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EDA ends year on positive note; and says goodbye to Sealock

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The Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority ended 2016 on an upbeat after a year of frustration revolving around delays to Avtex site re-development.

At the EDA’s final meeting of 2016, Executive Director Jennifer McDonald told her Board, First, that the State Commonwealth Transportation Board had approved the Town of Front Royal’s application for Industrial Access funding for the West Main Street extension that could be worth as much as $500,000 in unmatched state funding for one of the primary access roads to the Royal Phoenix Business Park;

And Secondly, that a new Environmental Protection Agency Superfund Project Manager had given the okay for walking trails through the Conservancy Park section of the property.

Jennifer McDonald, gray sweater, cheers her board up with some positive news to close the year – at the top of the list is positive movement at Royal Phoenix; an expected road-ready Leach’s Run Parkway by April; and Town permitting approval of the EDA’s Workforce Housing Project. Photos/Roger Bianchini

During earlier monthly reports McDonald had already informed both the Front Royal Town Council and Warren County Board of Supervisors that final authorization of the first property sale to a commercial client, Information Technologies Solutions contractor ITFederal, had been authorized by the Department of Justice on September 23, 2016.

That authorization, which according to EPA officials required approval by all involved Avtex Superfund stakeholders, including the EPA/DoJ, the Town of Front Royal, Warren County, the EDA, and former owner and mandated cleanup partner FMC Corporation, was required to remove the ITFed parcel from a $2,060,000 lien on the property.  That lien is designed to provide some compensation to the feds and FMC for the millions of dollars in cleanup and remediation costs spent by both over a quarter century of work at the site.  The feds alone spent over $24-million there.

As first reported at Royal Examiner, the EDA request to remove the 30-acre ITFederal parcel from the lien to facilitate a one-dollar sale price was sent by then-EDA and Warren County attorney Blair Mitchell to the EPA on September 18, 2015.  Unfortunately for time considerations, long-time EPA Superfund Project Manager Kate Lose retired, leaving a vacuum of EPA leadership concerning the Avtex Superfund site just as the EDA request was made.  But with Fed sale approval and State road funding authorization now in place, along with a new Superfund Project Manager, things appear to be taking a positive turn.

Even State DEQ approval of a stormwater management plan vilified by outgoing Town Councilman Bret Hrbek as a primary delaying factor on November 28, was received over a year BEFORE Hrbek made his recent allegations of possible partisan hanky panky by the Democratic Governor’s Office.  According to a document provided to us by McDonald, DEQ verified the necessary permitting was in place under guidelines established in July 2014, on November 16, 2015.  The EDA-ITFederal sale negotiation wasn’t completed until September 2015.

McDonald has predicted ITFederal will start breaking ground this spring on the first of as many as eight buildings shown in their site plan.  Exactly what kind of businesses may occupy the bulk of space in those buildings remains a matter of unresolved contention on the Town Council.  BUT I guess the majority thought process is as they said in the baseball fable “Field of Dreams” – “Build it and they will come” … whoever “THEY” may be.

Other business

Despite low temperatures delaying the laying of the Leach’s Run Parkway road surface, McDonald said contractors remained confident the key north-south connector road on the Town’s east side would be ready for traffic by April.  The project deadline is June 24, 2017.

She also reported positive movement on the EDA’s Workforce Housing Project designed to provide 36 rental units in three buildings off an extension of Royal Lane on Front Royal’s south side.  The Front Royal Town Council gave final approval to a Special Exception Request for the extension of a dead-end cul d’sac road enabling the project on November 14.  Only Bébhinn Egger opposed the permitting, citing authorization of the construction project without attaching what her colleagues agreed were necessary road improvements to dead-end Royal Lane.  Royal Lane will require an extension to reach the currently landlocked property donated to the EDA in return for tax credits to the former owners.  Royal Lane already funnels traffic from nine single-family homes, 99 apartments and two commercial buildings onto John Marshall Highway.

EDA Board member Greg Drescher, who is also Superintendent of Warren County Public Schools, noted that 65 percent of new teachers hired by the system did not live in the county.  The primary rationale for EDA development and management of an apartment complex is the need for affordable housing for young professionals, most commonly cited as teachers and law enforcement officers.

McDonald also reported that the Railroad Workers Brotherhood located off Shenandoah Shores Road near the Happy Creek Commercial Park was seeking an exemption from parking requirements attached to a planned expansion of that facility.  She noted the RR Brotherhood would have to buy additional land for the expansion if they did not receive the permitting exemption from the Town.  McDonald said the building now houses office space essentially for one person.

EDA Board Chair Patty Wines presents Bill Sealock with a plaque of appreciation for his 5 years of service on the EDA Board of Directors. Sealock resigned the EDA Board to take the Front Royal Town Council seat he won in November. Photo/Roger Bianchini

The EDA Board and staff also bid farewell to Bill Sealock.  Sealock is resigning to take the seat on the Front Royal Town Council he won in the November Election.  Sealock was presented with a plaque and acknowledgement of his five years on the EDA Board. – “I’ll miss you all, we’ve had a good run,” he told his colleagues.  He added that as a Town Councilman he would not contribute to “silly fights with the County – it ought to be cooperative for both,” he said of the attitude he will take to Town Hall.

—– Which side are you on? —– Get your t-shirt!

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