Front Royal defines its digital truth
The American court system has struggled with solutions for the unprecedented increase in crimes involving digital fakes or forgeries. This national struggle hit the Town of Front Royal, Virginia when a $650,000 forensic audit was conducted of the Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority (EDA). What this audit uncovered was astounding. Over the course of the last ten years, it is alleged that the EDA’s Executive Director, Jennifer McDonald, and possibly others, embezzled millions of dollars. McDonald is currently charged with 28 felony indictments stemming from alleged fraudulent activity; additionally, in an effort to recover money stolen, the EDA has slapped a $21.3 million civil lawsuit on McDonald and others in hopes of recovering some of the alleged embezzled and misappropriated money.
Committed to never letting something like this happen again, the Town of Front Royal is again on the front lines of this nationwide battle against digital fraud, this time as one of the first localities in America to start independently archiving its “Digital Truth” while taking proactive steps to eliminate future embezzlement schemes by utilizing cutting-edge technology.
“When the bills [for the forensic analysis] started rolling in, I think all of our jaws just about hit the floor,” recalls Doug Napier, Front Royal’s Town Attorney. “This wasn’t some outside rouge hacker attacking our community through the Internet, this was a trusted neighbor, a fiduciary, who had authorized access to digital files and contracts. We have seen first-hand the extraordinary cost of what embezzlement, through digital fraud, can cost. So far between the EDA, the Town and the County we have exceeded over $1.2 million just in accounting and legal fees and legal discovery through the court system hasn’t even started yet.”
Like tens of thousands of other local governments across the United States, Front Royal is transforming from an all paper world to one where vital records like contracts, official meeting minutes, public notices, or development agreements are now a mixture of hard copies, scans, and digitally generated and electronically stored files. As these documents move between the various entities and systems throughout local government, local officials must protect both confidentiality and originality at the same time. To do this, Front Royal turned to Trokt from Des Moines, Iowa, to run a pilot project on a unique blockchain-based application for local governments.
“Towns like Front Royal need a cost effective way to ensure that any file, whether it be a PDF, scan, video, image, or Word document, can be instantly validated as real no matter who shares it, where they store it, or what it is renamed,” says Trokt Managing Director Chris Draper.
“Using the same cryptographic technology as the National Security Agency (NSA), we capture what can be likened to a digital thumbprint or the file’s DNA, and permanently store that thumbprint in a distributed neo-public network. At any time in the future that file or any copy of that file can be instantly validated as an original. If the original were altered in any way, even as small a change as moving a decimal point, it could be instantly proven as a forgery.” Draper adds, “Instead of paying hefty fees and the complexities associated with digital forensics when a file is questioned, our technology provides validation accepted in any court for as little as fifty cents.”
Trokt has quietly spent much of the last decade becoming widely trusted within the LegalTech community for its nimble, user-friendly approach to protecting legally sensitive files as they are developed, shared and negotiated between multiple parties, locations, and organizations.
Looking to the future, Front Royal’s Director of Information Technology, Todd Jones, sees a freedom in Trokt’s platform that fits into his vision of an ongoing digital transformation strategy for the Town.
“We see value in piloting this technology based on the very human-centered and simple design philosophy, while incorporating the power of blockchain’s distributed ledger technology”, says Jones. “Of course, not everyone in today’s workforce was born a digital native. We decided to pilot this technology based on its ease of integration and flexibility to adapt to our current and future workflow processes. Based upon what has happened in our community with the EDA scandal, we have to get this right and never allow document fraud again.”
Trokt (www.trokt.com) provides digital collaboration and enterprise blockchain solutions to define Truth within Digital Transformation. The Trokt neo-public blockchain network is a unique, patent-pending architecture catering to the confidentiality and privacy needs of the LegalTech sector. Trokt is headquartered in Des Moines, Iowa.
Council aims at Real Estate Tax revenue equalization, Personal Property rate will stay same as values fall from last year’s increases
Following a summary analysis by Finance Director B. J. Wilson at a Special Work Session of Wednesday evening, March 22nd, the Front Royal Town Council, minus one member — Amber Morris was absent, reached a consensus to advertise the setting of a Public Hearing on Real Estate and Personal Property Tax rates at its April 24th meeting. The Real Estate Tax rate must be reset to equalize tax revenue or justify any increase, in the wake of real estate reassessments that generally saw significant increases in values. While at the county level those increases have been estimated as high as 40% on average, Wilson said in town real estate values increased an average of 27.8%.
The finance director’s recommendation, based on council’s stated goal of not increasing the tax burden on citizens, was to reduce the existing Real Estate Tax rate of 13 cents per $100 of value to 10 cents per $100 of value to essentially equalize the Town’s real estate tax revenue to its previous level. As reported earlier, by state code any reassessment resulting in a greater than 1% tax revenue increase must be either equalized to within 1% if its previous revenue level or advertised as a tax increase if the new rate produces more than that 1% revenue increase.
The Town’s Real Estate Tax rate has bounced back and forth between 13 cents and 13.5 cents since 2014, when it was raised to 13 cents from 11 cents where it had stood for three years. It had been at 13 cents in 2006 before dropping to 7 cents for four years (2007 to 2010).
An agenda packet chart accompanying Wilson’s presentation indicated that based on the 2023 real estate assessed values, 1 cent of real estate tax equals $185,630 of revenue to the town government. The 10-cent rate was estimated to produce $1,826,050 of revenue, falling $64,635 short of the proposed Fiscal Year-2023/24 budget revenue. Various ways to compensate for that loss were discussed.
Wilson also advised council to defer late fees and penalties on the Town’s first Real Estate Tax billing due in June (the second is due in December) because of the late April setting of the rate resulting in the billings being sent out very close to the first installment payment coming due.
On the Personal Property Tax side, Wilson reported a reduction in Personal Property assessed values in town of approximately 20% or $36,586,875. Initial numbers on vehicle values, which skyrocketed last year, was a 12% loss of value from a year ago. His recommendation was to leave the Personal Property Tax rate where it is, at 64-cents per $100 of value.
Regardless of valuations up or down annually, the Town’s Personal Property Tax rate has been at 64 cents since 2011, when it was increased from 60 cents.
Following this discussion, council adjourned to a Closed/Executive Session to discuss “legal matters requiring the provision of legal advice by such counsel, specifically, proposed agreement with Discover Front Royal, Inc., and proposed agreement with Warren County.” There was no action out of the closed session.
See the tax discussion in the open portion of the meeting in the Town video.
Supervisors authorize departmental expenditures, fill a number of appointed board seats
At its meeting of Tuesday, March 21st, the Warren County Board of Supervisors took action on a number of budget-related departmental funding requests, as well as on annual contract renewals or modifications to existing contracts, and on a request from the Warren County Sheriff’s Office to approve submission of a non-matching State grant application in support of a number of its law enforcement functions. The board also took time to acknowledge and pose for a photo with its Emergency Management Team in recognition of Emergency Management Professionals Week, March 19th to 25th. Approval of an official Proclamation in support of the local support of the statewide recognition of the vital work of Emergency Management staffs was removed from the Consent Agenda for individual approval, allowing County Emergency Management staff present to be recognized.
Big budget items approved by the supervisors included for a solid waste Transfer Station Wheel Loader to the tune of $346,894.80, coupled with an annual preventative maintenance contract fee of $32,740.27. Staff, including Finance Director Alisa Scott, Public Works Director Mike Berry, and County Administrator Ed Daley described the history of the equipment and its key role in moving solid waste out of the county for disposal — “If we have any incident or accident (with the equipment), trash in the county stops” the public works director observed. Noting past issues with the equipment, going down for as long as a month-and-a-half without being able to replace parts, Berry noted that a extended maintenance contract was actually saving the County money.
The staff summary of the request noted that a transfer of $379,635.07 from the Refuse Hauling line item 4-1-42040-3204 to the Asset Replacement fund would cover the total cost of the 2023 John Deere 624 P 4WD wheel loader to the transfer station, along with the maintenance contract. The agenda packet also pointed out the wheel loader price reflected “a 40% discount off the vehicle’s list price.” Berry told the supervisors that the average lifespan of this equipment is 7,500 hours, and that the County’s piece being replaced was at 10,000 service hours. With all the numbers and statistics described, perhaps unsurprisingly the board, on a motion by Vice-Chairman Cheryl Cullers, seconded by Walt Mabe, unanimously approved the transfer, purchase, and extended maintenance contract.
After hearing Sheriff Mark Butler explain the dynamics of the Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Services Non-matching Grant, not requiring any match from the County, and with a quickly approaching submission deadline of March 24 at 5 p.m., just three days away, the board also unanimously approved, on a motion by Mabe, seconded by Jay Butler, submission of the grant application. The staff summary noted if selected as a recipient, the Sheriff’s Office could be awarded up to $216,000 to various uses. Uses described by the sheriff included an automated license plate reader that could be set up at various locations to ID the vehicle tags of people on the criminal justice wanted list, as well as upgraded recording systems. Noting the non-matching aspect, Sheriff Butler called the grant “very favorable”. And the supervisors agreed.
An eight-item Consent Agenda saw all but two items removed either for individual discussion and action, primarily appointments to various boards. One item, approval of the FY 2021-2022 Audit Report of Robinson, Farmer, Cox Associates, the County’s auditing firm, was entirely removed from the agenda, staff citing a delay in receipt of the Comprehensive Annual Financial Report or annual audit.
Tackling the items removed from the Consent Agenda to allow individual consideration and action, the Board of Supervisors did the following:
On a motion by Mrs. Cullers, seconded by Mr. Mabe, by a unanimous vote the board nominated Jessica Dean to be appointed by the Warren County Circuit Court to the Warren County Board of Equalization (BOE) as alternate to preside over appeals related to the 2023 General Assessment, that the existing alternate, Amanda Slate, be made a regular member of the BOE, and that Jennifer Avery be removed from the BOE.
On a motion by Mrs. Cullers, seconded by Mrs. Oates, again unanimously, the board nominated John Pennell to the Warren County Board of Zoning Appeals to be appointed by the Warren County Circuit Court to fill the unexpired five-year term beginning upon appointment and ending December 31, 2027.
On a motion by Mrs. Cullers, seconded by Mr. Mabe, the supervisors unanimously appointed David Rushton as the Alternate for the Warren County Board of Building Code Appeals to fill the unexpired four-year term beginning upon appointment and ending September 30, 2026.
On a motion by Mrs. Cullers, seconded by Mr. Mabe, the Supervisors designated Sergeant David Fogle for the Front Royal Police Department, Sergeant Travis Cave for the Warren County Sheriff’s Office, and Sergeant Brian Davis for the Virginia State Police as law enforcement agency representatives on the Front Royal/Warren County Joint Tow Board. The vote was again unanimous.
The two items approved on the Consent Agenda for routine business without individual discussion were: a Proclamation Recognizing National Procurement Month and Professional Buyer’s Day; and approval of the “Addition of a Part Time Fire Marshal Position, Job Description, and Grade Placement”.
The meeting began at 6 p.m. with a Closed/Executive Session discussion of personnel matters related to the Board of Equalization and Shenandoah Farms Sanitary District Advisory Committee, as well as legal matters surrounding the various EDA-related civil litigations versus “Jennifer McDonald, et al” and the dueling civil litigations initiated by the Town of Front Royal against the FR-WC EDA and the County, as well as related financial matters, asset recovery, and potential liabilities. Other than appointments to the Board of Equalization during the open meeting, there was no action out of closed session.
In other New Business not related to Consent Agenda items, the board approved:
Item J: a Proposed FY 2022-2023 Locality Agreement between Warren County and the Virginia Department of Health;
Item K. Request to Approve a Grant from the Virginia Department of Aviation of $17,600.00 for Hangar Site Preparation – Environmental Coordination;
Item M. Staff Recommendation to Approve Contract Modification: Renew Divaris Real Estate, Inc. Annual Term Contract for Real Estate Broker Services;
The final agenda item “O” was a requested Amendment to the Blue Ridge Shadows Subdivision Covenants removing a $200 lot fee supporting the provision of County emergency services to the north-side subdivision. County Administrator Daley informed the board that no other subdivision in the county has a similar covenant mandating lot fees, in this case $200 per lot, funding emergency services to the subdivision. And despite the loss of $44,800 per year of supporting revenue from the subdivision’s residents, based on that inequity, on a motion by Ms. Oates, seconded by Mr. Butler, the board unanimously approved the requested amendment removing the covenant supporting the emergency services lot fee.
And with no additional business brought forward, the meeting was adjourned at 8:12 p.m.
See highlights of the meeting in the County video.
Town Planning Commission OKs Warren Coalition recovery house
At its regular meeting on March 15, the Planning Commission reviewed a proposal by the Warren Coalition to locate an addiction recovery house in its facility at 200 North Royal Avenue. The Special Use Permit (SUP) for a “lodging house” attracted 9 speakers at the public hearing, two of which were occupants or owners of nearby properties.
Zoning Administrator John Ware briefed the commission on the ordinances controlling the use. The property has been used as a lodging house in the past, from 1989 to 2019, prior to the adoption of the ordinance. Because that use ceased for more than 3 years, the ordinance requires the SUP. The property does have adequate parking, and the planning staff recommended approval subject to the occupancy not exceeding 10 persons, and parking to be provided for 8 vehicles.
Warren Coalition Executive Director Christa Shifflett addressed the commission about the specifics of the proposal, which calls for a residential capacity not to exceed 10 persons, with average stay length of 9-12 months. Residents are expected to have or get jobs, and the coalition assists with miscellaneous needs such as specialized clothing or interim transportation. The facility will not provide meals for the residents, but has a kitchen facility that residents can use to prepare meals for themselves. Residents will be responsible for obtaining their own supplies, living items, and proof of employment to qualify to live in the facility. Shifflett also said that security cameras will be extensively employed inside and outside the facility. The rules established for the facility include a provision for regular drug screening. Substance abuse or violent behavior will be grounds for immediate termination. All residents will be required to be in some form of outpatient treatment, including but not limited to counseling thru Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT), Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), or Narcotics Anonymous (NA). Currently, a lack of local residential recovery facilities in this region may require prospective residents to travel as far away as Richmond or Virginia Beach, meaning there is an additional time and travel burden on families and residents who come from the local area.
Chairman Darryl Merchant opened the public hearing to hear from 9 speakers. Two speakers were property owners in the immediate area of the subject property. Phil Caslavka owns a nearby residence on Virginia Avenue. He surfaced the concern that there is drug-dealing and usage activity in the immediate area. “In this block we already have a problem with drug-related issues”, he said.
Mr. Caslavka also cited instances of confrontations with violent individuals, even finding a knife under the window of his daughter’s room, finding drug paraphernalia and beer bottles in his yard. He concluded by saying, “We do have a current problem here, and I don’t think this would be something that would help that problem.”
Stephen Bieker, whose property adjoins the proposed lodging house, also addressed the commission, describing drug dealing in the bank parking lot next door, discarded needles in his yard, previous instances of violent behavior by residents in the former lodging house, to the extent that he put up a fence between the properties to protect his children. He reminded the commission that the building was in a “Drug-free zone” and a zone. “I don’t believe it would be a good fit for our town.”
Seven more speakers spoke in favor of the facility, among them recovering addicts who had benefited from similar facilities. Brandon Butler spoke eloquently of the need for recovering addicts to have someplace safe to go when completing treatment – a place to find employment, stability, and acceptance. He spoke of his own experience in recovery and readjusting to a normal life. He also addressed the resident’s concerns about existing drug activity in the area. “I’ve been an addict for over 20 years of my life, and I know if you put a recovery house in a neighborhood, it kind of pushes away that element, if it’s there.”
It was observed that those in addiction treatment programs and recovery facilities are as a rule people who want to make the change in their lives to stay away from addictive behavior and not relapse into substance abuse that has already negatively impacted, not only their lives, but often the lives of family members around them.
Michael Hall, who will be the facility’s resident manager and Peer Recovery Specialist, also addressed the Commission to talk about his own experience with recovery and treatment.
“What addicts need most is hope, and without a place to go to get started, it’s hard to sustain the hope you have when you finish treatment. This house will provide that stable, safe environment,” Hall told the commissioners.
At the conclusion of the public hearing, the commissioners had the opportunity to question the Warren Coalition executive director. Commissioner Michael Williams had a series of questions. “You mentioned that the residents would be referred. What agency or entity will be doing the referring?” Answer: “Residents will be referred from local treatment facilities such as National Capital Region in Fairfax, several facilities in Richmond, as far away as Galax – these are local people who are in treatment that far away.”
After extensive discussion, the commission, on a motion by Commissioner Williams, seconded by Commissioner Connie Marshner, voted unanimously to recommend approval of the permit with the cited rules, oversight and surveillance to assure house ruled are observed. The request will now go to the town council for final action.
The Commission also voted to advertise a public hearing on April 19 for the Town’s Comprehensive Plan update. The commission and planning department have been working on that project for over a year.
The Meeting was adjourned at 7:50 p.m.
Watch the full video on the Town website.
Supervisors tackle permitting dynamics for Rural Events Facility, building inspection and permitting fee hikes, and Corridor utility hook up issues
At a 3-plus-hour work session of Tuesday, March 14, the Warren County Board of Supervisors and staff reviewed a proposed zoning text amendment to fill definitional gaps in local and state codes regarding Rural Events Facility uses related to overnight accommodations, which segued into a somewhat related “Guidelines for Short-Term Tourist Rentals”. After those discussions County Building Code Official David Beahm wrapped the work session up, with some assistance from Planning Director Matt Wendling, presenting two options to increase inspection and permitting fees on building projects to improve the percentage of departmental costs covered by fees collected by the County in those processes. The meeting opened with discussion of a Pump and Haul Sewage Permit Request from Front Royal Self Storage in the Route 340/522 North Corridor. Other business included a “Modification Request for Conditional Use Permit” by Gillian Greenfield & Richard Butcher for Private Use Camping (Non-Commercial) Located off Beech Road.
In reviewing Shelly Cook’s permitting for her Rural Events Facility project on over 40 acres of working Agricultural land housing a vineyard operation, the board seemed anxious to find a way to allow her Rural Events Facility to get maximum use of residential cabins built as part of the project. Cook noted her neighbors all supported her planned use as an alternative to commercial or residential development. Cook noted she is a Class A contractor and 50-year resident of Warren County.
She explained her Rural Events Center initiative as an attempt to increase revenue enough to “save” her farmland for an Agricultural use established in 2019. One concern, particularly of Chairman Vicky Cook, was that the board not set a precedent that could be applied to Short-Term Tourist Rentals. During the discussion Deputy County Administrator Taryn Logan observed that tying the overnight cabin use of 7 days or less to events held at the Rural Events Facility, predicted by Cook to occur on a weekly basis, would appear to accommodate the facility’s residential usage being a separate one from short-term rentals, which also have a longer 30-day maximum staying period. See details of the Rural Events Center discussion beginning at the 44:30 video mark, transitioning to the Short Term Tourist Rental guidelines at the 1:32:20 mark.
In presenting his proposal for building inspections fee increases County Building Official Beahm estimated that with current fees, on a good year about 60% of the County’s fees are covered, on a “bad year” only 40% are, leaving the County absorbing from 40% to 60% of its costs annually. With Option 1 Beahm estimated 80% to 90% of costs being covered, with Option 2 he guaranteed 100% coverage of Building and Planning Departmental costs on inspections and permitting. Beahm recommended adoption of Option 1 due to the suggested fees being closer to surrounding jurisdictions existing fees. The accompanying agenda packet charts showed an existing Standard Construction minimum fee on Residential buildings in Warren County at $50, with Option 1 recommended raising that to $100, and Option 2 to $150. The existing minimum fee on Commercial structures is $75, with Option 1 at $150 and Option 2 at $200.
For comparison, existing fees in the Town of Culpeper are $75 Residential and $125 Commercial; Fauquier County $100 Residential and $150 Commercial; Shenandoah County $100 Residential and $150 Commercial; Frederick County not listed for Residential, with $120 Commercial; and Winchester City at $46 Residential and $69 Commercial. Beahm’s presentation and board discussion begins at the 2:29:15 video mark, ending at the 3:07:35 mark.
Pump and Haul Permit applicant David Printz of Front Royal Self Storage described issues with being unable to find underground space to install the necessary infrastructure, particularly to connect to Town central sewer service. Prince told the supervisors he began digging for infrastructure space on December 1st last year and had still not found a way through underground rock into the second or third week of January. “There’s a reason it’s called Rockland,” it was observed of the north-side county area.
Staff observed approval wouldn’t create a precedent for the use by right, due to the particular hardship circumstance discovered underground at the property. It was also suggested that county staff communicate the intent to approve the special circumstance permitting to town public works staff to assure they did not have issue with it. North River District Supervisor Delores Oates wondered if Front Royal Self Storage was able to receive central water from the Town but not sewer, if the Town would be able to adjust its system of charging customers for sewer based on their water usage. See this discussion beginning at the :00 mark of the linked county video due to a late hook-up of the live-stream broadcast, concluding at the 38:50 video mark.
The Greenfield/Butcher Conditional Use Permit modification on a Private Use Camping application seemed to be headed for a rather routine approval as the applicants agreed to all the staff recommended changes. Supervisor Oates observed the only notable change in the process was removing feedback from the Shenandoah Shores Property Owners Association out of the equation. This matter is addressed from the 38:50 to 44:30 marks in the County video.
Staff targets nearly flat Fiscal Year-2024 Budget and updated Comp Plan vision for Front Royal’s future – and there’s going to be a FR Karate Club Proclamation!
At 7 p.m., Monday, March 13, the Front Royal Town Council held a work session at Town Hall to be updated by staff on the status of development of the Fiscal Year-2024 budget and the long-overdue update to the Town’s Comprehensive Plan. Finance Director B. J. Wilson handled the budget presentation to open the meeting. Then after a review of six items and their costs slated for inclusion on the upcoming March 27th regular meeting’s Consent Agenda, first Public Works Director Robbie Boyer, then Planning Director Lauren Kopishke double-teamed the status of Capital Improvements and the Comp Plan update.
Boyer reviewed looming Capital Improvement Projects the Town will have to finance and Kopishke reviewed the Comp Plan outline being developed under various categories based on the public input received from citizens on what they feel are the most important social and developmental issues facing the town government in coming years. Boyer’s presentation begins at the 1:04:00 mark of linked Town video, Kopishke’s at 1:35:35 video mark for those seeking additional detail on those presentations.
Among the Consent Agenda items slated for the March 27th meeting will be a “Proclamation” acknowledging the 50th anniversary of a local business – the Front Royal Karate Club of Sensei Arthur “Art” Drago (discussion at 46-minute mark of Town video). The Front Royal Karate Club, located for all of those 50 years at 7 Kidd Lane just off East Main Street in Historic Downtown Front Royal, will commemorate its 1973 founding with a “buffet-style celebration” from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m., Saturday, April 8 at Moose Lodge #829 at 1340 John Marshall Highway (Route 55 East) on the southeast side of town.
More remarkable than the longevity of the martial arts club itself, is that of Sensei Drago, who still trains and works out with his students, many aiming for black belt level promotions, while having entered his eighth decade on the planet — GO Art!!! In fact, two black belt promotions will sandwich the anniversary celebration by several days.
But back in the municipal trenches, due to technical difficulties with the live-stream broadcast Finance Director Wilson’s budget presentation is picked up at the :00 mark of the linked Town video. Highlights include a $49.7-million budget proposal, that is a $1.7-million increase (3.6%) over last year’s FY-2023 budget of $47.9 million.
Noted was $16 million earmarked into personnel, including adjustments to some staff positions from part-time to full-time. Aspects of those personnel aspects of the town budget include:
- Inclusion of Compensation Study Salaries – $425,117
- 1% C.O.L.A. – $129,170
- 2% Average Merit Increase – $280,075
- 1.7% Health insurance increase $28,185
Following the budget presentation, discussion of the March 27th meeting Consent Agenda topics included:
Riverton Pump Station Engineering with professional services cost of $162,900 of a total $570,000 purchase order budgeted for the Pump Station upgrade project. It was noted that this pump station collects all the sewer waste from the 522 North Corridor and Viscose City Area.
Various Single Phase Pad-Mounted Transformers of which it was noted: “On February 23, 2023, the Town held a public opening for request of quotations for various transformers and received 2 quotations in accordance with the Virginia Public Procurement Act. Council is requested to approve the purchase of (5) 25 kVA and (5) 50 kVA Single-Phase URD Pad-Mounted Transformers in the amount of $47,855.00 from Jerry’s Electric, Inc., in Colman, SD.
Three-Phase Pad-Mounted Transformer – Council is requested to approve the purchase of a 1000 kVA Three-Phase Pad-Mounted transformer, totaling $63,941.47 with a lead time of 3-5 weeks, to Wesco/Anixter, of Ashland, VA.
Council also agreed to authorize a Resolution approving Town’s participation in proposed settlement of opioid-related claims against pharmaceutical manufacturers and distributors with settlement funds to be used to help remediate damages caused by the opioid epidemic. It was explained that settlement money will go directly only to cities and counties, but that the Town’s participation is likely to up the amount settled in the Virginia claims. The benefit to the town will come indirectly, but hopefully be achieved. This discussion begins at the 40:55 video mark.
And in a late item added to the work session agenda (48:15 video mark), council discussed a proposed town code text amendment that would allow a recently deceased minister at Dynamic Life Ministries to be buried on the church property. Council decided to try and speed up the process to facilitate the burial if the code can be changed to accommodate setback rules in local or state codes on cemetery or graveyard criteria.
Watch the March 13th Town Council Work Session here.
County Planning Commission considers County Fair parking and Reliance Road Church proposals – Rockland rezoning tabled to June
The Warren County Planning Commission held its regular meeting on March 8 at the Government Center. For the first time, all the members were using County-supplied tablets and electronic copies of the agenda package. The CivicClerk system enables the department to distribute information paperlessly to the members and to the press (this agenda’s documentation package ran to 430 pages!), thereby saving taxpayer money and staff time and radically reducing waste.
Chairman Robert Myers began the meeting by announcing a highly anticipated rezoning request – to rezone a 103.8-acre parcel of the present Shenandoah Valley Golf Club to allow the development of 286 single-family age-restricted homes was being removed from the agenda. The applicant, SVGC owner Richard Runyon, told Royal Examiner he requested the extension to June to allow a VDOT report to be completed and accommodate more public interaction. Planning Department staff had already notified the Commission of some conflict with the County’s Comprehensive Plan and Future land use maps.
Fully half of the attendees at the Commission’s meeting left after hearing that the SVGC zoning map and comprehensive plan requests had been – temporarily – withdrawn.
Once the room had cleared, the Commission proceeded with the reduced agenda.
The Warren County Fair Association has requested a Conditional Use Permit (CUP) for a Motor Freight Terminal for their Industrial (I)-zoned property at 274 Fairground Road in the North River District. Despite the terminology, the request is for a 5.8-acre parking area for overflow empty trailer parking from the Family Dollar facility across Fairground Road. Spokesman Dennis Grove told the commission that the Fair Association can derive some revenue for its operations by leasing the parcel for the temporary storage of empty trailers. The trailers are parked in the overflow lot while empty only.
The Commissioners discussed the proposal at some length and questioned the site preparation and potential impact on surrounding properties. Vice Chairman Henry asked if some of the recommended conditions could be waived since the intent is not a permanent hardstand area. The property had previously been approved as a contractor’s material storage area, but that permit had expired. In the end, the Commission voted to table the application until the applicant could provide a general site plan and consultation with the Family Dollar representative regarding the improvements to be made.
Eric Wayne Adams has applied for a short-term tourist rental CUP for his property at 1850 Gooney Manor Loop in Browntown in the South River District. The property is zoned Agricultural (A) and is currently being built. There were no speakers either for or against and, on a Motion by Vice-Chairman Henry, seconded by Commissioner Scott Kersjes, the commission voted unanimously to recommend approval.
Elena Gallo is requesting a CUP for a short-term tourist rental for her property at 242 Parnassus Road in the Happy Creek District. The property is zoned Residential (R-1). This request included a setback waiver since there are only 80 feet of distance to the nearest property and not the required 100 feet. The applicant provided letters from all the neighboring properties supporting the proposed use, including the property nearest the site that would require the waiver. There were no speakers at the public hearing. A brief discussion among the commissioners about the possibility of establishing a precedent by allowing the waiver ended with an agreement that every application stands on its own merits, and in this case, the approval of the neighboring property owners strongly supports the waiver. On a motion by Vice-Chairman Henry, seconded by Commissioner Kaylee Richardson, the Commission unanimously voted to recommend approval.
John Randolph and Debra Lynn Clark are applying for a CUP for a short-term tourist rental for their property at 1207 Buck Mountain Road. The property is zoned Agricultural (A) and is in the South River district. There were no public speakers, and with very little discussion on a motion by Commissioner Richardson, seconded by Commissioner Kersjes, the Commission unanimously voted to recommend approval.
There were two CUP applications for a church at 2203 Reliance Road. The proposal by the Society of St. Pius X is to first convert an existing barn building for use as a chapel for up to 300 persons until a permanent church structure can be built on an adjoining property. The second request was for a church to be built on that adjoining property. The properties are zoned agricultural (A) in the North River District. The public hearing for the first request yielded five speakers, three of whom opposed the application. Richard Jamison questioned whether the number of projected attendees was accurate and whether adequate traffic safety analysis was provided. Reliance Road is narrow and winding and already busy as a shortcut from US-522 to Middletown. He also said that required lighting would adversely affect nearby residences in the wooded area surrounding the property. He questioned the appropriateness of a church in that location. There’s a high likelihood that there is inadequate sight distance for an entrance, particularly if there is any backup of traffic. The other two opposing speakers echoed those concerns. The speakers favoring the proposal were apparently members of the congregation who acknowledged that the plans were in an “embryonic state” and that they shared the concerns that neighbors had expressed.
Speaker Joe Whittaker, who owns the property where the barn will be adapted for use as a church, indicated that locating the church services in the barn is a temporary measure, while funds can be raised to build the new church, but did not elaborate on how long that temporary period would be. The commissioners discussed the application but determined that the plan was missing a lot of needed detail. They finally agreed, on a motion by Vice-Chairman Henry, Seconded by Commissioner Greg Huson, to recommend approval for the conditional use, limited to an attendance of 300, and subject to Building, Health Department, and VDOT permit approvals for the site. A Site Plan will also have to be developed and approved.
The Commission voted unanimously, on a motion by Vice-Chairman Henry, seconded by Commissioner Kersjes, to table the second request, that of the Society of St. Pius X for the adjoining parcel for a CUP to build the permanent church. The applicants will have the opportunity to provide more detail and plans for that site.
Finally, the Commission unanimously passed its Consent Agenda of items approved to advertise for public hearing. Those included:
Shelly Cook – A request for a CUP for a Short-term Tourist Rental. The property is located at (0) Lee Burke Road and is zoned Residential-One (R-1) and located in the Fork District.
David Cressell has applied for a conditional use permit for gunsmithing services on his property at 275 Gary Lane in the Shenandoah District. It is zoned Residential (R1)
Erica Baker has submitted a request for a variance to Warren County Code §155-3.B(1)(b) of the Subdivision Ordinance to allow the voluntary transfer of a proposed subdivided lot to an immediate family member within the required five (5) years of having held fee simple title to the property. The property is located on 64 Tara Road in the Shenandoah District and is identified on tax map 15 as lot 2C2. The property is Agriculturally zoned (A).
Michaun M. Pierre is requesting a CUP for a Short-term Tourist Rental. For property at 726 Harmony Orchard Road. The property is zoned Agricultural (A) and located in the South River Magisterial District
Harry H. Heard has requested an amendment to Chapter 180 of the Warren County Code Section §180-21.C(9) to add as an accessory use Mobile Food Establishment in conjunction with a commercial nursery/garden center/wayside stand.
Rural Events Facility – Warren County Planning Staff is proposing to amend Chapter 180 of the Warren County Code Sections §180-8 to amend the definition to allow lodging permitted as an accessory use and to amend Section §180-55.2 to add and modify supplemental regulations relating to Rural Event Facility general requirements and standards for lodging of event guests. These requests will be advertised for a public hearing for the April regular Commission meeting on April 12 at 7:00 pm in the Warren County Government Center.
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