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Front Royal Planning Commission work session takes on comprehensive plan, zoning ordinance changes

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A Town Planning Commission work session Wednesday night to review and discuss a package provided by the Planning Staff. Immediately on opening, Town Attorney Doug Napier apologized for having not attended previous Planning Commission meetings and indicated his office would attend all future meetings to provide legal input to the commission. For this meeting, Assistant Town Attorney George Sonnett was present and acting for the office.

Town Planning Director Timothy Wilson explains the process to the Town Planning Commission.

Before any other business, the commissioners came up against a procedural challenge raised by the new Town Director of Planning Tim Wilson.

At the request of Chairman Douglas Jones, Mr. Wilson directed the attention of the commissioners to a memo he had prepared regarding three separate but interrelated planning and zoning matters pertaining to Solar Energy facilities.

  1. A proposed amendment to the Town of Front Royal Comprehensive Plan
  2. A proposed amendment to the town’s Zoning ordinance to add “Large Photovoltaic Solar Power Project” to the list of allowable uses by special use permit in Agricultural and open Space preservation Districts (A-1).
  3. A special Use Permit application for a utility solar facility on 177.98 acre parcel owned by Front Royal Limited Partnership (FRLP).

Mr. Wilson’s memo cites the Virginia Code provisions that govern Comprehensive plan amendments and Zoning ordinance text changes, and those actions cannot be initiated by property owners or other parties, but must originate from the governing body, in this case the town council or the Planning commission. Mr. Wilson went on to describe the issues as “procedural and easily corrected”, but they must be resolved for the Special Use permit to be considered.

Once the chairman opened the floor for Commissioner comments and questions, Commissioner Merchant opened with a question: “Are you saying that the Planning Commission doesn’t have the authority to initiate a Comprehensive Plan amendment?” He asked if Mr. Sonnett could provide that opinion in writing.

Planning commission already performs a review and update of the Comprehensive Plan every 5 years and it has not been the practice to wait for the Town Council to direct it. Mr. Sonnett indicated that the 5-year review is one of the things the commission is chartered to do, so that is a different case. In cases where an issue arises that requires a change, the Town Council initially acts and refers the issue to the Planning commission, which holds a public hearing, then makes its recommendation back to the council.

Commissioner McFadden then asked if the Commission’s current and previous practice was wrong. Short answer: “Yes” But requiring a property owner to first go to the Town Council, back to the Planning Commission, then back to town council “Doesn’t sound like a very good process”

Commissioner Connie Marshner echoed the sentiment. “How does this help?”

Commissioner Gordon indicated that clearly the commission needed to adjust its process, but how?

The commissioners were referred to some example processes used by other counties and municipalities, particularly a flow-chart used by Hanover County.

Commissioners asked Mr. Wilson if the planning staff could create a flowchart for the process he was proposing for the commissioners to use. He agreed.

All this was going on without a discussion of the Special Use Permit being requested by FRLP. The consensus of the commissioners was that action on that request would have to be deferred, “rested” while the Comprehensive Plan and Zoning Ordinance issues were worked out. To that end, the Chairman asked FRLP representative David Vazzana, who had been observing the discussion, if he was willing to “Rest” his Special Use Permit application. Mr Vazzana, who had written a comprehensive memo to the Commission, outlining the history and activities of the project, agreed. The document he provided outlines all the past actions taken by FRLP to comply with town guidance and previous policies. None of the issues raised on the FRLP memo were discussed or responded to by the town planning director or the Assistant Town Attorney. FRLP hopes to build a Solar Utility facility off Mary’s Shady Lane. The proposals form part of FRLP’s plans for developing that site with commercial and residential portions, and has been the subject of endless discussions in the community for more than six years.

Once agreement had been reached on developing a serviceable process for Front Royal to follow, and transmitting it to Town Council the commission adjourned the work session, and left for future regular meetings the final processing of the requests.

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Resized Town Planning Commission considers Rezoning Requests and Site Plans, one near Happy Creek

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A 4-member Planning Commission met Wednesday, January 20th at the Warren County Government Center (WCGC). Joseph McFadden has resigned as a result of his election to the town council. The members quickly disposed of the minutes of the November 18 meeting before Chairman Douglas Jones asked if there were any citizen comments. The question to a virtually empty chamber yielded only silence.

In the public hearing portion of the meeting, Chairman Jones introduced a rezoning request by Aaron Hike and Douglas Ichiugi, operating as Rockledge Development Company LLC, to rezone a 2-acre parcel at the north end of Jefferson Avenue, and adjoining the Norfolk Southern railroad tracks and the South Fork of the Shenandoah River. The request is to change the zoning from R-1 (single family residential) to R-3 (multiple family residential), allowing the construction of duplex homes to accommodate two single-family units. The applicant stated in a letter to the Planning Department that their intent is to build “attractive modestly priced duplex homes that promote home ownership, particularly for workforce citizens that support our community and town.”  The tract is bordered by an undeveloped portion of Hillcrest Drive and another R-3 zoned parcel to the east.

No one had signed up to address the commission regarding this request, so the public hearing was closed.

After the briefing, Commissioner Darryl Merchant had some questions. He first asked if there was already a site plan for the tract. Planning and Community Development Director Timothy Wilson responded that there was not yet a detailed site plan, as the property zoning request would have to be settled before the applicant could invest in the more detailed site planning and development tasks. Merchant then asked why the applicant was asking for R-3 rather than R-2 (multiple family residential – duplex) zoning, since R-2 zoning allows for duplex housing.  Planning Director Wilson responded that the applicant was requesting the R-3 category due to there being no adjoining or nearby R-2 tracts. The applicant is also including a proffer in their request to limit any residential construction on the tract to single-family or duplex units.

Commissioner Merchant pointed out that the planning director can waive some requirements such as phase 1 and 2 environmental site assessments and traffic impact assessments and asked if that was the case here. Planning Director Wilson indicated it was.

Finally, Commissioner Merchant pointed out that this tract is steeply sloped and will present significant challenges for development, including sanitary sewer, water, and access, since that portion of Hillcrest Drive is not developed.  “There’s a reason this tract has remained undeveloped for decades,” Merchant observed.

The applicant responded that they were aware of the challenges.

Once all the questions had been asked and answered, the commission voted unanimously to recommend approval of the rezoning request.

The second Public Hearing item was a Major Site Plan Request from RealtyLink of Birmingham Alabama for redevelopment of a site at 440 South Street to create a retail auto parts store at the location currently holding a vacant drive-through branch bank. The 1.07-acre tract is zoned C-1 (Community Business District). The current building would be demolished to make way for a new 7,225-square foot building. The plan as presented to the commission included detailed site drawings, and according to the package, RealtyLink’s preliminary site plan was amended to respond to Town Staff review questions. Again, there were no public hearing participants.

Happy Creek drainage concerns

Commissioner William Gordon asked if this site plan was specific to the use as a parts store, or if other uses could be made if this development could not go forward.  Planning Director Wilson responded that any other use would require an updated plan to be submitted and processed.

Several comments were made regarding proximity to the floodway surrounding nearby Happy Creek, currently under scrutiny for a controversial Town flood control and stormwater drainage plan. Staff said the submitted plan addresses erosion control, site drainage, and flood control measures, together with soil analysis results. The Planning Department summary indicates that the plan is complete, and the proposed use is permitted as a by-right use in the C-1 district.

The commission voted unanimously to approve the final site plan.

Under Old Business, Assistant Town Attorney George Sonnett referred the Commission to a question raised during the November 18 Commission meeting regarding the life of a special use permit.  He provided a response based on a reading of Town Code 175-136 that indicates that “Special Use Permits are not transferable”, which could be interpreted that those permits run with a landowner, not with the land. He reiterated the general theory that permits do run with the land, and apply as long as the use continues, whoever the landowner may be.

The language of the ordinance may have been “inartful” but the principle is that any new landowner ought not to have to reapply for a permit for the same use. Commissioner Gordon asked if the process should be to ask the Town to initiate a text amendment to clarify the language. Planning Director Wilson indicated that the Commission itself can initiate such a request. Chairman Jones recommended that topic as a subject for the next commission work session.

Planning Director Tim Wilson and Assistant Town Attorney George Sonnett explain Special Use Permit language to the commission. Royal Examiner Photo by Stephen Sill

Under New Business, Planning Director Wilson indicated that the Town Comprehensive plan needed a rewrite. It was completed in 1997 and amended in 2004.  Such a rewrite is a major effort and may require funding and a 12–18-month process.  Conceivably it could be funded over two fiscal years. It also needs significant public input, not just a single Public hearing. Efforts so far have been stymied by COVID-19 restrictions on public meetings. The planning staff will also need Census Data from the 2020 census to inform the process. Commissioner Merchant recommended discussion of the Comprehensive Plan rewrite at the next work session.

The second item of new business concerned an amendment to the Town Code, Chapter 28, that was finalized by the Town Council at their meeting on January 11.  The changes Council approved include the reduction of planning commission membership from 7 to 5, the terms of office set at 4 years with staggered terms so no more than 2 of the 5 members terms shall expire in any year; the requirement that at least half the members appointed shall be owners of real property; and amending the rules for removal of members for malfeasance by the town council for three absences in a row, or 4 absences over the course of a year. The new language of the Town Code also requires each member of the Commission to become a certified planning commissioner as a condition of appointment.

Finally, during Commission member reports, Commissioner Gordon asked if it was possible to nominate a member for the vacant Vice Chairman seat. Chairman Jones indicated it would be better to wait for the regular election of officers at the February meeting.  He did remind the planning director that there is still a vacant commission seat, which the Town Council will need to fill.

The Meeting was adjourned at 7:48 p.m.

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Dozens urge Supervisors to adopt COVID restrictions ‘sanctuary’ resolution

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Several dozen mask-less speakers this week urged the Warren County Board of Supervisors to consider a proposed resolution that would declare the county a “Constitutional Sanctuary County” against COVID-19 Coronavirus pandemic social distancing restrictions implemented at the state level.

The speakers, angered by executive orders Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam has issued to minimize the spread of COVID-19 during the ongoing pandemic, voiced concerns that their rights under federal and state laws are being infringed upon by the governor’s actions.

In all, there were approximately 49 people who signed up to speak during the public comment period of the board’s Tuesday, January 19 meeting, and 32 people actually spoke – some about the resolution, some about a different topics, and some who were not signed up. Emily Ciarrocchi, Deputy Clerk of the Board, also read aloud several emails in support of the proposed “sanctuary” resolution.

For instance, some said they wanted to ensure the security of small businesses by reinforcing the freedoms that have already been allotted to Virginians under the State Constitution.

Others, like 20-year county resident Tom McFadden Jr., seek freedom for Warren County that would allow it “to be a sanctuary from the reign of terror that Gov. Northam has imposed upon the citizens of Virginia.”

“The stand against tyranny has to start at the local level,” wrote another in an email read by Board Clerk Ciarrocchi.

In December 2019, the county supervisors approved a “Second Amendment Sanctuary” citizen-propelled resolution against gun control laws proposed by the Democratic General Assembly majority. The Front Royal Town Council soon followed suit.

However, not all county citizens agreed with the initiative. One county resident urged the supervisors against adopting what he called an “absurd” resolution, writing that, “In the USA and in our Commonwealth, we cannot have individual counties take it upon ourselves to break away from the state and declare that lawful emergency health orders by our governor are to be ignored, overridden and unenforced.”

The Warren County resident went on to write in his email that he hoped members of the Board of Supervisors didn’t contract the coronavirus “from the selfish patriots who ignore and denigrate temporary social distancing in our County.”

There were 22 speakers who each read a paragraph of the resolution, which states that the governor of Virginia “is currently attempting to prohibit the gathering of more than 10 citizens at a single time (even in their own homes) and is attempting to do so through Executive Order rather than the legislative process.”

Among several provisions, the resolution also states that the governor has:

  1. Placed “undue strain on local businesses, while arbitrarily, illogically, and unequally restricting some businesses more than others;”
  2. Restricted free commerce and instituted excessive fines for businesses unable or unwilling to act as law enforcement for his “unlegislated orders upon customers;”
  3. Restricted the liberty of citizens by imposing lockdowns and curfews; and
  4. Alluded to possibly enacting more orders.

All of the governor’s orders are “clearly in violation” of both the Virginia Constitution and the U.S. Bill of Rights, according to the proposed resolution.

Based on that perspective, the resolution states that the Warren County Board of Supervisors “wishes to express its deep commitment to the freedoms enumerated in the U.S. and Virginia Constitutions, and the U.S. and Virginia Bill of Rights; including the rights of all citizens of Warren County to peaceably assemble and to engage in commerce for the financial support of themselves and their families.”

The resolution also calls on the supervisors to express opposition to any order or law that would unconstitutionally restrict the rights of Warren County residents, and to express the board’s intent “to stand as a Sanctuary County for the Bill of Rights and the Constitution; and to oppose … any efforts to unconstitutionally restrict such rights, and to use all such legal means at its disposal to protect the rights of the residents of Warren County.

“The means within the power of the Warren County Supervisors includes the power to initiate legal action, the power to petition for redress of grievances, the power to appropriate funding for the law enforcement of Warren County, and the power to direct the employees of Warren County to not enforce any unconstitutional law or purported order,” according to the proposed resolution.

Additionally, the resolution states that the Board of Supervisors would request that its sheriff “refrain from assisting any state law enforcement officer, state health agent or federal agent attempting to enforce unconstitutional order of the Governor,” and that County employees “may not assist in or promote the enforcement … of any executive order or regulations that might limit the free exercise of religion, peaceable assembly, commerce, or the movement of people.”

Following the reading of the resolution, numerous residents spoke in support of its adoption by the supervisors.

“We come before you today to respectfully ask for your help,” said Melanie Salins, who presented the proposed resolution to the board. “This last year has hurt citizens of Warren County. We have many businesses struggling to stay afloat. We are scared about what is to come.”

Salins said that resolution supporters want board members to “reassert” their dedication to upholding the Constitution “and our rights protected by it.”

Jane Elliott of Front Royal, Va., said the resolution is about asking that the supervisors simply follow the Constitution. She called social distancing “socialist distancing” and said America has essentially become the “land of the imprisoned and the home of the chickens” for following them.

Board Chairwoman Cheryl Cullers several times called for order during the public comments when citizens failed to follow protocols by clapping and yelling support for fellow speakers and when the crowd started singing the Star-Spangled Banner in the hallway outside the board meeting room. Their actions continued nonetheless throughout the comment period.

The local speakers also voiced disdain for the board’s one-in-and-one-out rule instituted to maintain low numbers required for meetings. The rule allowed one person to come in to speak as another one left the podium.

Another Front Royal resident, Christina Baker, said the governor’s mandates and the current political climate make her as terrified as she was when her husband was deployed to Afghanistan, and she said that the executive orders heap more duties upon an already stretched-thin law enforcement system.

“They don’t need more to do,” Baker said. “This initiative is important. Perhaps it’s not perfect. I’m not really sure this draft is perfect. It should be perfected to give all of our community and citizens the sense that they are self-governed after all. If it’s not perfect, can you please help make it perfect?” The speakers hope to gain more confidence in the Board of Supervisors, added Baker, who said they also plan to take the proposal to state legislators.

Rob Adanitsch of Front Royal told the supervisors that Gov. Northam’s restrictions “affect some of us more than others,” and he thinks that residents have “lost our individual freedom to choose for ourselves” while businesses have been forced to comply with mandates. “And that’s not right,” he said, asking them to support the proposed resolution.

Colleen Peters, who said she owns a small business in Front Royal, thinks it’s a shame that everyone is suffering. “Stop punishing healthy people,” she said. “If you’re afraid, stay home.”

That sentiment resonated with County resident Celia McGovern, a mother of three children under the age of five. “We don’t do the mask thing; I’m not sick and my children definitely don’t wear one,” she told the board. “I’m tired of getting harassed over the mask thing. People who are not sick should not be the ones that have to go through all these extra steps to go out in public.”

“Being a germophobe used to be a mental illness and now it’s a virtue,” said Alison Propps of Front Royal.

Public comments went on for almost an hour and a half before the board took a short recess and then reconvened for regular business.

Listen to all the citizens who spoke during the Tuesday night Board of Supervisors’ meeting online at: warrencountyva.new.swagit.com/videos

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Supervisors seek alternatives to abandoning coyote bounty program, pass county-wide dog ordinance

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The Warren County Board of Supervisors during its January 19 meeting unanimously approved a county-wide ordinance that prohibits any dog from running-at-large and deferred action on whether to continue the County’s coyote bounty program.

Board Chairwoman Cheryl Cullers, Vice Chairman Archie Fox, and board members Delores Oates, Walter Mabe, and Tony Carter were present for the actions during a four-hour meeting Tuesday night that followed a one-hour closed session.

The Board of Supervisors voted 5-0 to amend Warren County Code Section 66-28, 66-29, and 66-31 to include Running in a Pack, as well as an amendment to Warren County Code Section 66-32 to make the change applicable to the entire county, “not just specific residential areas,” said Senior Assistant County Attorney Caitlin Jordan.

“Such a change will greatly improve the animal control officers’ ability to enforce the County’s running- at-large ordinances and help to address the issue throughout the County,” Jordan told the board members.

Warren County Code Section 66-28 makes it unlawful for any dogs to run at large at any time in areas of the County as designated by ordinance, except when they’re in the immediate control of an owner or custodian. A dog is deemed to “run at large” while roaming, running, or self-hunting off the property of its owner or custodian and is not under its owner’s or custodian’s immediate control. Section 66-29 of the County Code outlines the violations and penalties applied to this offense, while Section 66-32 enumerates the specific areas and subdivisions where restrictions have been applied since 1984.

During the 2019 session of the Virginia Legislature, Virginia Code Section 3.2-6538, which grants localities to prohibit dogs from running at large, was amended to include a prohibition on dogs running at large in a pack. Violations for any person who permits his or her dog(s) to run at large in a pack will be subject to a Class 4 Misdemeanor and a fine up to $100. That amendment spurred Warren County to amend its code so that it aligns with the Virginia Code changes, said Jordan.

Warren County Sheriff’s Office Animal Control Sgt. Laura Gomez said the ordinance change will protect property owners and dogs.

“I recently had an incident out in the County where a gentleman moved to this area and thought we did have a running-at-large ordinance — because he didn’t read the code section exactly,” Gomez said. “He can’t walk his dog on the main road because of traffic, so he goes up a side road where there’s a dog that’s lived there for years without any problems. But that dog comes out being protective and goes after the dog this man is walking. I had no way to enforce the people to keep their dog on their property and I had no way to protect the man who was walking a dog on a rural road. He’s now taken the matter into his own hands and said that if this dog comes out again, he’s threatened to kill it.

“I have no medium ground,” Gomez explained. “Also, if there’s a dog attack, it either has to be severe, and we’ve got a dangerous dog or severe with restrictions, or I have no way to help people in the community.”

Sgt Gomez address the Board of Supervisors

Sgt. Gomez said the proposed ordinance amendments need to be applied county-wide because “as it is right now, it’s only specific to about 30 subdivisions, and as more people come to the community and there’s more development, we would have to remember every subdivision” where the ordinance did not apply.

No one spoke during the public hearing portion of the meeting regarding this matter. The amendments were previously discussed at the Board of Supervisor’s November 10, 2020 Work Session and the updated ordinance is now in effect as of the board’s vote last night.

Coyote bounties

In other business, despite Animal Control’s request the Supervisors failed to adopt the Ordinance to Repeal Warren County Code Section 66-34, “Bounties for Coyotes,” and to further analyze alternative measures on how to reduce the coyote problem in Warren County.

Board member Mabe made the motion “not to adopt & to look into alternatives” and board member Fox seconded it. The denial came despite hearing from Michael Fies, a wildlife biologist and the Furbearer Project leader at Virginia’s Department of Wildlife Resources, on the reasons coyote bounty programs are being abandoned across the Commonwealth and nation as counterproductive. Fies told the supervisors that Warren County “would have to kill in excess of 60 percent of the total coyote population every year to have a long-term, sustainable impact” on reducing their numbers across the County.

He added Fies that there is “a universal lack of support for bounty programs” among USDA Wildlife Services staff, wildlife protection experts, furbearer biologists, and wildlife professionals from across the nation who all agree that such programs do not work in controlling coyote populations.

“There is no evidence that bounty programs have temporarily or permanently reduced coyote populations,” he said, noting that coyotes are prolific reproducers, so bounties are ineffective because not enough of the animals get killed to substantially impact the overall population.

And while Warren County’s current $3,000 cap allows for up to 60 coyotes to be killed annually, Fies said that is still less than the 60-percent threshold needed to control their numbers.

“Research has shown that coyote populations must be reduced by more than 60 percent or their numbers will recover within a single year. Coyotes can rapidly compensate for losses by increasing the number of females that breed, producing larger litters, and increasing pup survival,” Fies added.

Fies also said in correspondence with the County that since coyote bounties are ineffective, Virginia’s Department of Wildlife Resources has consistently recommended against these programs in favor of targeted control efforts around farms with a history of coyote damage. Such an approach, he said, also has been used successfully by USDA Wildlife Services to reduce livestock losses in other portions of the state.

The Warren County Board of Supervisors in May 2000 adopted Section 66-34 of the Warren County Code, which awards a $50 bounty to any person who kills a coyote according to certain criteria set forth in the ordinance. Currently, the ordinance limits the total amount of bounties awarded within a given fiscal year to $3,000 minimum, or a total of 60 bounties per year.

The Warren County Sheriff’s Office has requested that the Board of Supervisors repeal Section 66-34 of the Warren County Code, “Bounties for Coyotes,” due to the increasing cost to the County and to the “little to no impact said bounties have had on the coyote population.”

The proposed ordinance to repeal that section of the code was previously discussed at the supervisors’ November 10, 2020, Work Session, and now will be taken up again for further review at a forthcoming supervisors’ work session or meeting.

Sgt. Gomez said that during her 13 years on the job, only two farmers have contacted her about possible coyote attacks on their properties, and she told the board members that her office has no way to track the number of coyotes that get killed without a bounty payout.

Local resident Amos Mitchell, who said he has two farms, disagreed with the proposed ordinance to repeal the coyote bounties. “You aren’t going to kill all the coyotes; we been doing it for years,” Mitchell said. “The bounty should continue. It’s a good incentive, and it’s not that expensive.”

Watch other action by the Board of Supervisors during its Tuesday meeting here.

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Former Trump Administration councilman seeks town street re-naming

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A wide-ranging, hour-plus work session discussion took an unexpected turn Tuesday evening as the Front Royal Town Council reached the “Open Discussion” portion of its agenda at about 8:10 p.m. In addition to a monthly revenue/expenditure update from Finance Director B. J. Wilson and a half-hour plus Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) briefing by Town Attorney Doug Napier, the first 70 minutes saw council consider some potentially profound procedural and code changes.

Unmentioned during Napier’s FOIA briefing to council was the fact that Matt Tederick is now listed on the Town website as the Town’s FOIA Officer. – That’s strange, I thought he’d been re-upped as Town Manager Hicks’ ‘Transition Team’. Royal Examiner Photos by Roger Bianchini & TV image news agencies as identified

Those included changes in meeting procedures, most pointedly starting Public Concerns at 6:30 p.m. in order to separate them from the regular council meeting beginning at 7 p.m.; reducing the number of regular meetings and work sessions to once a month; and altering Town Codes to give council case-by-case authority to approve apartment developments in the Historic Downtown Business District, as opposed to being constrained by coded guidelines. Maybe there is substance to that rumored 60-unit apartment building earmarked for the old Murphy Building site now housing the Dynamic Life Coffee Shop on the first floor.

With non-agenda items then on the table, newly elected, first-term Councilman Scott Lloyd had several ideas, including a final one for a town street name change. Here’s a hint – Lloyd comes to municipal service after a hugely controversial stint as the Trump Administration’s Department of Health and Human Services Director of Refugee Resettlement during the migrant child-parent separation policy.

Scott Lloyd, left in a file photo, couldn’t seem to leave his federal government roots behind in his first month as an elected town municipal official. Fellow first-termer Joseph McFadden, right, focused on how to access council records so as not be blindsided on future votes as he was on the Meza appointment issue.

“And the third is to consider changing one of the streets in town to Donald J. Trump Avenue in honor of the president,” Lloyd offered. And while the January 19th discussion immediately turned to the process for altering town codes, specifically reducing the number of readings to make an ordinance change from two to one, it soon turned back to Donald J. Trump Avenue on the final full day of Trump’s presidency.

Perhaps surprisingly, Lloyd saw some resistance generated from fellow Republicans starting with Gary Gillespie. Noting his concerns weren’t political – “I think he was great, don’t get me wrong, but I think we’re opening a can of worms,” Gillespie offered. Several potential repercussions were voiced by council, including forcing potential long-time residents to change their addresses and raising the possibility of other long-time prominent locals and political figures wanting street names changed for them.

“I agree with Gary,” council’s one non-Republican Committee member, Letasha Thompson offered.

“I agree,” it appeared Mayor Holloway chimed in, in the Town’s one long-camera shot virtually broadcast Town Hall work session during which no media or public was allowed in the Town Hall meeting room due to COVID-19 pandemic concerns.

While no media or citizens were allowed in the Town Hall meeting room due to Coronavirus pandemic surge concerns, only one mask and little social distancing were evident at the council table. Any press or citizen live spectators were relegated to a Town Hall-way viewing of the meeting.

After some additional discussion during which Jacob Meza pointed to the City of Winchester’s recent bout of road name changes related to past political road naming accommodations of known segregationists, Lloyd countered.

He pointed out that Trump won Warren County by 67% of the vote in the 2020 election, “Which if it was Congress would be enough to change the Constitution, it’s a supermajority,” Lloyd offered as justification for his former federal employer’s name emblazoning a Town of Front Royal street.

Lloyd, who was unable under court order to reunite nearly 600 of several thousand migrant children with their parents because his department had lost track of the parents, then went THERE. “There” being the online conspiracy theory that the only way the man who won the presidency 4 years earlier despite a nearly 3-million popular vote deficit and never hit a 50% approval rating during his presidency, could only have lost the 2020 election, this time by about 7 million votes, by widespread voter fraud, as opposed to a growing majority of Americans viewing his presidency as a failed one that pandered for the support of evangelical, white supremacist and neo-fascist extremists.

Apparent leaders of the Jan. 6 siege of the U.S. Capitol pause to pray in Congressional chambers as the members who had been there to certify the election result was driven into hiding in fear for their lives. While not all present in D.C. in support of the incumbent president were part of the violent occupying force, what one might ask, does it all have to do with municipal politics 70 miles to the west?

Policy Attorney Lloyd theorized that despite over 60 or so courts nationally, including the U.S. Supreme Court, ruling against the voter fraud challenges on behalf of the president, the issue was never decided factually. “What people can’t argue is that they weren’t ever adjudicated on a factual basis, they were on a procedural basis,” Lloyd offered, failing to continue that the “procedural” basis was a lack of factual support of the theory of widespread voter fraud presented to the court after court across the nation.

“And that’s been denied to those people who have legitimate concerns,” Lloyd appeared to continue on the theme of procedures versus facts, adding, “And then moving from that to the question of did I attend a rally or did I attend a riot? And so the people, people I know, people who went there and just had a great time, left before they even realized, are now being targeted and actually harassed by other people in this community, being labeled as bigots and rioters and everything else,” said Lloyd claiming victimization of the local pro-Trump crowd in Washington, D.C. and/or at the U.S. Capitol on January 6.

If you think I am making this odd turn in the January 19 Front Royal Town Council municipal meeting up, I suggest you watch the linked Town video, also on the Town website. As noted above, it begins around 1-hour-and-9-minutes in and continues to just past the 1:21-minute mark.

But as odd a turn as this municipal meeting took there, the agenda business, as noted above, tackled some potentially impactful topics and is worth a listen during those discussions as well. The Open Discussion that continued beyond the street renaming detour, included late meeting discussion of the potential of offering town residents town work on private-property infrastructure repairs during its state-mandated I&I (Inflow and Infiltration) upgrades, particularly targeting older homes whose sewer and water lines may need upgrading.

The potential of offering payment plans, adding perhaps $100 to monthly utility bills Mayor Holloway suggested, with liens until the work was paid off being attached to those homes, might be of particular interest to town citizens owning such old homes, several council members theorized.

Watch the Town Council Work Session here.

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Correction: maker of Cockrell nomination as vice mayor

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Front Royal Clerk of Town Council and Executive Assistant to the Town Manager Tina Pressley has informed us that her initial citing of Scott Lloyd as making the nomination of Lori Athey Cockrell as vice mayor on January 11 was incorrect. Rather, it was Councilman Gary Gillespie who made the nomination, which was as initially reported, seconded by Jacob Meza.

This reporter had inquired of the nomination, having found it additionally difficult to identify motion makers and seconds when viewing meetings by virtual, remote broadcast. Pressley noted it wasn’t much easier in the council meeting room.

Perhaps a suggestion to all our municipal officials that in the future the makers of motions and seconds identify themselves and/or be identified by name by the mayor prior to calling for votes on those motions.

Vice mayor appointment raises more partisan issues; mayor accuses EDA of ‘intentional’ delay of Afton Inn sale during January 11 meeting

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Warren County Planning Commission begins new year

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The Warren County Planning Commission began the 2021 calendar year with the election of officers. So, the first order of business was County Planning and Zoning Director Taryn Logan’s call for nominations for Chairman and Vice-Chairman.  2020 Chairman Robert Myers was nominated for chairman, and Hugh Henry was not unexpectedly nominated for another term as Vice Chairman.  Both nominations were unopposed, and the commission’s vote was unanimous.

Upon accepting the gavel for another term, Chairman Myers offered the agenda for approval and opened the floor for public presentations.  There were none.

The published public hearing for a conditional use permit for Parallel Virginia for a Pharmaceutical business in the Stephens Industrial Park in the commission’s agenda had been postponed at the applicant’s request, so the commission moved on to consider four requests for authorization to advertise for conditional use permit applications

Justin and Felicia Katzovitz have requested a conditional use permit for a short-term tourist rental at 1253 Liberty Hall Rd in the South River Magisterial district.  Planner Matt Wendling provided a briefing to the commissioners regarding the request and recommended the commission authorize the advertisement for a public hearing.  The commission unanimously approved.

Planner Matt Wendling provided a briefing to the commissioners regarding the request and recommended the commission authorize the advertisement for a public hearing. File photo.

John and Sheila Kirkpatrick have requested a conditional use permit for a guesthouse on their property on Red Hille Way in the South River Magisterial District.  They will be building their residence on that property and intend to have a one-bedroom cabin placed there, so they can live onsite during the construction.  The guesthouse would subsequently be used for visiting family and friends and not for commercial use.  Planner Wendling provided an overview of the request and the commission unanimously authorized the advertisement for a public hearing.

Carl and Jennifer Ey are applying for conditional use permits for short-term tourist rentals for two adjoining properties they own at 1406 and 1408 Panhandle Road in the South River Magisterial district.  Zoning Administrator Joe Petty provided a summary of the requests.  The property owners are experienced with short-term tourist rentals for more than 15 years in Page County.  The Eys have already submitted a property management plan.  The commission voted unanimously to authorize the advertisement for a public hearing.

During the commission matters portion of the agenda, Commissioner Scott Kersjes raised a concern about the portion of Route 522 between Reliance Road and Fairground Road, a 2.5-mile section of highway.  Commissioner Kersjes indicated that southbound traffic, especially tractor-trailers, tend to be unprepared to stop at the traffic signals at Reliance Road, evidence being skid marks all the way into the intersection from trailer tires.  Trucks use 522 south as a way of avoiding the Interstate 81 weigh station if they are overweight, contributing to a significant safety hazard.  The combination of lack of visibility for the intersection, too high a speed, and inadequate braking on a downhill slope could well result in a tragic accident.  The commissioner observed that a speed limit reduction to 45 MPH for that stretch of highway would reduce the risk.

Planning Director Logan responded that the County had requested VDOT perform a speed study, which would be needed to support a speed limit reduction.  She offered to send the Board of supervisors a letter asking for guidance.

Commissioner Longo asked if the next Planning Commission would be a joint meeting with the Board of Supervisors.  Planning Director Logan responded that if the Supervisors authorize, the March meeting would be doubled up.

Chairman Myers indicated that the traffic for Chipotle and 5 Guys, both of which are now open, was sometimes extending out to Country Club Road, creating some obstruction for access to the rest of Riverton Commons.  It is something to keep an eye on. Planning Director Logan observed that the traffic may even out with time.

Commissioner Crystal Beall had an issue raised by a citizen regarding new signage going up at public boat ramps including that at Gooney Creek.  Signs indicate that a permit is required for all watercraft for access to public waterways, including for canoes, kayaks, and even inner tubes.  The State Department of Wildlife Resources, as of Jan 1, 2021, requires a person age 17 or older to possess a valid Virginia hunting, trapping, or fishing permit, a Restore the Wild membership, an access permit, or a current boat registration to use an access facility.  The small warning signs regarding this requirement are the first indication that many citizens are seeing about this new policy that the legislature has created to help fund the Department’s activities.  There is a FAQ list at https://dwr.virginia.gov/boating/access-faq/ regarding the new rules.

South River District County Supervisor Cheryl Cullers attended the commission meeting and Chairman Myers asked if she could shed some light on the situation.  She explained what she knew of the requirement and that she has been seeking more information from the Department of Wildlife Resources on this topic.  Look for more information soon.

Planning Director Logan said that the Planning Department is working on its annual report and that new home permits numbered 191 in 2020, which is up 50 from 2019.  At 1%, this rate of increase is below the county’s 3% annual maximum for residential growth.

Planning Director Logan said that the Planning Department is working on its annual report and that new home permits numbered 191 in 2020, which is up 50 from 2019. File Photo.

Planner Wendling indicated that the planning office has sent out letters to flood plain affected landowners to refamiliarize them with floodplain responsibilities and rules, along with supplemental information about enforcement of permit conditions.

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Upcoming Events

Jan
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12:30 pm Opioid Overdose and Naloxone Edu... @ Online Event
Opioid Overdose and Naloxone Edu... @ Online Event
Jan 29 @ 12:30 pm – 1:30 pm
Opioid Overdose and Naloxone Education @ Online Event
Save a Life: Free REVIVE! Opioid Overdose and Naloxone Education January 29th The Northwestern Prevention Collaborative and Northwestern Community Services Board will offer a free virtual REVIVE! Training on January 29th from 12:30 pm to[...]
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2:00 pm Paint Camellias with The Studio @ The Studio - A Place for Learning
Paint Camellias with The Studio @ The Studio - A Place for Learning
Jan 30 @ 2:00 pm – 4:00 pm
Paint Camellias with The Studio @ The Studio - A Place for Learning
We will paint these beautiful camellias on Saturday, January 30th at 2 pm at The Studio. This will be the first in a series of floral paintings we will do over the course of 2021.[...]
6:00 pm Parent’s Night Out @ Code Ninjas
Parent’s Night Out @ Code Ninjas
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Parent's Night Out @ Code Ninjas
Help Code Ninjas Front Royal celebrate our Grand Opening! We are hosting our first Parent’s Night Out! $35 per child, space limited to 5! – Drop them off. Go have fun. Just remember to pick[...]
6:00 pm Robert Burns Night 2021 @ Virginia Beer Museum
Robert Burns Night 2021 @ Virginia Beer Museum
Jan 30 @ 6:00 pm – 10:00 pm
Robert Burns Night 2021 @ Virginia Beer Museum
Known in medieval Celtic culture as a storyteller, verse maker, and composer, the word ‘Bard’ has become synonymous with the world’s greatest poets. However, few are as celebrated as Scotland’s own ‘National Bard’, Robert Burns,[...]
Feb
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10:00 am Course 1 Trauma-Informed Training @ Online Event
Course 1 Trauma-Informed Training @ Online Event
Feb 9 @ 10:00 am – 12:00 pm
Course 1 Trauma-Informed Training @ Online Event
The Warren Coalition, in partnership with Northwestern Prevention Collaborative, will offer area residents two opportunities to take a free, virtual Course 1 Trauma-Informed Training in February. This course is designed to provide information about identifying[...]
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6:30 pm Course 1 Trauma-Informed Training @ Online Event
Course 1 Trauma-Informed Training @ Online Event
Feb 11 @ 6:30 pm – 8:30 pm
Course 1 Trauma-Informed Training @ Online Event
The Warren Coalition, in partnership with Northwestern Prevention Collaborative, will offer area residents two opportunities to take a free, virtual Course 1 Trauma-Informed Training in February. This course is designed to provide information about identifying[...]
Feb
13
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6:00 pm Parent’s Night Out @ Code Ninjas
Parent’s Night Out @ Code Ninjas
Feb 13 @ 6:00 pm – 9:00 pm
Parent's Night Out @ Code Ninjas
Help Code Ninjas Front Royal celebrate our Grand Opening! We are hosting our first Parent’s Night Out! $35 per child, space limited to 5! – Drop them off. Go have fun. Just remember to pick[...]
Feb
15
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9:00 am Free Tax Preparation @ Good Shepherd Lutheran Church
Free Tax Preparation @ Good Shepherd Lutheran Church
Feb 15 @ 9:00 am – 12:00 pm
Free Tax Preparation @ Good Shepherd Lutheran Church
Free tax preparation will be available again this year through the AARP Tax Aide at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Front Royal, Monday and Wednesday mornings beginning Feb. 15th. To make an appointment, please call[...]
Feb
16
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10:00 am Course 1 Trauma-Informed Training @ Online Event
Course 1 Trauma-Informed Training @ Online Event
Feb 16 @ 10:00 am – 12:00 pm
Course 1 Trauma-Informed Training @ Online Event
The Warren Coalition, in partnership with Northwestern Prevention Collaborative, will offer area residents two opportunities to take a free, virtual Course 1 Trauma-Informed Training in February. This course is designed to provide information about identifying[...]
Feb
17
Wed
9:00 am Free Tax Preparation @ Good Shepherd Lutheran Church
Free Tax Preparation @ Good Shepherd Lutheran Church
Feb 17 @ 9:00 am – 12:00 pm
Free Tax Preparation @ Good Shepherd Lutheran Church
Free tax preparation will be available again this year through the AARP Tax Aide at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Front Royal, Monday and Wednesday mornings beginning Feb. 15th. To make an appointment, please call[...]