covered in a future Royal Examiner story.
As previously reported, the Property Owners of Shenandoah Farms Inc. (POSF) notice of termination of the 2011 Sanitary District Management Agreement between POSF and the County appeared to have been made with the intent of the Farms’ citizen-elected POSF Board retaking direct Sanitary District project management authority. That transfer of authority would take effect at the turn of the fiscal year on July 1, 2022. However, as a number of May 17th speakers, including POSF board members past and present, noted, the County staff and elected officials have ignored as many as six requests by the POSF board for face-to-face meetings to discuss the Farms Sanitary District management transfer. And without notice to the POSF Board of Directors, the County has moved toward a supervisor-appointed Farms Sanitary District “Advisory Board” with no involvement by the POSF.
Following Farms resident and longtime POSF critic Lynda McDonough’s somewhat rambling opening Public Comment beginning with a perceived threat to America’s national sovereignty from public health, global pandemic guidelines being established by the World Health Organization, among other topics unrelated to POSF, things took an unexpected Public Comments turn – not as if that initial comment was expected.
That turn was seven consecutive speakers to the 7:30 PM Public Hearing cutoff time, later followed by five of six more messages from citizens unable to be present at the meeting read into the record by Board Clerk Emily Ciarrocchi in support of the POSF’s past and future role as the project and maintenance management organization for the Farms Sanitary District.
The sixth letter from Kristin Iden to the board addressed other concerns, beginning with the overly physical taking into custody of 77-year-old Ralph Ennis by WC Sheriff’s Office deputies (Ennis later died) LINK-Body camera footage details circumstances of Ralph Ennis’s April 2 traffic stop; and issues with a deputy serving as a school resource officer she said had bragged to students about intentionally inflicting pain on suspects being cuffed and arrested.
But back to the majority-referenced topic of Shenandoah Farms Sanitary District management, speakers supporting the POSF were in turn Tracie Lane, Patrick Skelley, Doris Harrington, Joe Longo, Ryan Messinger, Kathleen George, and Jesse Lepinsky. Beginning with Lane those speakers are called starting at the 7:50 mark of the linked County video. Messages later read into the meeting record in support of the POSF were from POSF Chairman Ralph Rinaldi, Norman Nelson, Laura Corebello, Bruce Boyle, and Dr. Stephanie Shaefer. Those letters are read into the meeting record beginning at the 1:00:10 mark of the meeting video.
All those supporters seemed to have something in common, either current or past POSF board service or involvement with that board as a concerned Farms citizen. Leading off the negative critique of the supervisors and staff was Tracie Lane. She opened by citing her disappointment in having to bring the POSF Board’s concerns about the county’s current elected officials and Sanitary District involved staff publicly forward. Lane’s comments outlined the range of issues the board would hear from those following her to the speaker’s podium.
“For more than a year we have been trying to serve the property owners of Shenandoah Farms by being good stewards of the resources of the community. Repeatedly our requests were ignored.
Finally we accepted that transparency on the part of Warren County wasn’t going to happen and took action and gave notice that we intended to take back the management of our Sanitary District,” Lane said of the POSF notice of intent to terminate the 2011 Management Agreement handing lead authority to the County.
“But instead of the civility one would expect from the board of supervisors for whom many of us voted, we were yet again ignored. When we asked for meetings to work together on the transition, we discovered that instead of answering our questions and working with us to resolve these concerns, we, the elected POSF Board were to be replaced by appointees. This stinks of an attempt to keep all of us, board members and property owners, in the dark. It stinks of a coverup,” Lane continued. – But coverup of what?
On a side note to the background of the 2011 shift of project management oversight to the County, it must be noted that the POSF had served the management role for the Farms Sanitary District from its creation in 1995, until that 2011 agreement. Several prominent POSF critics have given credit for that 2011 management shift to themselves and like-minded Farms citizens. However as would later be referenced by Patrick Skelley during his comments to the board, Rinaldi has noted that he as POSF board chairman at the time brought the suggested shift to direct County oversight forward due to that POSF board’s inexperience in handling a growing annual budget that had soared as high as $800,000. Recently Rinaldi has said he believes the current board is much more experienced to handle such high-dollar budgets, as the POSF has lost faith in the County’s current capacity to do so. That is a theme that would be revisited somewhat harshly several speakers later.
“The Shenandoah Farms Sanitary District is not the personal piggy bank of Warren County,” Lane continued Tuesday evening, adding, “The concerns I have imply that Warren County, not only want their collective hand in the piggy bank, but want the entire bank to themselves. Why else would you choose to appoint a new board, rather than meet with the existing board?” Lane asked those supervisors she faced from the speakers’ podium.
“While I wait for civility and respect, until we meet let me share with you a list of my concerns,” Lane said as she initiated an impromptu POSF-BOS meeting with the remainder of her 3-minute speaker’s time allotment. Those concerns included “Financial” which she began by citing a “lack of financial reports and a failure to respond to requests for those reports for more than 18 months.”
But she was only getting started.
“How has the Shenandoah Farms Sanitary District balance sheet shed $700,000 in 30 days? Last time we were here it’s at $2.7 million and when the financial sheet that we finally got the day before our meeting on Saturday, it’s now at $2.04 (million). Where is the carryover from the last two years?” she asked referencing other financial variables involving the Sanitary District manager salary and out-of-Sanitary District budget transfers.
Patrick Skelley followed Lane to the speaker’s podium with a vote of support for the POSF retaking management control of the Sanitary District. He also expressed “gratitude to the County for the administration that they’ve done since they were requested by us” to take over those administrative duties in 2011.
“A lot of people are misinformed and think that we were taken over because of some degree of malfeasance, which has never been proven. Of course, social media is such an accurate reflection of reality,” Skelley joked of a preferred means of communication among some who like to sit on the sidelines and point fingers at those willing to undertake the work necessary to take on subdivision or Sanitary District management responsibilities.
Doris Harrington was next in line in support of the POSF and its elected board of directors of which she noted she was a current member. After acknowledging fellow board member Tracie Lane’s issues brought forward, Harrington observed that, “When we originally wrote our letter of intent telling you that we believed we could effectively manage the Sanitary District ourselves, that our present board had the commitment, the expertise and we felt we could exhibit the sense of common purpose and unity that would allow us for a better meeting of goals for the Shenandoah Farms residents – Nowhere in that letter did I see anything that would lead me to believe that you would dissolve our board if we withdrew from our contract.
“And yet that seems to be what you intend to do. And I’m wondering why. Most of you don’t know all of us on the board … I don’t know why you would appoint X number of people that may or may not have any knowledge of how Shenandoah Farms functions. I would really appreciate an answer to that question,” Harrington told the supervisors, adding that no information had been circulated on the process of the proposed appointed “advisory board” as to makeup, meeting schedule, or qualifications if any.
Her second question involved the lack of response from the board or its staff to what she said were five or six POSF requests “I am aware of” for meetings with county officials on the management transfer.
“Not only do we not get granted a meeting with you; we don’t even get acknowledged … And that just seems so discourteous and so unprofessional. I’m disappointed, I’m disheartened, and I’m very concerned for the residents of Shenandoah Farms,” Harrington concluded.
POSF Board member Joe Longo was next to the podium and things were about to be taken up a notch. He began by citing numerous social, legal, and infrastructure issues the Farms subdivision faced when he moved there 26 years ago. “The sheriff at the time called the roads creek beds and wouldn’t let his deputies drive over them. The Fire Department couldn’t get its equipment to calls.
“Our community was called ‘where the sleaze meets the trees’ in a local newspaper article,” Longo said of the myriad issues he had not been unaware of when he moved into the Shenandoah Farms subdivision. Becoming aware, Longo said he got involved with the POSF Inc. to try and help address the subdivision’s image and reality.
Eventually, during the POSF’s initial run as the Sanitary District’s hands-on management entity Longo noted he became the Sanitary District’s first manager: “I picked up trash, cut back trees, cut grass and did repairs on the community center and the docks. The creation of the Sanitary District made this possible, as well as road construction and road repairs … and as the roads became drivable the local contractors started building. The revenue increased and we were able to repair more roads,” he said of the experience and improvements wrought through the Sanitary District designation.
However, everything wasn’t rosy back then either he observed.
“When I was out working people would stop and threaten me – and they would accuse me of all kinds of things. So, what you’re doing is not new to me and it’s not new to the long-term board members,” Longo said pointedly to the supervisors.
“Until the last couple of years the county government has been a willing and helpful partner in the improvement of our community. We were all shocked at the EDA scandal. We’re now being treated like we’re a part of that somehow. You came in and got rid of all the people who knew what they were doing in this county for the past two decades,” Longo said appearing to reference without specifically citing the forced departure of long time County Administrator Doug Stanley followed shortly by the resignation of Deputy County Administrator and Sanitary District Manager Bob Childress, the latter who brought an earlier career with VDOT to the table of his Sanitary District responsibilities.
“Now you are lost, without a clue. You don’t know how to make this county work. And since you took control our road construction has stopped. We have no clue where our tax money is. We’re still getting road maintenance; we’re still getting snow removal – but we were getting that for $50 a year,” Longo said of Sanitary District fees of 20 or more years ago.
Earlier in his remarks Longo observed that during that earlier time Sanitary District lot fees were $50 per year, compared to $350 now. He also said that between those early days and now, 1700 homes had been added in the Farms to increase the lot-fee Sanitary District tax revenue base.
“Our community has paid millions of dollars in road construction taxes and nothing to show for it. And now you want to do a hostile takeover. You want to bring the same incompetent mismanagement to Shenandoah Farms that you brought to Warren County,” Longo said as Board Chair Cheryl Cullers attempted to get the speaker to wrap up with an expired time notice.
However, Longo was just getting up a head of steam as he continued.
“You’re stealing our road tax money and that’s embezzlement – you’re taking it and using it to pay Warren County bills. And that makes you a criminal organization,” Longo told the “reform board” of his theory of how the Farms Sanitary District money was being misdirected, as Cullers tried again, telling the speaker, “And your time’s up, sir. Thank you,” to which Longo concluded with a flourish, “We’ve invested too much into our homes and our community to let you screw it up,” as he turned from the podium.
“Anyone else, Mrs. Ciarrocchi?” the chair asked the board clerk, which led to three more speakers coming forward to carry the same pro-POSF management theme forward, if somewhat less aggressively perhaps, to the 7:30 PM cutoff for the evening public hearings on scheduled agenda items.
Those speakers were Ryan Messinger, Kathleen George, and Jesse Lepinsky. From their individual perspectives, each addressed themes previously mentioned that revolved around the current supervisors seeming to have taken the side of a few, often vocal POSF critics who admittedly don’t generally bother to become directly involved with POSF meetings on Sanitary District management issues, but choose to criticize and accuse of financial or procedural improprieties at distance.
Some POSF supporters might have wondered if earlier assertions of intentional financial misappropriations of Farms Sanitary District tax revenue by current county officials, and an attempt to cover such misuse up, was the bottom line of the County’s moves against POSF or could it be something more obtuse. Obtuse as in a psychological identification with critics at a distance who scapegoat those in the trenches of day-to-day Sanitary District or County management for removal over alleged, if unproven, misdeeds, as fellow “reformers”.
But we all may have to be on “the couch” way too long to ascertain an answer to that looming question.
Town Planning Commission considers short-term tourist rentals, zoning for possible data center, asserts responsibility for Comp Plan
The Front Royal Planning Commission, at its regular meeting on May 18th, voted to authorize advertisement for public hearings for its first two special use permits for short-term tourist rentals.
The Commissioners previously reviewed the two applications as the Planning Department continued to iron out the procedures.
In February, the Planning Commission had considered and recommended approval of a draft ordinance that included a clause requiring short-term rental properties in residentially-zoned areas to be owner-occupied. On the way to Town Council enactment on February 28, that requirement disappeared. It remains to be seen whether the cautionary comments by the Planning Commission and also by now-former Councilman Scott Lloyd prior to the Council’s vote to adopt the ordinance as amended play out in the future.
Not surprisingly, one of the first two short-term tourist rental permit requests subject to the new ordinance language was made by a D.C. area investor, Bridget Scanlan of Alexandria, VA. That property is at 108 Virginia Avenue and is zoned residential. The other request was made by a local contractor, Aaron Hike, for the former Trout Drug building at 201 E. Main St. That property is zoned commercial and is in the downtown Historic District.
The consent agenda for the meeting included authorizations to advertise public hearings for those two special use permit requests and an interesting proposed change to the Town’s zoning ordinance. The change adds and defines “Data Centers” as a by-right use of property in the I-2 Industrial Zone.
A use by-right is a use permitted in a zoning district and is therefore not subject to special review and approval by a local government. In the case of the I-2 zone, automobile garages (auto repair) would be considered as a use by-right. Proposed uses other than those listed in the ordinance would require a special use permit. The advantage of the special use permit is that it requires a public hearing before its issuance, so community members get to offer input publicly twice – once to the Planning Commission and once to the Town Council.
The proposed zoning change would allow this new use – a data center – in the Industrial Zone without that check and balance of a public hearing.
The timing of the mystery zoning ordinance change is odd, given that one of the outcomes of the Town’s Comprehensive Plan rewrite is new zoning and subdivision ordinances. According to the Town’s $115,000 contract with Summit Design and Engineering Services, the contractor will begin the rewrite of the existing ordinances in July with the effort, described as the most time-consuming and labor-intensive part, over the next eight months. Making a significant change to the current ordinance before the rewrite leads to the question of why? The Planning Commission has so far not been given a town council resolution asking for the ordinance change, and a review of the Town Council’s public activities doesn’t provide a clue, but the Town’s Planning staff has produced one.
The recruitment of prospective businesses always raises the issue of government transparency (or lack thereof), and the newly-formed Front Royal Economic Development Authority will likely play its cards close to its vest as it negotiates the risky waters of matchmaking with prospective employers. But there is a reason for the processes established by law to provide accountability to the taxpayer. If the community learned one thing from the debacle a few years ago with the Front Royal-Warren County EDA, it is that oversight and consistent adherence to established policy is essential.
The Regular meeting was exceedingly short – six minutes (a new record!) since there were neither citizen comments nor public hearings, and the Commissioners held a short work session afterward, their second for the month. In the work session, Chairman Merchant distributed the Draft Future Land Use section of the Comprehensive Plan to the commissioners. Merchant reiterated his earlier concerns about “who does what” in the process of rebuilding the Town’s Comprehensive Plan.
While the town has a contractual relationship with the contractor, since the Code of Virginia clearly states that the Planning Commission shall act in an advisory role to the governmental body (Town Council), it would make sense for the commissioners to be consulted about the necessary elements of the plan. Yet so far, the commission has had a relatively minor role in providing edits to parts of the plan, getting some updates on progress, and providing previously completed sections to the contractor. A notable absence from the process has been the establishment of a citizen advisory committee, which the contract statement of work identifies as a component of the process. Previous rewrites of the plan have relied on the advisory committee to keep the final product aligned with community needs. Chairman Merchant said, “It’s sometimes messy, but it works!”
Planning Director Lauryn Kopishke, who was absent from the May 18 meetings, told the Commission in its May 4 work session that a Community Input session is planned for May 20 from 12 noon-2 p.m. in the community room at the Sheriff’s Office, 200 Skyline Vista Drive, and a second event on May 21 at 10 a.m. in the Town Hall lobby, during the annual Wine and Craft Festival held downtown. The planning director has emphasized that maximum exposure to this planning process by the public is the objective of the community input sessions. See separate story here. The finished plan ultimately will then be subject to two public hearings, one provided by the Planning Commission and the other by Town Council.
The next regular Planning Commission Meeting will be held on June 15 at 7 pm.
Town hold first public input on Comprehensive Plan re-write, second on Saturday, May 21st
The Town hosted its first public input session on the rewrite of the Town’s Comprehensive Plan on Friday, May 20, and will hold the second one on Saturday, May 21. The location will be at the Town Hall, in the 1st-floor lobby at 102 E. Main Street in Front Royal. This session will be from 10:00 am to noon and again from 2:00 pm to 4:00 pm.
The existing Comprehensive Plan controls development and the Vision of the Town and is 25 years old, so your input is greatly needed to manage development and create a sustainable community.
Please visit https://publicinput.com/Portal/Q6282 for additional information regarding the Comprehensive Plan and to participate online.
If you have questions, please contact Lauren Kopishke, Town’s Planning Director, via Email.
Anne Darby, Planning Department Manager from Summit Engineering, provides an overview at the first public input session.
After explosive criticism from Farms POSF supporters, County Supervisors settle down, more or less, to its meeting agenda
Warren County Board of Supervisors Chair Cheryl Cullers opened Tuesday evening’s regular meeting open session by commenting on how pleased she was to see a good turnout of people present for the May 17th meeting. By the time the Public Comments on non-agenda items near the meeting’s opening were interrupted to move into the 7:30 PM Public Hearings portion of the meeting, she may have had second thoughts on her greeting of at least a portion of that crowd.
For it appeared a number of them were there to question the Board’s reasons, methods, and motives surrounding issues related to a transferring of responsibility for direct management of Shenandoah Farms Sanitary District road and other maintenance projects away from the elected Property Owners of Shenandoah Farms (POSF) Inc. Board. The supervisors authorized advertisement for volunteers to be appointed to a Farms Sanitary District “advisory board.” It was 7 of 8 speakers, and then 5 of 6 writers of messages read into the record by Board Clerk Emily Ciarrocchi, who was highly critical of the board of supervisors in this regard. The other two addressed other issues.
But more on that in a forthcoming Royal Examiner story.
For now, we will focus on the meeting’s scheduled action items.
The bulk of the evening’s action agenda was comprised of seven public hearings. Two, including an Ordinance Amendment to allow Conditional Use Permitting (CUP) of a “Day-Child Care Center (Nursery)” accommodating more than six children on Agriculturally zoned land, related to the Rivermont Baptist Church’s initiative to create such a child Day Care Center utilizing its existing Fellowship Hall building across Catlett Mountain Road from the church. A vacant lot across Figgins Road would also be used as a “non-commercial” playground and recreation area for the Day Care Center, the staff agenda summary noted.
A need to accommodate the use to serve working families in the Fork District was cited by the church in its permitting application. The County Planning Commission unanimously recommended approval of the church plan and use. The board followed suit with 5-0 votes of approval on both the ordinance amendment and Conditional Use Permitting for the church Day Care Center.
Four CUP requests for Short Term Tourist Rentals were unanimously approved without Public Hearing Comment or opposition expressed by any neighbors. Those Short-Term Rental CUP requests, in order of presentation, were by:
Soloman A. Stavis at 9 Oak Hill Drive in the Oak Hill Subdivision in the South River District;
Jared Smith at 31 Henry Way in the Blue Mountain Subdivision in the Shenandoah District;
James B. & Jeonghe C. Lal at 280 Overbrook Lane in Shenandoah Shores in the Shenandoah District. During the presentation, it was noted that the Lals were Christian missionaries whose work in Malawi, Africa, took them out of the country for extended periods of time, during which they wished to rent the property on a short-term basis;
And the final Short-Term Rental CUP request was from Rocky Quach for the property at 524 Freezeland Road in the Cherry Ridge Subdivision in the Happy Creek District. During discussion of this Short-Term Rental request, it was noted that the applicant currently resides in San Jose, California, and would hire a “local property management company” to handle the operation and property maintenance. The rental focus would be aimed at families with amenities for infants, including high-chairs and a portable travel crib, made available as part of the rentals.
A final CUP request was from Richard W. Durkee for non-commercial Private Use Camping at two vacant lots in the Riverview section of the Shenandoah Farms Subdivision. The staff agenda summary explained that the applicant’s family has owned the lots in a Special Flood Hazard Area since the 1960s. The original home on the property was “substantially damaged” by Hurricane Agnes in June 1972 and consequently removed. Durkee’s CUP request would facilitate construction of a single accessory structure of up to 216 square feet for the storage of recreational and property maintenance equipment. Staff observed that the applicant “plans to have a recreational vehicle and utilize a port-o-john” while camping at the property seasonally.
Like the six public hearing requests before it, Durkee’s was approved on a unanimous 5-0 vote by the board.
Cardinals beer sales and property acquisition
If the public hearings went off without much, if any board discussion or any expressed opposition, not so for two other action agenda items. First was a Consent Agenda item pulled for discussion on the Valley Baseball League Front Royal Cardinals management request to be allowed to sell beer at Cardinal home games at the County-owned Bing Crosby Stadium. That led to a largely guesswork board exploration of the alcohol content of various beers and of putting a cap on the strength of beer to be sold at games. Walt Mabe suggested a 3.2% cap while admitting no background knowledge on relative strengths of beers.
During a May 10 work session presentation to the supervisors on the team’s plan, Cardinals Vice-President Alex Bigles noted that no higher alcohol-content craft beers would be sold, and extensive security and sales measures would be established to prevent overindulgence and impaired driving away from the stadium after games. Those measures included sales staff training on signs of intoxication, a limit of two beers per customer sale, available breathalyzer testing, and free bus rides from the stadium, as well as no beer sales after the start of the seventh inning of the nine-inning MLB developmental league games.
As that discussion wore on Bigles noted the County had to approve the team’s request to sell beer to allow its state ABC (Alcohol Beverage Control Board) license to be applied for. A turnaround on ABC licensing of as much as a month was estimated by Cards representatives, who said they were pointing to a late June start of the new concession sales. With the board stuck on alcohol content guarantees, Interim County Attorney Jason Ham did a little research with his phone and told the board that mainstream U.S. brand name beers were rated at 5% or below.
After a half-hour of discussion and suggested adjustments to the presented Consent Agenda motion, board attorney Ham did a proxy reading of his rewritten motion into the record for the board. On Vicky Cook’s motion to approve the motion as read, seconded by Jay Butler, the board approved the Cardinals’ beer sales request at an alcohol content of “5% or less” by a 5-0 vote.
Then it was on to the final agenda item of the evening, authorization for staff to move forward on the purchase of an East 2nd Street residential lot at a price of $212,000 that would complete County ownership of the block on which the Warren County Government Center (WCGC) lies. That led Delores Oates into a brief treatise on small government to justify a vote against authorizing the purchase. “We own too much property,” Oates reasoned in arguing against the purchase based on political ideology directed at shrinking governmental functions and apparently future property and space needs.
However, Board Chair Cullers pointed out that a state-mandated staff position was currently officed in a storage space in the WCGC, indicating an existing need for more space in the county governmental center complex, not less. Vicky Cook’s motion to authorize the purchase passed by a 4-1 vote, Oates dissenting.
And after two hours, the open meeting was adjourned at 9 p.m. See all the board’s business, including the latest chapter in the evolving story about the future of Shenandoah Farms Sanitary District project management and decision-making advise, in the County video.