If the Town wants to play its own “I, Me, Mine” (with a songwriting nod to late Beatle George Harrison) economic recovery game with its “equitable” share of federal Coronavirus Relief money, it is likely to find it is playing with less than the $1 million to $1.5 million town staff said it is anticipating of the $3.5 million in CARES (Coronavirus Aid Relief & Economic Securities) money Warren County received on June 1.
That is because in a population-based model upon which the CARES money is to be distributed to smaller municipalities within qualifying county’s, an 8-3 “unit” split, or 73% to 27% distribution of those funds has been estimated by county staff. Those numbers are based on the county population of about 40,000 and the town’s 15,000, that latter number who are also county residents, as Mayor Gene Tewalt explained to council on June 1st.
Those numbers equate to $946,000 the Town would get, with the County retaining roughly $2.5 million according to the government formula on “equitable” distribution of the CARES relief funds. The process and numbers were explained to county supervisors following Tuesday’s morning meeting, at an early Tuesday afternoon, June 2nd work session.
The topic was broached on the County side during a presentation by County Deputy Emergency Services Director Rick Farrall on the County’s receipt of the $3.5 million CARES money the previous day. As Front Royal Mayor Tewalt noted during council work session discussion of the same topic the previous evening, he and Vice-Mayor Bill Sealock met with county officials Monday afternoon to discuss a mutually acceptable distribution and relief plan.
However, as reported in our story “Money, money, money, EDAs and ongoing weekend downtown walking mall” council collectively did not appear initially receptive to the two-pronged plan Tewalt and Sealock brought them from the afternoon meeting with county officials. Contacted later, Farrall said in addition to him, Front Royal Mayor Tewalt and Vice-Mayor Sealock, present were County Board Chair Walt Mabe and County Administrator Doug Stanley. Farrall also later verified that the County received the CARES funding the day of that meeting, Monday, June 1. He noted it was applied for on May 20.
As summarized by the mayor Monday night, the County proposal was to divide the $3.5 million in half; have the County and Town jointly administer a relief package to qualifying businesses and/or citizens inside and outside the town limits with $1.75 million; and let each municipality use their share of the remaining $1.75 million, based on the 73% – 27% County-Town “equitable” population formula split, as they saw fit.
“I don’t think it went too well,” Farrall told the supervisors of the mayor’s presentation to council the previous night.
“According to the formula they’re going to get the big cut of it and we’re going to get the crumbs,” as we reported of Councilman Gary Gillespie’s reaction Monday night.
Even Sealock, who was involved in the meeting with county officials the day the money was received; and who told his colleagues the County as recipient of the grant was “100% responsible” for documentation and accounting that all the money was used as federally prescribed, seemed perturbed that the County had developed a plan without the involvement of Interim Town Manager Matt Tederick.
“I’m just wondering why we weren’t consulted other than today of all days,” a frustrated Sealock said.
Despite the presence of county board Chair Mabe at the Monday meeting with the mayor and vice mayor, Chris Holloway wondered if the plan was formulated by the county administrator without county board authorization or approval.
Mayor Tewalt tried to derail the “we are being taken advantage of” train that was gathering momentum. “They want to take the $3.5 million and use half of it for economic recovery; and then take the populations and split it whatever that ratio would be of the other $1.7 million and use that the way we want to utilize that amount of money …
“But they just want to know if we would be agreeable tonight – just split the money, and use half of it for recovery and half of it to do the other (things) as far as the government’s concerned. So, we can pay whatever we have to pay and they can pay whatever they want to pay,” the mayor told council.
In response to Gillespie’s “They’re going to get the big cut … and we’re going to get the crumbs” remark, the mayor readdressed the population-based formula. “Yea, but … there’s 40,000 people in the county and we’re only 15,000. So, they should get the most of it,” Mayor Tewalt reasoned.
Vice-Mayor Sealock then explained the above-referenced “unit” split as based on a count of 5,000, with 5,000 divided into the town population three times and the county’s eight. Hence, the 8-3 “unit” or 73%-27% population-based divide of the money.
“Well, Mr. Mayor you asked us if we wanted yes or no on it – and my answer’s no,” Gillespie responded, unmoved by the numbers or the population-based distribution formula originating at the federal level with the CARES grant program.
Tederick said he believed the County had received the funding within the previous two weeks, but that Tewalt and Sealock’s presentation was the first he had heard of a distribution proposal developed on the County side.
“Well, I think they just put it together today,” the mayor replied.
As the “our money, our plan, our rules” momentum built on council, Lori Cockrell did voice a word of caution Monday night, telling her council colleagues, “I don’t want to say, no, we don’t want any money.”
“I understand the ask, I’m not offended by it; it makes sense why they’re asking. Maybe even the dollars could end up making sense when we see it spelled out,” Jacob Meza added. One repeated complaint voiced was the absence of more written documentation to accompany the mayor and vice-mayor’s explanation of the proposal, as well as the absence of a county official to answer questions.
Cutting nose off to spite …
Discussing the County proposal and an initially suspicious and negative reaction from several councilmen with Farrall later Tuesday afternoon, he reiterated a point to this reporter he made earlier to the county supervisors. That point was that the joint relief aspect of the County proposal could actually see an additional benefit to in-town businesses and/or citizens as recipients from both governments to whom they pay taxes as dual town-county citizens or commercial entities.
“You’ve got a 50/50 (split) with $1.75 million. I assume that could be more spent in-town,” Supervisor Tony Carter observed of the joint aspect of the county proposal.
A little quick calculating indicated that if the Town and its recipients were the potential beneficiaries of half of the jointly administered money ($870,000) and the Town got a flat 27% or three “units” of the other $1.75 million ($473,000) to do with as it pleased within documented CARES guidelines, their total take would be $1.34 million, some $400,000 more than taking their 27% share of the entire $3.5 million ($946,000).
“Logically, if the Town would think about it, town business might benefit better from this model … they may get more money for town business in a joint pot, than saying ‘give me my little slice and I’ll see you’,” Farrall replied to Carter’s observation.
Fifteen minutes into the work session that led to a discussion of the anticipated third party roles of the EDA (County) and Chamber of Commerce (Town) acting as distributors of funds to accommodate state prohibitions on charitable giving by municipal governments. That discussion included difficulties created by the Town’s choice of hostile, shoot-for-the-moon civil litigation, rather than good faith negotiations with the EDA.
‘Equitable’ – dueling perspectives
County Board Chairman Mabe also observed that while town officials might consider “equitable” a 50/50 down the middle split, giving each municipality roughly $1,752,000 million of the $3,504,164 federal CARES funding to the County, it wouldn’t be based in the reality of the program guidelines.
“That could be what they want,” Mabe warned his colleagues.
Farrall responded by noting such a perspective did not fit the definition of “equitable” as it applied to the County.
“I would dismiss any talk of saying 50% down the middle. Because that is in no way equitable to the County; nor is it how the funds were generated in the first place,” Farrall said drawing immediate agreement from Mabe and Supervisor Delores Oates.
Farrall continued to note that in counties with smaller town municipalities that rely on their county governments for essential services like schools, parks and recreation, and emergency services, the CARES “equitable” formula of sharing can go beyond population considerations alone.
“In a county that has these smaller towns, it’s not just a straight population (equation) because those smaller towns are dependent on the county for many things they don’t have to pay for. So, back to Jason’s point, this is where in the language of the CARES Act we have to determine an equitable distribution where it is not 100% population.”
“Jason’s point” was County Attorney Jason Ham’s earlier observation, “It depends on how you define the word ‘equitable’.”
Ham continued, “Warren County has agreed to equitably share with the Town, and so you could determine equitability to be based on population. But then you also have to consider that, you know, Rick here is going to save somebody’s life if they’re in a burning house in the Town of Front Royal,” Ham said of Farrall’s employer, the County Fire & Rescue Department that serves county residents both inside and out of the town limits (and a HEART-felt God Bless Them for that, seven-plus years down the road from one in-town medical emergency survivor).
“And his salary is paid by people who live in the Town of Front Royal, as well as those in Warren County. It’s however you define equitable, and that’s one way to do it,” Ham concluded of a population-and-services formula tied to the federal CARES Act money.
Not on immediate call to run into a burning building to save anyone, the County’s Deputy Emergency Manager continued, “So somewhere between the pure population split and (the cost of shared services) you could negotiate if you will. But at the end of the day it’s up to the County to determine that split. We’re just trying to be nice …”
“At the end of the day we’re all at the benefit of something we didn’t have,” board Vice-Chair Cheryl Cullers injected, adding, “I mean to fight over it at this point – you’ve got to do this a way it makes sense.”
“Well, the County’s not fighting it. The decision just has to be made between the Town and County. And what it amounts to now is just the split. We’ll work out the details, we’ll have to,” Mabe observed.
Noting the earlier observation that the mayor’s presentation of the county proposal to council “didn’t go well” Oates asked, “What were the objections, I’d like to understand that.”
“Just, they want more money. It’s as simple as that. They don’t agree,” Mabe replied, as Oates finished his sentence, “With the equitable solution we’ve come to.
“Okay,” Oates added of her developing understanding of the situation.
For now, listen to and watch the above-described County business in this virtual recording courtesy of Warren County Board of Supervisors:
‘Grandfathering’ or not? County Planning Commission foresees the need to address Non-Conforming Properties
At its regular meeting on January 12, the Warren County Planning Commission confronted a nagging issue that members expect will increasingly come up in the future, that of property owners in older subdivisions whose dwellings were built long before there were local zoning ordinances or even building inspections. Even though building codes date back to the Babylonian King Hammurabi, and rudimentary standards in the late 18th century, most large American cities didn’t begin enacting or enforcing them until 1900 or so, and in most smaller localities they were not widely enacted until the 1970’s, and even after that not uniformly enforced. In Warren County, for example, many small “summer cabins” were built near or on the river in the 1940’s or before, when that requirement did not exist. They weren’t originally intended to be permanent homes, but rather vacation places. In modern times, local zoning ordinances would preclude many of these from being built at all, or certainly sited where they are.
The continuing challenge for the County is to strike a balance between a property owner’s investment in his property, the need for uniform enforcement of the building code, and common sense. More and more requests for Conditional Use Permits (CUPs) for short-term tourist rentals, for example, show that property owners, sometimes with “nonconforming lots”, still want to rent their cabins out to tourists. But the standards of the County’s short-term tourist rental ordinance require things like 100-foot distance between dwellings. So, the commissioners spent some time discussing what the right approach to that challenge is. Zoning law is where the term “grandfathering” is often found – provisions that allow some deviations from standards where the original construction predated the standard. It’s certain that the commission and the county board will have to eventually develop a solution that can be applied fairly and uniformly.
An example case will likely be considered at next months meeting, when the commissioners will be looking at a request from Alvand Khoshgavar for a CUP for a short-term tourist rental for his residentially zoned property at 668 Old Dam Road in the Shenandoah District. His property doesn’t meet the 100-foot setback requirement, so that requirement would have to be waived for a permit to be issued. The request was approved for advertising the public hearing, but the commissioners agreed that the topic of these properties will need to have a better solution. The County can waive provisions of an ordinance, but every waiver creates a precedent.
Meanwhile, this month, John LaVoie is requesting a CUP for his residentially zoned property at 1196 Old Oak Lane in the Shenandoah District. Deputy Planning Director Matt Wendling briefed the commission on the details of the application. The proposal meets the County short-term rental supplementary regulations, and comments were received from the County Building Official and the Department of Health. There were no citizen comments during the public hearing, and no comments or objections were received from neighboring property owners by the County Planning Department.
With no other comments by commission members, the vote to recommend approval was unanimous. The permit request will now go to the County Board of Supervisors for final approval.
The consent agenda for the meeting consisted of authorization to advertise public hearings for seven Conditional Use Permit requests and one zoning ordinance change. Those items will be on the agenda for next month’s meeting on February 9th.
Chairman Myers adjourned the meeting at 7:45 p.m.
Town of Front Royal prepares for its 2nd, oh wait – 3rd winter storm of season
On January 14, 2022, the operations team that includes Public Works, Energy, Fleet Management, Finance, and the Police Department met to discuss the upcoming snowstorm forecast to drop from 6 inches to a foot or more of snow here. Public Works crews are treating primary roads now in preparation for the winter storm now predicted to begin around 1 p.m. on Sunday. Road crews and Fleet will begin working 12-hour shifts over the weekend to continue treating streets and plowing snow as needed.
The Police Department is asking citizens to stay off the roads during the storm if possible. Road crews are better able to cover streets with less traffic. The Town is asking residents to use off-street parking this weekend if available.
Town Energy Services crews are prepared and will be working this weekend to cover possible power outages. Power outages after work hours should be reported to Front Royal Police at (540) 635-2111. If you have internet connectivity during working hours, please report outages at frontroyalva.com/FormCenter.
As always in an emergency call 911.
Public Works and Energy Services also have contractors on standby if additional crews are needed.
The Virginia Department of Transportation Staunton District is preparing for forecasted snow and some sleet to occur during the daytime on Sunday, January 16, and into overnight hours, ending by early Monday, January 17. VDOT crews began brine operations at 8 a.m. on Friday, January 14 and will conclude this work later in the day.
In the Staunton District, around 900 – 920 pieces of equipment will be deployed for snow removal operations. VDOT crews will be out to plow and treat roads as the winter weather begins. Wreckers will be pre-staged to assist with vehicle removal at traffic crash locations along interstate roads. Tree crews are ready to assist as needed during and after the storm.
Travel during the storm should be avoided and local forecasts should be monitored. Winter weather with wind and snow rates can change quickly, causing dangerous driving conditions and possible white-out situations.
Travelers should be prepared for emergencies. Travel emergency kits can include flashlights and batteries, ice scraper, cell phone and charger, jumper cables, blankets or quilts, first aid kit, bottled water, non-perishable food, abrasive material for traction, and a shovel.
(The Front Royal Public Information Office updated its release on the above preparations to acknowledge this will be the third, rather than second snow of the season to hit the town.)
After lengthy closed session, council ponders its role in regulating short-term-tourist rentals
The Monday evening (Jan. 10) Front Royal Town Council Work Session began with a two-hour-plus Closed Meeting at which first, “probable litigation” involving a claim of damaged private property by unidentified Town operations was discussed; followed by discussion of personnel matters including “… performance, demotion, salaries, disciplining, or resignation of specific public officers, appointees, or employees … specifically of the Town Planning Commission, Town Board of Zoning Appeals, and the Local Board of Building Code Appeals”, as well as a late added “and other personnel”.
As there was no meeting scheduled, no announcement or action followed the closed session.
The open portion of the work secession featured a wide-ranging conversation about establishment of a Town Code on regulating Short-Term Tourist Rentals. Town Planning Director Lauren Kopishke opened by telling council that no one had showed up at a December Planning Commission Public Hearing on the matter, so there was no public input on parameters or preferences to fit town residential patterns interacting with the increasingly popular “quasi-commercial” use of personal residence as a money-making short-term rental endeavor.
After an overview from Kopishke of the draft proposal based on the existing County Code, opinions of elected officials on levels of regulation went in wide and varied directions. Letasha Thompson opened by expressing concern over a requirement that all short-term rental parking be in driveways, and not allowed on streets. – “Some people don’t have driveways” she worried over that segment being prohibited from qualifying for Conditional Use Permits (CUPs) to allow them to profit off renting their properties out.
Kopishke responded that such conditions were included to protect normal neighborhood parking patterns and would ultimately depend on the number of cars short-term rental customers would bring to bear on a location.
Amber Morris wondered if the Town should initiate any regulations on the use, noting that there were statewide codes. “Where in the Town Code are short-term rentals specifically prohibited? Because I have been approached recently that it is not specifically against code. And in the state of Virginia it’s pretty blanketed. And my concern with this is … that we’re kind of going above and beyond and we’re adding unnecessary measures to the entire thing as a whole,” she told the planning director, later wondering why after “10-plus years” of non-enforcement, why start regulating now?
“While it’s not defined in our zoning ordinance – all we have defined are lodging homes. And these do not permit short-term stays under 14 days. So, to allow this we have to at least define it in our ordinance,” Kopishke responded, adding, “The state does permit it, which is why it makes sense for us to adopt something, because the state just defines what it is and explains how they’re going to tax it. It doesn’t explain how to regulate it.”
Morris countered that the draft seemed “a little over-regulated” in its existing form. Planning Director Kopishke noted that with such a broad state code it made sense for each jurisdiction to establish its own regulatory code to accommodate its community structure, so as not to allow a new quasi-business use to disrupt the lifestyle of existing neighborhoods.
“Every jurisdiction has something a little bit different. So, what I took just for simplicity’s sake was Warren County’s because that’s what people around here would be used to. I looked at Strasburg, Strasburg’s just a little bit more complicated – Winchester, Fauquier County, they have more regulation to it. So, this is bare bones,” Kopishke said of the draft structure presented to council for an early review.
“This leaves a lot up to our discretion, right?” Vice-Mayor Lori Cockrell observed.
“The way it’s written gives you as council a lot of control. If you want less, we can put less prohibitions in there. It’s how council would like it to be done,” the planning director explained. This led Councilman Joseph McFadden to note that many people who might be attracted to the idea of making money off short-term rentals of their home or other structures might not think through a business plan – “This just gives them something to think about. I think it’s great there are some (guidelines) in here. Like you said, we decomplicated it, uncomplicated it as much as possible, keep it bare bones, I’m all for it,” McFadden said.
However, Morris continued to voice concern over any attempt at regulation, noting that in the absence of a code, a number of town citizens have been operating this type of rental use for a number of years. – “But we haven’t gone after them,” Kopishke noted. She observed that were its council desire, the Town could initiate legal actions to stop those operations until a code is established and permitting obtained. – “It could be considered a Class 3 misdemeanor,” the planning director pointed out, adding that it did not seem a desirable approach to label people “criminals” for pursuing a use in a vacuum of town guidance or regulation.
“That’s not the concern, but the concern is we’ve been doing this for 10-plus years and it hasn’t been enforced, why are we adding new (regulations)?” Morris continued in questioning why bother to regulate now. McFadden responded that some people who would like to initiate such an operation were not because they wanted “to operate within the law”. Establishing legal parameters to protect short-term tourist operations, as well as their neighbors’ interests in a more “bare-boned” manner as described, seemed an optimum path forward, he reasoned.
“I think we should do less regulation,” Morris injected, without explaining what was “less” than the no regulations or enforcement the Town has been operating under.
Among regulations on the table were the necessity of short-term tourist rentals having landline phones to assure the ability to contact emergency services if necessary, limitations on number of rental occupants (two per bedroom), vehicles and parking, and a one-time application fee of $400.
“I look at this as protecting our citizens, the people who live here every day … that their quality of life in their neighborhood, their children, whatever, that it doesn’t affect them because somebody next to them wants to do this,” Vice-Mayor Cockrell observed as the conversation wound down. The entire discussion lasted for nearly 20 minutes (33:50 to 52:00 minute mark of the Town video). As to a path forward, Kopishke told Royal Examiner she would remove the driveway parking restriction and forward the newest draft ordinance to the planning commission for further review and a recommendation on final action to council.
See this discussion, as well as others, including parameters for Vape/Vape Oriented Businesses (following the short-term tourist rental discussion); the Order of Business” at regular council meetings – one proposed switch was having Public Comments on non-agenda items after Public Hearings; two committee appointments; options forward in the employee health care insurance pool; pending Capital Improvement Projects; and a Sole Source Purchase of Neptune Water Meters at a projected cost of $65,523.
Not on the agenda
One other unscheduled item that occurred just before the work session’s convening around 6 p.m. was serving of a no-trespass order on Mayor Holloway by a representative of his Virginia Ave. neighbor Cheryl Langlais. As noted toward the conclusion of Norma Jean Shaw’s story on Holloway’s dog-containment fence construction and permitting issues, Holloway had refused to accept a registered letter serving him with the notice in the wake of his and other social media posts concerning his discontent with his neighbor’s report on his dogs running loose and her in-home business licensing issues.
Warren County Supervisors consider rural events facilities in the South River District with mixed results
The Warren County Board of Supervisors met Wednesday, January 11, to consider four Conditional Use Permits (CUPs) in the South River District. The four applications on the agenda are all related to the proposed uses of agricultural land. Increasing attention to land use in the past 10 years and pressure for more residential housing have meant greater focus on the balance between property rights and community impact. The terms “By Right” and “Permitted Use” mean property owners can do some things with their property with no approvals required, and other uses are subject to “conditional use” permits issued by the “governing body”, in this case, the county supervisors.
Carl and Jennifer Ey applied for a CUP for a rural events facility on their Agriculturally Zoned acreage at 1406 Panhandle Road in Bentonville. The County Planning Commission had previously recommended approval of the permit, and the Eys are experienced, small rural venue operators. Deputy Planning Director Matt Wendling briefed the Supervisors that the County Building Official, Health Department, and Virginia Department of Transportation had provided comments on the proposal. The Department of Conservation and Recreation – Andy Guest State Park had also requested in writing that the facility observe the same quiet hours as the park facility, so the conditions of the permit were modified to require that events hosted at the site should end at 10 p.m.
Supervisor Vicky Cook asked the applicant if he anticipated having to accommodate large vehicles such as buses for the events, given the narrow road leading to the site. The applicant responded that he would be happy to accommodate a prohibition on buses if that was the intent of the board, and that should the expected number of vehicles at an event be sufficient to warrant, his plan was to have someone to direct traffic to avoid any conflicts.
The public hearing on this request yielded three speakers, two of which were supportive of the permit, and one against; in addition a neighboring landowner had registered his opposition to the site of the facility on the applicant’s property. The applicant had addressed the concerns with the neighbor in writing and with the planning department. Bill Barnett, a local property developer and coincidentally a nearby resident of the property, expressed his strong support for the project. He said as the pressure on landowners increases to more effectively use their acreage, “The easy way out,” is to cut down all the trees, bulldoze it level, and build houses. He commended the applicant for devising a way to preserve the rural character of the area and still share it with the public.
Supervisors asked questions about road access to the facility and whether a nearby archaeological site could be impacted by the planned use. The Planning Department staff indicated this facility was a substantial distance from the Flint Run Archaeological site. VDOT had weighed in with its requirements which also had been addressed by the applicants. The Board then voted unanimously to approve the permit.
The supervisors then turned their attention to a request by Edwin Wright for a CUP for a Commercial Campground on his agriculturally zoned property at 2905 Gooney Manor Loop, again in the South River Magisterial District. Board Chairman Cheryl Cullers cautioned the waiting crowd that disruptions or outbursts were prohibited under the rules of public meetings. In contrast to the previous public hearing, nearly 100 citizens were in attendance to register their opinions about the Gooney Manor proposal.
Deputy Planning Director Wendling informed the Supervisors that the applicant had modified his request to scale the size back from 100 primitive campsites to 50 in deference to the community concerns about traffic to the site. That modification appeared to take the supervisors by surprise, as the application package still indicated the project would provide 100 spaces. Several supervisors asked questions about the reduction in scope – was it a permanent reduction, or would there be a later expansion. The applicant indicated that, depending on the results of the project, the size could be expanded.
Supervisor Walt Mabe expressed concern about the availability of water and power, and Mr. Wright explained that water would be available throughout the site, but power would not be provided to each site, Since there was uncertainty about the types and sizes of camping modes (Tents, Small trailers, etc.) and little detail in the application about the facilities that would be provided, the Supervisors were dubious about the proposal even before the public hearing.
There were 43 speakers present, and according to one of the speakers, Stacey Mikel, over 700 local residents had signed an online petition opposing the permit. The complaints followed a familiar theme:
• The roads were inadequate to support the additional traffic
• Campers would likely create fire hazards in a heavily wooded area adjacent to a national park
• Cell service in the area is inadequate so emergency 911 calls might not work
• Access by fire/EMS could be restricted by road blockage
• Fire/EMS staff is already inadequate
• Alcohol-related incidents are likely
• “Visitors don’t care about the community”
• Trash dumping
• Some don’t trust the applicant
• Lack of applicant’s experience managing a campground.
• Concerns about trespassing, firearms, or personal safety of neighboring residents
After almost two hours of always civil, if opposing public comment, William Barnett addressed the Supervisors again: “If you disapprove this, you should never, ever approve another campground unless it fronts on State Routes 340 or 522,” Barnett asserted. Supervisor Cook then introduced a motion to deny the permit, seconded by Supervisor Mabe. The vote was unanimous and there was a sigh of relief in the room.
The Supervisors then took up the next CUP request by Edwin Wright for a Rural Events Facility at the same address. Many of the same residents rose to oppose the permit and echo the same complaints. It was clear that opposition to the rural events facility was at least as strong as that for the campground. Supervisors asked about the size of events that the applicant expected to host, such as concerts or gatherings. The answer was that the expectation was that groups and concerts would not exceed 200 people.
Mr. Barnett again rose to support the request and compared this Rural Events Facility development to the one that had earlier been unanimously approved. “People who attend these events expect them to be in rural areas with small roads.” The last to make a public comment was Phillip Vaught, a local innkeeper, and investor, in support of the proposal. He told the supervisors that the great danger for a property of this type is that landowners with agricultural property have the right to divide their property and it was easy to envision 100 houses or even more on that property, without a hearing of any kind.
At the conclusion of the public comment period, Chairman Cullers in whose district the Wright proposals lie, then spoke. “I have gone out there and measured this road, and I am familiar with it.”
Her concern about the permit was safety. “Safety is the issue,” she said. A motion to deny the permit request was made by Supervisor Mabe and seconded by Supervisor Butler. The vote was again unanimous to deny.
There was a brief discussion about the remaining two Conditional Use Permit requests by Mr. Wright for a Campground and a Rural Events Facility on an adjoining property. Mr. Wright announced to the Board that he was withdrawing those requests to research and reevaluate his plans. He expected it to be several months before he was ready for the next steps.
In light of the withdrawal, Chairman Cullers adjourned the meeting at 10:30 p.m.
Town announces ‘plans’ to appoint out-of-area Interim Town Attorney
In a press release, late Tuesday afternoon the Town of Front Royal’s Richmond-based Public Information contractor Joanne Williams of Williams Media issued a press release announcing the Town’s “plans” to appoint an interim town attorney. No timing on the actual appointment was included in the release naming James E. Cornwell, Jr. of White Stone, Virginia, as that planned appointee.
White Stone is a small, coastal town at the mouth of the Rappahannock River near its entry point into the Chesapeake Bay in Lancaster County. An online search indicated White Stone’s population at 352 in the 2010 census and 327 in the 2020 census.
However, Stone’s legal experience is somewhat broader than his hometown’s population, cited at “over 45 years of active practice representing local Virginia governments, public bodies, and authorities”. If our count was right, there were 24 counties, public bodies, and authorities that Stone has represented over his legal career. And if we were to guess based on his experience in the legal field, we’d say his age, while not stated, is not far from the 70 of the recently “retired” man he is replacing on an interim basis.
That lengthy legal experience will provide the background for duties cited as “providing daily advice on internal, administrative and management matters, specific personnel matters, preparing ordinances, contracts and other documents for adoption or approval, interpreting state and federal laws and regulations, and advising the Town on practices and procedures.”
If recent events and closed session agendas are an indicator, interpreting regulations regarding state codes as they might conflict with a local charter or code as to personnel matters, for instance regarding planning commissions among others, may be put to the test early in his tenure, whenever it begins.
See the Town release in its entirety below:
Front Royal Plans to Appoint Interim Town Attorney
Front Royal Town Counsel plans to appoint James E. Cornwell, Jr. from White Stone, Virginia as the interim Town attorney. Mr. Cornwell has over 45 years of active practice representing local Virginia governments, public bodies, and authorities.
Cornwell’s vast experience in local government includes providing legal services for: Town of Narrows; Town of Glen Lyn; Giles County School Board; Giles County Department of Social Services; Dinwiddie County; Bland County; New Kent County; Craig County, Brunswick County; Lancaster County; Grayson County; City of Galax; Carroll County; Floyd County; Town of Clarksville; Page County; New River Valley Regional Jail; Pepper’s Ferry Regional Wastewater Treatment Authority; Carroll Grayson Galax Regional Solid Waste Authority; Eastern Shore of Virginia Broadband Authority; Roanoke-Alleghany Regional Commission; New River Valley Regional Commission; Virginia First Regional Industrial Facility Authority, and Carroll Grayson Galax Regional Industrial Facility Authority.
“Mr. Cornwell’s extensive legal knowledge and experience in local government is needed in Front Royal as the Town develops new strategic and comprehensive plans, updates zoning and code compliance ordinances and launches the Economic Development Authority,” said Mayor Chris Holloway. “He understands and is an expert on navigating local government processes and regulations within mandate policies from Virginia and the federal government.”
During his years in practice, Mr. Cornwell has provided counsel to many authorities and entities including EDA, IDA, Water and Sewer, and the collection of delinquent real estate taxes.
Cornwell’s services to Front Royal will include providing daily advice on internal, administrative and management matters, specific personnel matters, preparing ordinances, contracts and other documents for adoption or approval, interpreting state and federal laws and regulations, and advising the Town on practices and procedures.
Mr. Cornwell has served as Substitute General District and Juvenile Court Judge, 29th Virginia Judicial Circuit for ten (10) years. He earned a B.A. degree from Campbell College and a J.D. degree from the College of William & Mary.
Public School operations, budget and staffing needs reviewed by supervisors; Election Redistricting advertised for public hearing – and more
After getting first, a Warren County Public Schools departmental update on operational and personnel matters, including still-felt consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic, and a later explanation and extended discussion of the need for a requested $63,650 Contingency Reserve transfer into the public schools’ operational budget, the newly post-2021 election-realigned Warren County Board of Supervisors – Jay Butler and Vicky Cook in for retired Tony Carter and Archie Fox – unanimously approved that transfer.
However, that approval didn’t come before assurances from Schools Superintendent Chris Ballenger that the Contingency money would go to a specified personnel use tied to the approval, as opposed to a rather vaguely worded “unexpected expense” variable. Contingency transfers in past years where money had been moved to other “unexpected expense” variables within the public school system from the one the county board had believed the money would go to, seemed to have some of the supervisors nervous about too vague a potential use.
Ballenger verified the staff summary citing that “unexpected expense” variable as the need for an additional ESL (English Second Language) teacher. Ballenger said the school system currently has six ESL teachers with 171 students classified as “Level One” ESL students needing as much as one hour per day of direct ESL teacher assistance. And while the estimated mid-to-upper 20s-to-1 student-teacher ratio may not sound too bad, Ballenger noted that “close to another 200 students” who had left the Level One category (of a four-tiered system) were still being monitored by ESL staff in assistance to English language teachers for any classroom performance issues that might require those students to be re-enrolled to the direct ESL teaching staff, Level One program.
Asked if the position had been advertised, Ballenger said it had been, but only as a “prospective” position since the money for it was not currently in the budget. The Contingency Reserve transfer would allow “Prospective” to be removed from the advertised position so that hiring could proceed. Responding to another question, Ballenger said that while not all ESL students were Spanish speaking, that was “a majority”.
With an understanding that any change of use would need to be brought back to the supervisors for review, on a motion by Delores Oates, seconded by Walt Mabe, the contingency transfer was approved by a 5-0 vote.
After approval of both a four-item Consent Agenda, and three items – Establishment of a Finance/Audit Committee, a Technology Review Committee, and County/Public Schools Liaison Committee – removed for brief discussion by County Administrator Ed Daley, the board got an update and recommendation on Election Redistricting options from Planning Director Joe Petty. County Registrar Carol Tobin was also present to respond to any questions. Interim County Attorney Jason Ham also offered some background on variables coming down from the state level that had only recently been finalized. Ham commended county staff’s work on pinning down a preferred redistricting option mandated by population changes over the past decade.
Petty explained that of the two options presented, the first one appeared preferable as the least obtrusive. In response to a question from board Chair Cullers, who observed that her South River District wouldn’t be impacted by either option, Petty said that the only districts to see a change due to population variables would be the Happy Creek and Shenandoah Districts.
Guidelines mandate that periodically in the wake of census numbers each municipality election district must maintain a plus-or-minus 5% population ratio to each other. The 2020 Census showed Warren County’s population increasing from 37,439 to 40,572, an increase of 3,133 people or +8.37%. In Warren County in the wake of the 2020 Census, that median district population number was 8,114, with a plus-minus range from 7,708 to 8,502.
As described in the planning staff agenda packet, the recommended Option 1 “moves the boundary line to follow Morgan Ford Road and Howellsville Road to connect to the existing Shenandoah/Happy Creek boundary. Approximately 565 persons will be added to the Happy Creek Election District from the current Shenandoah Election District. the subdivisions being added include Apple Mountain Lake West, Aspen Hills (Greenfield, Skyview Section Two), Rockwood, Wildcat Knob, Manassas Run Manor, a portion of Shannon Subdivision, Shannon Woods, Morgans Ridge, Riverton Corporation Property, Land of the Blue Ridge, Ball, and Heater.
Following Petty’s summary, Ham’s observations, and Tobin’s comment that she was there to implement whatever direction the supervisors choose to go in, on a motion by Mabe (Shenandoah), seconded by Oates (North River), the board unanimously authorized advertisement for a public hearing on the proposed redistricting plan Option 1.
The Election Redistricting presentation begins at the 1:24:30 mark of the full County meeting video; the public school system overview starts at the 15:15 video mark, and the superintendent’s explanation of the Contingency Reserve request and subsequent discussion begins at the 1:00:25 video mark. A VDOT road work update in the wake of the first statewide winter weather event begins at the 11:05 mark of the meeting video.
See these discussions and all other business conducted in a full agenda of the opening county board meeting of the year 2022, before adjournment to a work session packed with departmental issues in the County videos.
Work Session Agenda
1/ Board Deputy Clerk Emily Ciarrocchi’s PowerPoint presentation on the advantages of moving to countywide Electronic Packets for meetings, with hard copy options (:35 mark).
2/ Planning Director Petty’s summary of the status of the Rockland Road Railroad Crossing Flyover Bridge – with a late 2023 construction target date once a resolution of county land acquisition and project costs and compensations are resolved (50:00 mark).
3/ An IT Department update from IT Director Todd Jones (1:05:14).
4/ A Human Resources Department summary of in-house COVID-19 vaccination, testing, and social distancing standards in conjunction with shifting federal and state guidelines (1:28:10).
5/ Sheriff Mark Butler’s summary of options to establish what he called a “needed” multi-purpose training area and impounded vehicle facility space inside the county. The Sheriff cited a project with no up-front costs to the county and its taxpayers, as well as an estimated annual $15,000 in travel-to-train savings promised. A preferred location was identified as a 15.44-acre parcel near the County’s Bentonville Transfer/Trash Hauling station off Shangri La Road (1:44:10).
Also discussed were board member committee appointments (2:11:55) and goals (2:15:20) for the coming year.