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FRLP presents evolving development plan despite uncertain financial times

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Some six years down the road from the friendly annexation into town of Front Royal Limited Partnership’s 604 acres earmarked for residential and mixed use development off Mary’s Shady Lane on the town’s east side, FRLP principal David Vazzana brought his evolving developmental plan back to the Front Royal Planning Commission Wednesday night, May 6.

After a power point presentation by the virtually present Vazzana, one commission member expressed gratitude for the detailed and graphically enhanced material.

“This is a wonderful presentation – I really learned a lot from this. And I can’t tell you how much I appreciate the work you put into the visuals, because it’ll be useful …” Cee Ann Davis told Vazzana of the path forward on his amended plans for the property.

A view of the portion of the FRLP 604-acre parcel now earmarked for a solar power field. It would be the town’s second, the first being the Town Energy Services Department’s 15-acre array to the FRLP property’s easy near Manassas Ave. FRLP would like to be able to place solar panels under the power lines visible on the property if you look closely. Royal Examiner Photos/Roger Bianchini


Those plans include 106 acres for a solar power farm and another 153 acres for a Data Center Campus, as well as 138 acres left as wooded and open space on the property’s more topographically challenged western area. Those changes leave 207 acres of the now Agriculturally-zoned land for rezoning to residential development. Vazzana estimated a Phase One of that development for 400 to 800 homes on 125 acres. FRLP owns another 150-acre parcel also earmarked for future development by the Town Comprehensive Plan, but that is another discussion for another planning district and day.

As things stand now Vazzana acknowledged myriad unknowns from financial consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic emergency and response, particularly as they might impact the new housing market and banking options in residential investments.

“Obviously things have changed significantly since February (when the amended plan was first brought to the Town planners) and I appreciate your bearing with me on this as my thinking has also continued to evolve in light of present circumstances,” Vazzana told the commission.

Part of that evolution is delaying a public hearing on his proposed Comprehensive Plan Amendments for his project to avoid multiple hearings on what could be a constantly changing endgame in the current fluid economic environment.

Everything is connected – the economy, the future, our health, our plans …

So following completion of his presentation it was agreed to table the FRLP Comp Plan Amendment requests until the economic landscape becomes clearer and FRLP might be able to consolidate its three proposals into a more finalized, perhaps single developmental and amendment request.

The FRLP 604-acre property has been given its own “Marshall Planning District” designation for the Marshall family connections to property around Mary’s Shady Lane. That includes some crumbling remains of one structure and a cemetery of the family that produced the fourth, and some consider the most important, chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, John Marshall. Those historical sites would be preserved in the FRLP plans.

Vazzana addressed one long-time sticking point for FRLP’s development plan, transportation infrastructure providing egress and ingress to what was originally envisioned as a primarily residential development once discussed by a regional developer – Centex if I recall – at as many as 1862 homes. Presenting graphics on three potential access roads into the property, a fourth might potentially be added it was noted, Vazzana said a goal for him from the start was to give the residential development a “neighborhood feel”.

To achieve that “feel” the use of multiple access roads are now planned. That would avoid potential bottlenecks at a single primary entrance point into an originally Town-requested East-West connector road funded by FRLP. However, Vazzana’s presentation noted that existing road improvements would be necessary tied to all three access points – how much at what expense, and would those costs be shared, remain at issue.

Vazzana observed cutting back the total number of homes and thus traffic could reduce necessary improvements to existing roads saving millions in road infrastructure costs.

“The Town has historically been unwilling to fund any infrastructure to improve the safety or capacity of its transportation network serving the Happy Creek Technology Park and Northeast Planning Area,” one page of the FRLP power point observed.

An Eastern Access would be at Shenandoah Shores Road; Central Access at Mary’s Shady Lane; and Eastern Access into Manassas Avenue and/or Eighth Street.

Of transportation and solar field planning, Vazzana addressed discussions with Southern Railroad regarding the Mary’s Shady Lane crossing onto Happy Creek Road and Dominion Power line right of way running across a portion of the property. He said he hoped to receive permission to install solar panels under the power lines, which would increase the acreage of the solar array. However, pointing to historical difficulties in negotiating with either railroad or power companies, he noted his assumptions on desired outcomes with both were that they would most likely not be achieved.
Planning Commissioner Darryl Merchant called the proposal timely and observed that the potential tax revenue generated to the Town by the Data Center would likely more than compensate for the relatively low tax generation from the solar field.

And next door
Following the FRLP presentation the planning commission reviewed a request from the Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority for the rezoning of two of its properties adjacent to the Marshall Planning District-FRLP parcel.

Merchant told his fellow commissioners that the EDA wanted to return the parcels to their original Industrial-2 zoning, from R-1.

Merchant said the agenda item was not up for immediate movement toward approval, but rather was included as a “heads up” as it might impact the FRLP-Marshall District proposal or vice versa.
Commission Chairman Doug Jones noted the surrounding Progress Drive area commercial zoning at the EDA’s Happy Creek Technology Park, observing, “To me that’s a very logical reason to approve that rezoning.”

The two red outlined parcels are the ones the EDA is seeking re-zoning back to the original Industrial-2 between the Happy Creek Technology Park to the right (east) and the FRLP/Marshall Planning District to the left (west).

“What is the story going on here – hadn’t we made some changes there a while ago when this was going to be the police academy or something?” one commissioner asked, drawing some laughter concerning the aborted police academy project. As readers will recall the EDA police academy project is now one target of the EDA forensic audit and consequent civil litigation that linked the names of former EDA Executive Director Jennifer McDonald, late Sheriff Daniel McEathron and ITFederal principal Truc “Curt” Tran.

But that too, is another story for another day – eventually in court more than likely.
For today, Acting Town Planning Director Chris Brock explained the zoning change involved the EDA’s attempt to improve its properties’ “Tier” rankings with the State Economic Development Partnership to make its properties more marketable.

See that brief discussion and the lengthy but informative FRLP presentation in the virtual recording:

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Special Events permitting in the ‘Matrix’ – Is it real and what does it mean?

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Town staff met with about 20 downtown business people Thursday morning, June 17, as part of its informational exchange in the runup to the anticipated June 28th vote on establishment of a code regarding Special Events permitting on Town-owned public property. Draft copies of the 4-1/2 page, including cover page, “Permit Application, Policy and Procedures” document were available for review by participants.

Present to answer questions from the Town were Town Manager Steven Hicks, Provisional employee Matt Tederick who will be handling business retention and expansion matters for the Town in the future, Purchasing Agency Alisa Scott and Town Police Chief Kahle Magalis, along with IT and Communications Director Todd Jones. Downtown Business people from both the pro and con sides of the downtown walking mall or special event street closing debate were present at the new Town Pavilion in the Village Commons ground zero of community special events, and a positive dialogue appeared to be established between those two private sector contingents and Town staff present.

Town Purchasing Agent Alisa Scott moderates Thursday’s Special Events feedback meeting at the Town Pavilion in Village Commons where many Special Events take place. Royal Examiner Photos by Roger Bianchini

Perhaps it was portions of “Ground Rules” for the gathering that opened with “No swearing” (damn), followed by: Be kind to one another – attack the problem, not the person; among others designed to keep the event constructive and civil.


In response to one question it became clear that the Town does not plan to reinitiate its regular weekend downtown walking mall concept that was popular with some downtown businesses, restaurants in particular, as well as locals and tourists drawn to the outdoor seating and pedestrian-friendly downtown as COVID pandemic inside gathering and social distancing restrictions were being dealt with last year.

But the primary focus was on exactly what a 10-category “Special Events Matrix Criteria” by which permit applications will be scored for eligibility and priority rankings meant.

Michelle Mattieu, who was a co-organizer of the first “Hope Arising” festival last weekend, pointed out that as a first-time event, Hope Arising would likely not have been able to qualify for permitting in the suggested Matrix system because of an inability to reference past attendance and a “history of success”, among other criteria the matrix scoring system is based on.

Town Manager Steven Hicks explains that common sense can come into play in final decision making process.

The back and forth between several attendees and staff indicated that a variety of variables, including discretionary judgements by the town manager, or his designee, could help bypass some seeming problems in the policy. It was also noted that the draft is, in fact, a work in progress. As reported in the Royal Examiner story Council ponders variables in Special Event permitting and Credit Card fee waiver proposals a public hearing and town council action on the draft Special Events code proposal is slated for the June 28th evening meeting at the Warren County Government Center.

Several people noted that the Matrix scoring system seemed weighted toward events designed to draw tourists, with increased overnight bookings into local motels and hotels and their added tax revenue benefits getting higher ranking than events aimed at the local population. While there was some dispute that was true, no clear answer on that Matrix dynamic appeared given to the satisfaction of those questioning the Matrix ranking system. As noted in the above-referenced story, a minimum Matrix system ranking of 33 is required for permit approval. Scores of 33 to 42 are categorized as “Community Special Events”; 43 and above are categorized as “Tourism Special Events”; and events scoring above 40 “are eligible for discretionary Town support”.

The Matrix

The now-completed, 10-category “Special Events Matrix Criteria” are: 1/ Purpose – Community & Destination Benefit; 2/ Demonstrated History of Success; 3/ Evidence of Partnership – multiple businesses participating; 4/ Attendance Figures; 5/ Organization Structure & Management Capability; 6/ Business Benefit – Direct Spending; 7/ Funding Capacity; 8/Overnight Stays/Room Nights; 9/ Target Market Alignment; 10/ Evaluation & Measurement Plan.

Beyond the Matrix

White Picket Fence’s Sue Laurence questions language of Special Events draft as it applies to a variety of permitting issues.

Questions were also raised about the future of downtown business-driven decorations in the Gazebo-anchored Commons area as have occurred over recent years for example, Halloween and Valentine’s Day. White Picket Fence proprietor Sue Laurence pointed to recent Valentine’s Day decorations and asked if the current permitting draft would NOT allow such decorations to be placed if someone decided to play Valentine’s Day curmudgeon and issue a complaint against the proposed decorations.

Again, the discretionary judgement of the town manager or designee was cited as a preventive from such arbitrary decisions, as well as insurance in place to cover potential accidents as one speaker noted could occur with such decorations in place over a period of time.

A final pre-June 28 council meeting community feedback session will be held at Town Hall Monday, June 21, at 5 p.m., leading up to the June 28 public hearing on the proposed Special Events ordinance and a council vote on its adoption.

Staff and business owners mingle after the one-hour Q&A on the dynamics of the proposed new Special Events Permitting Ordinance. Below, the Gazebo-anchored Village Commons is often the central point of downtown special events.

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‘SHAME!’ – Supervisors reverse course on Linden Sheetz rezoning

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From a virtual viewing of the Tuesday, June 15 meeting of the Warren County Board of Supervisors, it appeared at least one member of the public while exiting yelled “Shame” at a majority of the county’s elected officials for their 3-1 vote, Mabe dissenting, Fox absent, reversing a 3-2 February decision to deny the Dudding Commercial Development LLC’s rezoning request to enable the construction of a Sheetz gas station/convenience store at the foot of the Apple Mountain neighborhood in Linden.

Despite a restating of the overwhelming (13 of 13 public speakers this time addressing the matter) neighborhood concerns about the project – public health: fuel oil leakage-contaminated groundwater feeding the subdivision water supply; public safety: children catching a school bus near a potential predator’s quick access to an Interstate escape route prominent among those – perhaps the writing was on the wall that a turn was coming from the February 10th, 3-2 vote denying the enabling rezoning. One of those original votes of denial, Archie Fox, was absent; and another, Tony Carter in whose district the rezoning is requested, had suggested the matter be reconsidered a bare three months after the initial vote.

Then, one of the two dissenting votes against the February rezoning denial, Delores Oates (along with board Chair Cheryl Cullers) seconded Carter’s motion to approve the rezoning.

File photo of Happy Creek Supervisor Tony Carter from earlier this year – could he have been pondering a change to his initial vote of denial of the Sheetz rezoning request? Perhaps. Royal Examiner Photos by Roger Bianchini


 

What does this political math add up to? A 3-1 vote, Oates and Cullers duplicating their February votes, and Carter, who appears to have abandoned any idea of a run for re-election in the Happy Creek District where the rezoning is proposed, joining them.

With the original decision based on the February Public Hearing at a joint County Planning Commission-Supervisors meeting up for “reconsideration”, there was no new public hearing scheduled to precede any action on that reconsideration.

So the 13 citizens addressing the matter spoke at the Public Comments portion of the meeting generally designed for input on non-agenda matters, or as in this case a matter for which there would be no other opportunity for public input.

Much of that comment was very pointed at the political process and the potential role of money above a public good in the board’s decision to reconsider.

Referencing earlier meetings on the matter she has attended, including a “five-hour meeting” where she noted, no parent had spoken in favor of the Dudding/Sheetz proffer of maintaining a school bus stop on the property adjacent to the proposed Sheetz, Felicity Smoot asked the board, “Given that, how is this even being brought back for reconsideration is just baffling to me. The people have spoken, you all have voted – why are we still talking about this? This feels like an underhanded attempt to tire people out, so this can quietly be passed when everyone stops paying attention.”

Felicity Smoot wondered at the political processes at work in such a quick turnaround to reconsideration of the split board decision of Feb. 10 denying the rezoning request.

 

Referencing the cancellation of a School Board-Transportation Office-neighborhood meeting scheduled for June 8, to discuss the public school bus stop situation – usage of the existing bus stop on the property in question was withdrawn by the property owner following the February vote blocking the rezoning and sale of a portion of the property to Sheetz – Smoot wondered why.

“It does not seem that this issue is being handled with transparency and honesty. Please do what you were voted into office to do: act in a trustworthy way, honor your word from February, and do not consider rezoning,” she concluded.

Francis Williams followed Smoot to the podium, noting he lived within 200-feet of the proposed Sheetz location. – “This has been an ongoing thing for almost a year now,” he began, calling the proposal “a threat” to the community.

“And I take it as a personal threat to my family. I’ve got a little boy that’s starting to walk. What happens if he wanders down there when he’s three or four and disappears? I’m sure these guys won’t care, Williams said gesturing to the trio of applicant representatives sitting two rows behind the podium, offering an unkind assessment: “All they care about is money.”

Nearby neighbor Francis Williams points to the trio of involved applicant representatives seated in the second row behind him, from left real estate attorney Joe Silek Jr., Jerime Dudding of Dudding Commercial Development LLC, and Sheetz rep Hank Slicker, with an unkind assessment of motivation grounded elsewhere than in the public good. From earlier meeting photos it appears that involved property owner Paul Lanier is seated behind Silek in the white shirt.

 

Williams even offered to dedicate a portion of his property to the County for a new school bus stop – “If it’s going to come down to building a Sheetz or having a school bus right in my front yard, I’d much rather have a school bus stop,” he told the supervisors. As to his level of commitment to the issue, Williams told the supervisors he bought his home property at Apple Mountain “a little over a year ago” adding, “And now I’m thinking about moving out – and I know a lot of people are.”

Williams, like others, wondered what had changed in such a short time span to mandate the board’s reconsideration of its initial 3-2 vote of denial. Representative local government, he reasoned, was in place in the interest of the citizens’ elected officials to represent, rather than “financial, personal interest, private-commercial – whatever” he broke off in frustration.

On the public safety end, he referenced another citizen’s research indicating that the Town had received 93 calls, apparently about suspicious activity at the new Sheetz location in town; and apparent issues with Emergency Services and county law enforcement understaffing.

“I really hope you guys are for us, not for them. They can find another place – we can’t or it’s not going to be as easy.

Another Apple Mountain resident, Sue Kenyon, followed Williams to the podium, noting she, like some others who had preceded her, had not intended to speak publicly to the issue. However, she pointed to a gap in one potential long-term consequence of approving the rezoning and the Sheetz project landing in eastern Warren County.

“Sheetz can build anywhere. They don’t have to build at the bottom of Apple Mountain. They could build at the northeast corner on (Routes) 79 and 55 – that’s been for sale forever,” Kenyon observed, becoming emotional as she noted her 33-year residency on Apple Mountain – “Raised my five children going down to that bus stop.”

She then theorized an endgame previously unmentioned by either side: “The long-term effect … I believe Sheetz wants a truck stop, I don’t know if you know it, but the property right across Apple Mountain Road on the other side, is also 15 acres. Once they get one side commercial, they’ll get the other side commercial. And then what will we look like?” Kenyon asked, her voice again quivering with emotion.

“So, please reconsider – think long term. They want a truck stop, that was their original intention,” Kenyon concluded of her perception of the company’s long-term design on the I-66 Linden Exit area at the foot of the rural mountain neighborhood.

Following two more speakers rising to object to the rezoning, Board Chair Cullers called the 60-minute time limit on the Public Comments portion of the meeting, which was already once divided to facilitate the 7:30 p.m.-scheduled Public Hearings. The final of the 17 total speakers, 13 addressing the Sheetz rezoning reconsideration, another Apple Mountain resident, Richard Frazier, posed a legal question to the board concerning the proffered school bus stop adjacent to the Sheetz location just off the Linden I-66 interchange: “I’m also concerned having the bus stop right at 66 – if a child was abducted, you’re right on the highway, you’re gone. And I’d like to ask, if the board forces us into having the bus stop there, are you going to be liable if that happens?”

Rezoning opponent and final speaker Richard Frazier raised the question of legal liability for elected officials who approve an applicant school bus stop proffer that someday might lead to a child abduction from a bus stop adjacent to the proposed Sheetz gas station/store. While unanswered directly, the odds in Vegas would seem slim on such municipal liability – probably.

 

Unfinished business: Sligo Estates & Sheetz

And on that unanswered note, the meeting moved on to board and staff reports. Thirteen minutes later the board reached the final agenda items, two of the three being the “Unfinished Business” of the Sheetz rezoning reconsideration, preceded by the other major Public Comments topic, the Sligo Estates Short-Term-Rental Conditional Use Permit request of Northern Virginia-based John and Anna Carpenter. Having reheard neighborhood opposition to that latter request from Sligo Estates POA President Caleb Johnson and two other residents, all who referenced that the Carpenters had signed off on the neighborhood covenants which prohibit such commercial or quasi-commercial uses, and had also promised to drop the request if the subdivision majority opposed it, the board approached this decision delayed from May 18th.

Speaking to another volatile neighborhood issue, Sligo Estates POA President Caleb Johnson and two other opponents of a neighbor’s Short-Term Tourist Rental permitting application, fared better than the 13 speakers against the Sheetz rezoning.

 

Walt Mabe made the motion to deny the request, seconded by Delores Oates, who earlier noted that the county board was not in the business of enforcement of neighborhood covenants. The motion to deny the Carpenter CUP request then passed by a 4-0 roll call vote, Fox absent. Could this be a positive sign for the Apple Mountain contingent, with only three Sligo Estates residents speaking in opposition to the Carpenter request, compared to the 13 in opposition to the Sheetz-enabling rezoning?

Planning Director Joe Petty summarized the background, including the joint February meeting at which the planning commission recommended approval of the rezoning by a 3-1 vote, which the supervisors reversed with the 3-2 vote to deny. Following Petty’s presentation, Cullers’ call for board discussion was met by about 10 seconds of silence. Culler’s then called for a motion.

Chairperson Cullers’ call for a board discussion of the Sheetz rezoning reconsideration was met by silence. So, a board majority, including the chair, moved to reverse the Feb. 10 denial of the rezoning without comment on reasons for their coming votes or reactions to what they’d heard from impacted citizens.

 

Tony Carter, in whose Happy Creek District the property at issue lies, responded by reading the motion to reconsider and approve the rezoning request into the record. Oates seconded the motion, which then passed by the 3-1 margin noted above, with only Mabe dissenting and Fox absent.

That led to the unhappy exit of the Apple Mountain contingent with shouts of “Shame, shame” directed at the board majority.

With the majority of the public gone from the room, the board then approved a 20-item Consent Agenda as presented under “New Business” as its final order of business for the evening. That vote of approval on a motion by Oates, was 4-0, as was the vote on Oates’ motion to adjourn the meeting at 8:28 p.m. the evening of June 15.

See the full public comments on these matters, board action, and the rest of the board meeting in the linked County video:

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Council ponders variables in Special Event permitting and Credit Card fee waiver proposals

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Money makes the world go round – but how do you make it work to the best effect for all involved? That seemed to be the theme of discussion surrounding two proposed alterations to Town policies at a Monday evening, June 14, Front Royal Town Council work session. And citizens will have several more chances to weigh in on these issues heading toward scheduled decisions on both on June 28.

At issue were proposed policy changes to permitting and fees for Special Events held on Town property and an initiative to remove credit card fees from payment of Town utility and tax bills. The latter of those is forecast by the Town Finance Department to cost the Town about $140,000 or more “in expenses associated with credit card fees for the FY-21-22 Budget” with a three-year trend of a 17.6% average annual increase in those costs appearing to continue into the current FY-2021 Fiscal Year, staff noted.

Finance Director B.J. Wilson, far left, briefs the council on the revenue implications of a blanket waiver on fees to cover service charges on the use of credit cards in paying Town bills. Royal Examiner Photos by Roger Bianchini

 

Town Finance Director B. J. Wilson utilized a formula combining that above revenue loss estimate with the number of Town utility account customers (8,481) to average a $1.77 hike to utility bills over the course of a year to theoretically cover that lost revenue. However, contacted Tuesday Wilson explained the current plan wouldn’t actually tag that $1.77 on to coming utility bills if the fee waiver is approved by council next week. Rather, the plan as it stands is that the Town would absorb the loss spread across its various utility Enterprise Funds, making that absorption less painful to the Town Budget.


Several council members noted negative feedback from citizens who do not pay with credit cards to the notion of absorbing the fee waiver revenue loss in any way.

Councilman McFadden said he personally supported the change, reasoning that it offered the Town more options in changing systems on the technical end of the Town’s software and billing equations, but noted some “unknown variables” factoring into a final decision.

That decision, like the one on changes to the Special Events permitting and fees, is slated for council’s evening meeting of Monday, June 28, at the Warren County Government Center.

Councilman Meza expressed some opposition to credit cards being used to pay tax bills but cited private sector energy companies and oil and gas vendors, none of which charge fees for credit card use. Questioned by Vice-Mayor Cockrell on the difference between private-sector companies that work for profit versus municipalities that can only charge rates to cover expenses, Meza responded that the Town could charge profit-making rates on its utility Enterprise Funds. He cited large reserve amounts in Town Enterprise Funds to support his contention they operated for profit.

However, Cockrell pointed out those reserves can only be used to support repair, maintenance or expansion work on those specific utility infrastructures and are not actually profit reserves that could be applied anywhere in the Town budget. With the amount of utility infrastructure work the Town has undertaken recently, some state or federally mandated, Councilman Gillespie later noted the crucial role those Enterprise Fund reserves played in the Town being able to accomplish upgrades without tax hikes or even higher utility rate adjustments. Some rate adjustments have ensued at the recommendation of cost-analysis consultants so that all the Town utilities can cover expenses and keep needed reserve streams at necessary levels.

Councilwoman Thompson noted a difference in the use of credit and debit cards, the latter essentially being plastic checks, pointing out “we’re calling everything credit cards” in the fee discussion.

However, Finance Director Wilson later noted that all plastic transactions, including debit cards, are hit with processing fees.

Pointing to her own monthly auto-withdrawal payment plan directly from her bank to the Town, Vice-Mayor Cockrell wondered how many citizens knew that option was available. As to reducing staff paperwork, she also wondered at the necessity of still receiving monthly paper bills from the Town with an auto-withdrawal payment plan in place.

Mayor Holloway injected that in the previous conversation on Special Events permitting a council consensus on a flat $250 fee appeared to be reached as an alternative to a list of specific costs for various staff or utility services the Town would provide for differing events across a broad range of time, space and services necessary. – “So, what happens if it costs the Town $500, $600 or $1,000 dollars, who’s going to pay that?” the mayor asked of relative overheads in the two discussions. It was noted on the Special Events front that the Town often sees a return on investment from special events related to increases visitation of downtown businesses, including but not limited to sales tax revenue, including by tourists drawn for some of the larger seasonal events.

Special Events

And on the Special Events front, Town Purchasing Agent Alisa Scott presented a rating system developed as part of a review of Special Event permitting and impacts on neighboring businesses, property owners, and citizens beginning in October 2019 and continuing to this day. It was noted that the process is continuing with “A series of both in-person and online informational meetings hosted by Staff to garner feedback from business owners, property owners, and citizens.

The first of those was cited by Town Manager Hicks as occurring at the New Town Pavilion in the Village Commons Thursday, June 17, at 10 a.m.; a second will be held at Town Hall Monday, June 21, at 5 p.m.

As noted above, that process of continued public input leads up to Council’s June 28, 7 p.m. meeting at the Warren County Government Center at which a Public Hearing will be held to receive a final dose of public input prior to council’s vote on the matter.

Purchasing Agent Alisa Scott, standing at the right, reviews proposed changes to the Town’s Special Events permitting process.

Three primary special event categories were listed in the draft code:

1 – Community – “Events geared toward Front Royal/Warren County community attendance” with applications accepted “between 12 months and 30 days prior to the event”;

2 – Tourism – “Events geared toward visitor attendance” with “applications accepted between 12 months and 6 months prior to the event”;

3 – Municipal – events that can be “hosted, co-hosted, or sponsored by the Town at any time” with applications accepted between 12 months and 30 days prior to the event”.

Following that list, it was noted that “Applications shall not be accepted for events geared toward an invite-only, private, or a select group of people.”

A 10-category “Special Events Matrix Criteria”, currently at 7 categories, is being established to qualify events for permitting. A minimum ranking of 33 is required for permit approval. Scores of 33 to 42 are categorized as “Community Special Events”; 43 and above are categorized as “Tourism Special Events”; and events scoring above 40 “are eligible for discretionary Town support” the new code summary explains.

The draft changes note that the Town Manager or that nebulous “Town Manager’s designee” “may impose, as conditions to granting a permit, such further requirements and restrictions as will reasonably protect the health, safety, welfare, peace, and order of the participants, spectators or general public” the draft outline adds.

Perhaps tellingly in the wake of the apparent abandonment of last year’s “Weekend Walking Mall” downtown concept, under the draft “Policies and Procedures” section it is stated that “All events shall … not unreasonably interfere with the normal use of property, right-of-way or facility by the Town or general public.” Could that be an indication that much of the privately gathered input over the past year has been in opposition to a patterned closure of any portion of East Main Street to vehicular traffic?

A downtown and Village Commons area “Code of Conduct” must also be observed in conjunction with all events, essentially prohibiting rude, annoying, or illegal behaviors, including alcohol or portable sound system use, unless authorized by Town permitting for the event.

Potential fees regarding insurance liability coverage and various services the Town might provide, like electrical, sound, and other amenities drew quite a bit of discussion. Rather than appear to be “nickel and diming” applicants into a higher fee range than might be doable for some, the council concurred with Councilman Meza’s proposal of instituting “a $250 all in” blanket application fee.

As noted above, both matters are slated for council discussion and action at the 7 p.m. June 28th meeting at the WCGC. We’ll see how the public weighs in on these matters if they choose to before the final council decision is made.

Other business

In other business, town officials got a presentation and offer, also received by the County, to join in the Shenandoah Rail to Trail Program. Sixteen municipalities are already involved in the effort to convert abandoned railroad right-of-ways into usable by a variety of means of recreational transportation pathways in and adjoining involved communities. The reception was very positive.

Town Attorney Doug Napier briefed council on the coming legalization of recreational marijuana effective July 1, and some confusing surrounding regulations which continue to make the sale or transport across state lines illegal for several years. Napier also gave an update on options involving the continued lack of successful marketing or use of old Town Hall by the owner involved in the swap for the Afton Inn property in 2014.

Town Attorney Doug Napier, seated right foreground, reviewed coming changes to recreational marijuana regulations and Town options on attempting to force the hand of old Town Hall owner Frank Barros to make some positive moves on sale or development of that building.

Napier noted that owner Frank Barros is required to maintain the property to a certain physical standard. It was observed that when last the Town demanded an inspection, the owner had simply initiated repairs to bring the building into compliance, offering at a sale price around $1.3 million far above its assessed value.

For those with a memory of the origins of Town issues with Barros, it appears the Northern Virginia developer continues to revel in punishing the Town for a previous council’s suit filed against its own Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA) that had granted Barros an exemption to the local Code prohibiting any downtown building from being constructed above the height of the Warren County Courthouse, blocking his plans for the redevelopment of the Afton Inn in 2007. Installation of a first-floor fountain was going to require the upper floors and roof structure to be redesigned to about 10-feet above the courthouse. Following that legal reversal of the BZA waiver, it all went downhill between Barros and local officials.

In a final open session item that will be explored in more detail in a coming Royal Examiner story, a new Scott Lloyd proposal to create a “Medical Freedom Ordinance” that would prevent any business or entity operating in town from refusing to hire or continue the employment or certain assignments of existing employees over a refusal to receive the COVID-19 vaccination, gained little traction. However, a resolution in support of a watered-down second ordinance option not requiring town employees to be vaccinated appears headed toward a vote.

Council prepares to go into a closed session to open Monday’s work session. Nearly an hour-an-a-quarter later they were back in open session. A second personnel matter closed session was the final work session agenda item as well.

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County Planning Commission, up to full strength, endorses second new storage facility

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The Warren County Planning Commission, finally up to full strength with the addition of its newest commission member, Kaylee Richardson of the South River District, met Wednesday night for its regular monthly meeting.

The County Planning Commission is fully manned again, ready to tackle a busy year in Warren County. Royal Examiner Photos by Stephen Sill

Although the agenda was extensive with three conditional use permits, 10 requests for authorization to advertise, and one site plan for approval, the meeting proceeded without any controversy.  No citizens made any presentations to the committee during non-agenda Public Comments, so Chairman Robert Myers launched into the public hearings portion of the meeting.

Three conditional use permits were requested for 9700 Court, LLC, regarding a commercially zoned site on the west side of Winchester Road, north of the Crooked Run Shopping Center, to build an enclosed storage facility, and an adjoining storage yard for cars, boats, and RVs.  The property is in the North River Magisterial District.  The commissioners had been given an extensive briefing at a previous meeting, so Planning Director Joe Petty provided a quick overview of the project, which will incorporate a 3-story climate-controlled building totaling 63,000 square feet, and to the rear of the property, an outside storage yard.  A second building of two stories, with the same ground footprint may be added later if business justifies it.


The third CUP request was necessitated by the Warren County Code requiring additional permitting if the size of the facility is projected to be over 50,000 s.f.  There were no public comments on the project for any of the three permit requests.  Commissioner Kersjes asked if the facility would be capable of storing antique or classic cars in the storage units.  The permit documents indicate that project representative did not address that question directly but did indicate that some ground floor units were designed for drive-up access with contractors in mind, so the issue could be addressed with the architects.  The planning director did say that the requirements of the permit for the outside storage area would include a provision that all vehicles be tagged and inspected to be stored there.  With no further discussion, the commission voted unanimously in all three cases to recommend approval of the Conditional Use Permits to the County Board of Supervisors.

The commission agreed to advertise public hearings for 10 Conditional Use Permits for its July meeting, which means that meeting will likely be a long one.  There were three applications for Conditional Use Permits for short-term tourist rentals.  John Suh is seeking a permit for his agriculturally zoned property at 515 Corron Drive in the Fork District, Neal Sutliff is seeking the same for his residentially zoned property at 1720 Khyber Pass Rd on the Happy Creek District, and Melissa Halko is requesting a permit for her property at 261 Sunset Village Rd in the Junewood development.  The commission approved all three for authorization to advertise public hearings.

Along with the rise in short term tourist rentals, review activities in the planning department of private use camping permits has led to a spike in applications for that use on lots used for recreational purposes.  Chad and Charleen Backstrom, Shawn and Christine Tsanganelias, and James Humphries have all applied for private-use camping CUPs for their properties on Burma Road in the North River District.  In addition, Randall Lewis and Monica Stover have requested a private-use camping permit for their property on Farms Riverview Road in the Shenandoah District.  All these properties are zoned R-1, and the Commission unanimously agreed to advertise for public hearings on the requests.

Mountaintop The Church at Skyline has applied for a CUP for a private school on their property at 7655 Stonewall Jackson Highway in the South River District.  The school would operate from August to May, Monday through Friday, and would accommodate 30 or fewer students.  It would not expand or change the existing use of the church.  The church was constructed in 1992, and that use was permitted by right prior to the adoption of the current ordinance.  The commission unanimously voted to approve the authorization to advertise the public hearing.

Ken Colton has requested a conditional use permit for the storage of cars, boats, and recreational vehicles on his industrial zoned property on Winners Court in the North River District.  The commission voted unanimously to approve advertising for that public hearing.

In an action of interest to residents of the Waterlick area, Kimberly Countryman has requested a CUP for a Country General Store at 4536 Strasburg Road in the North River District.  According to the applicant, it will serve as a country style neighborhood grocery, food carryout, with country gift items, homemade food and vintage items.  The hope is to reopen the store as it was operated prior to 2008.  The commission unanimously approved the authorization to advertise a public hearing on the proposal.

Five Nine Design group has submitted a plan for the commission review of a public utility storage structure at 5985 John Marshall Highway, and will be used to support an underground fiber optic network.  The structure will not include antennas, towers, or dishes on the site and will be surrounded by a fence and accessed only by service personnel.  It will sit between Interstate 66 and John Marshall Highway.  The commission voted unanimously to affirm that the structure was substantially in accord with the County’s Comprehensive Plan.

Planning Director Joe Petty reminded the commissioners that work on the County Comp Plan is scheduled to begin in earnest in July, and while it will be a major task, some work has already been completed.

‘What did I let myself in for?’ Newly appointed Planning Commissioner Kaylee Richardson concentrates on absorbing a lot of new information at her first regular meeting.

The members of the commission welcomed their newest colleague, Kaylee Richardson, who replaces Crystal Beall in the South River District.  Commissioner Richardson lives on a 32-acre farm in Bentonville, and grew up in Warren County.  She says she is looking forward to what she recognizes as a “lot of work” in helping the County exercise good stewardship over the resources we sometimes take for granted.

The Commission adjourned at 8:15 p.m.

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Local Government

Library outdoor amphitheater proposal, bridge naming initiative and drug court proposal highlight County Board work session

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After a half-hour full frontal assault by “divisions” of the Sons of Liberty seeking County support of a resolution in support of changing the names of the two northside entranceway bridges over the forks of the Shenandoah River into Front Royal for Revolutionary War figures of note, the Warren County Board of Supervisors faced a sometimes dizzying array of financial briefings on COVID-19 relief funding and State Compensation Board-funded salary increases.

Above, led by Larry Johnson, far left, The Sons of Liberty reconnoiter the WC Govt. Ctr. turf prior to engaging the supervisors for support of a bridge naming initiative. Below, Dale Corey, or is that Daniel Boone? – Lends his support. The initiative would name the North Fork Bridge ‘Gen. George Washington and Gen. Daniel Morgan Memorial Bridge and the South Fork, Major General Dr. Joseph Warren Memorial Bridge. WAIT, that’s 3 names and 4 titles for 2 bridges – will that work? Maybe it can be hashed out at the Friday, 9 a.m. flag lowering at the WCGC memorializing the war death of Gen.-Dr. Warren, for whom the county is named. Royal Examiner Photos by Roger Bianchini

Less mind numbing at the Tuesday, June 8th work session were a report on a plan to create an outdoor entertainment amphitheater on the grounds between Samuels Public Library and Ressie Jeffries Elementary School and plans to expand the Warren County Commonwealth Attorney’s Office into portions of the old county jail next door to the rear of the courthouse. Well, that latter topic did get somewhat dizzying when it was explained that the proposed CA’s Office expansion was viewed as a three-year stopgap measure as a longer-term solution reuniting all the office’s attorneys within the same space was explained by County Project Manager Jeff Hayes.

That’s more cluttered than this reporter’s office space, tho a bit neater. Yes, the WC Commonwealth Attorney’s Office is cluttered. But the County has a multi-phased plan to deal with it, including digitization of some records as allowed.


On the less cluttered side of those reports, Samuels Library Executive Director Michelle Ross and Friends of Samuels Public Library President Melody Hotek presented a power point on the library amphitheater project. The location would be on a sloping hill on the west side of the property with the pavilion-stage area at the bottom. The amphitheater was presented, not just as a library program and neighboring elementary school asset, but one that could be utilized for a variety of programs throughout the community.

Library Director Michelle Ross, foreground, flanked by Friends of Samuels Library President Melody Hotek, present the amphitheater plan. Below, proposed site of Samuels Library Amphitheater on west side of library toward Ressie Jeffries Elementary School, which would be a co-beneficiary of the finished project.

A total cost estimate of $50,000 to $60,000 was presented, with a first estimate on the pavilion structure coming in at $18,519. Ross and Hotek said that about $20,000 has been raised in support of the proposal, with some of that coming from the Estate of Hotek’s late husband Jeff, and engineering work committed by her brother-in-law Dan Hotek.

Supporting documentation in the project summary noted: “COVID-19 has made the value of fresh air very apparent. Even before the pandemic, outdoor spaces on library grounds were trending. Now, although the vaccine rollout is well underway, it will likely be fall at the earliest before most libraries resume indoor programming. What was a nice-to-have luxury has become the only game in town … Even after all the lockdowns are over, outdoor spaces will remain useful for more than preparing for the next pandemic, allowing patrons to enjoy the natural environment wile having access to library amenities.”

Above and below, the Northern Fauquier Community Park was presented as a model for the desired amphitheater, with a few trees interspersed for some shading.

As with all presentations at Tuesday’s work session, no action was taken by the board regarding possible support, including funding assistance since binding votes can only be taken at meetings.

Near the meeting’s end, Broadband Committee member Vicky Cook updated the board on goals and work in achieving those goals of providing near, if not total, high-speed wireless coverage countywide.

Discussion and support documentation indicated that of the 16,606 housing units identified in Warren County during 2019 Census gathering, supporting a population of 40,164 countywide, 90.4% had computers and 83.3% had Internet subscriptions. The goal is to raise that broadband coverage to 95% to 99%-plus. The importance of universal coverage, even in remote areas, was cited as crucial to educational, commercial and economic progress.

As the “Project Description” noted: “Warren County Broadband Extension Project will provide universal access to high-speed, reliable, and secure internet connectivity to all Warren County residents, including but not limited to, unserved and underserved residents, school and businesses. The broadband extension project will increase economic prospects and educational opportunities to all the residents and businesses in the county.”

A final agenda item – further discussion of eliminating the board’s 9 a.m. first monthly meeting in favor of an evening or late afternoon start – was withdrawn at its maker, North River Supervisor Delores Oates, request. Oates explained she had received feedback on complications such a move could create for people with younger children hoping to attend meetings in having to arrange childcare situations apparently not at issue earlier in the day.

Prior to adjournment near 8:30 p.m., Oates offered a brief update on the Warren County-Front Royal Drug Prevention Committee’s work. She noted a committee meeting with Judges William Sharp and Darryl Funk on creation of a Drug and/or Family Drug Court in the county. Oates pointed to the success of such directed courts elsewhere in Virginia in helping stabilize with intervention and recovery efforts, family situations, particularly with children involved.

Oates also acknowledged a coming joint effort with the public school system on educating parents and students alike on the dangers of counterfeit prescription medications peddled on the streets that are often laced with highly dangerous chemical combinations or unidentified prescription agents like Fentanyl, the latter ID’ed in a rising tide of illicit drug use overdose deaths.

See all these discussion in the linked County video, including County Emergency Services Coordinator Rick Farrall’s summary of the “Executive Summary” of the six-section, 97-pages of reference material, federal regulations and guidelines related to the “Coronavirus State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds”. County Administrator Ed Daley only had two pages of material on the State and Comp Board funded, County related salary increases – but it was two pages with 84 numbers on them.

Above, Rick Farrall did an excellent job of summarizing 97 pages of government guidelines and regulations on a new round of COVID-19 relief funding in 9 minutes. Below, might Farrall be reacting to Vice-Chairman Fox’s post-meeting request for a 25-word-or-less synopsis of what he’d heard over that nine minutes? – ‘Sure, Archie: We apply for the money; meet the guidelines; get the money; distribute it to eligible recipients; and ride away on our white horses.’ Count ‘em, kids – 25 on the money!!! (Just kidding tho, the photographer was too far away to hear what was really being said.)

In response to a question from Oates on time limits for distribution of coming pandemic relief funds, Farrall said it would NOT be the end of the coming calendar year as with the last round, but rather through the end of calendar year 2026. That information no doubt brought a collective sigh of relief from those involved in the trenches of that application and distribution process.

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Local Government

Sheriff Butler responds to Town attack on his and department’s handling of sewage dumping investigation

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While saying that he had not yet seen it, given an overview of the May 24th Town of Front Royal power point response to his May 11 summary of his department’s investigation into County suspicions of illegal sewage dumping by Town trash truck crews at the County’s Bentonville Solid Waste Transfer Station, Sheriff Mark Butler gave us a response to Town allegations of personal or departmental wrongdoing in that investigation.

One of the photos taken by Sheriff’s Office investigators of attempted Town dumping at Bentonville Transfer Station on April 20.

Royal Examiner received the sheriff’s response on May 25. However, we held it to include with other responses we might receive from County supervisors also named in the Town legal department-presented power point. But at the end of the subsequent week the involved county supervisors and staff have chosen not to respond to the public escalation of the Sludge War of words initiated by town officials on April 26; responded to by the sheriff at the May 11 County Board of Supervisors meeting; and revisited at council’s May 24 meeting – see LINKED stories below.

This is Sheriff Butler’s emailed response of May 25th in its entirety:


Warren County Sheriff Mark Butler said if complainant/suspect roles had been reversed in sludge investigation, it would have been handled in exactly the same manner in an attempt to find the truth of the situation. Royal Examiner File Photos by Roger Bianchini

“The Warren County Sheriff’s Office did its job. After the incident was investigated, we found what we presented at the Board of Supervisors countywide meeting. The Sheriff’s Office serves the entire county and will continue to do so each day. The Sheriff’s Office serves all residents of Warren County to include the Town of Front Royal.

“The Sheriff does not work for the Board of Supervisors nor the Town Council. The Sheriff’s Office works for all residents of Warren County and if the roles had been different, the case would have been run in the same manner.

“As for the authority of the Sheriff, that comes from the Code of Virginia and the Constitution. Unfortunately, the Sheriff’s Office makes decisions daily that may or may not please everyone. The Sheriff’s Office is responsible for investigating all fraud, waste, and abuse at the county level. Our job is to find the facts of the complaint – which was done and will continue to be done without bias.” (From the Office of Warren County Sheriff Mark Butler.)

Linked stories:

‘Sting’ or ‘Investigation’? – Guess it depends on what kind of ‘Crime-TV’ you’ve been watching lately. Below, in introducing the May 24 Town response to the sheriff summary of his investigation, Town Manager Hicks noted that response, from which above photo was taken, was initiated by Mayor Holloway, pictured reading a prepared statement following the presentation.

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Upcoming Events

Jun
18
Fri
8:00 pm Ben-David Warner musical event @ Mountain View Music
Ben-David Warner musical event @ Mountain View Music
Jun 18 @ 8:00 pm – 10:00 pm
Ben-David Warner musical event @ Mountain View Music
Green Mantle Arts and Lecture Series is proud to present our first musical event for the summer, Ben-David Warner! Ben-David Warner IRISH AMERICANA FROM THE HEART OF VIRGINIA Multi-instrumentalist, singer, and songwriter Ben-David Warner lives[...]
Jun
19
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6:00 pm Karaoke Sing-along @ Bushel Pub
Karaoke Sing-along @ Bushel Pub
Jun 19 @ 6:00 pm – 9:00 pm
Karaoke Sing-along @ Bushel Pub
Come join the sing-along and karaoke fun at Bushel Pub (inside the Apple House) on June 19, 2021, from 6pm-9pm.
7:00 pm Front Royal Cardinals Baseball Game @ Bing Crosby Stadium
Front Royal Cardinals Baseball Game @ Bing Crosby Stadium
Jun 19 @ 7:00 pm – 9:30 pm
Front Royal Cardinals Baseball Game @ Bing Crosby Stadium
Front Royal Cardinals Baseball vs. Woodstock River Bandits Saturday, June 19th @ 7 PM Bing Crosby Stadium
Jun
20
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1:00 pm A Benefit for James @ Virginia Beer Museum
A Benefit for James @ Virginia Beer Museum
Jun 20 @ 1:00 pm – 5:00 pm
A Benefit for James @ Virginia Beer Museum
 
1:00 pm Meet the Beekeepers @ Sky Meadows State Park
Meet the Beekeepers @ Sky Meadows State Park
Jun 20 @ 1:00 pm – 3:00 pm
Meet the Beekeepers @ Sky Meadows State Park
Historic Area. What’s that buzzing? Meet with local apiarists of the Beekeepers of Northern Shenandoah (BONS) and discover the art of Apiculture (a.k.a. Beekeeping). This monthly program series examines all aspects of beekeeping from hive[...]
Jun
21
Mon
9:00 am Stop Motion Animation @ Code Ninjas
Stop Motion Animation @ Code Ninjas
Jun 21 @ 9:00 am – Jun 25 @ 12:00 pm
Stop Motion Animation @ Code Ninjas
Stop Motion Animation Experiment with video production through a variety of mediums including Claymation, LEGO® Minifigures, pipe cleaner creatures, and much more! Ninjas will capture images frame-by-frame and produce videos in a rapid prototyping style.[...]
1:08 pm Summer At Sacred Heart @ Sacred Heart
Summer At Sacred Heart @ Sacred Heart
Jun 21 @ 1:08 pm – 2:08 pm
Summer At Sacred Heart @ Sacred Heart
Come check out the biggest camp selection in Winchester! Over 57-week-long camps are offered on a rotating basis, from June 21 through August 13, for kids ages 3-13. Extended care options are available. We offer[...]
6:00 pm FREE Trauma-Informed Training @ ONLINE
FREE Trauma-Informed Training @ ONLINE
Jun 21 @ 6:00 pm – 8:00 pm
FREE Trauma-Informed Training @ ONLINE
WARREN COALITION HOSTS FREE TRAUMA-INFORMED TRAINING The Warren Coalition, in partnership with Northwestern Prevention Collaborative, will offer a free, virtual Course 1 Trauma-Informed Training beginning on June 14th. This course is designed to provide information[...]
Jun
23
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12:00 pm FRWRC Women In Networking @ ONLINE
FRWRC Women In Networking @ ONLINE
Jun 23 @ 12:00 pm – 1:30 pm
FRWRC Women In Networking @ ONLINE
CLICK HERE for link to attend. Guest: Patty Fadeley, Blue Ridge Hospice *Event will also be Live on Facebook Topic: Blue Ridge Hospice FREE VIRTUAL EVENT “More than just another networking group”. FRWRC WIN is[...]
4:00 pm Messy Makers and Art Adventures ... @ microWave Project
Messy Makers and Art Adventures ... @ microWave Project
Jun 23 @ 4:00 pm – 5:00 pm
Messy Makers and Art Adventures for Kids @ microWave Project
We are bringing back two of our most popular classes for the month of June, Messy Makers and Art Adventures! Messy Makers returns for the month of June on Wednesdays from 4-5 pm. With the warm weather[...]