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EDA in Focus

EDA civil complaint details allegations surrounding key projects

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While attorneys for defendants in the EDA civil litigation have focused on what they contend are vagaries in details of the cited misdirection of EDA assets, the complaint itself lists some detail, including specified amounts of money moved on a variety of projects contended to be conduits for the alleged embezzlement or misuse of EDA or EDA-enabled resources.

As previously reported by Royal Examiner, the projects or methods identified as those conduits for misdirection of EDA assets in the civil complaint are: the ITFederal Loan; Subsequent Payments to ITFederal; Workforce Housing – Royal Lane Property Embezzlements; Afton Inn Project Embezzlements; Criminal Justice Training Academy aka Skyline Regional Justice Training Academy; Unlawful Payments Concerning Earth Right Energy LLC; and Unlawful Payment of Town and Warren County Funds for Defendant McDonald Owned/Controlled Real Estate”.

Due to the voluminous material cited in the 199-paragraph, 32-page EDA civil complaint concerning the above-cited EDA projects, loans, private business and contractual arrangements, we will begin Royal Examiner’s more detailed exploration of the EDA lawsuit and initial defense responses by narrowing on specific portions of the complaint. Note that Royal Examiner is not asserting the truth of either the allegations in the complaint or defense responses to those allegations – merely reporting their existence and some detail.

Of particular focus regarding alleged false information being used to prop up the movement of the largest amount of misdirected EDA assets, a $10-million bank loan little of which appears to have been spent here nearly four years on is ITFederal’s recruitment as the first commercial redevelopment client at the former Avtex Superfund site. Six pages of the complaint are devoted to the ITFederal loan process.

The lone ITFederal construction nearing completion on May 2, 2019, as a one-story, 10,000 s.f. building – Royal Examiner File Photos/Roger Bianchini

Of the securing of a $10-million dollar loan to ITFederal the complaint states in paragraph 89, “Tran and Defendant McDonald represented, through McDonald, to the Town, the County and the Warren EDA multiple times that (a) Tran was a high-net worth individual, (b) he did not need any financial assistance from the Town, the County and the Warren EDA to make the ITFederal Project financially viable, (c) ITFederal/VDN Systems had procured a $140 million contract with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to provide information technology services on a long-term basis and (d) Tran had the endorsement and support of U.S. Congressional Representative Robert Goodlatte …”

Continuing in paragraph 99, “On information and belief, despite any nominal award of any federal contracts to ITFederal and/or VDN, the actual work and payments under any such federal contracts … appear to be not more than $5,000 over the last five years.”

Paragraph 100 of the complaint states, “The websites for ITFederal, VDN and ACRC (three Tran companies) all appear to be bogus websites with little or no substantive information or recent activity in connection with purported businesses. In some cases it appears they have not been updated since 2012. Based on information and belief, these websites were created to convey a false impression that ITFederal, VDN and ACRC were active businesses with a substantive source of income with the intent of fraudulently inducing the Warren EDA to make the ITFederal loan.”

As previously reported here, in motions filings McDonald attorney Lee Berlik has contested the assumption that McDonald was consciously lying in regard to many of the allegations against her, rather than simply repeating lies she was being told; or in other instances following through on methods of moving EDA assets approved by the EDA board to facilitate projects it later regretted becoming involved in.

Jennifer McDonald, grey sweater, with five of seven EDA board members, circa 2015-16. Pictured from left facing the camera are Ron Llewellyn, Vice-Chairman Greg Drescher, McDonald and Chairman Patty Wines; back to camera from left are Bill Sealock and Billy Biggs.

“The Warren EDA, Plaintiff in this action, is engaged in an attempt to smear Ms. McDonald by blaming her for every bad decision made by the Warren EDA board over the last several years and turning business deals the Warren EDA now regrets into implausible conspiracies,” Berlik wrote on the first page of a defense motions filing on April 16, adding emphasis in context, “Plaintiff suggests every statement by every counterparty it now regrets crediting was a false statement by Ms. McDonald … instead of a false statement to Ms. McDonald.”

Beginning with her presentation of Tran and ITFederal to the EDA board and town government in 2014, the complaint alleges a lengthy effort by McDonald to mitigate Tran and his company’s costs and liability while at the same time working toward securing of a $10-million loan the complaint asserts she repeatedly told local officials Tran did not really need to accomplish his project.

Rather, the Town’s initial assistance in the way of a $10-million dollar “bridge loan” to facilitate a $10-million bank loan then EDA Attorney Blair Mitchell noted Congressman Goodlatte had requested in a 2015 email correspondence with McDonald, was presented as a means of promoting long-sought commercial redevelopment at the site. It is perhaps also noteworthy that the EDA put up the 117-acre balance of the Royal Phoenix Business Park property as collateral for the $10-million dollar ITFederal loan from First Bank & Trust.

As work progresses on his building in background, ITFederal CEO Truc ‘Curt’ Tran on site at the EDA office complex on Dec. 20, perhaps ironically the day Jennifer McDonald resigned as EDA executive director.

“Tran and Defendant McDonald stated that Tran did not need the financial support of the Town and the Warren EDA, but that such assistance was requested by Rep. Goodlatte,” graph 90 of the complaint states; further noting the request that 30 acres of the 147-acre Royal Phoenix Business Park be donated to Tran and his company “free of charge” – well he did end up paying a dollar for the parcel valued at $2 million in open EDA meeting discussion – and to secure the loan to facilitate construction “of all or a part of the ITFederal Project.”

Then U.S. Congressman Goodlatte, R-6th, participated in the October 2015 ITFederal ribbon cutting, taking credit for the company’s arrival here and promoting a promised $40-million ITFederal investment in the community that would create 600-plus high-paying, largely tech industry jobs.

The EDA complaint filed by the Sands-Anderson law firm of Richmond also addresses Tran’s alleged ties and access to resources from the federal EB-5 Visa Program created to trade U.S. citizenship in exchange for significant private investment – cited at $1 million dollars – in the U.S. economy.

“Tran and Defendant McDonald represented, through McDonald, on multiple occasions to the County, the Town and the Warren EDA that ACRC had obtained or was in the process of obtaining EB-5 financing to finance the ITFederal Project,” the complaint asserts.

“The new venture must create and sustain at least ten full-time employees for at least two years in order for the investor seeking citizenship to convert his or her green card into full citizenship … ACRC (American Commonwealth Regional Center) is another entity established and controlled by Tran … ACRC represents it is an approved EB-5 regional center … However, based on a search on the USCIS website on February 12, 2019, ACRC does not appear to be an approved regional center for EB-5 financing.

“There is no evidence that ACRC has ever successfully obtained or used EB-5 financing in connection with the ITFederal Project or for any other purpose,” the complaint states.

The complaint also notes that in 2017 Tran requested a modification of his Borrowers Note and Deed of Trust that would have forced the initially-discussed purchase price of about $2 million to kick in if certain developmental conditions were not met by specific dates. That extension to September 2020 significantly reduced the required scope of the project from its initial three-building complex housing all those high-dollar jobs Goodlatte had trumpeted in a press release.

Above, architectural drawing of proposed two-story, approximate 26,000 s.f. ITFederal building, one floor of which was eventually built; below, drawing of two other proposed ITFederal structures, including cloud building and office/training center earmarked for the western portion of the 30-acre parcel. Courtesy Graphics FR-WC EDA

“On information and belief, little to no proceeds of the ITFederal Loan has been applied to the ITFederal Project … Tran and Defendant McDonald have converted all or a portion of the proceeds of the ITFederal Loan to their own personal benefit,” that section of the complaint concludes.

But there’s more – under “Subsequent Payments to ITFederal” an additional four pages of the EDA complaint allege an additional $1.82 million dollars of “Unauthorized ITFederal Payments”. Those payments include $1,432,771.32 in reimbursements to ITFederal for work done at the site and over $392,000 in vendor payments.

Above, piles of fill dirt brought to site sit in proximity of where second and third ITFederal buildings pictured above are scheduled for construction; below, Dec. 20 photo of first phase of the Town-constructed West Main connector road (aka western bypass) through ITFederal property that would eventually connect Kendrick Lane and the West Main/Criser Road intersection near the skatepark/soccer complex – if it’s ever finished.

McDonald attorney Berlik also contends that the complaint fails to meet a legal obligation “to connect any alleged facts to specific claims” against defendants, limiting their ability to construct a viable defense against those claims against them.

But regarding those “Unauthorized ITFederal Payments” the complaint offers some specificity. It disputes McDonald’s initial explanation to her board that those payments were draws on the ITFederal Loan. “The proceeds of the $10 million loan made to ITFederal was issued in full at the time of closing in 2015; there is no evidence that the Warren EDA retained those funds or had any ability to approve invoices or otherwise control or direct those funds.”

The complaint then disputes representations attributed to McDonald that those payments would be reimbursed to the Warren EDA by a grant from the Virginia Economic Development Partnership (VEDP). “It is clear from the VEDP documentation that Tran and Defendant McDonald met with the VEDP relating to ITFederal in the 2014/2015 timeframe, but that Defendant McDonald was unable to provide the information VEDP was requesting to award a grant related to the ITFederal Project …Defendant McDonald deliberately took Warren EDA funds and gave them to Tran/ITFederal with no reasonable expectation that such funds would be repaid or otherwise funded from another source,” the EDA litigation states.

The complaint concludes with an assertion that McDonald personally benefitted from those payments “as part of a scheme with Tran to fraudulently obtain Town and County funds for their own benefit.”

Well laid out, fraudulent schemes or implausible conspiracies?

That will be at issue for attorneys on both sides when and if the civil litigation proceeds into the courtroom for the requested jury trial. As previously reported, several defendants have moved for either dismissal of charges or delays in the civil process until the special grand jury investigating potential criminality related to the EDA civil suit is completed.

Next up, Workforce Housing – not as much money, a total loss to the EDA cited at $651,700, but perhaps an even more convoluted trail to that loss on a project initially presented in 2014 as a free land “gift” to the EDA. That cited financial loss appears to have been cemented by the EDA’s November 28, 2018 sale of the involved 3.5-acre Royal Lane parcel for $10. It is a sale accomplished over two months into the ongoing Cherry Bekaert forensic audit of EDA finances that resulted in the current civil litigation to recover lost assets.

Now why, you may wonder, would they do that?!?

Dead End – Did the ‘Warren EDA’ acquiesce to a $651,700 loss on the controversial Workforce Housing property at the dead end of Royal Lane by way of a Nov. 28, 2018, $10 sale? And if so, who’s to blame?

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EDA in Focus

EDA announces that the Afton Inn sale has been finalized

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The Economic Development Authority (EDA) and Town of Front Royal issued the following joint press release today, February 19, 2021:

On Friday, February 12, the Economic Development Authority (EDA) Board of Directors passed a resolution accepting a final sales price from developers 2 East Main, LLC of $325,000 for the purchase of the Afton Inn located in Front Royal’s downtown. The Board is pleased to announce that the settlement has taken place and the building has been sold!

This transaction came to fruition with the cooperation among the Town Council of Front Royal, Warren County Board of Supervisors, EDA, and the developer. The Board is grateful for the willingness of Town Council, and Warren County Board of Supervisors to focus on a goal that resulted in a “win” for everyone. EDA board members Greg Harold and Jeff Browne, plus EDA Legal Counsel Sharon Pandak, of Greehan, Taves, and Pandak worked hard to make this sale happen. The developers, Jim Burton and Alan Omar, had an unwavering commitment to the vision for this property.

“This is a privately funded transaction. It won’t cost County or Town taxpayers anything to transform the Afton Inn into a welcoming anchor building for visitors to Main Street,” said Jeff Browne, EDA’s chair.

Front Royal Mayor Chris Holloway welcomed the news of the sale. “On behalf of Council, I am proud to share in the celebration of the sale of Afton Inn and look forward to partnering with the developer to remove any barriers to restore and modernize this building expeditiously. The sale of Afton Inn marks an important milestone for our community as we continue to focus on redevelopment,” said Holloway.

(The EDA Board of Directors will have their regular February monthly board meeting via Zoom on Friday, February 26, 2021, at 8 a.m.)

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EDA in Focus

After year-and-a-half gap, town council catches up on EDA activity, in and out of town

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In restarting a public dialogue between the existing Economic Development Authority and the Front Royal municipal government on February 8, EDA Board of Directors Chairman Jeff Brown reminded town officials of his observation to them on that last occasion 18 months earlier while the Town was still involved in a three-pronged effort with the EDA and Warren County to investigate and correct what allowed the now $24-million-dollar-plus EDA financial scandal to fester and develop over a several-year period.

Noting he had also been the one to give that report, Browne revisited it: “I said there was a catastrophic failure of oversight by the EDA, County, and Town with plenty of blame to go around*. I haven’t changed my view on that,” he said in opening.

After a positive exchange with new Town Manager Steven Hicks, EDA Board Chairman Jeff Browne reintroduced the Front Royal Town Council to the dynamics and current status of the EDA as it continues to conduct business in and out of town. Royal Examiner Photos Roger Bianchini

“There was massive embezzlement, bad investments, poorly written agreements, and a dangerous system of overly centralized check writing and bookkeeping. It all set up for a perfect storm,” Browne echoed from his 2019 report to council, pointing to “insufficient checks and balances, lots of misplaced trust and weak verifications” – concluding, “You had a right to be concerned then.

But that was 18 months ago as the new EDA Board of Directors, with County, and initially, for a short time Town, assistance were already involved in dismantling, replacing, and rectifying the EDA structure as the financial scandal evolved under criminal and civil court scrutiny.

Of the direction since then, Browne pointed to installation of the very checks and balances previously missing, including County-mandated third-party bookkeeping, and “multiple eyes on all transactions”. He said the refurbished EDA Board had developed what he termed “a guns and butter strategy” that freed the new EDA staff – Executive Director Doug Parsons and Administrative Assistant Gretchen Henderson – to pursue economic development initiatives (butter), while the new EDA Board of Directors oversaw the legal and peripheral issues (guns).

File photo of an EDA Board meeting prior to departure of Gray Blanton, upper right, and Ed Daley, center-left, the latter to an ‘interim’ stint as WC Administrator from which he hopes to return to the EDA Board of Directors.

However, that year-and-a-half of “Guns and Butter” was a strategy the Town Council missed involvement with, choosing rather what one might term a “Lawyers, Guns and Money” strategy as so poetically described on our Opinion page recently by Fred Schwartz. The lawyers, guns (metaphorically of course) and money to a great degree were pointed directly at the EDA over the objection of then Mayor Gene Tewalt, who unsuccessfully recommended a policy of cooperation and rebuilding with the EDA and County, as opposed to a litigious one supported by council and pushed forward through the office of the former interim mayor and interim town manager.

Browne proceeded into detail on the EDA’s current holdings, in and out of the town limits, and explanations on the EDA’s attempt to divest itself of properties it “never should have been involved in” by the new board’s estimation.

Shot of the Stokes Mart building and adjacent apartments at 514-516 E. Main, one of the properties the new EDA has moved to divest itself of ownership of.

He also pointed to over a million dollars thus far recovered in insurance and settlements with involved parties in the EDA’s civil litigation.

He pointed to the recent recruitment of drone manufacturer Silent Falcon to the county; as well as the potential landing of an eastern regional medical marijuana manufacturer/distributor in Parallel LLC, that could bring a major commercial tax revenue source, along with hundreds of jobs to the county and town, not to mention the purchase of Baugh Drive warehouse the EDA hopes to divest itself of ownership of as soon as possible.

The sprawling warehouse at 426 Baugh Dr. currently has three short-term lease tenants, with a fourth in the wings, as well as at least one potential buyer on the horizon, as the new EDA works to clean up the real estate management situation it inherited.

The EDA Board Chairman pointed to a drive west for business relocation into the Valley that he said the EDA and County are working to take advantage of, utilizing advantages like the Interstate Highway system crossroads and Inland Port that are located here. Of working together to achieve the maximum result of that effort, Browne observed, “We either hang together or we hang separately”. As to the advantages of working together economically, Browne pointed to the pending sale of McKay Springs parcels that are jointly owned by the EDA, County and Town.

In response to queries, he admitted the EDA was currently financially insolvent due to repercussions of the financial scandal, and was being financially supported by the County at this time. However, some council members seemed surprised to learn that Warren County had not absorbed the EDA into its departmental structure, which could present a roadblock to the Town actively reengaging its continued membership in the half-century-plus old joint Town-County EDA. While the Town is currently advertising for applicants to a unilateral Town EDA Board of Directors, an EDA it would be totally responsible for the financial support of, the County has kept the EDA’s quasi-governmental, independent status open as a door by which the Town could reenter into active membership with the existing EDA.

While confrontational at times, the EDA board chairman’s exchanges with council and the mayor appears to have achieved dividends as illustrated by the late week move towards sale of the Afton Inn, below, for redevelopment. Above, Gary Gillespie during his Q&A with Browne.

And while some council grilling of Browne on details, particularly with pre-prepared written notes, took the tone of hostile cross-examination, the end result of Browne’s report and Q and A with council appeared, four days later, to be positive, as illustrated with the EDA’s Friday move toward the completion of the sale of the Afton Inn for redevelopment without a Town challenge on the title to the property.

See the entire EDA presentation and back and forth with town officials in this video.

Footnote: As Royal Examiner has previously reported, while the Town has attempted to distance itself from any portion of “blame” for the EDA financial scandal due to its agreement to no longer have EDA board appointment authority after the County took over full EDA operational funding nearly a decade ago, it was heavily involved with in-town EDA operations throughout the financial-scandal timeframe. In fact, it was the town council that authorized a $10-million-dollar “bridge loan” to the EDA to help facilitate the bank loan for the ITFederal construction project at the Royal Phoenix Business Park at the former Avtex site. That $10-million loan said to have been acquired “under false pretenses” in the EDA civil litigation, is the largest single item in the EDA’s civil suit seeking the return of over $24 million in allegedly misdirected or embezzled EDA, County, or Town assets. In seeking the “bridge loan” then EDA Executive Director Jennifer McDonald told town officials that without that show of “community support” in fronting that $10 million for the ITFederal project in town, the bank was hedging on approval of the loan to ITFederal through the EDA. That was likely because, as Royal Examiner has also previously reported, other than the $2-million value of the 30-acre Avtex property parcel gifted to it for a dollar by the EDA in 2016, ITFederal listed assets of only about $20,000 in its loan application.

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EDA in Focus

EDA Board authorizes sale of Afton Inn as Town withdraws title claim

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“Can we sing Hallelujah now,” Economic Development Authority Board member Jorie Martin exuded following 5-0 roll call approval (Gordon absent) of a motion by Greg Harold, seconded by Martin, authorizing the sale of the Afton Inn property to developer 2 East Main LLC at a price of $325,000. The sale is to be accomplished upon signing of the Deed of Sale and necessary Title company documents “at the earliest possible time”.

Virtual jubilation, here it is EDA’s Greg Harold, was in order as the Town allowed the EDA sale for renovation of the Afton Inn property to proceed, without an ownership challenge on sales proceeds which are earmarked to pay part of the EDA Afton project bank loan off. Royal Examiner Photos by Roger Bianchini

The landmark achievement, in the works now well into last year if not longer as the EDA and Town negotiated some rocky legal terrain on a variety of fronts, was accomplished Friday afternoon following an approximate 45-minute Special Meeting Closed Session of the EDA Board of Directors convened shortly after 2 p.m.

Royal Examiner contacted EDA Board Chairman Jeff Browne, who along with Board Secretary Greg Harold will sign the Afton Deed of Sale for the EDA, shortly after the 3:05 p.m. adjournment of the February 12 Special Meeting. “Is this a done deal, is the Town okay with this,” we asked Browne four days after an occasionally tense Monday night meeting exchange with Front Royal Mayor Chris Holloway on the dynamics of a potential Afton sale.

Yes, the EDA board chairman replied, explaining that subsequent communications with the Town this week enabled Friday’s action to proceed on the most recent extended 2 East Main LLC sales contract deadline date of February 12.

“To me this is symbolic that we’re working together to get some things done and getting the Afton Inn resolved is a good sign. And hopefully we’ll move on and get other things resolved as well,” Browne said of renewed EDA-Town communications.

A BIG Fix is coming – ‘Just’ when you were getting used to seeing this at the head of Front Royal’s Downtown Business District, soon it will be a little different (see below).

He noted that the EDA had received a letter from the Town indicating it would not dispute the EDA’s title claim to the Afton property ownership. And while there was some language in that message found somewhat “cloudy” by the Sterling-based title company or EDA counsel, a subsequent letter signed by Mayor Holloway dated February 12 promised that language would be clarified to remove any perceived ambiguity.

Browne pointed out the sales price is the originally discussed one that has fluctuated somewhat up and down over the months the sale was on hold due to variables involving both the EDA’s financial scandal civil litigation and Town questions over its ownership interest in the property.

As Browne noted during his February 8 report to the Front Royal Town Council, 2 East Main LLC plans to begin its massive renovation project within a year and hopes to complete the $2-million project within two years. See more detail on those renovation plans in Royal Examiner’s December 29 story “From Town Eyesore to Downtown Anchor: Reimagining the Afton Inn”

Above, 2 E. Main LLC graphic of its plan to restore and expand the Afton Inn, originally the Montview Hotel circa 1868, to become a high-end anchor building for downtown Front Royal. Below, Board of Architectural Review (BAR) members Angela Toler, Duane Vaughan and Nancy LeHew peruse 2 E. Main plans. The Town BAR recommended approval of those plans.

Also following Friday’s closed session, the EDA approved a short-term lease proposal on part of the Baugh Drive warehouse space with WOW Airlines. An initial three-month lease will be offered on 4400 square feet (s.f.) of warehouse space and 860 s.f. of office space, which includes a $1,000 security deposit and $900 utility payment, with month-to-month renewal options after the initial three-month period.

WOW Airlines would be the fourth short-term lease tenant in the sprawling Baugh Drive warehouse that the EDA eventually hopes to sell, possibly in relation to its connection to Parallel LLC’s bid to become the region’s medical marijuana distributor.

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EDA in Focus

EDA chairman’s reference to Royal Examiner Afton Inn redevelopment story leads to mayoral media attack – Why does that sound familiar?

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The Front Royal Town Council and staff got their first, face-to-face, first-hand, factual update on Town-County Economic Development Authority business in over a year on Monday, February 8. “I want to tell you how much we appreciate the opportunity to update town council and restart a dialogue on issues of mutual concern,” post-financial scandal revamped EDA Board of Directors Chairman Jeff Browne said in opening that dialogue.

“It’s been a year-and-a-half since an EDA Board member addressed Town Council – it’s too long. We need to be talking, we have a lot of issues we have to address. This is a great start,” Browne said, acknowledging “other meetings” that led up to his appearance before council the second Monday of February 2021. Contacted later about that impetus, Browne told Royal Examiner that he had “reached out” to new Town Manager Steven Hicks in January.

Above, EDA Board Chairman Jeff Browne makes the first report to council in a year-and-a-half at the invitation of new Town Manager Steven Hicks, pictured below. “It’s too long. We need to be talking, we have a lot of issues we have to address,” Browne told Town Council. Royal Examiner File Photos by Roger Bianchini

“We had a good exchange of ideas while I briefed him on some issues on the immediate horizon. He then invited me to speak to Town Council, updating them on what the EDA was doing and to answer the question of whether EDA could help the Town buy properties,” Browne explained.

What turned into an approximate 50-minute report highlighted by some constructive back and forth with council, also had a less constructive moment. About 35 minutes into his EDA report, Browne got into an exchange with Mayor Chris Holloway on the topic of the prospective sale of the Afton Inn for redevelopment. It is a sale of the derelict and long-deteriorating Afton Inn next door to Town Hall at the head of Front Royal’s Historic Downtown Business District that Browne said he hopes will come to fruition by the new extended deadline approaching over the next week.

Browne pointed out that prospective buyer 2 East Main LLC has promised to start redevelopment within a year of purchase and complete it within two years. The Town is currently disputing the EDA’s ownership and ability to sell the Afton Inn without the Town signing off on a sale. It appears that despite the content of a disputed 2014 MOA (Memorandum of Agreement) between the Town and EDA indicating that the EDA would first recover whatever proceeds an Afton sale generated towards its expenditures in maintenance and marketing the property since 2014, that the Town is seeking the first call on those proceeds. The current proposed sale price of about $330,000 would not cover all those claimed EDA expenses.

Mayor Holloway pressed Browne on whether, were the involved bank, First Bank & Trust, willing to reconsider taking what the EDA owes on its Afton property/construction loan, would the EDA be willing to split the proceeds with the Town. Browne replied that to whatever extent that was legally supported he was on board. However, with the EDA’s claim of about $500,000 invested in the property since the 2014 property swap that extracted the Afton from the angry-at-the-Town hands of Northern Virginia developer Frank Barros in exchange for old Town Hall, there will essentially be nothing left over for either the EDA or Town from the pending sale after the bank takes its share to cover the EDA property/construction loan.

“But you have to understand our position – we basically gave up two buildings, two buildings, for what you’re saying we’re going to get nothing,” Holloway replied, adding, “And over $500,000 of work you say has been put into the Afton Inn so far, with a two-million-dollar completion to do it up right. I think anybody that could go buy that building right now would wonder where that $500,000 went.”

The mayor continued to wonder at the EDA’s numbers and the forecast cost of $2 million dollars for 2 East Main Street LLC’s renovation project, which building professional Holloway forecast might replace windows.

Mayor Holloway, above, called the proposed EDA sale of the Afton Inn and proposed $2-million rebuilding to be accomplished in two years by buyer 2 E. Main LLC a zero-sum return to the Town and its taxpayers. Wonder if downtown business owners feel the same. Holloway also questioned the EDA’s investment in the property, wondering where all the money went. Well, Mr. Mayor, it’s not a pile of bricks laying on the ground next to Town Hall.

When Mayor Holloway said, “I think the citizens of the Town deserve something out of this. We gave up the old Town Hall, we gave up the Afton Inn, and we’re getting basically nothing in return,” Browne attempted to respond twice to point to the 2 East Main LLC redevelopment plan replacing a festering eyesore with a new anchor building for Front Royal’s downtown business district. However, twice Holloway cut Browne off by continuing his line of thought, first that “There’s nothing to show for it yet” and then that “It’s been going on for over 10 years, if not longer” before Browne regained the floor.

“You are getting – I don’t know if you read the Royal Examiner article, but you’re getting a fabulous-looking” – Browne got out before Holloway again cut him off, commenting, “I don’t read the tabloids, I want facts.”

“Okay, well it’s factual what’s in there on that issue (of redevelopment plans). The developers, who are world-class developers, are the ones interested in doing it, and it will be a beautiful looking building,” Browne continued of the referenced December 29 Royal Examiner article on 2 East Main Street LLC renovation and expansion plan. – “From Town Eyesore to Downtown Anchor: Reimagining the Afton Inn”

Contacted later, Browne elaborated of the referenced article, “I was getting ready to point the Town Council to the Afton Inn article you wrote that outlined the vision of 2 East Main to rehab the Inn. I found it very factual and balanced.”

Above, graphic from Dec. 29, 2020, Royal Examiner story illustrating 2 E. Main’s planned restoration and expansion of the Afton Inn into a commercial and residential anchor building for Historic Downtown Front Royal. Below, the current status of the Afton Inn after over 15 years in limbo. Will the mayor and council continue to block the sale and renovation? – Stay tuned to Mayor Holloway’s ‘favorite tabloid’ news destination for the answer.

But facts that don’t merge with certain politician’s personal agendas or self-serving worldviews have been typically dismissed as “fake news” or “tabloid journalism” 70 miles to our east in recent years. Now it seems some of our local elected officials with “alternate fact” laced agendas have learned the “bait the media” game from their political mentors to the east.

Watch the Town Council meeting here.

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EDA in Focus

Town moves toward reduced public meetings, one-reading action item approvals

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In its meeting agenda action items of February 8, the Front Royal Town Council passed the first of two currently required readings of its proposed Town Code change to allow it to reduce the numbers of meetings and work sessions from two to one a month of each. Some debate, initiated by Scott Lloyd, was heard against the portion of the Code change reducing the number of readings required to approve action items from two to one. Lloyd wondered if the reduced public meeting exposure might not give citizens enough time to become aware and submit comments to council on matters of import to them.

Scott Lloyd worried shortening council’s approval process on action items might not give citizens enough time to respond with their viewpoints on proposed council actions. A majority of his colleagues did not agree. Royal Examiner Virtual Meeting Photos by Roger Bianchini

However, a majority countered that work session discussion and the advertisement to authorize public hearings and votes on such matters should suffice to keep the public abreast of the planned actions of the town’s elected officials. Lloyd’s amended motion to remove the one-reading portion of the proposal failed by a 4-2 vote, with only Joseph McFadden joining Lloyd in support of maintaining the two-reading code requirement. Letasha Thompson’s original motion to approve the code change as presented, seconded by Gary Gillespie, then passed 5-1, with only McFadden dissenting.

According to the staff summary, the single monthly meetings will occur on the fourth Monday of the month, except for December, when it will be on the second Monday to accommodate holiday schedules. The lone work session will occur on the second Monday of the month. The meetings will continue to be at the Warren County Government Center and the work sessions on the second-floor meeting room of Town Hall.

Council continues to move toward once-a-month meetings and work sessions. Little, if any, discussion has been heard about how that move might impact the length of those meetings and work sessions. This reporter recalls early to mid-1990’s elected School Board meeting/work sessions going from 7 p.m. to occasionally as late as 2 a.m. due to log-jammed agendas, particularly during budget cycles.

Other business

Unanimously approved by voice votes were an amended agreement with Warren County to extend the COVID-19 Municipal Utility Relief Program to December 31, 2021; and a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) allowing a Budget Amendment in the amount of $104,000 to be received from Warren County for the procurement of Wayfaring signs for county-directed “wayfaring” destinations.

A five-item Consent Agenda was approved without discussion on a motion by Vice-Mayor Lori Cockrell, seconded by Letasha Thompson. Prominent on the Consent Agenda was adoption of a resolution of support of code text amendments proposed to ease the permitting process and council issuance of Special Use Permits (SUP’s) for larger multi-family, apartment unit structures in the Commercial-2 Downtown Business District. Is a large apartment project proposal for the East Main Street old Murphy building site, or somewhere else along East Main, on the horizon? Stay tuned.

Also approved on the Consent Agenda were budget amendments to allow:

  1. a bid on a new refuse truck at a price of $181,204;
  2. receipt of a $2,500 grant from the Virginia Department of Wildlife for the bear-proofing of Town trash containers;
  3. a bid of $2,500 on multiple types of concrete from Rockingham Redi-Mix; and
  4. authorization to receive $2,000 from the Norfolk Southern Foundation’s Local Discretion Grant Program “to be used for community goodwill, diversity and safety awareness”.

See this and other business, as well as public comments addressed in related stories on the linked Town meeting video.

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EDA in Focus

The Town of Front Royal is looking for a few good men or women to fill the new Town EDA Board of Directors

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The Front Royal EDA is a 7-member Board of Directors appointed by the Town Council. Members shall fulfill all the purposes and intents of the General Assembly of Virginia, as expressed in Title 15.2, Chapter 49, Code of Virginia, and as set out in Chapter 16 of the Municipal Code of the Town of Front Royal.

The general purpose of the Front Royal EDA shall be fostering and stimulating the development and redevelopment of Downtown, Town’s capital improvement projects, industry, commerce, higher education, and all other purposes set forth in the Industrial Development and Revenue Bond Act, Virginia Code § 15.2- 4900, et seq. in particular in the Town of Front Royal and in general in the Front Royal-Warren County community, for the general good of the people of the Town of Front Royal and, wherever possible, the people of the County of Warren, and for the citizens of the Commonwealth of Virginia. Each Town Council shall appoint seven (7) members to the Board of Directors.

Appointments shall be appointed initially for terms of one (1), two (2), three (3), and four (4) years; two (2) being appointed for one-year terms; two (2) being appointed for two-year terms; two (2) being appointed for three-year terms; and one (1) being appointed for a four (4)-year term. Subsequent appointments shall be for terms of four years, except appointments to fill vacancies, which shall be for the unexpired terms. Those applying shall be a resident of the Town of Front Royal.

Experience in economic development, real estate, banking, hotel/hospitality, planning, engineering, marketing, and government is desired by not required. Applications will not be accepted from an officer or employee of the Town of Front Royal or County of Warren.

Applications are available by clicking here. Application for Boards/Commissions and accepted until March 31, 2021, by 4:00 pm. Please send applications and/or resumes with a cover letter.

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Front Royal
37°
Partly Cloudy
6:48am6:02pm EST
Feels like: 37°F
Wind: 2mph SW
Humidity: 61%
Pressure: 30.35"Hg
UV index: 0
FriSatSun
50/37°F
63/46°F
59/50°F

Upcoming Events

Feb
27
Sat
6:00 pm Parent’s Night Out @ Code Ninjas
Parent’s Night Out @ Code Ninjas
Feb 27 @ 6:00 pm – 9:00 pm
Parent's Night Out @ Code Ninjas
Help Code Ninjas Front Royal celebrate our Grand Opening! We are hosting our first Parent’s Night Out! $35 per child, space limited to 5! – Drop them off. Go have fun. Just remember to pick[...]
Mar
1
Mon
9:00 am Free Tax Preparation @ Good Shepherd Lutheran Church
Free Tax Preparation @ Good Shepherd Lutheran Church
Mar 1 @ 9:00 am – 12:00 pm
Free Tax Preparation @ Good Shepherd Lutheran Church
Free tax preparation will be available again this year through the AARP Tax Aide at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Front Royal, Monday and Wednesday mornings beginning Feb. 15th. To make an appointment, please call[...]
Mar
3
Wed
9:00 am Free Tax Preparation @ Good Shepherd Lutheran Church
Free Tax Preparation @ Good Shepherd Lutheran Church
Mar 3 @ 9:00 am – 12:00 pm
Free Tax Preparation @ Good Shepherd Lutheran Church
Free tax preparation will be available again this year through the AARP Tax Aide at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Front Royal, Monday and Wednesday mornings beginning Feb. 15th. To make an appointment, please call[...]
Mar
9
Tue
6:30 pm Dance Fitness Class @ Warren County Community Center
Dance Fitness Class @ Warren County Community Center
Mar 9 @ 6:30 pm – 7:30 pm
Dance Fitness Class @ Warren County Community Center
This class is for all fitness levels and anyone who is looking to have fun dancing to a variety of music styles from hip hop to swing to salsa, all while EXERCISING! This class will[...]
Mar
13
Sat
10:00 am HSWC Polar Plunge @ Culpeper Lake at the 4-H Center
HSWC Polar Plunge @ Culpeper Lake at the 4-H Center
Mar 13 @ 10:00 am – 1:00 pm
HSWC Polar Plunge @ Culpeper Lake at the 4-H Center
The Humane Society of Warren County “Polar Plunge” delayed from February 20 due to “too-polar” weather here in northwestern Virginia has been rescheduled to Saturday, March 13 – Don’t worry, it will still be a[...]
Mar
16
Tue
6:30 pm Dance Fitness Class @ Warren County Community Center
Dance Fitness Class @ Warren County Community Center
Mar 16 @ 6:30 pm – 7:30 pm
Dance Fitness Class @ Warren County Community Center
This class is for all fitness levels and anyone who is looking to have fun dancing to a variety of music styles from hip hop to swing to salsa, all while EXERCISING! This class will[...]
Mar
23
Tue
6:30 pm Dance Fitness Class @ Warren County Community Center
Dance Fitness Class @ Warren County Community Center
Mar 23 @ 6:30 pm – 7:30 pm
Dance Fitness Class @ Warren County Community Center
This class is for all fitness levels and anyone who is looking to have fun dancing to a variety of music styles from hip hop to swing to salsa, all while EXERCISING! This class will[...]
Mar
28
Sun
2:00 pm Pictures with the Easter Bunny @ Warren County Community Center
Pictures with the Easter Bunny @ Warren County Community Center
Mar 28 @ 2:00 pm – 4:00 pm
Pictures with the Easter Bunny @ Warren County Community Center
Come join the staff of Warren County Parks and Recreation and get your picture taken with the Easter Bunny! Pictures will be taken and printed on site; upon departure you will be given an Easter[...]
Mar
30
Tue
6:30 pm Dance Fitness Class @ Warren County Community Center
Dance Fitness Class @ Warren County Community Center
Mar 30 @ 6:30 pm – 7:30 pm
Dance Fitness Class @ Warren County Community Center
This class is for all fitness levels and anyone who is looking to have fun dancing to a variety of music styles from hip hop to swing to salsa, all while EXERCISING! This class will[...]
Apr
17
Sat
all-day Shenandoah Epic @ Caroline Furnace
Shenandoah Epic @ Caroline Furnace
Apr 17 all-day
Shenandoah Epic @ Caroline Furnace
This tried and true Epic 24-hour AR will test your biking, paddling, trekking, and navigation skills as you explore two state parks (one of them brand new!) and national forest lands. Join soloists and teams[...]