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County gets schools opening update; Social Services summary, mixed 911 staff result among other business

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At the September 1 County Supervisors meeting, Warren County Public Schools Superintendent Chris Ballenger gave a detailed summary of the planning process to assure maximum safety for students and staff as the county’s public schools move toward their September 8th opening in the continuing COVID-2019 Coronavirus pandemic emergency response situation.

As of September 2, Warren County continued to be on the lower end of pandemic cases statewide, with 394 cases reported, 22 hospitalizations while holding at six deaths attributed to the 2019 strain of Coronavirus. Virginia as a whole has reported 122,542 cases with 2,641 deaths and 9,678 hospitalizations attributed to COVID-19 out of the nation’s 6.04 million cases and 184,083 deaths.

Ballenger cited social distancing plans for in-school aspects of the reopening and school bus transportation, along with virtual learning programs that will continue to be utilized in coming semester through a rotating school attendance system.

WCPS Superintendent Chris Ballenger briefs the supervisors on Fall Semester plans to accommodate schools reopening safely and efficiently during the ongoing Coronavirus-2019 pandemic emergency response. Royal Examiner Photos by Roger Bianchini – Royal Examiner Video by Mark Williams

“I don’t think there was a school in the commonwealth that was ready for March 13th,” Ballenger said of the statewide Phase One Emergency Management restrictions leading to early school closings last semester. However, he assured county officials that will not be the case in the coming semester in which students will be required to produce results to achieve desired grading as everyone copes with an altered educational environment perhaps unprecedented in our lifetimes.

Interim County Social Services Director Beth Reavis presented a “Big Picture” overview of the county’s social assistance programs and situation, as well as notice that her successor as Social Services Director, Jon Martz, had been hired and this would likely be her final report as interim director.

Reavis made an impassioned plea that the County’s social services staff be included in future upward salary scale adjustments. She noted an overall trend of what she said was underpayment by as much as $20,000 less than comparable employees regionally, and even when compared in county to school system social workers. She presented numbers indicating Warren at the bottom of five neighboring counties in average employee salaries, from $20,000 and $17,000 less than Winchester City and Frederick County to $10,000 less than Shenandoah County and $4,000 less than Page County.

Interim County Social Services Director Beth Reavis makes her final report a pointed one, presenting not only county social service statistics and funding streams, but also a request for staff salary scale adjustments, which are comparatively low in an emotionally wearing job she told the supervisors.

“These women and men face challenges and situations that most people can’t even imagine,” Reavis wrote in her report. It was a report noting a 10% rate of poverty among county residents, with 14% of the community’s children living in poverty.

Reavis reported that a bulk of county social services funding of $55.6 million for three essential programs serving 8500 “unduplicated residents” Medicaid, SNAP, and TANF came from the state or federal level, with a local match of $82,000 or .01%. Another $1 million was generated into other energy assistance, child care subsidies, foster care and adoption costs, with $3 million in administrative costs, including salaries, taking up the bulk of local funding expenses.

And speaking of salary scale adjustments, the Warren County Sheriff’s Office got a mixed result in its request for an upward salary scale adjustment for its 911 dispatcher staff budget with two new positions to be added this year.

It was another long day for county officials on Tuesday starting with a two-hour-20-minute open session, followed by a 3-hour closed session discussion of Town-EDA litigation, CARES Act Funding, and the County Administrator hunt, followed by briefer work session updates on a joint County-Town purchase of a Judicial Sharing Module for the Commonwealth Attorney’s Office and an amendment to the County’s Erosion and Sediment Control Ordinance to accommodate state changes.

On a motion by Cheryl Cullers, seconded by Delores Oates, the board unanimously approved two new positions in the current budget at a cost not to exceed $100,000, while delaying implementation of a requested salary scale adjustment from step 5 to 7 at a cost not to exceed $30,000. The board indicated a desire to identify revenue streams from which to hike the pay scales in the coming budget year, if not sooner, before committing to the pay scale increase.

“At least they’ll know its coming,” Happy Creek Supervisor Tony Carter said of the board’s desire to fund the pay scale hike.

The board did unanimously authorize the expenditure of an additional $200,000 in COVID-19 related emergency response staff expenditures, raising the authorized total pandemic related funding for county governmental emergency response to $500,000 from $300,000.

County Deputy Emergency Management Coordinator Rick Farrall makes a point about how the County is funding its staffing response to the COVID-19 pandemic emergency declaration.

See these reports and discussions among other business conducted September 1st in the supervisor’s first meeting of the month in this Royal Examiner video:


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Council reconsiders Happy Creek work and weekend walking mall extension

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The Front Royal Town Council policy rollercoaster indicated a change of direction on two major fronts after hearing from citizens during opening public hearing comments at its Monday evening meeting of November 23. Those directions were first, a compromise on Happy Creek work originally slated to remove all vegetation from its bankside and naturally formed riparian (natural vegetative growth) buffer flood shelf to be replaced by large so-called riprap rocks from South Street to Prospect Street; and second, a reversal of the recent decision to extend the weekend closure of East Main Street to vehicular traffic through the end of the calendar year.

The downtown weekend walking mall topic was added to a work session following the meeting after three of four downtown business owners addressing the issue criticized council’s recent reversal of a plan to reopen East Main to vehicular traffic early this month. And following a somewhat dizzying work session discussion it appeared that without any permitted events scheduled for East Main in the next two weeks, the reopening to cars would begin this Thanksgiving Day weekend.

Above, work session discussion of weekend E. Main St. traffic closings; below, Mayor Tewalt and Vice-Mayor Sealock may be thinking, ‘Maybe Letasha knows what they’re trying to say.’ Royal Examiner Photos by Roger Bianchini – Royal Examiner Video by Mark Williams

The openness to a change of direction along Happy Creek at a prominent stretch of the Shenandoah Greenway Trail off Commerce Avenue on the town’s southside came after 11 of 11 speakers, many with environmental and natural landscaping professional backgrounds, belabored the council-approved plan enacted under the leadership of Interim Town Manager Matt Tederick.

Personnel announcements

And speaking of the interim town manager, following a closed meeting to discuss personnel matters it was announced that as of this coming Pearl Harbor Day, December 7th, after over a year Tederick will be interim town manager no more. It was a development Tederick hinted at earlier when he observed this might be his last meeting as town manager. It was an observation that drew a smattering of cynical applause from some present. Tederick has served as interim town manager since November 9, 2019.

Matt Tederick eyes the crowd after hinting that Monday’s meeting might be his last as interim town manager.

The first announcement out of a 33-minute closed session was the hiring of Steven Hicks as town manager, effective December 7 when council’s next meeting, a special meeting/work session, is scheduled. A press release on Hicks hiring and credentials was read into the record by Councilwoman Letasha Thompson. That release in its entirety is available on the Royal Examiner website. It was observed that council interviewed 80 candidates, rejecting an entire first round of candidates, prior to its decision to hire Hicks.

The second personnel matter addressed out of closed session was by Front Royal Police Chief Kahle Magalis. Referencing a social media controversy around the Twitter postings of an FRPD officer, Magalis announced that after a thorough investigation of the officer’s posts “corrective and punitive action” had been taken. But citing the officer’s clean personnel record and absence of complaints of a prejudiced nature in the exercise of his law enforcement duties over a lengthy tenure on the force, he will be retained by FRPD, likely with a defunct Twitter account.

FRPD Chief Magalis addresses the resolution of the officer Twitter account investigation as a critic of the department’s handling of the matter Samuel Porter appears to be recording with his cell phone in row three. Despite FRPD’s published statement to this media outlet regarding the seriousness with which it undertook its personnel investigation of the matter, Porter berated council due to his perceived lack of public information on the matter. Informed of the FRPD release to the media following his remarks, the FR Unites(?) principal lashed out at this reporter, ‘Not in the paper, put it out in the public like I just said – you heard me!’

About Happy Creek

In Tederick’s farewell meeting appearance as interim town manager, following the negative public comments on the Happy Creek project he repeated his November 9th meeting defense of the creek work based on the credentials of the CHA Inflow and Infiltration (I&I) consulting firm. However, that defense appeared to fly in the face of factual information on the project application and aftermath presented by environmental and landscaping professionals. Tederick did repeat blaming a town contractor for the cutting of trees over four inches in diameter, a contractor he noted had been terminated.

However, as has been commented in at least one Royal Examiner letter to the editor, some feel the contractor is being scapegoated for following vague or miss-stated directives from town officials on the project’s parameters.

Vice-Mayor Bill Sealock, who attended the Saturday informational “Save Happy Creek Coalition” meeting-protest at the impacted stretch of the creek bank set the tone for council’s apparent willingness to reverse course on what was called a misguided, counterproductive effort to repair the creek bank and improve flood control and hard-surface stormwater distribution into the creek.

‘I think we need to listen to these people,’ Vice-Mayor Sealock, above, said directly to Interim Town Manager Tederick and Public Works Director Boyer, sandwiching Town Attorney Napier below.

“Somebody asked me why did you go down (to Saturday’s “Save Happy Creek Coalition” event)? Well, I wanted to find out for myself. So, Mr. Town Manager and Mr. Boyer (Public Works Director), I’ve got one concern. I think we need to listen to these people. I think if we need an extension (of Dec. 31 deadline for completion of the project) then we should take care of that – let’s listen,” Vice-Mayor Sealock told involved staff and his colleagues of environmental concerns over the direction of the project.

Councilwoman Lori Cockrell added the town attorney to the creek controversy mix, saying she thought he should have informed council of town codes requiring consultation with advisory groups like the Tree Stewards and Urban Forestry Advisory Commission on Town work targeting the Town’s Tree City-based environment.

Sealock’s colleagues, save the absent Jacob Meza, generally appeared to agree a revisiting of the project was in the Town, its citizens’, and the future of the community’s Appalachian Trail-related tourist industry’s best interest.

Of the general lack of environmental expertise on council toward the Happy Creek work, Cockrell noted, ‘Some people think it’s pretty; some don’t.’ Below, Tom Dombrowski obviously falls into that latter group. Dombrowski told council of his overseeing similar work in Prince William County, that he would be ‘tar and feathered’ for undertaking such work without a major public informational and feedback period preceding it.

Other meeting and work session business

In the meeting’s two agenda action items, council first approved by a 5-0 vote the second and final reading of an EDA rezoning request on 62.7 acres of land adjacent to the Happy Creek Technology Park at the end of Progress Drive from Residential-1 to Industrial-1. The request was made to improve the state tier ranking and marketability of the property.

Also, by a 5-0 vote, council approved a Fiscal Year 2021 Budget Amendment of $31,732.15 to receive funds from the Virginia Risk Sharing Association to reimburse the Town for expenses incurred due to a water break on the Route 522 North Corridor near Fairgrounds Road.

In the scheduled work session agenda item, following a presentation by conference call from Finance Director B. J. Wilson, council agreed to authorize staff to initiate the process to apply for a state exemption to the ban on utility disconnections due to financial hardships from the COVID-19 Coronavirus pandemic. Wilson explained that the Town meets the exemption of being able to show delinquent accounts receivable in excess of 1% of its utility’s annual operating revenues.

In order to make the application, council authorized the advertisement for a public comments period on the exemption request. Mayor Tewalt suggested the advertisement meet the seven-day advance public hearing standard, even though as a non-public hearing, public comments opportunity, staff indicated a three-day advance advertisement should suffice. That public comments period will be added to a Special Meeting added to the scheduled December 7th work session at the Town Hall second-floor meeting room.

See all the public comments, council and staff discussions at both the meeting and work session in these Royal Examiner videos:


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Citizen involvement works: Town Planning Commission recommends denial of special use permit

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The Front Royal Planning Commission met Wednesday, Nov 18, 2020, in their regular monthly meeting. There was a larger than usual attendance at the meeting, at which Vice Chairman Joseph McFadden’s seat was empty. This may be due to his election to a seat on the Town Council, in the Nov 3 town Election.

The agenda and the minutes of the Commission’s Oct 21 Meeting were approved, and Chairman Douglas Jones opened the floor for citizen comments, an opportunity for anyone to surface a planning issue that is not on a regular meeting agenda. There were none.

Town Planning Commission, down a member. Photos: Stephen Sill

The Chairman then opened discussions on the only public hearing scheduled for this meeting, to consider a request by local contractor Richard Spiewak to combine two lots into one in the Huffman Heights Subdivision in the 300 Block of Grand Avenue. The Director of Community Development and Planning, Timothy Wilson, briefed the commission on this proposal. The builder obtained two nonconforming legal lots that were 25’ wide and 217 Ft deep and wanted them to be consolidated into one 50’ wide lot, on which he is proposing to build a home. Mr. Wilson detailed the work the planning department had done in researching the request, including the Town Ordinance covering development on legally nonconforming lots. The standard for Residential lots for single-family homes (R-1) is 75’ in width and a minimum of 10,000 SF of area. The consolidated lots would be only 50’ wide but 11,035 SF in area. Staff found that the consolidation would tend to make the property more compliant but still not completely compliant, and under the ordinance would require Town Council approval.

The department also performed a standard comparison of properties in the area under the ordinance and found that the proposed dwelling has a finished floor square footage of 1,852, which exceeds the minimum required comparative house size by 745 SF. It is larger than 5 of the 14 homes in the review area. The staff deemed that the proposed structure is also consistent with comparative homes in terms of building orientation, scale, proportion, and site layout.

Mr. Wilson explained the formula in some detail related to minimum sizes and the approvals required for use of legally nonconforming lots. He also told the commissioners that the staff had received 5 letters regarding this proposal, all opposed, as well as a petition. There were 11 signatures on the petition from citizens living in the Huffman Heights subdivision. He stated that all letters and the petition had been distributed to the commissioners for their review, and will become part of the official record of the application, to be forwarded to Town Council with the Commission’s recommendation. That also includes the supporting or opposing comments made at the commission meeting in the meeting minutes.

Derrick Green, a Grand Avenue resident, cites chapter and verse.

Chairman Jones then opened the floor for public input and a very well-prepared neighborhood set of spokespeople responded. Derrick R. Green, by day employed as a Project Manager, seemingly moonlighting as a very capable lawyer, also a resident of the nearest property to the proposed site, calmly detailed his concerns about the project – Apparent violations of the Town Zoning ordinance, the consolidation of two legally nonconforming lots into one still-nonconforming lot, and the loss of sun exposure for his own property next door. He also alleged that the prior owners of both the property he had purchased and the two lots in question had split them off and sold them separately, causing deterioration in the equity and value of his home. Several properties in that subdivision included buffer lots between the homes to preserve green space and improve privacy.

Following Mr. Green’s comments, his wife Karissa issued a heartfelt statement – “We are absolutely heartbroken that we have to stand before you today to ask you to deny this permit” – and raised the issue of drainage from their property into the two lots in question, and that building a home there could cut off that drainage. She indicated that the two lots had been sold off separately with no notice to them when they would have gladly purchased them as part of the property.

Next to speak was Ray Ruhling, a Salem Avenue resident in the same subdivision expressed his opposition to the project. The subdivision’s minimum lot width was 75 ft. His objection was not to the style or size of the proposed dwelling, but the fact that it did not belong on that lot.

Richard Spiewak, the applicant, and owner of the two lots in question spoke to the commission. Spiewak is a local Class A building contractor who has done new construction and remodels in Front Royal for more than 15 years. As a member of the community in which he works, he’s happy to see his customers when shopping around town and stands behind any work he does. He had no preknowledge regarding the lots, they had simply come up on the market and he felt they would be a good opportunity. He took account of the sizes and styles of the surrounding homes and selected a plan that he felt fit well. He reminded the commission that soil and grading would be part of any site plan, his construction would take careful account of property lines and the street, and he would make sure proper drainage would be installed. Mr. Spiewak indicated he would be happy to work with the community to resolve any issues.

Pattie McHugh next addressed the commission with her concerns about the proposed dwelling’s proximity to its neighboring home, and the potential for draining problem due to the slope of the neighboring property. She also questioned the placement of the dwelling, extending 10 feet in front of the neighboring dwelling at 327. She felt parking could be a problem for residents of the new dwelling.

Finally, Mary Wood, a lifelong Front Royal resident, observed that there was not a good reason to utilize the two lots for that purpose. Other lots below it on that street might then be built on if the precedent is set.

Once these speakers had stated their views, the chairman closed the public hearing so the commissioners could discuss the proposal.

Commissioner Darryl Merchant asked Mr. Wilson and Mr. Napier for their comments on this issue: Normally a subdivision is platted with 50 ft lots, for example, Royal Village or Warren Park. In this case, there are two issues: one is the performance standard, and the other is the consolidation of two lots into one. Is the intent here is to create a new lot? Mr. Wilson indicated that one lot was being enlarged to 50 ft width and the other eliminated. It does not create a new lot. Mr. Merchant then noted that the performance standards included grading, but there was no engineering plan in the package. Mr. Wilson responded first that the use of grading and fill is common to most lots in that area. Second, that the special use permit was necessary to move forward with a zoning permit, and the engineering plan would be part of that. The staff views this as a compatibility determination. It does not excuse the applicant from any other requirement of the zoning permit process.

Town Attorney Douglas Napier advanced a question to Mr. Wilson and the Commission: In the November 16th letter from Mr. & Mrs. Green, they point out Town Code section 175-136 states that special use permits are not transferrable to another party. He asked if Mr. Wilson knew of any zoning official opinions whether the owner of the property, who is also the owner of the special use permit, were it to be approved by the Town Council, be able to transfer it to a third party? Such a restriction could be a problem for a bank loan, as it would be a “cloud” on the title. Mr. Wilson responded that he had only recently become familiar with this part of the code and was unaware of any practice like that. The special use permit should run with the property, not the owner. Not to allow that would mean that each time a property subject to a special use permit changed hands, it would require a new application, and the town has not done that nor had he seen any other town governments require it. Each new owner is obviously subject to the terms of the special use permit originally approved.

Commissioner Merchant made a motion to recommend denial of the special use permit. Second, Commissioner Marshner.

Commissioner Gordon commented that the Town attorney had raised an interesting question, and suggested the motion could be tabled to allow the Planning Director and Town attorney to research further, Finally, he indicated he supported the applicant’s proposal so would vote against the motion.

The chairman then requested a roll call vote. Yes: Commissioner Marshner, Chairman Jones, Commissioner Merchant. No: Commissioner Gordon

A very brief applause from the room as the Chairman announced that the Commission was recommending to the Town Council that the proposed permit be denied. There was some noise while the audience cleared after the announcement and Chairman Jones waited while the room cleared.

Under New Business, Commissioner Merchant asked the status of a process for amendments to the Comprehensive plan, as well as suggesting that at the next planning commission, the commission could begin forging ahead with finalizing the Town’s Comprehensive Plan update. He also asked about the status of the new membership criteria for the 5-member Planning Commission. Mr. Wilson said the Town Council was planning to address the Planning Commission membership at its December meeting.

Commissioner Marshner asked about the application procedure for membership on the Commission. Mr. Wilson said that applications were available through the Clerk’s office.

Commissioner Gordon asked if the commission could request a legal opinion concerning the special use permit and its transferability. He could foresee potential problems with it in the future if the language of the ordinance is as it appears. Mr. Wilson agreed to work with the Town attorney to discuss and bring back a legal opinion to the Commission.

There being no Commission member reports, the Chairman called for a motion to adjourn. The vote was unanimous.

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COVID-related salary issues, emergency communications upgrades and AG land use draw supervisors’ attention

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It was a three-pronged meeting of the Warren County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday evening, November 17, under re-implemented, more stringent state social distancing guidelines as Phase 3 of the COVID-19 pandemic continues. Those prongs were: 1/ COVID-related staff bonuses and salary adjustments; 2/ a partial upgrading of emergency services radios to facilitate cross-jurisdiction communications; and 3/ several, including one sometimes contentious, public hearings on commercial uses in more remote rural Agriculturally zoned neighborhoods.

Above, once again every other row in the public seating section of the WCGC meeting room was roped off to maintain renewed social distancing standards as pandemic Phase 3 takes the U.S. toward a quarter-million dead from the COVID-19 virus. Below, the supervisors also maintained their distance. Royal Examiner Photos by Roger Bianchini – Royal Examiner Video by Mark Williams

Following an update by Planning Director Taryn Logan on Coronavirus-related expenditures by the County, several staff compensation requests related to pandemic-impacted or delayed salary adjustments were heard by the supervisors.

Those included two public hearing presentations by Human Resources Director Jodi Saffelle seeking approval of “One-Time Acknowledgment Pay for Non-Hazardous Duty Employees”; and a similar “One-Time Bonus for Compensation Board-Funded Sheriff and Sheriff’s Deputies”; and a related item, a Resolution of support for a “One-Time Hazard Pay” bonus for employees of the Sheriff’s Office and Fire & Rescue who were not covered by the Compensation Board-sworn positions public hearing request, was included in the Consent Agenda.

The one-time bonuses in all three of the above requests were $1,000 for full-time employees and $500 for part-timers.

Human Resources Director Saffelle also presented a non-public hearing request that implementation of a Compensation Plan Cost of Living (COLA) increase delayed this past year out of revenue projection concerns related to mandated cutbacks on business operations related to COVID-19 pandemic public health precautions enacted statewide and locally.

All the requests were approved by the board by 4-0 votes, Tony Carter absent. Approval of delayed COLA increases as the evening’s last agenda item, drew some applause from county staff still present.

Happy Creek Supervisor Tony Carter had a very socially distanced seat but was even more socially distanced than that.

The increases dependent on the time of hiring are 1.5% or 2.5%, the latter number for employees hired prior to October 1, 2019. The Human Resources Department summary of the request noted that the current Fiscal Year-2021 budget has a total of $580,000 set aside for the implementation of phases of the Compensation Plan. While the initial implementation was estimated at $614,165.73, the staff summary noted that the annual figure moving forward would be fluid as longer-term employees retire and are replaced by people further down the compensation scale. Savings will also be realized this fiscal year with implementation not occurring until December 1, five months into the fiscal year.

Not related to salaries but emergency services, was the approval of a request for a partial upgrade of the Fire & Rescue Department’s radio communications system. The request was reviewed in detail at a November 10 work session. Chief Richard Mabie explained that a full system-wide upgrade has been estimated at a cost of a million dollars. So, as a short-term fix new all-band radios are just being requested for Companies with more frequent cross-county response calls. Those companies are Linden (Co. 4), Shenandoah Shores (Co. 5), Shenandoah Farms (Co. 6), and North Warren (Co. 10).

The total cost of the requested upgrades is $105,606.11. Mabie explained that if ordered prior to the end of the year the department would get a trade-in credit on the traded-in radios. While a relatively small trade-in at $5,600, the chief noted that covered about half the cost of the now obsolete radios when they were purchased 15 years ago.

Board Vice-Chair Cheryl Cullers worried that Front Royal Company One, which is often called to assist other departments’ calls including across county lines, wasn’t included in the request. But it was pointed out that Company One would be able to communicate with the originally called outlying Warren County company that was in communications with the out-of-county units, to be able to have necessary information relayed to it.

The board unanimously approved the requested all-band radio purchase from Motorola Solutions. The purchase price will come from the County General Fund, not from CARES Act funding, Interim County Administrator Ed Daley reminded Mabie and the board.

While the six-public hearing portion of the agenda started calmly enough with Human Resource Director Saffelle’s explanation of the COVID-staff bonuses requests and an eventually adjourned public hearing on a pending renewal of the county’s three Agricultural and Forestal Districts – Rockland, South River, and Limeton – things took a turn toward the contentious when a short-term tourist rental Conditional Use Permit (CUP) request on Panhandle Road in the Fork District was reached.

Short-term rental applicant Renee Roig explains the evolution of her D.C.-based group’s plan for the 4.8-acre home lot they purchased off Panhandle Road.

The applicants, two couples of young professionals from Washington, D.C., ran into almost universal opposition from neighbors in the larger parcel neighborhood, including the woman they bought the property from. That still-neighbor, Wendy Weir, told the board she felt the applicants had misled her into believing their intent was to buy the property as a second home for retreats out of the D.C. Metro area, and intermittent rentals solely to family or close friends. She was not happy at the short-term rental CUP application applied for “six weeks later” with no stipulation on who could or would be rented to.

Wendy Weir, who sold the home to the D.C. quartet explains why she doesn’t feel they were forthright with her about their plans for the property.

However, planning staff told the board that there were two nearby approved short-term rental approved properties, setting somewhat of a precedent for approvals within prescribed guidelines. At issue for neighbors were D.C. Metro area natives out for short-term getaways with no experience of the transportation, open fire, trespassing and hunting variables involved in such a country setting near George Washington Forest.

The applicants asserted that the purchase was as a second home, but that they hoped to create enough rental income to help defray their costs. Kevin Roig told the supervisors that they were there to stay long-term and hoped to be able to work with their neighbors to see the short-term rentals weren’t an issue or a threat to neighboring properties.

Kevin Roig takes to the podium to respond to some of the criticism he heard – we’re there for the long haul and want to be good neighbors regardless of what happens tonight, he told the supervisors.

See the debate leading to an eventual 4-0 vote of approval under prescribed conditions as recommended by the planning commission and tweaked by the supervisors, as well as two public hearings on the creation of a “rural events facility” for up to 300 people off Lee Burke Road, in this Royal Examiner video. While there were concerns expressed by neighbors of Shelley Cook’s CUP application for the rural events facility on 41.3 acres, overall it was much more well-received as a community addition than the Roig-Nobles request on a 4.8-acre parcel that preceded it.

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Linden bus stop, more pandemic-relief funds top School Board agenda

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During the work session portion of their meeting, Denisa Scott, who lives on Mountain Lake and has a five-year-old, urged School Board members against approving a bus stop at the forthcoming Sheetz location. Photos by Kim Riley. Video by Mark Williams, Royal Examiner.

Warren County School Board members unanimously approved an online academic learning and remediation site and 15 additional temperature scanners for Warren County Public Schools (WCPS) totaling nearly $70,000 in pandemic-relief funds during their Tuesday, November 17 meeting and work session.

Board members also heard from a concerned citizen about a bus stop on Apple Mountain Road in Linden, Va., that would end up sharing space with a proposed Sheetz gas station and convenience store, which the resident said could be easily used by child sex traffickers, child sex offenders, and illegal drug dealers due to its close proximity to Interstate 66.

During the work session portion of their meeting, Denisa Scott, who lives on Mountain Lake and has a five-year-old, urged School Board members against approving a bus stop at the forthcoming Sheetz location.

“Drug dealers and gas stations are an absolute correlated fact,” Scott said, citing various data from an academic publication and showing headlines from local news outlets during her PowerPoint presentation to the School Board.

Gas stations, among others, also have been shown to be regularly frequented by child sex traffickers and those who commit stranger abductions, Scott said, specifically those that are located near highway interchanges like I-66, which connects with other interstate highways in the state.

Additionally, Scott said a February 2019 study of U.S. gas stations published in the international journal, Science of the Total Environment, found that toxic benzene emissions vented from underground gasoline storage tanks were “sufficiently high to constitute a health concern at a distance of up to 518 feet,” posing more potential problems for children standing at a nearby bus stop.

“These would all be things we would be exposing our children to,” said Scott. “I’m not being dramatic; these are the facts. And I really don’t think you want our children’s body bags on your conscience.”

The School Board members thanked Scott for her presentation but made no comments.

Funding approvals
During its action agenda portion of the meeting, the School Board approved $35,423 to purchase the online IXL Learning site for both high schools and middle schools in Warren County for 18 months, and to award a $33,737 contract to Geek Land USA, LLC for the purchase of 15 additional BIOS03 Multi-Person Walk-through Temperature Scanners. Funding for both will come from the county’s designated portion of federal funds allocated in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.

IXL Learning offers personalized skill recommendations based on what each student has been practicing, said WCPS Director of Secondary Instruction Alan Fox, who described IXL’s skills as being aligned with both the Virginia Curriculum Framework and the Virginia Standards of Learning (SOLs).

IXL Learning offers personalized skill recommendations based on what each student has been practicing, said WCPS Director of Secondary Instruction Alan Fox, who described IXL’s skills as being aligned with both the Virginia Curriculum Framework and the Virginia Standards of Learning (SOLs).

“IXL’s state standards alignments allow students and teachers to easily find unlimited practice questions specifically tailored to each required standard,” Fox said, adding that the site also meets federal education law requirements for instructional intervention.

For instance, if an SOL question is successfully answered by a student using the program, then the subsequent questions become more difficult, said Fox. And if a student isn’t having success with a particular question, then the program “takes you backward until you can find success,” he said. Teachers at the same time can track a student’s progress and can see how much time a student is spending on a standard, how much practice time is put in, and whether a student is being successful.

“Warren County Middle School has been using this program for some time now,” Fox said, “and I was approached by [Skyline Middle School Principal] Bobby Johnston recently about the program and how we could possibly pay for it.”

WCPS Superintendent Chris Ballenger, who had experience with the program during his employment in Smith County, Va., called IXL “a great remote program” that teachers use with daily instruction, in addition to the SOLs practice because it’s not just for remediation but also “enhances student learning.”

WCPS Superintendent Chris Ballenger, who had experience with the program during his employment in Smith County, Va., called IXL “a great remote program” that teachers use with daily instruction, in addition to the SOLs practice because it’s not just for remediation but also “enhances student learning.”

Fox said WCPS also has spoken with colleagues in Shenandoah County, Va., who “seem to be very pleased with their results.”

All School Board members voted “yea” to purchase the IXL Learning site with Chairman Arnold Williams, Jr., Vice Chairwoman Catherine Bower, and members Kristen Pence, James Wells, and Ralph Rinaldi present.

The board members also voted unanimously to award a $33,737 contract to Geek Land USA for the purchase of 15 additional temperature scanners.

WCPS Director of Special Services Michael Hirsch said the school division already has tried the temperature scanners in various locations. “We feel that it can meet our needs,” he said.

The scanners can track temperatures of multiple people in flowing traffic at a distance of 10 to 15 feet in .7 seconds, said Hirsch, reminding board members that the original scanner purchased was previewed at the School Board’s November 4 meeting. The scanners are particularly useful at door entry points for schools and hospitals, for instance, Hirsch added and can decipher between false positives, such as a hot cup of coffee.

WCPS Director of Special Services Michael Hirsch said the school division already has tried the temperature scanners in various locations. “We feel that it can meet our needs,” he said.

Each BIOS03 Multi-Person Walk-through Temperature Scanner costs $2,499, bringing the estimated amount to $37,485. But Geek Land provided WCPS with a 10-percent educational discount that brings down the total cost to $33,737.

Superintendent Ballenger said the temperature scanners will continue to be used even after the current pandemic is under control and could be useful during flu season.

The School Board also unanimously approved a new fuel oil contract for the school division.

Greg Livesay, WCPS director of maintenance, said the WCPS existing heating fuel oil services contract expired in June 2020 with no renewal options remaining. Staff solicited Invitations for Bid from four regional providers and two responses were received on November 9, with Fannon Petroleum Services being the low bidder at just more than $1.27 per gallon, said Livesay, adding that the estimated annual cost is $39,315.16 per year.

“This initial contract period, like most others, would be for one year with four one-year renewable options when we agree upon the pricing,” Livesay said.

Greg Livesay, WCPS director of maintenance, said the WCPS existing heating fuel oil services contract expired in June 2020 with no renewal options remaining.

Additionally, Livesay said the current contract price is significantly lower compared to prices roughly five years ago, largely due to the COVID-19 school shutdowns, last year’s mild winter, and overall decreased consumption due to some WCPS buildings being converted from fuel oil to gas.

“So, we still have quite a bit of inventory of fuel oil sitting in our tanks this year,” he said.

Watch the entire Warren County School Board meeting on this exclusive Royal Examiner video.

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Local Government

Council considers helping finance low-cost spay & neuter clinic; extends downtown weekend closings to end of year; and plans to re-start Creekside tree cutting Nov. 17

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Following a 45-minute Special Meeting Closed Session discussion of two topics – the year-plus, thus-far unsuccessful search for a permanent replacement for Interim Town Manager Matt Tederick and the yet-to-be-finalized United Bank financing arrangement enabling the Town to take over the $8.4 million debt service on its new police station (no announcement on either) – the Front Royal Town Council opened a Monday evening, November 16th work session with a request from Humane Society of Warren County Executive Director Meghan Bowers to aid in set-up financing of a planned low-cost spay and neuter clinic here.

Bowers explained start-up costs totaling $125,000 of an estimated total first-year budget of nearly $425,000. The Humane Society’s Julia Wagner Animal Shelter will contribute $50,000 to the start-up costs and responding to a question from the interim town manager, Bowers said the county government will also be approached about start-up cost help. “I wouldn’t be a good executive director if I didn’t ask for money from everyone,” Bowers commented drawing some laughter.

Humane Society of Warren County Executive Director Meghan Bowers makes her case for municipal contributions to a permanent low-cost spay and neuter clinic here. Royal Examiner Photos by Roger Bianchini – Royal Examiner Video by Mark Williams

Asked about long-term contribution needs, Bowers said it was anticipated once established, the ‘spay and neuter’ clinic will become self-supporting. It is low-cost, not free, she noted. And it is expected that pet owners from surrounding jurisdictions without such a service will also travel here to utilize the clinic, helping prop up revenues. She said it was anticipated the local clinic would serve jurisdictions as far away as Martinsburg.

Bowers also pointed to a beneficial community impact in reducing the number of stray and feral animals that Animal Control and the Wagner Shelter must deal with.

Council took the request under consideration. The plan is to have the shelter open in the summer of 2021 as part of the Fiscal Year-2021/22 budget. Mayor Tewalt observed that the schedule improved the Town’s ability to help since there were no contingency funds set aside in the current budget for such outside projects.

Speaking of budgets
, Town Finance Director B. J. Wilson took council through a monthly review of revenue, enterprise and contingency funds as impacted by the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic restrictions on how departments and local businesses may operate. Things remained positive despite uncertainties like a possible statewide ban on delinquent utility cutoffs during the pandemic, Wilson told council.

Town Finance Director B. J. Wilson gives council a monthly update on Town revenues, expenditures and pandemic impact variables – the report was positive with continued good sales tax numbers despite the pandemic.

Tederick pointed to a positive trend in sales tax revenue despite the pandemic. Wilson’s numbers indicated year-to-date sales tax receipts trending almost $51,000 above anticipated numbers at $412,288.43.

And speaking of sales tax revenues
, a council consensus was reached to extend the Downtown Business District East Main Street weekend street closings through the end of the calendar year, which would make Christmas weekend from Friday, December 25 through Sunday, December 27 the final walking mall weekend of the year.

C&C Frozen Treats principal William Huck had brought the request to extend the walking mall weekends as the original early November shut down target passed. With early fall or spring-like temperatures in the 60s and occasionally 70s still with us in sometime weekend spurts and a positive sales tax revenue report, council’s attitude was why not? In fact, council discussion indicated a growing consensus to make the downtown business district weekend walking mall a permanent fixture in the local business landscape.

And speaking of landscapes
, during Town Public Works Director Robbie Boyer’s PowerPoint review of “Infrastructure Improvements” reaching the topic of “Happy Creek Streambank Channel Restoration” the interim town manager observed that the cutting of trees along that bank would re-start the following day after discussions with several involved agency representatives. Tederick also indicated that some tree replanting would occur as part of the project above the bank on the level ground “shelf”, just not on the sloping bank where the rip-rap rock replacement is planned to replace removed vegetation.

Above, Public Works Director Robbie Boyer points to a PowerPoint update on completed paving projects. Below, page on the status of the controversial Happy Creek bank restoration work. With the move from vegetation to rip-rap rocks, some might have expected to see that project on the ‘unfinished paving projects’ page.

The project scope was described as a 1300-linear foot section between E. Prospect Street and South Street. That distance and the total impacted area would require some additional permitting to the comparable Eighth Street project, Tederick observed.

The perceived clear-cutting of Happy Creek’s bank along this portion of the Shenandoah Greenway Trail has become a matter of some citizen concern, most prominently from a coalition of groups going by the title “Save Happy Creek Coalition”. That coalition, including The Tree Stewards, Urban Forestry Advisory Commission, Beautification of Front Royal Committee, Shenandoah Valley Alliance, Appalachian Trail Community network and Izaak Walton League met Monday afternoon to plan an updated expression of concern of the path the Town has taken in its “restoration” and stormwater management project.

Discussion indicated a council consensus in support of the work. Several comments pointed to the clearing of undergrowth, particularly along the bank’s west side adjacent to the Greenway Trail, as removing a hiding place for potential criminal elements including drug users or predators, they believe populate the area.

Stay tuned as the Town’s plotted strategy and local environmental group concerns continue to clash.

See these discussions and other agenda business in this Royal Examiner video:

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Local Government

County Planning Commission meeting attracts attention with Linden Sheetz proposal

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The Warren County Planning Commission met Thursday, November 12 in a holiday-delayed regular monthly meeting. More than 75 citizens were in the audience in anticipation of a discussion of a hotly contested rezoning request at the Interstate 66 intersection at exit 13 in Linden. Despite the public announcement by the planning department that there was not to be a public hearing on the project – yet, the room was abuzz with anticipation for what might be in store.

Unusually large audience for the Planning Commission Meeting. Photos: Stephen Sill

Once the meeting was opened, Chairman Robert Myers firmly set the ground rules for the session – the first of which was a standard prohibition on signs or placards in the meeting. Several signs opposing a rezoning had been placed around the perimeter of the room and were politely removed by the planning staff and placed by the door so the citizens could recover them as they left.

Chairman Myers reminded the attendees that the public hearing for the rezoning was not being held at this meeting – “You’re a month early for that”, and that the audience was not permitted outbursts or responses at any time. The agenda item regarding the Linden Rezoning request was merely the first step in the process- to allow the Planning Commission to advertise a public hearing. The attendees appeared to take the news philosophically, but no one left.

When the meeting agenda had been approved, The chairman opened the floor for public presentations. Despite the large audience, there were no takers. Under the rules of the public presentation, subjects are limited to those issues that are NOT on the meeting agenda.

The commission then turned to the two requests on the agenda that did require public hearings.

A request for a conditional use permit for a chapel by David and Nita Sudlow. The property is located at 6435 Strasburg Road and identified on tax map 9, as lot 48C1. The property is zoned Agricultural (A) and located in the Fork Magisterial District. Planner Matt Wendling explained that the request was to convert an existing accessory structure that is used as a garage and small chapel area for family use into a chapel for use for not more than 49 occupants at any one time. They plan a septic system upgrade and a handicapped-accessible restroom as part of the conversion.
They are working with the Department of Health to develop an Alternative Onsite Sewage system that would replace the existing system. Permission for this was denied by the Department of Health until a permit is obtained from the county for this use. Staff recommended that the public hearing for this permit be recessed until VDOT comments were received and the Department of Health concerns could be settled. The chairman asked if the applicant had any comments or concerns. Mr. Sudlow indicated he was continuing to work with all parties to resolve the issues and had no concern with the recess. Commissioner Henry then made a motion to recess the public hearing on this item until the next meeting, December 9th. Commissioner Longo seconded and the vote was unanimous.

David Sudlow addresses the Planning Commission.

David and Nita Sudlow were also on the agenda for a second conditional use permit, for a guesthouse on the same property. They are proposing to enlarge a converted horse barn they are using as an office and workshop, and they would like to add a bedroom for family and friends to stay in when they visit. Commissioner Henry then offered a motion to recess the hearing for this project along with the other one. Second by Commissioner Kersjes, and the vote was unanimous.

The Commission then turned to the Authorization to Advertise portion of the meeting.

The Commission then heard from the planning staff regarding an authorization to advertise for a public hearing for a project for Dudding Commercial Development, LLC. This request will be to amend the Warren County Zoning Map and rezone approximately six and forty-five hundredths (6.45) +/- acres from Agricultural (A) to Commercial (C). The property is located on Route 79 (Apple Mountain Road) at the corner of Apple Mountain Road and Interstate I-66. Dudding plans to purchase a 15-acre parcel at that site, with the intention of leasing just under six and a half acres of it to Sheetz, Inc to build and operate a filling station and convenience store. The rezoning request is part of a development process that will include site plan approvals, permits, environmental approvals, and Community impact assessment. Jerime Dudding and his project team gave a slide presentation outlining the project for the commissioners and the audience.

Jerime Dudding describes a new Sheetz facility for the Commission and the large audience.

In addition to the C-Store and filling station, The project includes a school bus turnaround and a bus shelter on the site. The representatives for the project described the physical layout of the finished site, discussed security measures being implemented, and described Sheetz as a “good fit” for that site. Representatives of the team described the environmental safeguards such as double-wall underground fuel storage, groundwater systems, and fuel spill procedures.

The Sheetz Director of Real Estate, Michael LaCesa was also present to provide Sheetz’s corporate perspective as anxious to be a good community neighbor and willing to listen to concerns. The team has already met with Apple Mountain HOA and expects to spend a lot more time working with residents to address any concerns or questions they may have. The very thorough presentation may well have alleviated some residents concerns, but the Public hearing will provide plenty of opportunities for every concerned resident to have their say. At the conclusion of the presentation, Commissioner Henry said he would be curious as to what VDOT may have to offer regarding the project, but offered a motion to approve the advertisement for a public hearing. Commissioner Kersjes seconded, and the approval vote was unanimous.

The reaction on the part of the audience was surprisingly muted, but there were certain to be more said when the hearing is held in December.

The commissioners each expressed wishes for a Happy Thanksgiving, and the Director of Planning told the commission that the Chipotle outlet at Riverton is 3-4 weeks away from opening, and the 5 Guys shortly after that.

The chairman then reminded everyone about recognizing veterans this month, make sure all the political signs are down and have a Happy Thanksgiving.

The meeting was adjourned at 8:10 PM

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all-day Gobble Till You Wobble Virtual 5k @ Online Event
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Take part in the 1st annual Gobble Till You Wobble United Way Virtual 5K Run/Walk. Capture your run or walk using a fitness tracker or app and submit for a chance to win gift cards and[...]
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Small Business Saturday @ Front Royal, Virginia
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Why should Small Business Saturday just be celebrated on the Saturday after Thanksgiving? Buy Local – Shop Local – Eat Local – Support Front Royal’s Small Business Community and stay local! Small Business Saturdays –[...]
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Christmas Tree Embroidery Class @ Downtown Market
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Christmas Tree Embroidery Class @ Downtown Market
Learn how to embroider a Christmas tree using basic embroidery stitches – no craft or sewing experience needed! The finished tree can be displayed in the embroidery hoop. This class is appropriate for adults and[...]
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all-day 2021 Dare to Dream Enrichment Gr... @ Front Royal Women’s Resource Center
2021 Dare to Dream Enrichment Gr... @ Front Royal Women’s Resource Center
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2021 Dare to Dream Enrichment Grant Application @ Front Royal Women’s Resource Center
Front Royal Women’s Resource Center (FRWRC) Beginning on November 1, 2020, to accept Applications for 2021 DARE TO DREAM GRANTS (Take classes, start a business, purchase a computer, learn a new skill, train for a[...]
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all-day Small Business Saturday @ Front Royal, Virginia
Small Business Saturday @ Front Royal, Virginia
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Small Business Saturday @ Front Royal, Virginia
Why should Small Business Saturday just be celebrated on the Saturday after Thanksgiving? Buy Local – Shop Local – Eat Local – Support Front Royal’s Small Business Community and stay local! Small Business Saturdays –[...]
7:00 am 64th Annual Pancake Day @ Warren County High School
64th Annual Pancake Day @ Warren County High School
Dec 5 @ 7:00 am – 1:00 pm
64th Annual Pancake Day @ Warren County High School
The Kiwanis Club of Front Royal is celebrating its 75 anniversary this year and are committed to holding the annual Pancake Day fundraising event. This event raises significant funds which are put back directly into[...]
7:00 pm Rotary Club Cash Fair @ Online Event
Rotary Club Cash Fair @ Online Event
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Rotary Club Cash Fair @ Online Event
It’s that time of year for Rotary Club of Front Royal’s annual Cash Fair, and we are going virtual this year due to COVID. This is one of our biggest fundraisers of the year and[...]
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2021 Dare to Dream Enrichment Gr... @ Front Royal Women’s Resource Center
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Front Royal Women’s Resource Center (FRWRC) Beginning on November 1, 2020, to accept Applications for 2021 DARE TO DREAM GRANTS (Take classes, start a business, purchase a computer, learn a new skill, train for a[...]
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all-day 2021 Dare to Dream Enrichment Gr... @ Front Royal Women’s Resource Center
2021 Dare to Dream Enrichment Gr... @ Front Royal Women’s Resource Center
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2021 Dare to Dream Enrichment Grant Application @ Front Royal Women’s Resource Center
Front Royal Women’s Resource Center (FRWRC) Beginning on November 1, 2020, to accept Applications for 2021 DARE TO DREAM GRANTS (Take classes, start a business, purchase a computer, learn a new skill, train for a[...]