In the Town Council meeting held on August 5, a formal request for the use of a CITAC center was proposed. Front Royal Police Chief Kahle Magalis requested the approval of a budget amendment to reimburse the expense associated with police salaries in a partnership with a regional Crisis Intervention Assessment Center (CITAC) in collaboration with Northwestern Community Services and Valley Health Systems.
“The problem is that if there is a case or incident where the subject’s mental health is in question there is a timeframe of four hours in which the subject needs to be taken to a proper facility; they have to be treated medically and it is the officer’s responsibility to transport this person to the proper location, which takes the officer away from his duties on the street,” Chief Magalis explained.
What the partnership with CITAC will provide is an easy and safe transition for mentally ill subjects to be detained, many times for their own safety.
This project aims to protect mentally ill subjects and get them the treatment they need, while also allowing the officers to get back on the streets and back to their jobs of protecting the community.
Several other important changes to the community were also brought to light. A presentation by Jeff Mitchell introduced council to new changes in financial accounting laws and budgeting; a proposed lease of space for a Probation and Parole District, and the new recycling laws on single stream were also discussed. The council discussed What residents can do to make sure that their recycling is actually taken such as removing tape from cardboard boxes and plastic labels from water bottles. (more on that later).
Bittersweet Town Council Meeting Celebrates Gains While Acknowledging Losses to the Community
On Monday, November 27, at 7 p.m. in the Warren County Government Center, the Front Royal Town Council held a regular meeting wherein they heard reports from council members as well as the town manager.
The meeting was brief, lasting only thirty minutes, but in that time, Mayor Lori Cockrell recognized several individuals for outstanding service. She also asked all in attendance to remember in their prayers people this community has recently lost, including the passing of Arthur Maddox of Maddox Funeral Home. Serving that evening in his new capacity as councilman was Glenn Wood, who was warmly welcomed by council.
In his report, Town Manager Joe Waltz conveyed that water conservation is no longer needed for the town due to recent rainfall. “Due to the rain we had last week before the holiday,” he explained, “the river has risen to a level that we no longer need water conservation efforts.” He added, “I will caution the community that we are still in a drought condition,” if rain is not forecasted in the future, “we could conceivably be back to mandatory water conservation.” Waltz also reminded the community of the upcoming “Christmas on Main” event on Saturday, December 2, with festivities starting at noon and the town’s Christmas Parade starting at 4 p.m., followed by the lighting of the Christmas tree around 6 p.m. in the downtown Village Commons park area after the parade.
Councilwoman Morris commented on the current disposition of the Afton Inn project, which was supposed to be completed in 2023 but, to this date, has made no visible progress. Council had expected to hear a report at their last work session from investor Alan J. Omar, who is involved in the development of Afton Inn, but that report has not materialized. Mayor Cockrell emphasized that she is still working hard to facilitate that report as soon as possible. Morris also congratulated Councilwoman DeDomenico-Payne on her November 7 victory at the polls wherein she continues as a member of the Town Council. Morris also welcomed Wood warmly.
Councilman Bruce Rappaport reflected on his lifelong friendship with Arthur Maddox, which dates as far back in his memory as the time when he was only eight years old, attending the cinema with his friend Arthur to see movies like The Great Escape. “He was a real gem,” Rappaport said, “one of the finest individuals I’ve ever met.” Rappaport also highlighted the good news that VDOT has granted roughly $2.6 million to the Town for road-related improvements and maintenance in the 2024 fiscal year. That announcement of VDOT’s road funding was followed by Consent Agenda action related to the acceptance of those funds, as well as approval of Resolution in support of applying for additional funding for Highway Safety Program improvements.
After passing the seven-item Consent Agenda, council went into closed session to discuss personnel issues as well as HEPTAD litigation against the Town.
Supervisors Approve Support of Silent Falcon Job Creation Grant Time-Frame Extension, Note Full Funding of Samuels Public Library
After hearing from four residents of the Cedarville Heights Subdivision area regarding concerns about the length of time — estimated at 18 months to two years — an access road may be closed during planned VDOT-overseen upgrades in the coming year, and a final Public Comment on election day processes; then going through board and staff reports at its meeting of Tuesday, November 21, the Warren County Board of Supervisors tackled routine business including Approval of Accounts and Appropriations and Transfers, among other housekeeping items. As has become a routine expression of discontent with vagaries in some departmental Accounts and Appropriation submissions, South River District Supervisor Cheryl Cullers cast a lone dissenting vote on both the accounts and appropriations approvals.
During her report, Board Chairman Vicky Cook noted that in the wake of joint approval of a new County/Samuels Public Library Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) maintaining the library’s operational integrity, the library was now fully funded for Fiscal Year 2023-24 to the tune of $1,024,000. In the wake of the last library board of trustees meeting, of which she is a county representative, Cook also reported that the 501 C-3 non-profit Samuels Library “to date have exceeded their unrestricted donations by 1500% (fifteen-hundred-percent).” Royal Examiner verified those numbers with library representatives, who acknowledged a wide-ranging source of donations in response to the recent LBGTQ content/availability issues. As much as $75,000 to date has been donated to help with legal and appeal expenses likely to continue for at least a year, according to library officials.
Under “Unfinished Business,” the board then dealt with two items related to amendments to Family Subdivision Codes. First among those was a request to amend Chapter 180 of County Codes regarding “accessory uses for subdivisions and combinations of subdivisions and cluster housing developments to subsection E and to add provisions for family subdivisions and combinations of subdivisions and family subdivisions to the Agricultural (A) zoning district regulations.”
Second was “a request to amend Chapter 155 of the Warren County Code Section 155-3(B)(1)(b) Family Subdivisions to add subsection: Family subdivisions shall only be permitted for land in the Agricultural zoning district.”
Both requests were approved by 4-0 votes, with Supervisor Cullers abstaining as she explained over an off-handed remark at an earlier meeting noting that Cullers and her husband owned eligible property in an Agriculturally zoned area, so could profit from passage of the requested ordinance amendments. Cullers abstained, though she had pointed out that she had no role in bringing these code amendment requests forward.
Let’s talk about Silent Falcon
Moving towards a Consent Agenda with a 24th item added at the meeting’s outset, Cullers pulled one item, number 19, out for additional discussion prior to a vote of approval. That item was a vote on a Letter of Support for Drone operator Silent Falcon’s request for a 15-month extension to realize completion of its Virginia Jobs Investment Program (VJIP) business development grant project. As noted in the staff summary in the agenda packet, the current completion date rapidly approaching is December 31, 2023. But as Silent Falcon CEO Grant Bishop explained at the November 14 supervisors work session, the company, which relocated what had been a manufacturing-based business here from its previous New Mexico headquarters, has pursued a change of focus to operational uses of its drone fleet. Primary among those operational uses are airport inspections utilizing drones and A.I. technology on what appears to be an emerging global target market.
And while Cullers expressed concerns that Silent Falcon has not reached any of its original employment benchmarks, including job creation, County Administrator Ed Daley explained that endorsing the company’s requested extension presents no financial risk to the County. Any financial consequence of a longer-termed failure to meet its Virginia Jobs Investment Program benchmarks will rest with the company and the state government source of the grant.
Responding to questions, County Economic Development Director Joe Petty explained that the now County-overseen FR-WC Economic Development Authority has been working with Silent Falcon with the goal of keeping them here in Warren County as they face expansion and the need for a larger location than their current one at the County-owned Front Royal Airport (FRR). Noting the potential for good-paying, tech jobs for local citizens from the company’s presence and shifting operational goals, Petty told the supervisors, “We’re working to keep them here in Warren County.”
And with no financial risk at stake for the County, the board majority sided with Supervisor Delores Oates, who noted, based on staff input on that lack of financial risk, that it will cost the County nothing were Silent Falcon to fail in its operational shift and job creation goals. “It’s a risk worth taking,” Board Chairman Vicky Cook said of the majority opinion. Oates’ motion to approve the requested and required municipal letter of support for the extension that will be sent to the Virginia Economic Development Partnership passed by a 4-1 vote, Cullers dissenting based on her ongoing concerns about the company not having met its initial employment benchmarks. It was noted during the discussion that not only the company’s change of operational focus had slowed its initial job projections down, but the company’s relocation also came during a portion of COVID’s negative impacts on business operations in general.
Prior to adjournment, the board unanimously approved a trio of requests. Those included a Resolution in support of a Realignment of Private Access Easement for James Michel, a Conservation Easement submitted by Tom Lockhart, and proceeding with Phase 3 of the Senior Center redevelopment process. On that latter matter, while Chairman Cook noted that the project was now projected at a $61,000 budget overrun, original projections were double that at $120,000 over budget. And while Supervisor Oates observed that the $85,000 price of a range hood still gave her “heartburn,” she joined her colleagues in committing to the continuation and completion of the upgrades to the Senior Center.
With no other New Business to be added to the agenda, the meeting adjourned at 8:25 p.m.
UPDATED: Town Planning Commission Hears Concerns About Private Schooling Impacts on Public Property; Recommends 5-Acre Minimum PND District Size
(Writer’s note: the list of churches mentioned by Public Comments speaker Kate Heneberry has been corrected to exclude the Lutheran Church originally cited. The churches she cited in her remarks were Front Royal Presbyterian, St. John the Baptist Catholic, Front Royal United Methodist, and First Baptist. The Royal Examiner regrets any confusion the error caused.)
The Front Royal Town Planning Commission met on Wednesday, November 15, and in the absence of the regular Clerk Connie Potter, immediately voted unanimously to appoint Zoning Administrator John Ware as Clerk Pro Tempore.
Kate Heneberry, who lives on Luray Avenue, was the only speaker during the Citizen Comments portion of the meeting. She addressed the commission to express her concern about increased organizational uses in that area, which includes schools, churches, and, in particular, private schools located in single-family structures or churches, leading to on-street parking shortages and an “appreciable reduction in traffic flow.” One cause of this is an increase in traffic volume at student pick-up and drop-off peaks. In the case of St. John the Baptist Catholic Church, Ms. Heneberry asserted that the church, unlike the Neighboring Presbyterian, Methodist and Baptist churches, “apparently does not have enough parking for its parishioners and students.” However, it wasn’t clear from satellite imagery that the Catholic Church’s off-street parking is any smaller than the other churches.
Ms. Heneberry was also concerned that some of these organizational uses might not meet health and safety standards, as single-family residences may not have the public safety infrastructure to accommodate a student body. She also cited problems with students using Bowman Park for recess, lunch, and sometimes outside learning. She said that the damage to the grounds has led to a loss of grass and trees. She urged the Town to address these impacts during the review and approval of applications related to organizational uses in residential districts.
There were three items on the Consent Agenda for approval to advertise for coming public hearings:
The Warren Coalition has made a request for a Special Use Permit for a lodging house located at 501 S. Royal Avenue in the Community Business District. It is zoned Community Business District (C-1) and is also located in the Entrance Corridor.
Skyline Realty Investments, LLC has submitted a Rezoning Application for a request to rezone 29 W. Duck Street from C-1, Community Business District to R-3, Residential District.
Cook Realty, LLC has submitted a Rezoning Application for a request to rezone 1121, 1125 and 1135 John Marshall Highway, from R-1, Residential District to C-1, Community Business District.
On a motion by Vice-Chair Connie Marshner, seconded by Commissioner Wood, the Commission voted unanimously to approve the consent agenda items, allowing coming public hearings to be advertised. Those hearings should be held at the next scheduled Commission meeting.
The Commission then turned its attention to the two items scheduled for public hearings.
Magdalen Capital, LLLP, has submitted a request to amend the current Zoning Ordinance Sections 175-37.3.C, 175-37.4.A & 175-37.17.As the Royal Examiner previously reported, the minimum acreage requirement for the Planned Neighborhood Development District (PND) from the existing 20 and 50-acre minimum lot requirements to a 2-acre minimum lot requirement. This is the minimum total development size, not the individual lot size. Under the Town’s zoning ordinance, the maximum allowable residential density is six dwelling units per acre – and only at the discretion of the Town Council, making a theoretical planned development of 2 acres under the revised ordinance only capable of 12 dwelling units. Otherwise, the parcel is still subject to the density restrictions of the parcel prior to rezoning.
Planning Director Lauren Kopishke told the Commission that Planning Department staff had consulted with its contractor assisting with the rewrite of the Zoning Ordinance and concluded that a 2-acre minimum would not work with the current open space requirements but that staff would recommend a 5-acre minimum instead.
Commissioner Glenn Wood asked how long this ordinance had been in effect. Answer: Since 2011. Commissioner Brian Matthiae asked if this proposed change is in accordance with the new Comprehensive Plan that the Town Council just approved. Planning Director Kopishke: “The Comprehensive Plan lays out goals for increased mixed-use and provisions for affordable housing, so I believe this opens the door for that.” However, she went on to say: “The staff supports the change to reduce the minimum acreage, but I do think that 5 acres is the right minimum.”
Vice-Chair Marshner asked about the process for approval of a PND if a property owner has such a parcel. Planning Director Kopishke responded: “They would need to submit a rezoning application, and we would review it to see if it is in conformance with the Comprehensive Plan. If it is, typically at that point, it would come before the Planning Commission to determine if it was appropriate, and if so, the Commission would forward it to the Town Council with a recommendation for approval.”
At the public hearing, there were two speakers. Neighboring resident Linda Turner, whose property adjoins that under consideration for rezoning for a PND, opposed the ordinance change. She asserted that the current zoning ordinance’s 20 to 50-acre minimums are a safeguard for the community, and allowing a 2 or 5-acre minimum would open the door to “pop-up areas of Development,” potentially turning Front Royal into a “mini-Manassas.” The current zoning of the property would allow the construction of 22-27 homes, and that number alone will add significantly to the increasingly heavy traffic along the Happy Creek corridor, Turner told the commission.
The second speaker, Megan Marazzo, related her experience in new construction and urban infill to illustrate the point that a 2-acre minimum for PNDs is “unheard of” and cited the experiences of places like Leesburg and Ashburn, which have experienced drastic changes due to similar development proposals. She urged the town to identify all the potential parcels that could conceivably be “ripe for the picking” if such a zoning change were approved.
Representing Magdalen Capital LLLP, Alex Stieb addressed the Commission and said that a 20 or 50-acre minimum inhibits smaller builders from doing developments. The proposed 2 or 5-acre developments would allow quality local builders to develop smaller pockets. He pointed out that large developments of 20-50 acres also have a heavy regulatory and environmental burden that small local developers cannot handle.
After a motion by Vice-Chairman Marshner, seconded by Commissioner Michael Williams, to recommend approval of a 5-acre minimum, the Commission discussed the proposed change. Commissioner Wood asked Zoning Administrator-cum-clerk pro tempore John Ware if an inventory of available parcels in the town of 20 acres or more was done. Answer: 16 parcels in town meet the 20-acre threshold of the current ordinance, but Planning Department staff has not done an inventory of how many parcels there would be if the 2 or 5-acre change were made.
The Commission then voted unanimously to recommend a 5-acre minimum, rather than the requested 2 acres, in the ordinance. The text-amended ordinance will go to the Town Council for a final decision.
Magdalen Capital, LLLP also has submitted a request to rezone a parcel at 311 Leach Street, identified by tax map number 20A9-1-3, from R-S, Suburban Residential District to PND (Planned Neighborhood Development District), and adjoining properties from R-1, Residential District to PND as well. This rezoning would only be possible if the Zoning Ordinance text amendment is approved.
In the applicant’s presentation, Magdalen Capital partner Stieb told the commission that a by-right development on that parcel (requiring no rezoning) would essentially be a tract housing site with 26 to 27 single-family homes with no commercial infrastructure. “There’s not a lot of add-value to the town. Nationwide studies show that single-family developments are a net negative,” Stieb told the commission. A mixed-use PND could attract a traditional “corner store” as part of the commercial component. Stieb reasoned that the commercial component would generate tax revenue to offset the public infrastructure costs. So far, the applicant has developed only conceptual versions of the PND that would allow higher-density multi-family units and site plans would have to be provided before actual development could be approved to begin.
At this public hearing, local resident Tanya Jones reiterated the previous speakers’ opposition to the Zoning Ordinance change and told the Commission that she prefers that the developer pursue the by-right option rather than the PND because of the impact on the land and the traffic on Happy Creek Road.
At the end of the public hearing, the Commission discussed the points raised at the Public Hearing. Planning Director Kopishke reminded the commission that no matter what option was eventually followed by the applicant, the Planning Department and the Commission would have to issue and approve a site plan, which would also require Town, County, and State approval before permitting and construction could begin. After some further discussion, on a motion by Commissioner Williams, seconded by Commissioner Wood, the Commission voted unanimously to recommend approval of the rezoning under the new zoning ordinance changes, which have, again, not yet been implemented by the Town. The application will now go to the Town Council for final action. The council will announce when the rezoning will be on its agenda.
Planning Director Kopishke announced that the department had issued 28 zoning permits in October, 18 new zoning enforcement cases, making a total of 320 cases for the year, four new land use applications, eight sign permit applications, and 12 business licenses. The department has met with their consultant and expects a draft zoning and subdivision ordinance in January or February for the Planning Commission to review.
County Board Traverses Multi-Faceted Work Session Featuring Silent Falcon Drone and Corridor Connector Bus Operational Updates
The first order of business at Tuesday evening’s 6 p.m. convened work session of the Warren County Board of Supervisors was a re-arrangement of the agenda, which included moving a slated Closed/Executive Session for legal advice on three topics from the opening item of business to an undetermined later point.
The open work session then began with presentations by representatives of, first the Virginia Regional Transit Central District/Corridor Connector bus system (2:10 video mark); then the Front Royal Airport (FRR) based Silent Falcon company (14:20 video mark).
The third presentation was financial contractor Davenport company’s review of the County’s current financial status and rating assessment by Moody’s (1:04:55 video mark). On that latter front the board was told the County has been able to maintain a “very strong” Double AA financial rating, Double AA+ in some areas, with Triple AAA being the top of the financial heap rating.
Chairman Vicky Cook asked why the FR-WC EDA debts, including from the financial scandal era, weren’t included in the County financial analysis. It was explained that the EDA being a separate quasi-governmental entity, albeit one created by municipal governments to assist in their positive economic development, are the officially responsible agency for their debt, not the municipality, in this case Warren County and likely also the Town of Front Royal, which was a participating founding entity at the time the existing EDA debt was created. However, the Davenport rep indicated that he was working with County EDA Director Joe Petty on potential implications or impacts of that EDA debt on county finances were the now County-overseen EDA to default on its debt.
Earlier, Petty explained in introducing the Silent Falcon presentation, that the company which relocated here from New Mexico several years ago amidst the initial COVID pandemic impacts, is seeking a Letter of Support from the county supervisors for a 15-month extension of it operational programs based out of the County-owned Front Royal Airport. Silent Falcon’s business realignment from the manufacture of drones from their pre-COVID, New Mexico headquarter days, to their drones use in conjunction with A.I. technology to map out and identify physical problem areas at airports on a global scale, was explained in some detail. It is a change of business focus since arriving here at the County airport.
And while Supervisor Cheryl Cullers pointed out the company hadn’t met its projected employee and salary benchmarks presented with their arrival, saying she would need “more info to endorse” an extension of the arrangement with the company, Supervisor Delores Oates countered that the presence of an evolving and cutting edge technology business in the community is viewed as an overall plus for economic development and job generation moving forward. Most supervisors seemed to agree with that assessment.
Virginia Regional Transit Central Manager Michael Socha gave the board an update on Corridor Connector bus operations, and took suggestions on areas to explore, like running scheduling adjustments to accommodate shift changes in some of the north corridor commercial and industrial areas. Socha noted the 50-cent fare remains suspended and noted a new bus would be coming soon with no local match costs required.
Following those three presentations exactly where to place that deferred Closed Session came up. When it was suggested by Chairman Cook to finish the rest of the open work session agenda then go into closed session, County Administrator Ed Daley reminded the chair and her colleagues that they pay County Attorney Jason Ham of the Harrisonburg-based Litten-Sipe law firm “by the hour” and that Ham had been promised a relatively early exit from the work session, which by 7:40 p.m. was somewhat past the early departure window. So, the chair and her board opted to go immediately into Closed/Executive Session at 7:45 p.m.
It was an attorney-driven triple header Closed Session featuring legal advice regarding the pending three-party MOA (Memorandum Of Agreement) between the County, Town, private-sector Reaching Out Now group on resurrection of a community-wide Youth Center at the old Santmyers Youth Center facility owned by the County. Other topics were legal issues regarding board meeting policies and two county properties on 2nd and Hillidge Streets. The board and staff didn’t emerge from that closed session until 9:25 p.m., an hour-and-40 minutes later. So much for that “early out” for the drive back to Harrisonburg, Jason.
Finally out of closed session the board dealt with four more work session agenda items prior to adjourning less than an hour later at 10:11 p.m. Those included the financial implications of a Virginia 250 State Tourism Program matching grant that would move the lone existing acknowledgment of lost Revolutionary War soldiers on the Courthouse grounds, a foot-stone marker determined to have been gifted by the Front Royal Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution in 1990, to a more prominent location and add a bench marker to that display. It appeared that cash out of pocket remaining to the County would be $1,625 of a $8,075 dollar 50/50 match on a total cost of $16,150.
Next was a revisiting of Criteria for Waiving the 100′ Setback from Neighboring Dwellings on Short-Term Tourist Rental permitting applications. The staff summary of an inquiry by the supervisors on adjusting county codes to bypass so many individual application waiver decisions reported this:
“Both the Planning Commission and the Board of Supervisors indicated a preference for keeping the setback requirement as a supplementary regulation that the Board of Supervisors can waive. The Board of Supervisors requested Planning staff to work on potential criteria for the Board to consider when deciding whether a waiver of the setback is appropriate.
“Planning staff believe building out criteria under the 100’ setback requirement in the supplementary regulations for short-term tourist rentals is unnecessary and could complicate the decision to reduce the setback. The ‘criteria’ is already in the Code.”
Planning Director Wendling concluded that while the staff preference is to maintain the status quo of the board granting waivers based on conditions specific to individual applications, it would be advisable for the County to work closely with neighborhood POAs (Property Owner Associations) to see that the interpretation of county codes regarding short-term rentals don’t automatically override “Restrictive Covenants” those POAs may establish for specific neighborhoods based on a residential majority’s desire that the short-term rental use not become an allowed use in their neighborhoods.
After delaying the discussion of the County Handbook on Personnel Policies & Procedures to a future date, County Administrator Daley led the board through a preview of the coming Fiscal Year-2024/25 budget meeting schedule. And with that, as noted above, the meeting adjourned at 10:11 p.m., only 4 hours and 11 minutes after it began.
Town Announces Withdrawal of its Civil Litigation Against the FR-WC EDA
At 2:12 p.m., Wednesday, November 15, the Front Royal Town Council Clerk’s office issued a press release announcing the dropping of the Town’s civil litigation against the Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority (EDA, FR-WC EDA). The release portrays the withdrawn litigation as a good faith effort to reduce EDA “financial scandal”-related legal expenses ultimately falling on the shoulders of town and county taxpaying citizens. The fifth paragraph of the six-paragraph release, opening with a reference to former EDA Executive Director Jennifer McDonald, recently convicted on 34 criminal counts related to the EDA “financial scandal” in the 10th Western District of Virginia federal court, reads:
“The legal proceedings flowing from McDonald’s misdeeds have been ongoing for several years. The local community, as both town residents and county taxpayers, has already shouldered substantial legal costs. In order to prevent further financial strain on the citizens and in recognition of the actual amounts remaining in dispute between the Town of Front Royal and the EDA, the Town of Front Royal has decided to non-suit its lawsuit against the EDA. This move is intended to save public funds and reflects our commitment to the community’s welfare. We hope this gesture will be met with a similar commitment from the EDA.”
It might be noted that after the Town filed its civil litigation against and withdrew from future involvement with the jointly created EDA, the now unilaterally County-overseen EDA filed a countersuit, citing financial obligations of the Town related to the EDA “financial scandal” and projects, including funding the construction of a new town police station, done on behalf of the Town during that time-frame.
One familiar with the dueling litigations and a portion of the Town’s justification framed around the fact that town officials no longer appointed EDA board members (a voluntarily given up authority*), thus had no EDA oversight responsibilities, might wonder if a reassessment of the strength or weakness of Town’s legal position in the now-abandoned litigation might have also factored into the decision to abandon the civil suit.
But whatever the driving factor, let’s celebrate what seems a positive move toward improved County-Town relations.
* FOOTNOTE: The Town-County compromise on withdrawing the Town’s responsibility for EDA operational funding may be recalled as part of the effort to end the double-taxation of town citizens for joint Town-County operations, since town citizens are also county citizens and ended up paying taxes twice for jointly overseen operations. The EDA funding agreement was part of a move that put operational funding of jointly beneficial operations totally on the County side. As we recall, other departments where similar agreements were reached to stop town citizens from being double taxed included Fire & Rescue, Parks & Recreation, and Samuels Public Library.
After Afton Inn Update Canceled, Town Council Delays Riverside Easement Request Decision Pending ‘Additional Information’
On Monday, November 13, at 7 p.m. in the Front Royal Town Hall at 102 East Main Street, the Front Royal Town Council met for a work session. Although council expected to hear from Alan J. Omar of The Capital Gate Investment Firm about the progress of the Afton Inn project, which his company is involved in developing, the update was canceled at the last minute due to a misunderstanding about the public nature of the work session. Then, under old business, the council heard from Town Manager Joe Waltz about an easement request for which staff had recommended a denial.
According to the summary on the agenda statement, which Waltz quoted, “Staff received a request from William R. Hounshell on August 23, 2023, requesting a 10’ wide access/egress easement to his property located along the North Fork of the Shenandoah River.” The roughly five-acre lot is located between the railroad tracks and the river. The only way for the lot to be functional and easily accessible would be in the case that the Town agrees to grant access along Town property, terminating near Duck Street. “The Town property is roughly one thousand feet in length,” the statement reads. Also, the Town has utilities there.
As Town staff investigated, they discovered a quitclaim plat “that showed the 5-acre area north of the RR was deeded along with the 50-acre parcel to the south. The 50-acre parcel was later subdivided,” the staff agenda summary notes. Having lost the access that those parcels offered, Hounshell’s five-acre lot stands in need of an alternative way of reaching the property. Due to problems that may arise from giving third-party access to Town property in that vicinity, property that is otherwise closed to the public, Town staff recommended denial of the easement request to council. In other words, why would the Town grant liberty to one individual to do that which is denied to everyone else in an area where the Town has vested interests, regardless of how the situation arose? Council entertained several potential concerns, including dangers such as trespassing and vandalism due to an anticipated increase in pedestrian traffic. However, each concern was ancillary to staff’s recommendation, which centered around the Town parcel being closed to the public.
Hounshell is apparently seeking an easement from VDOT for the portion of the access that intersects with the railroad. Hounshell is confident he will receive it, but the Town has not yet received verification of such intent from VDOT. In the end, council chose to postpone the issue to a future work session, pending receipt of relevant “additional information”, as Mayor Lori Cockrell termed it. After preparing their consent agenda to be voted upon at the November 27 regular meeting, following a motion from Councilwoman Amber Morris, seconded by Councilman Bruce Rappaport, council went into a closed meeting at 7:45 p.m. to discuss litigation, specifically Town of Front Royal vs. Front Royal Limited Partnership.