The Front Royal Town Council’s regular monthly meeting of March 28, breezed through four public hearings of some interest, including Poe’s Rivers Edge 200-site campground permitting on the South Fork of the Shenandoah River at the end of Kendrick Lane; approval of flat Town Real Estate and Personal Property Tax Rates for the coming fiscal year; a $1.24 monthly hike to the Town Sewer Service rate; and the partial vacation of Sanitary Sewer Easement for Lispen LLC at a commercial site at 195 Toray Drive in the commercial-industrial north corridor, with no public comment to any of the four, and little to no council discussion. All four proposals were approved by 5-0 votes, with one absence, Gillespie due to illness the town manager noted.
The meeting’s early stages, 3 minutes into the Town Council video, also saw a well-deserved acknowledgment of newly appointed or promoted Front Royal Police officers and one citizen employee welcomed aboard, as well as one retirement. Chief Kahle Magalis acknowledged these employees and officers, including Karen McDonald (civilian communications officer), Mark Hajduk and Rachel Martin (to the Patrol Division), Patrol Division’s David Fogle’s promotion to sergeant; and the retirement of drug-sniffing K-9 Maverick. It was explained Maverick’s retirement was forced early due to a change in drug laws at the state level, the legalization of marijuana. However, the chief noted many of the Maverick-initiated drug busts involved much harder drugs, which he is also trained to sniff out. But it appeared Maverick was poised to enjoy his retirement, perhaps with some alternative sniffing games, with handler Olivia Meadows. Congratulations welcome aboard, and au revoir, as the case may be to all these officers.
Also approved as presented was a four-item Consent Agenda, also without discussion. Those items were awarding of a $414,882 contract for Curb & Gutter Installation to Imperio Construction; awarding of a $53,500 contract for Duck Street Culvert Repairs to General Excavations Inc.; approval of a Resolution for submission to VDOT’s Smart Scale Program for Phase II of the Happy Creek Road improvements; and approval of a $2,757 Budget Amendment to allow acceptance of a Local Law Enforcement Black Grant from the Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Services toward strengthening Crime Control.
Protective gear to Ukraine
One “New Business” action item was also added to the agenda with law enforcement implications at the international level that would become the final open meeting agenda item. Just prior to the adjournment to Closed Session Chief Magalis returned to the dais to explain the request to allow 12 Ballistics Tactical Vests to be sent to the Virginia Association of Chiefs of Police for forwarding to the 501-c3 organization “Lift Up Ukraine” for distribution to Ukrainian forces resisting the Russian invasion of that nation. The item was added to the agenda on unanimous approval of a motion by Amber Morris, seconded by Vice-Mayor Cockrell. Morris also made the motion to approve the tactical equipment transfer, seconded by Letasha Thompson. After Chief Magalis responded to Councilman McFadden’s questions about the “Lift Up Ukraine” organization the councilman had difficulty locating online, Morris’s motion was also passed by a 5-0 vote, one absent, as had everything save one item preceding it.
That one non-unanimous vote of approval, to which Councilman Lloyd cast his last non-approval vote as a councilman, was regarding a now-often batted back and forth Town-County Memorandum of Agreement (MOA), now simply referred to as an “Agreement” in the wake of the county supervisors’ changes offered last week, on the future of Joint Tourism efforts by the two county municipalities. Having been batted back and forth several times previously with changes recommended by each elected body on details of funding, operations, and the function of the “Discover Front Royal” Destination Management Organization (DMO) 501-c6 group, the previously smoothly running meeting hit a wall.
Back at you – again
That wall was a 45-minute discussion beginning at the 46:55 mark of the Town Council video, of details surrounding funding schedules, dollar amounts, access to Visitors Center merchandise not labeled “Discover Front Royal, among other dynamics. Near the conclusion of that discussion, Vice-Mayor Cockrell suggested approval of a new motion with changes referenced “as discussed tonight”. However, council’s lone practicing attorney Lloyd, queried Assistant Town Attorney George Sonnett, resulting in a legal consensus that more precise wording would be required, as well as a new motion “to reconsider” an original motion made as council initiated its desire to move the process forward that evening.
After an additional 12 minutes of discussion, motion re-writing, an Amber Morris-led review of proposed changes to the Agreement sent over by the County, and 5-0 approval of a motion to reconsider, Cockrell had the floor. – “I think I’m ready. Don’t judge me, but I’m going to try my best here,” the vice-mayor offered as she began at the 1:29:38 video mark:
“I move that council approve a Front Royal-Warren County Joint Tourism Agreement with the County of Warren with the following changes:
1 – “One is anywhere it says ‘paid quarterly’ that will be assumed that it is intended to be one-fourth of the approved budget.
2 – “Under ‘The Town of Front Royal shall’, added to that sentence should be after ‘subject to appropriation year to year’ we should include the words ‘provided that such funding amount to be provided by the Town for the fiscal year starting July 1, 2022, and ending July 30, 2023, shall be $200,000 with an additional appropriation by the County of $200,000, so the total funding of $400,000 shall be provided.
3 – “Also, under ‘The Town of Front Royal shall’, number 5, we will be removing the words ‘including but not limited to all merchandise’ and adding the word ‘with the Discover Front Royal slogan’.
“With those three changes I move that we approve this agreement,” Cockrell concluded to a second from Letasha Thompson. The roll call vote went 4-1 for approval of the Agreement as amended, with Lloyd casting the dissenting vote as he had indicated he would earlier in the discussion.
From our reading of the Agreement draft presented to council in the agenda packet, it would appear there were two minor wording mistakes in the somewhat hastily prepared motion’s second above-numbered point: one in the ending date of the referenced fiscal year as of July 30, 2023, as opposed to June 30; and the initial under “The Town of Front Royal shall” reference since we could only find the referenced wording “subject to appropriation year to year” in the “Discover Front Royal shall” section.
For those wishing to view the entire Joint Tourism discussion, as noted above, it begins at the 46:55 mark of the Town video, ending at the 1:31:55 mark, leading into the Ukrainian tactical equipment donation discussion, the final order of business prior to the closed session. That closed session was to discuss personnel matters, including the town manager’s performance as director of the Front Royal EDA, the town attorney’s position now filled on an interim basis, and a vacancy on the Board of Zoning Appeals.
Don’t forget Arbor Day
Prior to those final two Business Items, two others were approved 5-0 with little discussion. They were a Proclamation declaring Saturday, April 23, Arbor Day in Front Royal, as referenced in Town Arborist and Environmental Official Jim Osborn’s Public Comments earlier in the meeting; and a Resolution to provide Town Water and Sewer service to specific properties, under specific conditions in the Route 340/522 North Corridor. Those conditions include a developer-funded infrastructure study, and that the properties be utilized for commercial and industrial development only, not residential.
As to Arbor Day events, as Town Arborist Osborn noted during his Public Comments presentation they will be held from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, April 23, in the Village Commons/Gazebo area. A tree planting will follow nearby at 3:30 p.m. tied to the 23rd year of the Town’s designation as a Tree City USA.
That designation has been maintained despite council’s break of trust, circa 2020, with related environmental groups including its appointed Urban Forestry Advisory Committee (UFAC) and long-time volunteer organization the FR Tree Stewards, whose Chairperson Melody Hotek was present for Osborn’s report Monday. The UFAC Board resigned en masse in the wake of not being consulted on the former interim town manager-driven 2020 defoliation/rip rap rock project along Happy Creek downtown off Commerce Ave. between South and Prospect Streets. The UFAC board’s resignation seemed to lead to ESACs creation as an entity required to be in place to maintain the Tree City USA designation.
Osborn alluded to the necessity of an environmental oversight entity in place while designated a Tree City USA during his report to council on ESAC activities. Contacted about a UFAC-ESAC link, Town Manager Hicks said that ESAC’s environmental scope is intended to be broader than UFAC’s was. That could be helpful if council and town staff remember to keep ESAC in the loop on “bright ideas” like rip-rap rocks in place of trees and foliage, ostensibly for stabilization of extended areas of stream banks.
Osborn’s report to council begins at the 24:42 mark of the Town Council video. Council’s action on the Arbor Day Proclamation is at the 46:00 minute mark.
Town Planning Commission Work Session reviews Special Use Permits for public hearings
The Front Royal Planning Commission met on Wednesday, October 5, to discuss upcoming Special Use Permits (SUPs) that will face public hearings at the Commission’s regular meeting on October 19. The Chairman called for a brief break before beginning the meeting’s formal business to recognize retiring member and former Chair Douglas Jones. Mr. Jones served as a member or Chair of the Commission for 14 years of significant changes to the planning functions of the town. “When I started with the Commission, there were, what, 7 or 8 staff members in the Planning Department. Now there are four or five doing more work,” Jones observed.
Chairman Darryl Merchant presented the former chairman with a beautiful crystal gavel as a token of appreciation from the Planning Department and the Commission. The former chairman and work session attendees were treated to a delicious cake before resuming the official agenda. Jones was acknowledged as a cordial and straightforward leader and a voice of reason in an often-challenging role with many competing interests.
The commission is also bidding adieu to Commission Vice-Chairman William Gordon, who will be moving out of the county this month. Inquiries to the planning department have not yielded a potential replacement.
Continuing the trend from previous months, the commission reviewed three new SUPs for Short-Term Tourist Rentals in commercially zoned districts at 206 Lee Street by the Minick Group, LLC; 200 E. Main Street by Doug Ichiugi; and 1116 N. Royal Avenue by Aaron Hike. These SUP applications will have public hearings at the October 19 meeting.
Life Point Church (Formerly First Assembly of God) at 1111 North Shenandoah Avenue has applied for a SUP for a daycare facility in the church. This application will also have a public hearing at the October 19 meeting.
In a previous meeting, the commission approved a SUP for Leandra Justice for a short-term tourist rental for her property at 12 Chester Street, subject to a solution for parking for the property, which does not have off-street parking. The language of the zoning ordinance enacted in February 2022 by the Town Council for short-term tourist rentals spells out a somewhat vague rule: “Parking for the use shall be located in driveways or other designated and approved parking areas.”
The applicant is now applying for a special exception to that provision for this property, which is within 300 feet or less from the town parking lots on Peyton and Chester Streets. The commission discussed the challenge with interpretation of the ordinance and recognized the difficulty with the properties along that section of Chester Street, which were omitted from the general parking exemption granted to East Main Street properties. Commissioners agreed that the section of the ordinance regarding requirements for short-term rentals will need to be tightened. Planning Director Lauren Kopishke reminded the members that part of the Comprehensive Plan process will be revisions to the zoning ordinance, and that process should be wrapping up at the end of this year, providing a good opportunity for improvements to be made. The special exception request for this property will be considered and have a public hearing at the October 19 meeting.
The how-many units ‘Elephant’ in the room
Finally, the commissioners took up the SUP application from SeeSuu LLC for the conversion of an existing commercial structure at 131 East Main Street, the former Murphy Theater now housing the Dynamic Life Coffee Shop in the first-floor commercial space, into a greater number of dwelling units in a building up to a height of 60 feet.
The Town Code reads, “Buildings may be erected up to forty-five (45) feet in height from grade as a matter of right. Buildings may be erected at heights between forty-five feet (45′) and sixty feet (60′) by Special Use Permit, with reasonable conditions necessitated by the historic and unique nature of the Downtown Business District, issued by Town Council after recommendation of the Planning Commission.”
The Planning Commission will have to decide, on the basis of the information provided in the application, whether to recommend Town Council approval of a SUP. According to Chapter 175 of the Front Royal Town Code, “…a special use permit may only be permitted, when Town Council determines that the use (i) is not detrimental to the overall health, safety, and general welfare of the public, (ii) does not conflict with the Comprehensive Plan, (iii) is substantially compatible with surrounding land uses, and (iv) complies with laws of the Commonwealth of Virginia.”
In this case, the request is for sixty feet of height and not for the actual use of the building for dwellings. Critical information about the details of the project, necessary supporting infrastructure, the demolition and construction processes, or even a preliminary site plan is not yet available. Small sketches in the package provided to the commission showed a 6-story structure with 40 dwelling units, each comprised of 600 square feet, but even details about that structure or whether that configuration will be the final one have not been made public. As many as 60 units have been on the table in earlier submissions on the project. In addition, grave concerns remain that parking woes in the downtown would be exacerbated by the project during the construction period and once the units were occupied.
Two representatives of the applicant were present at the work session but did not make a formal presentation. The concept has undergone several changes since it was first floated earlier this year, including the type and number of dwelling units, as noted above, and the possibility of hotel rooms, retail spaces, and offices. The concept is scheduled to be presented to the Board of Architectural Review at its 7 p.m., October 12 meeting in Town Hall before coming to the Planning Commission for its first public hearing on October 19. Members of the public are welcome to attend and speak at the public hearing. Town Planning Commission meetings are held at the Warren County Government Center main meeting room at 7:00 p.m.
Supervisors appear reluctant to forward Data Centers as a by-right use regardless of zoning amendment creating new Light Industrial District
Following a detailed presentation by County Planning Director Matt Wendling on the procedural requirements for authorizing the development of Data Centers in Industrial or Light Industrially zoned areas either by-right or by individual Conditional Use Permit (CUP) approval, on Tuesday, October 4, the Warren County Board of Supervisors authorized advertisement for an October 25th public hearing on a zoning amendment on the new zoning district and uses within it.
However, despite Wendling’s overview of the reasoning behind the planning commission’s cited 3-1 recommendation* of approval of a Zoning Text Amendment allowing Data Centers as a by-right use in the Light Industrial District the zoning amendment would create, a board majority appeared reluctant to pursue that recommendation. All four supervisors present – Happy Creek District’s Jay Butler was absent from the 9 a.m. meeting – expressed some concern over a blanket by-right designation, particularly regarding Data Centers.
While Planning Director Wendling cited “more flexibility in marketing”, the elimination of one public hearing in the approval process by eliminating Conditional Use Permitting, and consistency with planned Town Council zoning parameters, citing personal or constituent concerns the board majority indicated a preference for the extra scrutiny that additional permitting would allow. North River Supervisor Delores Oates pointed to constituent concerns about power grid and water usage variables connected to Data Centers, which it has also been pointed out do not generally create many jobs for the local job market.
“So, it concerns me that this elected body, who is elected to represent the people, would have no say in that final determination. That concerns me a lot,” Oates said in response to the rationale for the by-right designation.
Board Chair Cheryl Cullers of the South River District added, “I never want to take the short route … I’m willing to be here as long as it takes to do this … the by-right bothers me. We wouldn’t even have the final say. And what these building would do or produce or anything like that, it concerns me that by-right they could do it if it’s within parameters without any input from this board.”
Shenandoah District Supervisor Walt Mabe concurred, saying of too broad a by-right zoning code, “That’s not the way I see our government working because we’re protecting our community, and we’re protecting our power grid and water sources, and all things that are necessary to keep things on an even keel …”
Fork District Supervisor Vicky Cook questioned the relatively long list of proposed by-right uses accompanying Data Centers in the new Light Industrial District. “So, are we concerned about by-right use for only Data Centers or are we worried about by-right for the list of these businesses,” Cook asked. “Any and all,” County Administrator Ed Daley responded of the Zoning Text Amendment before them for authorization for public hearing and final board approval.
So, in the wake of Mabe’s motion to authorize the matter for public hearing, seconded by Cook, and approved by a 4-0 voice vote, the public will have a chance to weigh in during the Zoning Text Amendment Public Hearing slated for a 6 p.m. October 25th Special Meeting called to help the board wade through other pending public hearings.
The only other action item on Tuesday morning’s agenda was consideration of a 12-item Consent Agenda. That agenda, included authorization to advertise seven other Conditional Use Permit applications, five of those for short-term tourist rentals and two for private-use camping.
Another Consent Agenda item was approval of a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) with the Town of Front Royal and Discover Front Royal as a co-created 501-C6 non-profit organization for “Destination Marketing Services” promoting tourism for town and county destinations. Other matters approved on the Consent Agenda were authorization of a refund request for an erroneous tax assessment involving Warren Memorial Hospital; use of the courthouse grounds for the Veterans Day event hosted by American Legion Post 53; setting of a meeting schedule for preparation for the Fiscal Year-2023-24 County budget, as well as preliminary work towards the FY-2024/25 budget; an amendment to the sale of County-owned property at 30 East Jackson Street extending the closing date on the $240,000 sale to Blue Ridge Information Systems to “no later than November 30, 2022 to secure a survey of the property.”
At 10 a.m. the supervisors adjourned to a Closed/Executive Session discussion of EDA-related litigations, the recovery of EDA assets, and possible liabilities and indebtedness of the FR-WC EDA (aka WC EDA). A second item, the potential sale of property, was added to the motion into Closed Session. Nothing was announced and no action taken out of that closed session.
FOOTNOTE: Planning Director Wendling explained that the County Planning Commission vote recommending forwarding approval of the Zoning Text Amendment as presented was 3-0 with one abstention due to a potential conflict of interest, but that the abstention was considered a negative vote in bringing the recommendation forward.
As County-directed EDA develops detailed Strategic Plan for the future, it moves toward joint meeting with Town counterpart
The still legally named Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority (FR-WC EDA, more commonly now referenced as the WC EDA in the wake of the Front Royal Town Council’s circa 2019/20 withdrawal from participation*) held its regular monthly meeting for September, Monday afternoon the 26th, at the Warren County Government Center. With no action items on the agenda, the focus of County EDA Director Joe Petty and the five EDA Board of Director members were committee reports concerning discussion of a cooperative path forward and procedural adjustments surrounding a reworked Strategic Plan.
Asked about the EDA’s direction in the wake of the meeting, now full-time County EDA Director Petty said, “The meeting was productive in getting the Board of Directors thinking about assigned tasks for the upcoming Strategic Planning Session. There has been a lot of positive movement in the past few months and the Board is looking forward to continuing that momentum into the session by planning for the future. This includes having a cooperative relationship with the Town, FREDA, and County for economic development initiatives.”
Board Chairman Jeff Browne launched the cooperative tone during his opening Executive Committee Report. He sought input on a preferred date for, and legal advice regarding, a largely social “get-to-know” each other meeting with the newly created Front Royal Economic Development Authority (FREDA) Board of Directors. With the meeting planned chiefly as a “getting to know each other” session with no business or action items scheduled, Browne inquired of EDA attorney Sharon Pandak, present remotely, if it would require the same legal notification as regular board meetings. Pandak said that with the intent that the two full boards be present, yes, published public notice of the date and time of the meeting would be required as usual.
Later Browne noted a recent meeting with Vice-Mayor Lori Cockrell to discuss cooperative efforts between the now divided Town and County EDAs. And with Mayor Chris Holloway’s announced retirement from politics Cockrell is also essentially the Mayor-in-Waiting as the only person on the ballot for the mayor’s seat in the coming November Election.
Cooperative movement to a mutually agreeable end was also evident in discussion of a utility easement across WC EDA property at the Avtex site to allow Town crews to perform storm-water management work on existing infrastructure as needed in the future. A consensus was reached to put approval of at least a short-term agreement outlining what work and access is anticipated to eventually be on the table, on the EDA’s next regular monthly meeting agenda in October.
Also, during his Executive Committee Report, Browne noted an upcoming meeting with a senior member of the Council for Competitiveness regarding American companies, particularly supply chain businesses, planning to relocate from overseas seeking favorable locations in the U.S. “It seems like we’d be a really great location for them,” Browne said of the county with its Interstate Highway system crossroads location, as well as the Inland Port connection to the Norfolk Port Authority system.
After a brief discussion of some EDA properties insurance coverage issues forwarded by Jorie Martin, Jim Wolfe summarized work towards establishing goals for an upcoming Strategic Planning meeting slated for 8 a.m., potentially thru lunch time, on Friday, October 14. Chairman Browne pointed to a preparatory meeting envisioned for the previous Friday, October 7, where individually assigned tasks for board members related to the Strategic Plan update, budgetary and marketing matters would be reviewed to give the following week’s meeting a stronger jumping off point. Of the two-pronged October assault on the evolving Strategic Plan, Browne described a strategical perspective: “Focusing ultimately on the big picture – how do we assess competing priorities and reconnoiter them in terms of importance and their immediacy.”
That discussion segued into the Asset Committee Report of Greg Harold, who led off with the good news that with the Baugh Drive warehouse sale being finalized, that property was no longer on the EDA’s asset list. As to its remaining land assets, Harold pointed to the EDA’s recruitment of ULI (the Urban Land Institute) for assistance, particularly as to developmental and marketing issues with the redevelop-able 150 acres of the old 467-acre Avtex “Brownfield” site looming behind the EDA office complex on Kendrick Lane.
Queried later about ULI, County EDA Director Petty explained that “ULI is the oldest and largest network of cross-disciplinary real estate and land use experts in the world.” Of ULI and its membership, Petty pointed to a goal of “delivering the mission, shaping the future of the (real estate/land use) industry, and creating thriving communities around the globe.”
During his presentation Harold noted that ULI’s team of professional land developers could help the EDA determine, not only a highest or best-use of a given property like the aforementioned “Brownfield” Avtex site, but also “the most realistic” and achievable uses.
“It’s not free – it costs money,” Harold pointed out to his colleagues. But with a worldwide track record of success for its members, it could be money well-spent in jump-starting the long floundering Avtex/Royal Phoenix site redevelopment, Harold noted. “I’ve come to the realization that for me Avtex is too big for me to try to figure out what to do with,” the Asset Committee chairman observed of the gorilla in the room of EDA property assets.
“What you’re talking about, is where needed bringing a level of additional professionalism into it, to help make us make good decisions and avoid things that we may not, just from a lack of experience, know about,” Browne observed of the benefit of ULI input.
The Future, if not NOW – flashing back to coach George Allen’s “The Future is Now” slogan for his Washington NFL team – certainly appears to be on the horizon for the WC EDA.
*FOOTNOTE – Against the advice of then-Mayor Eugene Tewalt, during the term of Interim Town Manager Matt Tederick, circa 2019/20, the Town Council elected to ignore offered “good-faith negotiations” to determine who was owed exactly what in the wake of the estimated $26-million joint-Town-County EDA financial scandal, in favor of hostile civil litigation over the Town’s unilaterally claimed losses.
Council approves short-term rentals, one contingent on special exemption from parking
The Front Royal Town Council at its regular meeting Monday evening approved three short-term rentals, though one applicant must obtain a special exemption from the parking requirement before the property can be legally rented.
Vice Mayor Lori A. Cockrell, who led the meeting in Mayor Chris Holloway’s absence, and council members Gary L. Gillispie, Zachary Jackson, Amber F. Morris and Letasha T. Thompson voted unanimously to approve a special-use permit allowing a short-term rental in the Historic District, at 12 Chester St. The panel made the approval of the permit contingent on the applicant, Lea Justice, obtaining a special exception from the parking requirement.
Council members discussed speeding up the process by approving the exception so Justice can begin renting the apartment during the peak “leaf-peeping” season. Justice applied for the permit so that she could rent an upstairs apartment to no more than four people.
Justice already applied for the special exception from the parking requirements. Planning Director Lauren Kopishke told the panel that the special exception application must be considered by the Planning Commission—at a work session, followed by a regular meeting –for potential action.
Following that process, the council would need to act on the exception before Justice could legally rent the property on a short-term basis. Town Attorney George Sonnett Jr. advised council that they should follow the procedures for a special exception rather than approving the request at the same time as the permit.
Bruce Rappaport spoke in favor of Justice’s application, saying he was “pleased to hear” that the property would be a short-term rental. He cited the fact that Downtown Front Royal was a destination as well as the fact that it was zoned commercial C-2.
Council approved a short-term rental application for 12 Chester Street, owned by Lea Justice, with the contingency that she obtains a special exemption from the parking requirement. /Courtesy photo.
The council also considered and approved two other short-term rental proposals. Members voted 5-0 in favor of a motion to approve a special-use permit requested by William and Melissa Gordon for a short-term rental at 107 Highfield Lane, zoned residential R-1.
Mr. Gordon addressed the council during the public hearing, stating that he would cap rentals of the five-bedroom home to 10 occupants. The property provides onsite driveway parking for up to four vehicles. The Planning Commission recommended that the council approve the permit with no conditions.
Doug Hovest and Marlene Lundberg, both residents of the neighborhood, each said at the public hearing they opposed allowing a short-term rental on the street because visitors unfamiliar with the street might not obey the speed limit and could endanger children. John Lundberg addressed the council, asking they consider postponing a vote on the permit so that he and other neighbors could talk with the Gordons and address concerns.
Thompson said she understood the neighbors’ concerns about child safety, though visitors would be in the neighborhood with or without short-term renters. She suggested warning signs to alert drivers to children in the neighborhood.
Morris said she didn’t think the neighborhood would see more than a few vehicles at a time, and any complaints filed with the Planning and Zoning Department would be reviewed and addressed as necessary. She indicated that the council could revoke a permit if necessary.
Council members approved a special-use permit requested by Philip Vaught and Vaught Real Estate LLC for a short-term rental at 124 Luray Ave. zoned residential R-3. Vaught plans to rent five rooms to no more than 10 people. The property provides onsite driveway parking for up to seven vehicles. The Planning Commission recommended that the council approve the permit. West Main Street resident Bruce Rappaport voiced his concern regarding the property becoming a short-term rental. He told the council that a “transient aspect” might occur that could affect the value of surrounding homes if the permit was approved.
Also at the meeting, council voted to approve:
- An ordinance to amend Town Code Chapter 4 on the administration of government with changes to time of council meetings, remote participation by electronic means and residency requirements for certain town employees. No one spoke at the public hearing.
- An increase in the fiscal 2023 budget of $19,976 in funds from the Virginia Tourism Corporation and to allocate the money to Discover Front Royal. The town will remit the funds to Discover Front Royal once it has established itself as a 501C-6 non-profit organization and established a bank account.
- An increase in the fiscal 2023 budget of $23,494 from the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles Highway Safety Program and to allocate the money for reimbursement of overtime funds spent for speed and impaired driving enforcement operations.
- An increase in the fiscal 2023 of $2,276 from the Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Services Local Law Enforcement Block Grant Program and to allocate the money to help support public safety and crime prevention efforts.
- A contract amendment with Imperio Construction and to transfer $81,696 in the fiscal 2023 budget for the company to replace curb and gutter and install sidewalk along part of South Commerce Avenue, from Prospect Street to South Street.
- A sole-source procurement of services from Evoqua Water Technologies at a cost of $87,337 to make repairs to Clarifier #4 at the Wastewater Treatment Plant.
- A task order for CHA Engineering for $49,000 to complete the development and implementation of a water backflow prevention program to meet state waterworks regulations.
- A bid award for de-icing road salt at a cost of $89.09 per ton to Morton Salt Inc.
- Bids for fiscal 2023 water and wastewater treatment chemicals.
- A contract amendment to Dominion Energy’s water and sewage service agreement with Front Royal to speed up payments from the company to the town totaling $3.5 million.
- The conversion of one custodian position from part-time to full-time. The town pays the part-time position $15.66 per hour for 28 days per week. Converting the position to full-time will cost an additional $30,996.
- A resolution to approve the form and authorize the execution of the 2022 Locust Ridge Energy Schedule with American Municipal Power Inc. (AMP) Avingrid offered a 3-year power purchase agreement for wind power from its Locust Ridge Wind Project in eastern Pennsylvania with a fixed price of $47.50 per megawatt hour beginning in October through September 2025. American Municipal Power recommended that Front Royal commit to a 2-megawatt purchase to help hedge against the volatility of the wholesale power market and provide replacement power for a scheduled fall outage at the Prairie State Coal Fired Plant.
- A deed of easement granting the town easements for existing and new stormwater drainage infrastructure on property between Luray Avenue and Cherry Street owned by the Front Royal Presbyterian Church.
Council met in closed session to consult with legal counsel and discuss personnel.
Supervisors approve Outdoor Sports Facility over recommendation of County Planning Commission, add to the Short-Term Tourist Rental count
The Warren County Board of Supervisors held a special meeting September 27th, largely to process a list of nine actions that were not able to be covered during the regular meeting on September 20.
The Board quickly approved two leases of county property, one for a property at 229 Stokes Airport Road to Skydive Front Royal, LLC, for $600 per month, and the other for an apartment at 136 Hillidge Street for $725 per month to Raymond K. Freeman. There were no public comments on either lease, and the Supervisors approved both unanimously.
After a lengthy public hearing, on a 3-2 margin, the Supervisors approved a Conditional Use Permit (CUP) for Cole and Danielle Haase for an outdoor sports facility on their property at 19959 Fort Valley Road. In July, the County Planning Commission held a public hearing and ultimately recommended denial of the permit, citing traffic and neighborhood concerns. Since that time, the applicants have downsized the proposal and worked to allay the concerns of the neighborhood. They intend that the majority of the activities will be inside and scaled back outdoor activities to daytime only. The Haases are also local business owners. The property was formerly used as a church and multi-activity center by Master’s Touch Ministries.
Public comment was brisk with 24 individuals either speaking in person, or submitting letters, e-mails, or videos. Eighteen were in favor of the permit and six against. Neighbors inveighed against possible traffic increases near an accident-prone intersection at Fort Valley Road and Route 55. Supporters praised the applicants’ commitment to youth sports, as an important factor in developing teamwork, athletic and social skills for young people. Sue Russell, whose property adjoins the site, opposed the permit and is worried about the effect of any groundwork or excavations resulting in flooding on her property.
Some of the supervisors recalled when outdoor concerts and events were held at that facility. Supervisor Vicky Cook appeared to be the leading opponent of the proposed permit, calling into question the applicant’s parking and traffic estimates. At the end of the discussion, Supervisor Oates offered a motion to approve, seconded by Supervisor Mabe, and the motion passed, 3-2. Chairman Cullers, joined by Supervisors Oates and Mabe, Aye, Supervisors Cook and Butler, No.
Michelle Moriarty is requesting a CUP for a short-term tourist rental for the property at 96 Cappy Road that she recently purchased in April of 2022. The applicant will use a local property manager and local professional services for emergencies, maintenance, cleaning, garbage disposal, and guest screening/reservations. There was one speaker who opposed the permit on the grounds that the area is residential, not business. However, the Virginia General Assembly and the courts system have specifically determined that short-term rentals are a residential activity, rather than a business operation. Under questioning by the board, the applicant indicated that she had already spoken with all the nearby property owners and provided contact information should any need arise.
Planning Director Wendling indicated that there had so far been no complaints or calls related to these properties. Supervisor Cook questioned whether the County Sheriff would necessarily know if there was a problem with a short-term rental. County Administrator Edwin Daley suggested that the County could investigate developing a registry list for approved short-term rentals to allow law enforcement in the Public Safety Communications Center to know who to contact if there was a problem. Finally, on a motion by Supervisor Oates, seconded by Supervisor Mabe, the Board unanimously approved the permit.
Kendra Hansen, Kathryn Stuart, Simon Sarver, and Michael Cherubin have applied for a CUP for for a Short-Term Tourist Rental Located at 97 River Overlook Road. The owners plan to use the property themselves throughout the year, but they would also like to be able to make the property available for short-term lodging for visitors of the Warren County area when they are not occupying it. The applicants will manage the property personally. There were no speakers for or against the application, and no discussion from the supervisors. On a motion by Supervisor Mabe, and seconded by Supervisor Cook, the motion passed unanimously.
CAZA Legacy, LLC has requested a CUP for short-term tourist rental for the property located at 241 Wildcat Drive. The applicants, Robert Chevez and Erin Kavanagh, purchased this residentially zoned property as an investment property and currently are renting the property long-term for over 30 days since purchasing it in February 2022. They do intend to also use it for themselves as a get-away from their homes in Northern Virginia. The applicants are requesting a waiver to the setback requirement of 100-feet from dwelling to dwelling. The dwelling to the west is 50 feet and the applicants submitted a letter from their neighbor giving his support of the application. The applicants will be contracting a local property management company to maintain the property and as realtors they will be marketing and managing the rental. The property was the subject of an approved permit for short-term tourist use in 2018, however the use was never established and that permit expired.
Two letters from neighboring property owners were submitted. One was in favor of the permit issuance, and one was opposed. There were no speakers at the public hearing, and on a motion by Supervisor Mabe, seconded by Supervisor Cook, the Supervisors voted unanimously to approve the permit.
Matthew Williams and Jay Gilbert have applied for a CUP for a short-term tourist rental located at 244 Delicious Road, Linden. The applicants plan to manage the property personally with assistance from local professional services for cleaning and landscaping. The closest dwelling unit is 115 feet to the northeast. There were no comments from the supervisors or the public. One letter supportive of the use was submitted. On a motion by Supervisor Oates, seconded by Supervisor Butler, the Board unanimously voted to approve.
Matthew Williams and Jay Gilbert have also applied for a CUP for a short-term tourist rental in an agriculturally-zoned property located at 115 Lonesome Flats Road. The applicants plan to manage the property personally with assistance from local professional services for cleaning and landscaping. The closest dwelling is 313 feet to the north. The planning department provided a letter by a neighbor, John Croft, who opposes the permit. Mr. Croft alleges that the Road is private, on his land, and has not granted permission to use it for guests. After a discussion regarding the legal status of an access easement to the applicant’s property, the supervisors decided to approve the permit, subject to verification that an access easement does exist. Supervisor Cook made a motion to approve, seconded by Supervisor Mabe. The vote to approve was unanimous.
Thomas Pigeon has applied for a CUP for a Short-Term Tourist Rental Located at 540 Lakeside Drive. The applicant will contract a local property management company, Shenandoah Valley Property Maintenance LLC, to manage and maintain the property if the use is approved. The owners plan to manage the rental of the property through Airbnb and will review any renters for a positive online ranking. All the required conditions for permitting are complete. On a motion by Supervisor Butler, Seconded by Supervisor Mabe, the Board voted 4-1 in favor of approval. Chairman Cullers expressed her concern and continued opposition to properties being purchased by owners with no connection to the area for this use.
The Meeting adjourned at 8:50 p.m.
Town Planning Commission adds a member, another short-term tourist rental; sees another attempt on Main Street micro-housing on the horizon
The Front Royal Planning Commission introduced its newest member at its regular meeting on September 21. Daniel Wells joins the commission, replacing retiring former Chairman Douglas Jones, who served on the commission for 15 years. Chairman Daryl Merchant expressed the commission’s appreciation for Mr. Jones’ hard work and long service.
A consent agenda portending a wave of new short-term tourist rental applications was approved for authorizations to advertise public hearings. The following public hearings would be at the Commission’s regular meeting on October 19:
- For Doug Ichiuji, a special use permit for a short-term tourist rental at 200 East Main Street in the Historic Overlay District.
- For Aaron Hike, a special use permit for a short-term tourist rental at 1116 North Royal Avenue in the Entrance Corridor Overlay District.
- For the Minick Group, LLC, a special use permit for a short-term tourist rental at 206 Lee Street in the Historic Overlay District.
Also on the consent agenda for authorization to advertise was a special use permit for SeeSuu, LLC, to convert an existing commercial structure at 131 E. Main Street in the Historic Overlay District to a greater number of dwelling units up to a height of sixty feet. The project description was very short on details, but the preliminary sketches look similar to proposals floated earlier in the year for a large-scale overhaul of the old Murphy Theater building on East Main Street to create a six-story building with 40 housing units as small as 320 square feet (s.f.), none larger than 640 s.f.
The proposal also states that valet parking will be acquired to meet any needed parking space. The description indicates that the first two stories are potentially retail/commercial spaces.
Regardless of how the project plays out, the conversion of such a prominent building in the Downtown Historic District would have a broad impact on the entire downtown and is certain to attract public feedback.
On its action agenda, the commission held a public hearing on a request from Vesta Property Management for a short-term tourist rental at 30 Fairview Court on property zoned Residential One (R-1). The Vesta representative, Chloe Phillips, answered commissioners’ questions. Chairman Merchant asked “for the record” if the rental was going to be owner-occupied. The Chairman has previously voiced his concerns, in particular during the development of the Zoning Ordinance amendment, about non-owner-occupied properties as short-term rentals. The answer was “No.”
Commissioner Gordon noted that the application indicated the applicant intended to rent the whole house, a maximum of six guests, and wondered if the parking would be adequate if the driveway only accommodated two vehicles. There followed a discussion about the language of the ordinance requiring parking “in driveways or other designated areas”. In many neighborhoods, on-street parking is allowed for residents; however, a question remains as to whether on-street parking can be considered a “designated area” for the purpose of short-term rentals. The Vesta representative indicated that the language of the ordinance did lead to confusion about which requirements were applicable to short-term rentals as opposed to bed and breakfast facilities or hotels/motels. Under those sections of the ordinance, owners must provide one parking space per guest room.
After the commissioners had discussed the difficulty of nailing down a specific requirement for parking for short-term tourist rentals, Planning director Lauren Kopishke agreed to take a look at the language of the ordinance to see how it can be made clearer.
On a motion by Commissioner Gordon, seconded by Commissioner Ingram, the Commission voted 4-1 in favor of recommending approval of the application. Chairman Merchant was the dissenting vote. The application will now go to the Town Council for final action.
Chairman Merchant announced that there will be a Civic Pride workshop entitled “Revitalize or Die” sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce on September 27 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Royal Cinemas on East Main Street. The event will feature consultant Jeff Siegler, and tickets are available at the Chamber office at 201 East 2nd Street.
Planning Director Kopishke gave the commission a summary of Planning Department activities for August – 26 zoning permits, 31 Code Enforcement Cases, seven land use applications, four sign permits, and 22 business licenses. Thirty-four new dwelling permits have been issued so far in 2022.
The meeting adjourned at 7:34 p.m.