FRONT ROYAL – Sometimes it pays to be Number 2, well actually Number 16, just one position out of the money among applicants for State economic development grant money. As Front Royal’s Community Development Director Felicia Hart explained to council following the September 19 announcement of over $9-million in Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funding announced for distribution to 15 Virginia municipalities, Front Royal was Number One out of the second group of municipal applicants – the group not getting money.
But being Number One out of the Number Two group paid off on January 5, when the office of Governor Terry McAuliffe announced the awarding of another $2,149,346 in CDBG funding to four more municipalities. Consequently Front Royal will receive $700,000 to foster economic revitalization to its business district.
Having faced the disappointment of being so close, yet out of the money less than four months ago, Royal Examiner asked town Community Development Director Hart about the unexpected good news to start the new year.
“We, as a town and community, feel very fortunate that additional State funds were found to help us secure this grant towards the economic revitalization of our area. In addition to all the volunteers who put all their time and effort into making this a success, Town Council should be acknowledged for their work in understanding the need for this grant and finding the funds to match the requested State funds.
“This grant provides us two years to implement, so our committee will be putting together an overall timeline – to-do’s, projects, fund allocations, etc. – as part of our entire game plan. I’m excited to see all the hard work of our volunteers rewarded. Now, we’ll be rolling up our sleeves and getting back to work – again.
“What a great problem to have!”
In the governor’s Friday, January 5 press release, McAuliffe said, “This program has long been providing funding for projects that improve the quality of life for thousands of Virginians every year. Through Community Development Block Grants, we are able to address needs across the Commonwealth including critical infrastructure, such as water and sewer service, as well as improve economic development opportunities, ensuring job creation in rural areas. I congratulate the four grantees and look forward to the success of these projects in Virginia.”
The governor’s office release also traced the history of the program: “Since 1982, the federally-funded CDBG program has been administered by the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development. Nearly three hundred non-metropolitan cities, counties, and towns are eligible for this program in the Commonwealth. Most of the approximately $16.5 million Virginia receives annually is allocated among local government applicants through a competitive process using objective scoring criteria developed in consultation with eligible localities.”
Receiving the additional CDBG funds in addition to Front Royal ($700,000) were the Town of Narrows ($699,346) and the Counties of Scott ($250,000) and Amherst ($500,000). Awarding of the State CDBG funds mandates a matching investment, if not precisely 50/50 close to it, by the municipality to achieve its redevelopment proposal.
The Town’s original application sought one-million dollars from the State under a special exception of need. The projects cited in that application included six focused on downtown. The first of those sought exterior improvements to privately owned business properties in the Downtown Historic Business District:
· Façade improvements, $365,000 State/$350,000 Town;
The other five downtown projects cited physical improvements to publicly owned Town property, including:
· Physical improvements, public restrooms and drinking fountains, to the Town Gazebo area, $125,000 State/$26,180 Town;
· Multi-purpose Open Air Gathering Space, Gazebo area, $137,500 State/$114,500 Town;
· Sidewalk and streetlight upgrades on East Main Street, $25,000 State/$13,500 Town;
· Improvement to Jackson Street parking and side street and alley enhancements, $40,000 State/$16,500 Town.
· A sixth project, the Royal Shenandoah Greenway tied to the Criser Road Trail Link, was proposed at no cost to the State, with all $400,000 funded by the Town.
So, including the Greenway project funded in total by the Town ($400,000) and the façade improvements for private businesses ($735,000 total State and Town), the total amount of funding proposed for Public Improvements in the original million-dollar funding application was $898,180, with $327,500 from the State and $570,680 funded by the Town.
Other costs included:
· Administrative ($87,350 total – $79,800 State/$7,550 Town);
· Signage ($190,500 total – $156,000 State/$34,500 Town);
· and Branding & Marketing ($74,900 total – $51,700 State/$23,200 town.
If you glazed over by ALL those NUMBERS, the grand total of the originally-submitted Town of Front Royal CDBG application was $1,985,930, with $1,000,000 even coming from the State and remaining $985,930 funded by the Town.
Hart told Royal Examiner on Monday, January 8, that the Towns’ Project Management Team for the grant will have to reappraise its priorities to determine how the $300,000 reduction in State funding will impact the revitalization plan.
As stated by Town Planning Director Jeremy Camp during a Monday night council meeting power point presentation on the CDBG program and the Town’s most recent visioning statement related to the grant application, communities receiving CDBG funds have two years to complete their redevelopment project utilizing the State money. As for potential cuts to the plan, Camp pointed to a pavilion included as part of the Gazebo
area public improvements as a “large-ticket” item cost-wise that might be a prime candidate to be deferred five or so years into the future.
Ed Carter, VDOT report to Board of Supervisors: Route 55-High Knob gets more rumble strips
At the December 11th Board of Supervisors Meeting, Ed Carter from VDOT made his monthly presentation to the Board. Mr. Carter gives updates to VDOT projects in the County.
- Addressed numerous potholes on various hard surface routes with cold mix and anticipate the Same in December.
- Conducted grading and stone application on non-hard surface Routes 652, 610, 607,626, 613, 631 and 639. Several of these routes we covered several times as continued rainfall necessitated. They’ll continue this month as well.
- Used contractor pipe flusher on Routes 603, 638, 636, 650, 631 and 639. Will be continuing for an additional week in December.
- Completed all mowing operations and will cutting brush on Routes 652 and 656 in December.
- Performed shoulder repairs on Route 340 and will continue on various primary routes in December.
- Mobilized and responded to two weather events in November.
Lake Front Drive is awaiting finish pavement layer, which is scheduled for this week in December, weather permitting.
Ashby Station Road and Rocky Lane environmental permits were not cleared by November 30th. New date is December 10th. As soon as VDOT has the permits, staff will be meeting with the contractor to begin pipe replacements.
Existing rumble strips have been refreshed and a new set installed closer to the intersection at High Knob. Traffic Engineering is working to verify flasher sensor lights will work at this location. Residency Administrator met with High Knob Owner’s Association on November 12th to address their concerns.
Signal Group is evaluating timing at Country Club Road and Route 340/522 for extending green time from Country Club.
Town Council wrestles with new property maintenance authority
FRONT ROYAL – It’s rough having the power – especially when you’ve pursued it for so long, then finally achieve it.
That is the situation the Front Royal Town Council wrestled with at a December 3 work session – how to approach enforcement of a property maintenance code that allows it the same powers as cities and counties to enforce building maintenance standards within its boundaries.
As Royal Examiner readers may recall from tracking the issue over the course of the last year and a half, the dilemma is that while the town’s elected officials want the ability to enforce standards that will improve the overall look, livability and property values of Front Royal, how much is it going to cost the town government and its citizens to achieve these things?
The one dissenting vote to both readings of the new property maintenance code, Vice-Mayor Eugene Tewalt, has continued to predict unexpectedly high costs, even for what has been described as a lower-cost, middle ground option adopted by council nearly two months ago. Tewalt has also been critical of his younger council colleagues for continuing to approve capital improvements, and now additional code enforcement, without creating revenue streams to pay for either long-term debt service or required staff additions.
However, undiscussed thus far has been the potential return on investment from more aggressive enforcement if a corresponding rise in property values leads to increased real estate tax-base revenue.
After months of debate dating to at least July of 2017 for this council, on October 22, 2018 council approved the second reading of a new property maintenance code that took the above-described middle ground approach of five options presented by staff. That option, formerly known as Option C, enforcement-wise “addresses all structures in the Town”; “addresses maintenance issues” and “can be enforced on a complaint basis or proactive enforcement”.
At the December 3 work session Chris Morrison pushed for immediate implementation of that option – “I think things can be implemented now – tell me if I’m wrong,” Morrison challenged his colleagues.
He also suggested council give citizens some clarity on the parameters of what has been approved – that citizens can initiate action through complaints to the town government.
Morrison has been the chief council proponent of a new property maintenance code and a rental inspection program, the latter eliminated from consideration by a council majority as definitely too expensive to implement. And on the back end of his council tenure having failed to hold his seat in the November election, Morrison seemed driven to see a commitment to forward movement on what has been adopted by his colleagues before the end of his council tenure come January.
Morrison suggested outsourcing the role of a building inspector to make legal judgments on mandated repairs or demolition in the absence of council agreeing to fund creation of its own building inspection department. Morrison noted that council had set aside funds toward some kind of implementation of a building inspection operation. While he cited $40,000 available, staff appeared to put the amount as high as $75,000 in past work session discussion.
“So why can’t we outsource now … why can’t we do it immediately?” Morrison asked his colleagues.
“If we do it under those conditions I have no problem starting with blighted buildings,” Tewalt replied of a proactive approach with outsourcing as necessary when town mandates on corrective action are challenged by property owners.
Councilman William Sealock suggested bypassing use of Warren County’s Building Inspection Department and utilization of town staff for initial phases up to the point where a state-certified official whose opinion would have legal standing in court was needed. Morrison agreed.
Town Manager Joe Waltz suggested revisiting the option of partnering with the Town of Strasburg in enforcing a property maintenance code. Like Front Royal now, Strasburg has taken the first step of approval of a property maintenance code but has yet to begin enforcement due to cost parameters.
“We can put it out there and see what kind of prices are set,” Waltz suggested.
“We can start slow – there’s nothing wrong with doing it right,” Mayor Hollis Tharpe suggested of a measured, slow and inexpensive approach to implementation.
“We’ll let Joe get behind the wheel,” the mayor said of having the town manager explore enforcement and outsourcing options.
“We need time so the town manager can put a plan together,” Sealock observed.
“I will move as fast as I can,” Waltz replied.
Morrison said he felt some good had come out of the discussion that will allow the Town to move on complaints forwarded by citizens, as well as initiate proactive movement against derelict structures. However Morrison worried at the lack of “closure” on a process as council’s final meeting of 2018 approached on December 10.
Downtown parking: Mayor breaks tie vote on Virginia Beer Museum parking exemption request
There were two issues on Downtown parking at the December 10th Town Council meeting. The first dealt with designating and authorizing the Town Manager regarding the installation and placement of traffic signs and parking regulations and to remove all references to the On-Street Parking Policy in the Town Code by rescinding the 1993 Resolution authorizing approval of the On-Street Parking Policy. Download the this agenda item and background information here.
The second was a public hearing on exempting off street parking for the Virginia Beer Museum. Mayor Tharpe broke the tie vote on the first reading. Download the this agenda item and background information here.
These issues will be back on the agenda for the second reading.
BOS: Public Hearing Jan 22nd to adopt new rules for public presentations
At the December 11th Meeting of the Warren County Board of Supervisors, County Attorney Dan Whitten ask for authorization to advertise for a public hearing on January 22, 2019 to amend the Warren County Code Section 56-3 re: rules for Address to the Board of Supervisors by Nonmembers During Public Comment Period.
Watch the discussion.
Ordinance Amendment to Town Code Chapter 72 (Special Events)
During a recent Business Forum several business owners discussed concerns with parking during Special Events held in the Gazebo Area located at Main and Chester Streets in Downtown Front Royal. Town Staff has proposed amendments to Chapter 72 to help alleviate this concerns and has also changed other areas of Chapter 72 to make the Chapter more user friendly.
Town Council honors departing Connolly and Morrison
At the December 10th Town Council meeting, Mayor Hollis Tharpe presented each departing Councilman plaques in recognition of their service to the Town of Front Royal.