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From Town Eyesore to Downtown Anchor: Reimagining the Afton Inn

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The Afton Inn is one of the most historic and iconic buildings in Front Royal and Warren County. Dating to post-Civil War reconstruction, circa 1868, it sits gutted, partially boarded up, and behind fencing at the intersection of Royal Avenue and East Main Street where an anchor building should be welcoming visitors to Front Royal’s Historic Downtown Business District. It’s a daily reminder of how far Front Royal has to go to be a picturesque destination to match the natural wonders surrounding it.

Which do you like better, what is there now (above) or 2 East Main LLC’s plan for the property (below) once they are allowed to purchase it? Seems like a no brainer for anyone with an interest in Front Royal’s Historic Downtown Business District. Royal Examiner File Photos by Roger Bianchini – Courtesy Graphics 2 E. Main LLC

The obvious and often-asked question, especially in light of a pending sales contract ready to be signed re-igniting redevelopment work halted in its early stages over a year ago – is on what advice and WHY is the Front Royal Town Council blocking that sale over an ownership dispute that won’t legally bring any revenue its way, no matter who owns and sells the property? But alas, that will be a question to be explored on another, not too distant day.

For after approaching the now unilaterally run, if not yet legally separated, Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority on the front end of the above question, we were guided in another direction, the “what if” direction – as in what if ALL involved parties agreed to have the sale accomplished as 2021 arrives?


Portions of 2 E. Main’s Phase 1a stabilization and window header work being done in March of 2019. If allowed to purchase and continue redevelopment maybe the Town Trolley would have a new drop-off point, rather than having to tell passengers to close their eyes as they pass the Afton property.

Enter 2 East Main LLC, the visionary development team who had an active development lease on the property but has since moved forward to entering into an outright purchase of the Afton Inn from the Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority. The company’s principals are the duo of Jim Burton, owner of Carter/Burton Architecture based out of Clarke County and Alexandria-based Alan Omar, Founder and CEO of The Capital Gate investment firm working out of Fairfax. Mr. Burton is an accomplished and experienced architect, and his works are featured in the book, “AA Architects – 30 of the Most Relevant World Architects”.

Burton is the lone common denominator between original Afton redevelopment group dating to around 2015/16 MODE LLC and 2 East Main LLC which took over in early-mid 2018. When Burton introduced Omar as his new partner, he told the Town Board of Architectural Review (BAR) that he, not only brought financial stability to the Afton project, but that he was also “in for the long haul”. Through repeated delays beyond 2 East Main’s control, Omar has certainly lived up to that promise.

Throughout the course of the EDA’s recent troubled past, and in their attempts to resolve past property transactions, the newly structured EDA Board of Directors has continued to work with 2 East Main realizing their continued commitment and ambition in the development of this high-profile corner of historic downtown Front Royal. In June 2020, the EDA Board of Directors voted to accept a purchase offer from 2 East Main LLC and have been actively working to transfer the property.

2 East Main LLC successfully completed Phase 1A of the redevelopment, which included plan development, engineering, partial demolition, asbestos abatement, and replacing wood window headers with steel lintels for today’s more rigorous commercial building codes. The work also included brick repairs around the windows and other key areas of the building.

Above, a closer view of Phase 1a work; below Jim Burton presents replacement brick options to the Town Board of Architectural Review in October 2018. After tough scrutiny the BAR membership enthusiastically approved 2 E. Main’s plans for the property.

Burton and Omar say the next phase, 1B, will include securing the floors and roof cupola along with the rebuilding of the roof and Yankee gutters.

They say it is crucial that the restoration resume as soon as possible as the building has been exposed to two winters and will begin to deteriorate significantly if not weatherproofed soon. If not promptly addressed, the recently completed restoration work will be compromised, further exacerbating the already compromised Inn. These sentiments have been echoed by members of the community, design consultants, Front Royal Town Administration, 2 East Main, and the EDA.

During the early phases of the project and while construction was commencing, 2 East Main LLC was requested by the town and state historic representatives to make unplanned window modifications to the new design in order to become a contributing structure as part of the State level HUD grant program, known as the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG).

The grant program would have been in jeopardy if the Afton Inn did not join with revised design elements. Front Royal had previously narrowly missed out on development block grants for the downtown. Adding the Afton Inn as part of Front Royal’s most recent grant request yielded a positive result which brought $750,000 in federal dollars to downtown revitalization. 2 East Main quickly revised the design for submission and final approval. “We saw many benefits to participating in the program to help the Front Royal community.” Burton said.

Above from left, BAR members Angela Toler, Duane Vaughan and Nancy LeHew examine Phase 1a architectural plans presented by Burton, across the table. Below, a close up of a portion of those plans on brick replacement.

Both Burton and Omar have shown a passion for the historic structure and have had a clear vision for turning a dilapidated building into the crown jewel of Main Street. “This project will inspire other investments in Front Royal, from developers, business owners, and entrepreneurs. It will motivate the local community, especially the younger generation, to stay in the region as they plant their roots,” Omar said.

Their vision for the building includes full restoration of the current structure along with compatible additions that would allow the building and property to be a center of commerce for the east end of Main Street. The architectural renderings show space for indoor and outdoor dining, offices and perhaps apartments.

This live/work/play model has been a successful magnet for economic activity for downtown economies across Virginia and the U.S.  Notable areas with high levels of success include The Reston Town Center, The Carlyle in the Eisenhower section of Alexandria, and closer to home examples including downtown Winchester, Historic Warrenton, and renewed interest in downtown Front Royal. The office space will provide a channel for employers and employees to patronize Main Street restaurants and to shop at local stores, generating more revenue for both the small businesses on Main Street and for the Town and County through smart growth and utilizing existing resources.

Two views of the Afton structure from East Main Street dividing the property from the Warren County Courthouse. Above, what could be, including two auxiliary structures and an outdoor dining patio area; below what is – the pigeons appear to be casting their votes for keeping the roof-top cupola – and it will be retained.

Residential also contributes to the downtown economy as these residents will surely spend a portion of their disposable income at the nearby shops and restaurants. The planned restaurant will bring people to that end of Main Street for lunch and dinner so that Main Street will be equally anchored by the future Afton Inn and the existing community gathering location at the Gazebo.

Omar and Burton are enthusiastic about the project. Omar commented “The natural beauty of the river valley and surrounding mountains are undeniable. I especially enjoy riding my motorcycle through the hills. We hope that our new developments will attract new visitors to expand and enliven the community, to see the beauty and potential of the town the way we have been drawn to it.” Burton added, “We have formed friendships with local artists, builders, photographers and newspaper people. We have had many people express their support for what we have been working on, under unusual circumstances.”

For further information on this project, please contact EDA Executive Director, Doug Parsons, at 540-635-2182 or dparsons@wceda.com.

I interviewed the usually silent and inscrutable courthouse for this story, and it definitely prefers the redevelopment plan over what it now stares at across E. Main St. – and THAT was ON the record.

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After work session discussion of Town building permit function, supervisors approve 3 CUP requests, 2 for short-term tourist rentals

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The Warren County Board of Supervisors agenda of Tuesday, January 18, began with a no cameras, caucus room work session highlighted by a presentation by County Building Official David Beahm on implications of the Town of Front Royal taking over the building and maintenance inspection function within town limits. It is a long-discussed on the Town side shift, that began in the first decade of the 21st century if memory serves. But after hearing about constantly shifting variables on interpretation and enforcement of stormwater management and erosion and sediment control aspects at the state level, one might wonder if the Town might want to reconsider its decision to finally move into the in-town inspection world.

“That’s ridiculous,” North River Supervisor Delores Oates chimed in with a colorful declaration after hearing Beahm’s description of ongoing shifts in State interpretations of its own rules on parameters of municipal enforcement of state rules on these aspects of building variables. Responding to questions, Town Planning Director Lauren Kopishke estimated full town inspection department enforcement, including stormwater and erosion and sediment control by June. The Town department was officially enacted on January 3rd. Dynamics of in-town inspection records being shifted to Town control from the County system was discussed, as was alerting in-town property owners to seek those records from the Town when they were transferred.

County Finance Director Matt Robertson also presented a look at new online links to a budget development site for easier member and staff access during the budget cycle.

Following those two presentations the supervisor adjourned to closed session for discussion of advisory board appointments and real estate transactions outside the town limits.


Then it was on to a rather straightforward regular meeting agenda featuring three public hearings on Conditional Use Permit (CUP) requests, one for a guesthouse off Buck Mountain Road in the South River District’s Stone Subdivision by Joshua Branson, and two for short-term tourist rentals on Riverview Shores Drive in the Shenandoah Shores Subdivision.

Short-term Tourist Rental permitting applicants Richard Butcher and Gillian Greenfield address their broad experience in the realm leading to what was described by board Chair Cullers as an extremely detailed and complete business plan. Below, Butcher-Greenfield neighbor Terry Hartson said he is taking the lead on his Short-Term Tourist Rental business plan from his more experienced neighbors. Royal Examiner Photos by Roger Bianchini

The first of those latter two was submitted by experienced and multi-county short-term, Air B&B style rental operators Gillian Greenfield and Richard Butcher; the second by a property neighbor of Greenfield and Butcher, Terry Hartson. Hartson told the board that he had taken his business management plan lead from his more experienced neighbors. Hartson spoke in support of his neighbors’ request, as they did in support of his. With acknowledgment the Branson guesthouse would not be used as a commercial endeavor, and detailed management plans for the two short-term rental requests in place, all three were approved by unanimous consent with little or no opposition submitted to the board prior to the public hearing.

About five minutes into the meeting during Public Comments the Town’s recent “interim man” returned to the dais to play word games to repeat still-unsubstantiated accusations against County and Town officials, as well as gripes about the Royal Examiner and its reporters not covering “news” as he desires it to be covered – apparently unsubstantiated, without first-hand verification, and without an objectively critical eye toward the documented actions of public officials, particularly within Town Hall.

Board Chair Cullers looks for guidance from staff on whether to permit public speaker to continue personal attacks on members and others in a reworded ‘positive’ and ‘grateful’ manner. Below, filling in as interim county attorney for the meeting, Mark Bowman, to County Administrator Ed Daley’s left, suggested caution in cutting the speaker off early, but added that if the chair heard ‘one’ (personal attack) she was within her right to cut the speaker off. However, the speaker’s repeated use of the word ‘grateful’ for actions he either alleged without proof or doesn’t agree with, led the chair to allow him to finish this time around.

See the above discussions, public comments, as well as board member reports, and approval of a four-item Consent Agenda, including more coyote bounty awards, and discussion of a removed consent agenda staffing search item, and two late agenda additions in this County video:

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‘Grandfathering’ or not? County Planning Commission foresees the need to address Non-Conforming Properties

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At its regular meeting on January 12, the Warren County Planning Commission confronted a nagging issue that members expect will increasingly come up in the future, that of property owners in older subdivisions whose dwellings were built long before there were local zoning ordinances or even building inspections. Even though building codes date back to the Babylonian King Hammurabi, and rudimentary standards in the late 18th century, most large American cities didn’t begin enacting or enforcing them until 1900 or so, and in most smaller localities they were not widely enacted until the 1970’s, and even after that not uniformly enforced. In Warren County, for example, many small “summer cabins” were built near or on the river in the 1940’s or before, when that requirement did not exist. They weren’t originally intended to be permanent homes, but rather vacation places. In modern times, local zoning ordinances would preclude many of these from being built at all, or certainly sited where they are.

The continuing challenge for the County is to strike a balance between a property owner’s investment in his property, the need for uniform enforcement of the building code, and common sense. More and more requests for Conditional Use Permits (CUPs) for short-term tourist rentals, for example, show that property owners, sometimes with “nonconforming lots”, still want to rent their cabins out to tourists. But the standards of the County’s short-term tourist rental ordinance require things like 100-foot distance between dwellings. So, the commissioners spent some time discussing what the right approach to that challenge is. Zoning law is where the term “grandfathering” is often found – provisions that allow some deviations from standards where the original construction predated the standard. It’s certain that the commission and the county board will have to eventually develop a solution that can be applied fairly and uniformly.

County Planning commissioners wrestle with the challenge of when to enforce the zoning ordinance and when to “grandfather”. Increasing numbers of Conditional Use Permits will require decisions about whether to recommend waiving County regulations for individual applicants.

An example case will likely be considered at next months meeting, when the commissioners will be looking at a request from Alvand Khoshgavar for a CUP for a short-term tourist rental for his residentially zoned property at 668 Old Dam Road in the Shenandoah District. His property doesn’t meet the 100-foot setback requirement, so that requirement would have to be waived for a permit to be issued. The request was approved for advertising the public hearing, but the commissioners agreed that the topic of these properties will need to have a better solution. The County can waive provisions of an ordinance, but every waiver creates a precedent.


Meanwhile, this month, John LaVoie is requesting a CUP for his residentially zoned property at 1196 Old Oak Lane in the Shenandoah District. Deputy Planning Director Matt Wendling briefed the commission on the details of the application.  The proposal meets the County short-term rental supplementary regulations, and comments were received from the County Building Official and the Department of Health. There were no citizen comments during the public hearing, and no comments or objections were received from neighboring property owners by the County Planning Department.

With no other comments by commission members, the vote to recommend approval was unanimous. The permit request will now go to the County Board of Supervisors for final approval.

The consent agenda for the meeting consisted of authorization to advertise public hearings for seven Conditional Use Permit requests and one zoning ordinance change. Those items will be on the agenda for next month’s meeting on February 9th.

Chairman Myers adjourned the meeting at 7:45 p.m.

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Town of Front Royal prepares for its 2nd, oh wait – 3rd winter storm of season

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On January 14, 2022, the operations team that includes Public Works, Energy, Fleet Management, Finance, and the Police Department met to discuss the upcoming snowstorm forecast to drop from 6 inches to a foot or more of snow here. Public Works crews are treating primary roads now in preparation for the winter storm now predicted to begin around 1 p.m. on Sunday. Road crews and Fleet will begin working 12-hour shifts over the weekend to continue treating streets and plowing snow as needed.

The Police Department is asking citizens to stay off the roads during the storm if possible. Road crews are better able to cover streets with less traffic. The Town is asking residents to use off-street parking this weekend if available.

Town Energy Services crews are prepared and will be working this weekend to cover possible power outages. Power outages after work hours should be reported to Front Royal Police at (540) 635-2111. If you have internet connectivity during working hours, please report outages at frontroyalva.com/FormCenter.

As always in an emergency call 911.


Public Works and Energy Services also have contractors on standby if additional crews are needed.

Front Royal will post updated information on the Town website (www.frontroyalva.com), Facebook (facebook.com/frontroyalva), and Instagram (instagram.com/frontroyalva) as necessary.

The Virginia Department of Transportation Staunton District is preparing for forecasted snow and some sleet to occur during the daytime on Sunday, January 16, and into overnight hours, ending by early Monday, January 17. VDOT crews began brine operations at 8 a.m. on Friday, January 14 and will conclude this work later in the day.

In the Staunton District, around 900 – 920 pieces of equipment will be deployed for snow removal operations. VDOT crews will be out to plow and treat roads as the winter weather begins. Wreckers will be pre-staged to assist with vehicle removal at traffic crash locations along interstate roads. Tree crews are ready to assist as needed during and after the storm.

Travel during the storm should be avoided and local forecasts should be monitored. Winter weather with wind and snow rates can change quickly, causing dangerous driving conditions and possible white-out situations.

Travelers should be prepared for emergencies. Travel emergency kits can include flashlights and batteries, ice scraper, cell phone and charger, jumper cables, blankets or quilts, first aid kit, bottled water, non-perishable food, abrasive material for traction, and a shovel.

(The Front Royal Public Information Office updated its release on the above preparations to acknowledge this will be the third, rather than second snow of the season to hit the town.)

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After lengthy closed session, council ponders its role in regulating short-term-tourist rentals

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The Monday evening (Jan. 10) Front Royal Town Council Work Session began with a two-hour-plus Closed Meeting at which first, “probable litigation” involving a claim of damaged private property by unidentified Town operations was discussed; followed by discussion of personnel matters including “… performance, demotion, salaries, disciplining, or resignation of specific public officers, appointees, or employees … specifically of the Town Planning Commission, Town Board of Zoning Appeals, and the Local Board of Building Code Appeals”, as well as a late added “and other personnel”.

The first two hours of Monday’s work session was conducted behind closed doors regarding a property damage claim against the Town, and personnel matters. Royal Examiner Photos by Roger Bianchini

As there was no meeting scheduled, no announcement or action followed the closed session.

The open portion of the work secession featured a wide-ranging conversation about establishment of a Town Code on regulating Short-Term Tourist Rentals. Town Planning Director Lauren Kopishke opened by telling council that no one had showed up at a December Planning Commission Public Hearing on the matter, so there was no public input on parameters or preferences to fit town residential patterns interacting with the increasingly popular “quasi-commercial” use of personal residence as a money-making short-term rental endeavor.


After an overview from Kopishke of the draft proposal based on the existing County Code, opinions of elected officials on levels of regulation went in wide and varied directions. Letasha Thompson opened by expressing concern over a requirement that all short-term rental parking be in driveways, and not allowed on streets. – “Some people don’t have driveways” she worried over that segment being prohibited from qualifying for Conditional Use Permits (CUPs) to allow them to profit off renting their properties out.

Kopishke responded that such conditions were included to protect normal neighborhood parking patterns and would ultimately depend on the number of cars short-term rental customers would bring to bear on a location.

Amber Morris wondered if the Town should initiate any regulations on the use, noting that there were statewide codes. “Where in the Town Code are short-term rentals specifically prohibited? Because I have been approached recently that it is not specifically against code. And in the state of Virginia it’s pretty blanketed. And my concern with this is … that we’re kind of going above and beyond and we’re adding unnecessary measures to the entire thing as a whole,” she told the planning director, later wondering why after “10-plus years” of non-enforcement, why start regulating now?

“While it’s not defined in our zoning ordinance – all we have defined are lodging homes. And these do not permit short-term stays under 14 days. So, to allow this we have to at least define it in our ordinance,” Kopishke responded, adding, “The state does permit it, which is why it makes sense for us to adopt something, because the state just defines what it is and explains how they’re going to tax it. It doesn’t explain how to regulate it.”

Planning Director Lauren Kopishke, standing to left, explains dynamics of Town’s role in regulating a developing rental trend, short-term out of private homes, as council ponders its role in regulating a quasi-business operation inside its limits.

Morris countered that the draft seemed “a little over-regulated” in its existing form. Planning Director Kopishke noted that with such a broad state code it made sense for each jurisdiction to establish its own regulatory code to accommodate its community structure, so as not to allow a new quasi-business use to disrupt the lifestyle of existing neighborhoods.

“Every jurisdiction has something a little bit different. So, what I took just for simplicity’s sake was Warren County’s because that’s what people around here would be used to. I looked at Strasburg, Strasburg’s just a little bit more complicated – Winchester, Fauquier County, they have more regulation to it. So, this is bare bones,” Kopishke said of the draft structure presented to council for an early review.

“This leaves a lot up to our discretion, right?” Vice-Mayor Lori Cockrell observed.

“The way it’s written gives you as council a lot of control. If you want less, we can put less prohibitions in there. It’s how council would like it to be done,” the planning director explained. This led Councilman Joseph McFadden to note that many people who might be attracted to the idea of making money off short-term rentals of their home or other structures might not think through a business plan – “This just gives them something to think about. I think it’s great there are some (guidelines) in here. Like you said, we decomplicated it, uncomplicated it as much as possible, keep it bare bones, I’m all for it,” McFadden said.

However, Morris continued to voice concern over any attempt at regulation, noting that in the absence of a code, a number of town citizens have been operating this type of rental use for a number of years. – “But we haven’t gone after them,” Kopishke noted. She observed that were its council desire, the Town could initiate legal actions to stop those operations until a code is established and permitting obtained. – “It could be considered a Class 3 misdemeanor,” the planning director pointed out, adding that it did not seem a desirable approach to label people “criminals” for pursuing a use in a vacuum of town guidance or regulation.

“That’s not the concern, but the concern is we’ve been doing this for 10-plus years and it hasn’t been enforced, why are we adding new (regulations)?” Morris continued in questioning why bother to regulate now. McFadden responded that some people who would like to initiate such an operation were not because they wanted “to operate within the law”. Establishing legal parameters to protect short-term tourist operations, as well as their neighbors’ interests in a more “bare-boned” manner as described, seemed an optimum path forward, he reasoned.

“I think we should do less regulation,” Morris injected, without explaining what was “less” than the no regulations or enforcement the Town has been operating under.

Among regulations on the table were the necessity of short-term tourist rentals having landline phones to assure the ability to contact emergency services if necessary, limitations on number of rental occupants (two per bedroom), vehicles and parking, and a one-time application fee of $400.

“I look at this as protecting our citizens, the people who live here every day … that their quality of life in their neighborhood, their children, whatever, that it doesn’t affect them because somebody next to them wants to do this,” Vice-Mayor Cockrell observed as the conversation wound down. The entire discussion lasted for nearly 20 minutes (33:50 to 52:00 minute mark of the Town video). As to a path forward, Kopishke told Royal Examiner she would remove the driveway parking restriction and forward the newest draft ordinance to the planning commission for further review and a recommendation on final action to council.

See this discussion, as well as others, including parameters for Vape/Vape Oriented Businesses (following the short-term tourist rental discussion); the Order of Business” at regular council meetings – one proposed switch was having Public Comments on non-agenda items after Public Hearings; two committee appointments; options forward in the employee health care insurance pool; pending Capital Improvement Projects; and a Sole Source Purchase of Neptune Water Meters at a projected cost of $65,523.

Not on the agenda

One other unscheduled item that occurred just before the work session’s convening around 6 p.m. was serving of a no-trespass order on Mayor Holloway by a representative of his Virginia Ave. neighbor Cheryl Langlais. As noted toward the conclusion of Norma Jean Shaw’s story on Holloway’s dog-containment fence construction and permitting issues, Holloway had refused to accept a registered letter serving him with the notice in the wake of his and other social media posts concerning his discontent with his neighbor’s report on his dogs running loose and her in-home business licensing issues.

Mayor Holloway does not appear pleased shortly after receiving a no-trespass order just before Monday’s work session’s convening. Below, a copy of the trespass order initially attempted to be delivered by registered letter, which the mayor is reported by its sender to have declined to accept.

Mayor built fence prior to obtaining zoning permit – is a pattern emerging?

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Warren County Supervisors consider rural events facilities in the South River District with mixed results

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The Warren County Board of Supervisors met Wednesday, January 11, to consider four Conditional Use Permits (CUPs) in the South River District. The four applications on the agenda are all related to the proposed uses of agricultural land. Increasing attention to land use in the past 10 years and pressure for more residential housing have meant greater focus on the balance between property rights and community impact. The terms “By Right” and “Permitted Use” mean property owners can do some things with their property with no approvals required, and other uses are subject to “conditional use” permits issued by the “governing body”, in this case, the county supervisors.

Filled chairs at the Wednesday Warren County Board of Supervisors meeting in anticipation of a Browntown property owner’s request for a permit for Campgrounds and rural events facilities. Photos by Stephen Sill.

Carl and Jennifer Ey applied for a CUP for a rural events facility on their Agriculturally Zoned acreage at 1406 Panhandle Road in Bentonville. The County Planning Commission had previously recommended approval of the permit, and the Eys are experienced, small rural venue operators. Deputy Planning Director Matt Wendling briefed the Supervisors that the County Building Official, Health Department, and Virginia Department of Transportation had provided comments on the proposal. The Department of Conservation and Recreation – Andy Guest State Park had also requested in writing that the facility observe the same quiet hours as the park facility, so the conditions of the permit were modified to require that events hosted at the site should end at 10 p.m.

Supervisor Vicky Cook asked the applicant if he anticipated having to accommodate large vehicles such as buses for the events, given the narrow road leading to the site. The applicant responded that he would be happy to accommodate a prohibition on buses if that was the intent of the board, and that should the expected number of vehicles at an event be sufficient to warrant, his plan was to have someone to direct traffic to avoid any conflicts.


The public hearing on this request yielded three speakers, two of which were supportive of the permit, and one against; in addition a neighboring landowner had registered his opposition to the site of the facility on the applicant’s property. The applicant had addressed the concerns with the neighbor in writing and with the planning department. Bill Barnett, a local property developer and coincidentally a nearby resident of the property, expressed his strong support for the project. He said as the pressure on landowners increases to more effectively use their acreage, “The easy way out,” is to cut down all the trees, bulldoze it level, and build houses. He commended the applicant for devising a way to preserve the rural character of the area and still share it with the public.
Supervisors asked questions about road access to the facility and whether a nearby archaeological site could be impacted by the planned use. The Planning Department staff indicated this facility was a substantial distance from the Flint Run Archaeological site. VDOT had weighed in with its requirements which also had been addressed by the applicants. The Board then voted unanimously to approve the permit.

Wright proposals
The supervisors then turned their attention to a request by Edwin Wright for a CUP for a Commercial Campground on his agriculturally zoned property at 2905 Gooney Manor Loop, again in the South River Magisterial District. Board Chairman Cheryl Cullers cautioned the waiting crowd that disruptions or outbursts were prohibited under the rules of public meetings. In contrast to the previous public hearing, nearly 100 citizens were in attendance to register their opinions about the Gooney Manor proposal.

Deputy Planning Director Wendling informed the Supervisors that the applicant had modified his request to scale the size back from 100 primitive campsites to 50 in deference to the community concerns about traffic to the site. That modification appeared to take the supervisors by surprise, as the application package still indicated the project would provide 100 spaces. Several supervisors asked questions about the reduction in scope – was it a permanent reduction, or would there be a later expansion. The applicant indicated that, depending on the results of the project, the size could be expanded.

Supervisor Walt Mabe expressed concern about the availability of water and power, and Mr. Wright explained that water would be available throughout the site, but power would not be provided to each site, Since there was uncertainty about the types and sizes of camping modes (Tents, Small trailers, etc.) and little detail in the application about the facilities that would be provided, the Supervisors were dubious about the proposal even before the public hearing.

Applicant Edwin Wright answers questions about his campground conditional use permit on his property in Browntown. Supervisors eventually decided against approving his permit requests.

There were 43 speakers present, and according to one of the speakers, Stacey Mikel, over 700 local residents had signed an online petition opposing the permit. The complaints followed a familiar theme:

• The roads were inadequate to support the additional traffic

• Campers would likely create fire hazards in a heavily wooded area adjacent to a national park

• Cell service in the area is inadequate so emergency 911 calls might not work

• Access by fire/EMS could be restricted by road blockage

• Fire/EMS staff is already inadequate

• Alcohol-related incidents are likely

• “Visitors don’t care about the community”

• Trash dumping

• Some don’t trust the applicant

• Lack of applicant’s experience managing a campground.

• Concerns about trespassing, firearms, or personal safety of neighboring residents

Local developer and resident William Barnett gives a passionate defense of Edwin Wright’s request for a conditional use permit. Barnett pointed out the need for facilities of this type to provide visitors access to the many assets that Warren County offers.

After almost two hours of always civil, if opposing public comment, William Barnett addressed the Supervisors again: “If you disapprove this, you should never, ever approve another campground unless it fronts on State Routes 340 or 522,” Barnett asserted. Supervisor Cook then introduced a motion to deny the permit, seconded by Supervisor Mabe. The vote was unanimous and there was a sigh of relief in the room.

The Supervisors then took up the next CUP request by Edwin Wright for a Rural Events Facility at the same address. Many of the same residents rose to oppose the permit and echo the same complaints. It was clear that opposition to the rural events facility was at least as strong as that for the campground. Supervisors asked about the size of events that the applicant expected to host, such as concerts or gatherings. The answer was that the expectation was that groups and concerts would not exceed 200 people.

Mr. Barnett again rose to support the request and compared this Rural Events Facility development to the one that had earlier been unanimously approved. “People who attend these events expect them to be in rural areas with small roads.” The last to make a public comment was Phillip Vaught, a local innkeeper, and investor, in support of the proposal. He told the supervisors that the great danger for a property of this type is that landowners with agricultural property have the right to divide their property and it was easy to envision 100 houses or even more on that property, without a hearing of any kind.

At the conclusion of the public comment period, Chairman Cullers in whose district the Wright proposals lie, then spoke. “I have gone out there and measured this road, and I am familiar with it.”

Her concern about the permit was safety. “Safety is the issue,” she said. A motion to deny the permit request was made by Supervisor Mabe and seconded by Supervisor Butler. The vote was again unanimous to deny.

Warren County Board of Supervisors Chair Cheryl Cullers listens to the arguments for and against a permit for a Rural Events Facility on Browntown’s Gooney Manor Loop. At the conclusion of the hearing, the Supervisors decided to deny the permit.

There was a brief discussion about the remaining two Conditional Use Permit requests by Mr. Wright for a Campground and a Rural Events Facility on an adjoining property. Mr. Wright announced to the Board that he was withdrawing those requests to research and reevaluate his plans. He expected it to be several months before he was ready for the next steps.

In light of the withdrawal, Chairman Cullers adjourned the meeting at 10:30 p.m.

 

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Town announces ‘plans’ to appoint out-of-area Interim Town Attorney

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In a press release, late Tuesday afternoon the Town of Front Royal’s Richmond-based Public Information contractor Joanne Williams of Williams Media issued a press release announcing the Town’s “plans” to appoint an interim town attorney. No timing on the actual appointment was included in the release naming James E. Cornwell, Jr. of White Stone, Virginia, as that planned appointee.

White Stone is a small, coastal town at the mouth of the Rappahannock River near its entry point into the Chesapeake Bay in Lancaster County. An online search indicated White Stone’s population at 352 in the 2010 census and 327 in the 2020 census.

However, Stone’s legal experience is somewhat broader than his hometown’s population, cited at “over 45 years of active practice representing local Virginia governments, public bodies, and authorities”. If our count was right, there were 24 counties, public bodies, and authorities that Stone has represented over his legal career. And if we were to guess based on his experience in the legal field, we’d say his age, while not stated, is not far from the 70 of the recently “retired” man he is replacing on an interim basis.

That lengthy legal experience will provide the background for duties cited as “providing daily advice on internal, administrative and management matters, specific personnel matters, preparing ordinances, contracts and other documents for adoption or approval, interpreting state and federal laws and regulations, and advising the Town on practices and procedures.”


If recent events and closed session agendas are an indicator, interpreting regulations regarding state codes as they might conflict with a local charter or code as to personnel matters, for instance regarding planning commissions among others, may be put to the test early in his tenure, whenever it begins.

See the Town release in its entirety below:

Front Royal Plans to Appoint Interim Town Attorney

Front Royal Town Counsel plans to appoint James E. Cornwell, Jr. from White Stone, Virginia as the interim Town attorney. Mr. Cornwell has over 45 years of active practice representing local Virginia governments, public bodies, and authorities.

Cornwell’s vast experience in local government includes providing legal services for: Town of Narrows; Town of Glen Lyn; Giles County School Board; Giles County Department of Social Services; Dinwiddie County; Bland County; New Kent County; Craig County, Brunswick County; Lancaster County; Grayson County; City of Galax; Carroll County; Floyd County; Town of Clarksville; Page County; New River Valley Regional Jail; Pepper’s Ferry Regional Wastewater Treatment Authority; Carroll Grayson Galax Regional Solid Waste Authority; Eastern Shore of Virginia Broadband Authority; Roanoke-Alleghany Regional Commission; New River Valley Regional Commission; Virginia First Regional Industrial Facility Authority, and Carroll Grayson Galax Regional Industrial Facility Authority.

“Mr. Cornwell’s extensive legal knowledge and experience in local government is needed in Front Royal as the Town develops new strategic and comprehensive plans, updates zoning and code compliance ordinances and launches the Economic Development Authority,” said Mayor Chris Holloway. “He understands and is an expert on navigating local government processes and regulations within mandate policies from Virginia and the federal government.”

During his years in practice, Mr. Cornwell has provided counsel to many authorities and entities including EDA, IDA, Water and Sewer, and the collection of delinquent real estate taxes.
Cornwell’s services to Front Royal will include providing daily advice on internal, administrative and management matters, specific personnel matters, preparing ordinances, contracts and other documents for adoption or approval, interpreting state and federal laws and regulations, and advising the Town on practices and procedures.

Mr. Cornwell has served as Substitute General District and Juvenile Court Judge, 29th Virginia Judicial Circuit for ten (10) years. He earned a B.A. degree from Campbell College and a J.D. degree from the College of William & Mary.

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