After an hour-and-thirty-eight minutes behind closed doors – much of it devoted to an initial report from the confidential accounting consultant hired to help with the four-month-and-counting audit of EDA finances – the Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority Board of Directors’ newest member Ed Daley was appointed to assist Interim Executive Director John Anzivino in working with those contracted consultants in “the ongoing investigation” of EDA finances.
“And the task force is set,” EDA Board Chairman Gray Blanton said after Daley’s appointment was approved by a 5-0 vote on a motion by Ron Llewellyn, seconded by Vice-Chairman Bruce Drummond, with Greg Drescher absent and Daley abstaining.
With the term “task force” raising the specter of multi-jurisdictional governmental probes so much in the national consciousness these days, following adjournment of the nearly three-hour January 30 monthly meeting we asked EDA Attorney Dan Whitten exactly what the newly formed, two-man EDA Task Force’s role would be.
“The task force’s work is (with) the consultant working with our outside legal counsel to basically complete any investigation that’s necessary,” Whitten told media present.
That outside legal counsel is Richmond law firm Sands-Anderson. Sands-Anderson attorney Dan Siegel has long served as a bond consultant to the EDA and Warren County. Accompanying Siegel at Wednesday’s meeting, including the closed session, was Sands-Anderson attorney Cullen Seltzer. Sands-Anderson was contracted on January 8 by the county supervisors at a rate of “up to $50,000” to provide an ongoing legal presence in the now three-pronged EDA audit.
Those three prongs are the EDA’s traditional auditor Yount-Hyde-Barbour; the accounting consultant referenced in the motion to go into closed session whose identity has not been revealed due to a claim of attorney-client privilege and which was authorized for a payment of $90,000 by the County on December 21 for three months work already done; and Sands-Anderson.
Of Sands-Anderson role in the audit Whitten elaborated, “They’re representing the EDA’s interests in providing legal services … they’re helping me out so I can go back to representing the County full time.” The county attorney also serves as EDA attorney.
There had been some hope expressed by EDA Board Chairman Blanton in recent weeks that the audit might be completed by the board’s January meeting. However in the wake of the closed session report from the still-redacted auditing consultant, Whitten says February is now the target for completion of the audit.
“It could be the first or second week of February but definitely by the end of February,” Whitten said of completion of the audit, as well as any additional reporting on the audit the consultant deems necessary.
“Our financial consultant is working with our regular auditor on finishing up the audit so the EDA board can approve it,” Whitten said of the now multi-faceted review of EDA finances. That review began in the wake of the May 2018 discovery of eight years of capital improvement debt service overpayments by the Town of Front Royal to the EDA. Board Chairman Blanton has previously told the media that when asked about the Town overpayments, McDonald assured him, “Yes, we have the money.”
Of the work of the auditing consultant, Whitten said in December, “Basically it’s an outside eye coming in outside of your normal accountant and normal auditor … they do fact-finding, intrinsic review – that type of thing. It’s just basically they’re looking for indicia of any improper activities.”
Prior to asking for a motion to adjourn the 8 a.m. open meeting to closed session at 9:09 a.m., Board Chairman Blanton read a statement explaining why County and Town representatives present – including County Supervisor Tony Carter and Front Royal Mayor Hollis Tharpe – would be excluded from the closed session.
“Today, we will receive information from our consultants which we, as a board, will hear for the first time. The information will provide us a direction of how we will need to proceed as a board as we work toward better understanding the actions of our former Director in operating the Authority. To ensure that we, as a board, have a clear understanding of the information and make the best decisions going forward we will be including only the board, designated staff and our outside counsel in our closed session.
“We will, in the near future, and when we are certain that we have all the information and answered all our questions, be requesting time with the full Town Council and the Board of Supervisors to brief them and present our plan for moving forward.”
Former EDA Executive Director Jennifer McDonald submitted her resignation to the board by e-mail shortly before a scheduled December 20 closed session at which her job performance was to be discussed for the second time within a week.
As Royal Examiner’s Norma Jean Shaw first reported, during an internal review of town finances last August Town Finance Director B. J. Wilson discovered over $291,000 in capital improvement debt services overpayments to the EDA over an eight-year period.
Of the accounting discrepancies discovered on the Town side last year, McDonald told this reporter on November 27, one day after a divided town council approved by a 4-2 vote a resolution detailing what had been discovered concerning Town-EDA financing irregularities, “We have acknowledged the issue and are working on it and are committed to making it right.”
As reported above, three weeks later, her job performance under continued scrutiny McDonald resigned; and within another three weeks the County had authorized the expenditure of up to $140,000 to bring additional accounting and legal eyes to bear in what board member Ron Llewellyn termed in his “task force” appointment motion Wednesday morning, “the ongoing investigation” of EDA finances.
Could it be “much ado about nothing” or something “rotten in the state of Denmark” to double quote the Bard of Avon. Tune in next month for the EDA audit report in what has become Warren County’s own little Shakespearean drama.
Town authorizes new EDA; Chamber as CARES administrator; and FRPD equipment upgrades
On Monday, July 13, the Front Royal Town Council took several actions, for better or worse, that will shape several key future functions in coming months and years. At the top of the list was second and final reading approval – 4-1, Thompson dissenting as she did at the June 22 first reading – of creation of a new Economic Development Authority solely overseen and funded by the town government and its taxpayers.
The Town will become the first municipality in Virginia to concurrently be a part of two EDA’s. In an unprecedented example of attempting to “have your cake and sue it too”, the Town has maintained its half-century-plus, co-founding membership in the half-century-old joint County-Town EDA while civil litigating for virtually all the money the EDA is trying to recover in its initial $21.3 million civil action against its former executive director and 14 co-defendants accused of conspiring to misdirect or embezzle EDA assets.
But at least the Town does not have to fund operational costs of the old EDA, as in EDA legal fees to fight the Town litigation, while figuring out where its operational costs for it new unilateral EDA will come from, if not a successful civil litigation against its old EDA. For as previously reported, the County took over the Town’s share of joint EDA operational funding several years ago as part of ongoing negotiations about the double taxation of town citizens. So, while the town government doesn’t have to fund the EDA’s legal defense against it, its citizens do as county taxpayers.
Alright, enough of that dizzying legal scenario.
Also approved Monday were a Fiscal Year-2021 budget amendment authorizing receipt of $1,276,558 of the County’s $3.5 million in CARES (Coronavirus Assistance, Relief Equities and Securities) Act federal funding for COVID-19 relief for private-sector economic losses incurred due to the Coronavirus pandemic emergency management response restrictions; as well as an agreement with the Front Royal-Warren County Chamber of Commerce to manage distribution of the Town’s CARES Act funds.
The amount of money authorized to be put under the Chamber’s control was $1,176,558, $100,000 less than the total amount being transferred to Town control. According to the staff summary, that $100,000 is being put into the General Fund Contingency account to cover “COVID-19 expenses”.
Questioned about those expenses by Councilwoman Lori Athey Cockrell, Interim Town Manager Matt Tederick said those costs were an “unknown” at this time, so no amount was being cited at this point in the process.
However, Tederick said he was “confident” those costs would be “minimal”.
Also approved in a series of 5-0 votes, Holloway absent, as were the CARES Act related items, were three appropriations totaling $256,981.72 for equipment upgrade purchases for the Front Royal Police Department. FRPD Chief Kahle Magalis made a detailed presentation on the need for the equipment upgrades at council’s previous work session.
Those equipment purchase authorizations were:
- $82,159.72 for a VESTA 911 phone system;
- $162,000 for replacement of 10 WatchGuard 4Re In-car WIFI camera systems, and 24 VISTA body cameras, and;
- $12,822 for Avtec-Motorola radio console equipment to replace existing equipment termed at its “end of life” stage of service.
As Chief Magalis told council at his work session presentation, these equipment upgrades are the cost of doing law enforcement work at an optimum of communications efficiency; and self-monitoring standards that protect both the public and the department’s personnel legally.
The agenda summary noted that the Town will pay for the car and body cameras at $32,440 annually over a five-year period. Funding for all three purchases were cited as available through existing FY-2021 FRPD budget line items.
A scheduled Closed Session to discuss unspecified “Personnel” matters was deleted from the agenda at Councilman Meza’s suggestion, due to the absence of one member, Chris Holloway.
Lori Cockrell’s request to then add a Closed Session to discuss the Town’s litigation against the County-Town Economic Development Authority was rejected for not receiving the required unanimous vote to alter the advertised agenda. Councilwoman Letasha Thompson explained she would oppose the addition on the same grounds council had agreed to remove the scheduled Closed Session, Holloway’s absence preventing consideration by the full council.
The final agenda item was unanimous approval of a Resolution of support for a Town “Employee Appreciation Day” to be this Wednesday, July 15. The resolution cited the ongoing contributions of the Town’s remaining 168 part and full-time employees, particularly during upheavals in normal service resulting from the COVID-19 Coronavirus pandemic emergency management response. Staff will be honored with a Town-hosted luncheon tomorrow to mark Employee Appreciation Day.
See the staff summaries, discussion and votes on these matters, as well as Stars of the Month Employee recognitions to the Solid Waste Department’s EJ Swindell and Jorge Guerrero for work “above and beyond”; and the departmental “pinning” by his wife, of FRPD’s newest Officer Scott Baker; and public presentations on town road infrastructure/pothole issues (Mike McCool), trash accumulation and overflow at the County Dog Park in town (Betty Showers), and another 2nd Amendment Sanctuary initiative seeking to shield citizens from State-enacted gun laws presented to council (Paul Aldridge) in this Royal Examiner video:
Legal questions surround Town offer of one-time, recoverable FRPD payment
Without accepting any responsibility for the nearly $9-million cost of its new police headquarters building, at a hastily called Tuesday evening Special Meeting to accommodate the turn of the fiscal year today, Wednesday, July 1st, the Front Royal Town Council unanimously approved a “Reservation of Rights Agreement” allowing the Town to pay a portion of the first debt service payment of Fiscal Year 2021 on that Town/EDA capital improvement project. The project was completed in October 2018 and the Town has yet to compensate the EDA for any of its costs in financing the project as will be elaborated on below.
Also approved during the eight-minute meeting prior to an adjournment to closed session for personnel matters believed to be the first of two town managers interviews scheduled this week, was an extension past June 30, and alteration to the contract payment terms of Interim Town Manager Matt Tederick. That will be covered in a separate Royal Examiner story.
As to the Reservation of Rights Agreement with Warren County, the authorized one-time payment of $10,528.95 covers half of the Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority’s interest-only payment of approximately $21,102 due at the July 1st start of FY-2021.
Contacted Wednesday morning, EDA Executive Director Doug Parson explained the EDA’s loan to facilitate construction of the Town Police headquarters have thus far been interest-only payments based on a 30-day month. That will change on November 1, when the United Bank loan moves to principal and interest payments. Parsons estimated that would take the monthly payments to about $50,000 from the $21,000 interest-only range.
The United Bank’s interest rate on the loan is 3%. However, the town council has taken the legal stance that it should only have to pay a 30-year, 1.5% interest rate it asserts was verbally promised to it by former EDA Executive Director Jennifer McDonald. As previously reported by Royal Examiner, that 1.5% rate was tied to the construction project qualifying for a 30-year New Market Tax Credit Program (NMTC) loan with a nine-year waiver of interest payments. However, the NMTC program loans are for municipal capital improvement projects that create new jobs, which the FRPD project did not.
Councilwoman Lori Athey Cockrell took the opportunity of council’s passage of the agreement facilitating a one-time, half monthly payment on the FRPD debt service as an indicator that the council and its staff are working proactively with the Warren County government to resolve outstanding legal and financial issues surrounding the EDA.
Prominent among those Town-County/EDA issues is what EDA officials have called “an undisputed” $8.4 million Town “moral obligation” debt on principal to the EDA on the police headquarters construction project. With interest, the balance on that debt is $8.8 million, EDA Director Parsons told Royal Examiner Wednesday.
EDA Board of Directors Chairman Ed Daley was present to watch Tuesday’s council action unfold. Asked for a reaction prior to having a chance to read the Reservation of Rights Agreement, Daley said, “Anything that moves it forward is positive.”
However, after a closer read, exactly how far forward Tuesday’s council action takes the Town-County-EDA discussion, remains a question.
$440,000 invoice – $10,500 (recoverable) payment
The opening paragraph of the Reservation of Rights Agreement notes that the Town had received a June 2 invoice “ostensibly setting out all costs incurred by the EDA in constructing and financing the construction of the Town of Front Royal Police Department (‘Costs’), including the costs and expenses associated with the loan from United Bank obtained to finance construction (‘Loan’)” and continues to note those costs and loan “are currently the subject of dispute” in the Town’s civil action against the EDA.
It is a civil action in which the Town’s contracted Damiani & Damiani law firm appears to have mirrored much of the language in the EDA’s initial civil litigation against Jennifer McDonald and 14 civil co-defendants and which seeks essentially all ($20 million-plus) of the $21.3 million the EDA alleges was misdirected by its former executive director and her first group of co-defendants. In April the EDA filed a second civil action, adding nine defendants and “not less than” $4.45 million in recoverable assets to its litigation.
But as to that June 2 invoice from the EDA, an invoice implying a request for payment on a debt, according to numbers in that invoice what the EDA presented to the Town was a bill for slightly over $441,300 spent thus far on the $8.8 million FRPD headquarters construction loan balance.
What the County and EDA got in response was the above-cited agreement facilitating a recoverable $10,529 payment that on a closer examination appears to try and legally tie the County and EDA’s hands in future court proceedings.
Legal ties that bind?
That agreement references ongoing “discussions” between the Town and County “which may result in amending the Town’s claims in the Litigation (against the EDA)”.
Contacted Wednesday, County Administrator Doug Stanley said county staff had not been involved in those discussions. Attempts to reach Board of Supervisors Chairman Walt Mabe, Vice-Chair Cheryl Cullers, and County Attorney Jason Ham for information on the referenced discussions and council proposal were unsuccessful prior to publication.
So, referencing the “Reservation of Rights Agreement” passed 6-0 by council Monday, it states:
“WHEREAS, to facilitate the discussions, the County has asked the Town to make the disputed July 1, 2020, payment on the Loan and the Town has agreed, subject to the terms and conditions stated herein.” – As noted above, what was agreed to was a payment of $10,528.95, or half of the interest-only payment due for July, under the following conditions:
Condition 1 – “The Town denies that it owes any moral or legal obligation to repay the Loan” followed by Condition 2, noting that its payment is calculated on the unrealized New Market Tax Credit interest rate of 1.5%, rather than the actual 3% bank loan interest rate.
Condition 3 – “The County and the EDA acknowledge that this payment shall not be construed as, considered to be, or argued to be, in any forum, admission for any purpose, including but not limited to of liability of the Town for the Loan or the Costs.
Condition 4 – “The County and the EDA acknowledge that the Town’s payment is for a disputed debt, under a reservation of rights, and the Town reserves the right to continue to deny liability for the Loan or Costs and to recoup this payment should the discussions prove ultimately unsuccessful.
And drum roll, please, Condition 5 – “All parties agree that payment hereunder shall be inadmissible for any purpose except by the Town to recover this payment as damages in the Litigation.”
So, while Councilwoman Cockrell called the agreement a sign of good faith negotiations in the public interest by the Town, adding that news reports the Town is acting other than in good faith concerning the EDA as creating “a false narrative”, is she right?
Perhaps the EDA’s and County’s attorneys would be the best judge of that – hopefully prior to the signing of the “Reservation of Rights Agreement” by County and EDA officials. For at issue appears to be whose rights are being reserved, and in exactly what legal context regarding the Town’s civil litigation against the EDA and any related litigation over the Town’s responsibility to pay for its $9-million police station.
Because according to the document approved unanimously Tuesday night by the Front Royal Town Council, the Town has no “moral or legal” obligation to pay the EDA-undertaken $8.8-million loan that financed the construction of the Front Royal Police headquarters.
Is that something EDA and Warren County officials really want to sign off on in exchange for a one-time, recoverable, half monthly debt service payment?
Let’s see, a total of $20 million or more at stake versus a “recoverable” $10,500 payment – what do you think?
We asked EDA Board Chairman Daley his opinion on Wednesday after he had a chance to review the Reservation of Rights documents more closely.
“The first the EDA heard of this was last night, which seems odd in that we are asked to sign off on it. But we’ll need to consult with our attorney first,” Daley reasoned.
Of the contention on a lack of Town liability to pay for its police station included in the document, Daley observed, “The EDA was happy to facilitate a project like that. But it was their (the Town’s) contract, their design, we just helped finance it. I think they need to get their financing together and pay for their police station.”
After we read the conditions in the agreement to her over the phone, EDA Attorney Sharon Pandak lauded the opportunity for further communications on Town-EDA/County issues but was skeptical as to a recommendation on the EDA signing off on the Reservation of Rights Agreement as worded.
Sleeping with the enemy? After long closed session, EDA wonders if it should make 2 year-end reports
The Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority had an end of the fiscal year report from its committees at the regular monthly meeting on Friday morning, June 26. In addition to the status of its finances, assets, communications with related agencies, and executive committee business, the board elected officers for FY-2021. See the EDA office’s press release describing details of various actions taken regarding those reports in the related story below.
As for its officers, the EDA Board of Directors decided to stay the course for another year. On a motion by Tom Pattison, seconded by Jeff Brown after a check with EDA attorney Sharon Pandak that he could vote as one of the nominees, by a 5-0 vote, Gordon absent and Gray Blanton’s seat vacant, the board re-elected its sitting officers: Ed Daley chairman, Browne vice-chair, Jorie Martin treasurer, and Greg Harold secretary.
But before those reports, officer elections and new business are taken care of, five minutes after convening the 8 a.m. meeting the EDA board moved into closed session to discuss “the disposition of publicly held real property” including the Royal Lane so-called “Workforce Housing” parcel recently reacquired without the necessity of additional litigation, as well as discussion of the EDA’s resurrected small business loan program, and its two-pronged civil litigation.
As you “indoor sports fans” know, the first prong of that litigation is against its former Executive Director Jennifer McDonald and 24 co-defendants alleged to have conspired with her to misdirect, fraudulently obtain and/or embezzle $21.3 million of EDA assets. The second prong is the Town of Front Royal’s suit against the EDA. That suit alleges lost assets of over $20 million as a consequence of the EDA financial scandal. After three-hours-and-20 minutes behind closed doors, the board emerged without action or announcement and moved to the open meeting agenda.
The virtual presence of Sands Anderson civil case lead attorney Cullen Seltzer and his colleague Dan Siegel may have offered a clue as to which topic may have accounted for the largest time slot behind closed doors.
“Without the necessity of additional litigation” – what a novel concept. Wonder if anyone in Town Hall has considered such an idea in lieu of an “all in” rather expensive legal gamble that every asset the EDA recovers is somehow owed to you – despite their lack of work on your behalf for over a decade publicly verbalized as justification to pull away from them toward the creation of a second EDA the Town would have full operational funding responsibility for, as opposed to none with the existing EDA?
The irony of still working for a town government that is claiming that essentially every penny the EDA is out to recover in its civil litigation should come to it directly or indirectly despite the above-referenced public claim by Councilman Gary Gillespie, undisputed by his colleagues, that the EDA hasn’t really worked on the Town’s behalf in 15 years, was apparent as the board discussed a fiscal year-end presentation to its sponsoring municipalities.
Should they present to the Town, as well as the County, Chairman Daley, and his board wonder? There appeared little enthusiasm for a presentation to town officials who have repeatedly rejected EDA offers of “good faith negotiations” to determine exactly what the EDA may owe the Town in misdirected assets. Once again the scheduled interim town manager’s monthly update to the EDA board on Town business was neither presented nor even submitted in writing despite the Town’s maintaining its co-founding EDA connection on a legally advised chance for asset distribution was the EDA to somehow fail, despite state codes that prevent EDA’s from declaring bankruptcy.
And what might such a presentation to a municipal body that is claiming no oversight responsibility of the EDA despite enabling the largest single item in the EDA’s civil suit, the $10-million ITFederal loan, by issuing a three-month $10-million “bridge loan” at McDonald’s request to convince a bank to make that loan despite serious asset questions about the eventual recipient, sound like?
“Mr. Mayor and Council, the EDA ends the fiscal year with $85,089 in its operational checking account and another $62,936 in its rental income account ($148,025 combined) – BUT we’d have a lot more if the Town would make good on its undisputed $8.4 million principal debt to us on the construction of the new town police headquarters, not to mention the $701 of daily interest on that FRPD project debt, though a disputed portion based on verbal promises of the former EDA executive director, that is accumulating as the civil litigation creeps forward.
Also noted during the financial report of board Treasurer Jorie Martin, was a $64,439 balance in the EDA’s Rural Business Enterprise Loan (RBEL) account and a $307,043 balance in its Intermediary Relending Program (IRP) account.
Chances are some of those loan balances will find their way into the hands of businesses located inside the Front Royal town limits.
EDA’s June 26 meeting action agenda
The Front Royal/Warren County EDA Board of Directors held their regular monthly board meeting today:
Finance Chair Jorie Martin reported that the EDA will end the fiscal year with a positive bank balance. Additionally, the FY 2018 and FY 2019 audits and solar panel removal are all proceeding on schedule.
EDA Chair Ed Daley took the opportunity to point out that the EDA has reduced its total loan balance during FY2020 by approximately $2,000,000. Factors that contributed to this success included the EDA completing the sale of three properties-two to a private developer in the town and one to a small business in the county.
Proceeds then went toward other loans which reduced principal amounts. Additionally, the EDA negotiated an interest rate reduction on a line of credit. These decisions translate into savings to the taxpayers.
Small Business Loan program-Mrs. Martin reported considerable improvement in payments and collections in the Rural Business Enterprise Loan (RBEL) program during FY20. In May 2019, only 56% of loan clients were up-to-date on their payments. As of June 2020, 70% of clients were on time. Additionally, as Executive Director Doug Parsons reported, the USDA Small Business Loan committee is currently reviewing applications from two new borrowers. They are vetting these applicants and look forward to supporting these small businesses in the Front Royal and Warren County areas. Finally, the board approved a Pay Agreement with Steve Ontiveros, of Fireball Arcade, for repayment of his RBEL loan.
Other Actions from Finance-The board approved Mrs. Martin’s motion to cancel the EDA insurance policy covering the Avtex property and EDA office building at 400 Kendrick Lane currently held by Stoneburner-Carter Insurance. The motion also approved the EDA to enter into a policy with Grange offered through McGreevy Insurance. The new annual policy provides more in-depth coverage at a lower cost, saving taxpayers approximately $1,000.
Finally, the board approved a motion for Phil Rexrode to complete electrical work on the solar panel removal. He will disconnect the solar panels from the current electrical system and connect the EDA office building back to Town electric.
Asset Management Committee
Chair Greg Harold shared an overview of the committee’s activities and accomplishments during FY20. Highlights included:
Afton Inn-The negotiations and sales agreement of the Afton Inn will be the fourth property sale by the EDA and the third in the Town of Front Royal. Seeing this property in the hands of private development is a real win for the community and will contribute in a major way to the revitalization of East Main St., Front Royal.
The EDA is looking forward to 2 E. Main, LLC realizing their vision for the property.
Royal Lane “Workforce Housing” property-Mr. Harold completed considerable research on this parcel, also located in the Town. The Board of Directors approved his motion to sell the property through a Request for Development Proposal (RFDP) process. That proposal is under attorney review and is projected to be published by mid-July. This is an opportunity to bring to Front Royal the first multi-tenant housing development in 22 years.
Litigation Update-EDA Vice-Chair and Communications Committee Chair Jeff Browne gave an update on the civil suit EDA v. Jennifer McDonald, et al. and the Town v. EDA suit. The board approved a resolution appointing Mr. Browne as Designated Representative of the EDA for interrogatories and depositions in the suit EDA v. Jennifer McDonald, et al. Mr. Browne will work with EDA counsel from Sands Anderson as the civil case continues through the judicial process.
Existing Business Listening Groups-Mr. Browne is working with the Front Royal Chamber of Commerce on creating business listening groups. Any business leaders, finance professionals, and anyone interested in the local tourism industry is encouraged to participate.
Other EDA Business
Annual Report-EDA Staff and the Board of Directors are preparing an annual report for presentation to the Warren County Board of Supervisors in July. Dr. Daley expressed an interest in presenting this report to the Front Royal Town Council as well.
Annual Officer Elections
The board approved each of the current officers-Chair, Vice-Chair, Treasurer and Secretary-to serve another one-year term.
As of May 2020, the Town of Front Royal owes the EDA $8,444,797.16 for the construction of the Front Royal Police Department headquarters. This loan costs Town taxpayers $703.39 per day in interest expense. In April 2019, the Town Council approved a resolution to issue a bond for permanent financing of the project but has not followed through on its commitment. The EDA welcomes community support in encouraging the Town Council to follow through and secure permanent financing in order to retire the EDA construction debt.
Still working for the Town – EDA announces sale of 514 E. Main apartments
In a late-afternoon press release from the office of Executive Director Doug Parsons, the Front Royal-Warren County EDA announced the sale of another in-town parcel. Here is that release in its entirety:
The Front Royal/Warren County Economic Development Authority (FRWCEDA) is pleased to announce the sale of their apartments at 514 East Main Street to East Main Apartments II, LLC, owned by Jim and Dawn Weber of Front Royal. The property sold for $127,500.00 and the proceeds of the sale will pay off one of the FRWCEDA’s loans for the apartments and the old Stokes Market, which also sold recently.
“We’re pleased that Jim and Dawn Weber have purchased this property. They are experienced developers, and we know the property and tenants will be in good hands”, said Doug Parsons, Executive Director, for FRWCEDA.
“These properties weren’t congruent with our economic development mission and goals, and we’re excited to see them return to the private sector to generate more tax revenue while reducing the taxpayer’s debt and future expenses.”
EDA Asset Committee reviews status of Royal Lane property in open and closed session
At the open portion of a Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority Asset Committee meeting, Friday morning, June 19, Committee Chairman Greg Harold took his recently altered committee lineup through a review of the recently re-acquired Royal Lane “workforce housing” property.
As readers will recall, the property written off as a $640,000 loss in the EDA’s original civil complaint was inexplicably let go at the end of November 2018 about 11 weeks prior to that March 26, 2019 civil filing at a sale price of ten dollars. Then EDA Board Chairman Gray Blanton later told Royal Examiner that he had only seen the signature page of the deed of sale. And acting EDA attorney Joe Silek Jr. – then EDA/County Attorney Dan Whitten had recused himself from the transaction – told Royal Examiner that the deed had been sent to the Winchester attorneys for the purchaser without a sales price filled in, though he declined to elaborate on how or why that had occurred.
However, the buyer, the Cornerstone LLC branch of regional developer the Aikens Group, returned the property to the EDA earlier this year at a cost of about $26,000. The price was explained as the stated value of in-house legal or other preparatory work done during the Aikens Group purchase and ownership.
The undeveloped, rolling-hilled 3.5-acre parcel at the end of Royal Lane on the town’s southeast side is also at play in the April addition of Century 21 Campbell Realty, and proprietors Walter and Jeannette Campbell as defendants in the EDA’s civil litigation case seeking the return of a total of over $21-million dollars from what has climbed to a total of 24 defendants.
But the property’s legal history wasn’t the topic of Harold’s presentation to his committee. Rather, it was an outline of the property’s originally planned use for development as a 36-unit, three-building “workforce housing” rental apartment complex; its potential versus any competitive properties for such development; and the zoning and permitting status of the property.
That status, Harold said, is C-1 zoning with extensive Special Use Permitting; nearby access to Town electric, water, and sewer central utilities extended to adjacent residential and commercial development; and a lack of comparably permitted C-1 zoned properties in Front Royal near shopping and other commercial amenities desirable to potential renters.
Harold pointed to a “robust need” for quality and affordable rental units in Front Royal, but also noted that federal Housing and Urban Development (HUD) guidelines didn’t specifically qualify the type of professional employment that affordable “workforce housing” projects could rent to. Discussion following the EDA purchase of the parcel from the Campbells, Jennifer McDonald’s aunt and uncle, initially for $10 as a gifted property said to qualify the Campbells for federal tax credits which later fell through due to delays in the development of the property, had targeted a “young professional” tenant base of law enforcement, teaching and emergency services personnel.
Questions about the EDA or anyone’s ability to limit rentals to such specific professional networks were raised by some, including former Councilwoman Bebhinn Egger, early in the purchase, zoning, and permitting process in 2016-17.
Another question raised by Egger, the Town Council’s then lone voice in the EDA oversight wilderness, was why with so many questions attached to the property and its residential development potential, the EDA Board of Directors had agreed to purchase the parcel for $440,000, over $100,000 above its assessed value of a little over $300,000, after the Campbell’s tax credit opportunity fell through.
The explanation then forwarded by McDonald and then EDA Board Chair Patty Wines that the EDA had already spent nearly half a million dollars on pre-development costs turned out not to be true. McDonald later told Royal Examiner that only about $16,000 for a VDOT traffic study had been unrecoverable money at the time of the EDA’s $440,000 purchase decision.
But whether any of these variables played into the Asset Committee’s exploration of the property is unknown. Because after Harold’s presentation during the 48-minute open session, EDA Attorney Sharon Pandak read a motion to go into a closed session that was moved and seconded by committee members and unanimously approved by those members, Harold, Ed Daley, Jorie Martin, and Melissa Gordon.
That motion included discussion of the “disposition of public real property where discussion in an open meeting would adversely affect the bargaining position and negotiating strategy of the EDA; and consultation with legal counsel regarding related legal matters for the Royal Lane property …”
There was no announcement following the half-hour closed session and the Asset Committee meeting was adjourned to so quickly that by the time this reporter re-logged into the virtually-conducted meeting, he found himself a lonely “participant” of one.
But considering the late afternoon press release on the sale of the 514 East Main Street apartments – Still working for the Town – EDA announces the sale of 514 E. Main apartments – it may be debatable whether both of those closed session topics related to Royal Lane. But with the previous discussion of residential development not being the natural province of EDA’s, this reporter votes “probably both”.