A decision on the Town of Front Royal’s Demurrer motion for dismissal of David Downes civil action seeking to overturn the Town Council’s decision not to reverse existing zoning requirements that he maintain 9 to 15 on-site parking spaces at his two Chester Street properties could be forthcoming within two weeks. Substitute Judge Craig D. Johnston of Prince William County cited that “hoped for” timeline after taking 2-1/2 hours of arguments under advisement shortly before 4 p.m. Tuesday afternoon, February 23.
Local defense attorney and Virginia Beer Museum proprietor Downes represented himself in the case heard in Warren County Circuit Court. The Town of Front Royal was represented by Heather K. Bardot of the Fairfax-based law firm of Bancroft McGavin Horvath & Judkins, PC. The Town’s legal representation is covered by insurance through the Virginia Risk Sharing Association (VRSA), a subset of the Virginia Municipal League (VML).
One interested observer in Circuit Courtroom “A” was Town Attorney Doug Napier, who appeared to be taking more notes than the two reporters present. What he and those reporters were scribbling occasionally frantically about was the fundamental issue of whether Plaintiff Downes civil filing contains adequate grounds to proceed to trial.
Bardot and the Town contend that no, it doesn’t, as reflected in their Demurrer filing of January 7. Downes countered in support of his February 8 reply to the Town motion for dismissal, that he has made sufficient cause to being singled out as what he termed “a party of one” treated in an “arbitrary and unreasonably” different manner than other business entities, property owners and museums in Front Royal’s downtown business district, save one. And that one, a residential rental building across Chester Street, is only mandated to keep three off-street parking spaces, Downes observed.
The dispute centers around Downes’ law office at 14 Chester and adjacent Virginia Beer Museum at 16 Chester Street. Existing Town Zoning requires that he maintain a total of 15 off-street parking spaces, nine in the rear of the two buildings and six abutting the Town’s Peyton Street parking lot on the north side of the Beer Museum. Primarily at issue are the nine spaces in the rear of the two buildings. Downes noted that employee-wise, he doesn’t need more than one or two parking spaces for either business.
Downes contends that, not only has the Town singled him out for a standard different for other businesses in the downtown district, but also in the case of the Virginia Beer Museum, differently than other museums and art galleries in the area. His rezoning request would allow him to revamp the rear portion of his property into an expanded Biergarten and events area for his museum dedicated to promoting Virginia-brewed beers and beer’s role in the history of the American nation.
On the Town’s behalf, Bardot countered that Downes had inherited the zoning’s parking requirements, particularly as to the 16 Chester Street property, dating back to 1992. Downes noted he has had his law office at 14 Chester since 1999. Bardot also pointed to business growth projections for Front Royal’s Downtown Business District, including the redevelopment of the Afton Inn, that will require additional downtown parking that will negate Peyton Street parking availability statistics overlapping Downes’ rezoning request initiated in 2017 and finally denied by the town council in January 2019.
Downes has pointed to a parking study the Town initiated the year prior to his rezoning request that indicated 22 of the available 42 spaces in the Peyton Lot area as available on average. Countering that, Bardot noted that once Downes fenced off the rear area of his property that availability had changed to 27 of the 42 spaces being taken, an increase of 16% occupancy she noted.
Bardot also cited what she called “a very low standard of reasonableness” by which a court should judge legislative decisions because the judicial branch of government is not supposed to interfere unduly with the legislative branch’s function. The dueling attorneys were also at odds over whether a Constitutional aspect of the case related to the discriminatory nature Downes claims is being applied to him in a “piecemeal” manner is still at issue in the case. The case was originally filed in federal court, but the two parties agreed for it to be moved to state court jurisdiction.
“Of course it’s piecemeal – that’s why I’m here,” Downes told the court. He said that any of the three zoning options he had offered the Town would have addressed and solved that discriminatory nature of the existing zoning he is claiming. “I have to maintain these spaces – the burden shouldn’t be on me – it must be uniform (by zoning code) he asserted. Downes noted a formula at the root of the existing zoning by which he is supposed to have a parking space for every 300 square feet of building space, a condition not applied to other businesses or museums in the downtown area.
Of his claim the Town is violating Constitutional guarantees of equal protection under the law in its demand of the parking space requirements directed at his properties, he concluded, “We’ll just have to agree to disagree” that it was still in play at the state court level. In that regard, Downes cited Virginia’s Dillon Rule which prevents municipal governments from exceeding authorities not granted at the State level. – “Under the Dillon Rule the Town can’t do unconstitutional things,” he argued.
Bardot countered that rather than the “arbitrary and capricious” standard being violated by the Town, Downes simply disagreed with a council decision that could be viewed as reasonable in light of evidence of coming downtown parking needs.
Both attorneys cited case law in support of their opposing contentions on the level of proof necessary and present in the Downes litigation. “I’m living with Williams for better or worse,” Downes told the judge of one of his case law references.
“The Town has no obligation to show reasonableness until Mr. Downes shows unreasonableness,” Bardot told the court, adding that Downes’ amended complaint failed to meet that standard as illustrated by the public hearing debate and planning commission recommendation of denial.
However, Downes argued that much of the opposition to his request from nearby business or property owners upon which either the planning commission or town council decisions were based were not relevant to the zoning amendment at issue. Rather, he asserted much of the negative public comment amounted to specific dislikes of either a fence he installed around his back area to address security concerns or the fact the museum served beer, neither being relevant to the zoning and resultant parking requirements at issue in his litigation against the Town.
The attorneys also debated the relevance of meeting summaries versus transcripts and public comments for or against the rezoning request beginning at the planning commission public hearing level. As noted above, Bardot pointed to public opposition to Downes’ rezoning amendment proposal and the planning commission’s unanimous recommendation of denial to further the defense contention the town council decision to deny was a matter of reasonable debate, rather than an arbitrary or capricious decision aimed a lone property owner’s way.
“This goes back to the first year of law school, but don’t lose sight of the forest for the trees,” Downes countered of peripheral issues cited by opponents of his zoning amendment request referenced in the defense motion. Bardot suggested that the plaintiff was mixing apples and oranges in arguing against the defendant’s Demurrer request for dismissal of his case based on a fundamental standard of evidence required to proceed to trial.
Judge Johnston observed that “There are lots of apples in this case – how they relate to the oranges in the defense” was what was at issue for him to determine.
And within the next couple of weeks the plaintiff and defendant will know exactly how the judge juggled those apples and oranges in coming to a decision on the Town’s motion for dismissal of Downes’ case against it.
See the Town Demurrer filing and the Defense and Plaintiff motions in support and opposition to it at these links:
County Board Hears From Outside Agency and Departments on Funding Needs in Coming Fiscal Year
At a work session convened at 6 p.m. Tuesday evening, December 5, in the main meeting room of the Warren County Government Center (WCGC) the county Board of Supervisors got reports from outside agencies and several departments on operations and projected operational costs in the coming fiscal year. One scheduled report on Solid Waste costs and a review of the County’s Tipping fees was canceled due to the reported illness of Public Works Director Mike Berry.
The work session kicked off in its first minutes with a presentation and financial update from the Small Business Development Center (SBDC), Virginia, based out of Laurel Ridge Community College, followed about 16 minutes later by developer D.R. Horton’s request for a release and reduction in “Blue Ridge Shadows Subdivision Bonds for Roads and Stormwater Management”.
SBDC representative Christine Kriz presented a PowerPoint on the government grant and local matching funded center’s operational parameters across its six jurisdictional areas of Clarke, Fauquier, Frederick, Shenandoah, and Warren Counties and the City of Winchester.
Questioned about the service level here and justification of the request for $15,000 in the coming Fiscal Year-2024/25, up from $2500 in the current cycle, Kriz responded that the increase would bring Warren County into line with what SBDC’s other service municipalities contribute to SBDC operations for their levels of financial returns. “I promise, I didn’t just pull (the number) out,” she said responding to Chairman Vicky Cook’s question. “Oh no, I’m sure you didn’t,” Cook responded.
A chart included in Kriz’s presentation showed Warren County with 100 small business clients served by SBDC last year, with $1.078-million dollars in loans achieved for those clients, and sales increases of $180,000 by those clients resulting from those SBDC efforts.
As illustrated in below graphic, those numbers put Warren County in the lower sector of SBDC regional returns, above only Clarke County. However, the chart doesn’t indicate what those higher-ranked county’s contribute annually to achieve those higher numbers; and one might note that the requested $15,000 is one-twelfth of that $180,000 sales increase mark here from the last budget cycle.
Kriz responded to other questions, including from South River District Supervisor Cheryl Cullers on services available on the “Agr-business” and tourism fronts. In the end it appeared the sitting board, minus absent Delores Oates, accepted the reasoning behind the SBDC’s funding increase request.
Bond amounts vs. work left
Kriz was followed to the podium by County Planning Director Matt Wendling, who summarized the D.R. Horton request for a reduction in its outstanding Blue Ridge Shadows Subdivision bonds for “Roads and Stormwater Management”. Wendling explained that portions of the bonds dating back to 2007 for specific phases of the subdivision developmental project had been achieved, at least to some degree, and that the developer was asking that the bond amounts continuing to be withheld be reduced to reflect what is actually left to be done.
Horton representative David Giovannacci (even Bianchini had to verify that spelling with the speaker) joined Wendling at the podium. Beginning with Supervisor Cullers, the board sought verification of exactly what has been completed in regard to roads and stormwater management and what remained to be done in order to assure the County wasn’t left holding the bag of financial responsibility for remaining work.
“My team has been working diligently with VDOT to get each bond’s release. And I think it could take some time for grass to grow,” Giovannacci said of one of Supervisor Cullers’ concerns. “I don’t see that it’s required to keep over $2-million dollars essentially in bonds to look after these things. That’s why we’re asking,” he explained of the release amount requests versus developmental aspects remaining to be covered.
The amount of money involved was illustrated in these passages from the meeting agenda packet: “A subdivision bond for this phase (5) of the development was posted by D.R. Horton to the County on December 8, 2006 for $3,238,631 and was reduced to $611,967 effective March 21, 2007. They are requesting a reduction to bond #929413863 to $112,000 for the remaining VDOT and stormwater management improvements.
“They are requesting a full release of Phase 1 bond and a new bond issued in the amount of $50,000 for the portion of John Hopkins Drive (S), Sand Bunker Ct., First Eagle Ct. and Fairway Ct. additional streets from Phase 1 have been accepted into the State system and this amount would allow for completion of final items on their checklist. The final plat for Blue Ridge Shadows subdivision (phase 1) was approved by the Planning Commission on October 17, 2005. A subdivision bond #964006768 for this phase of the development was posted by D.R. Horton to the County on August 9, 2005 for $6,088,513 and reduced to $1,843,818 effective March 21, 2007. They are requesting release of this bond and a new bond be issued for $50,000 for the remaining VDOT and stormwater management improvements.
While Wendling was able to summarize some input from VDOT on the various involved phases, it seemed the precise detail and written verification from involved state agencies was not immediately available. However, Wendling reported that he had a meeting with VDOT officials scheduled for the following day and would seek to get the necessary verification in writing prior to the board’s next meeting on December 12.
Completing the Agenda
Other presentations included a Review of County Fire & Rescue Department services, a review of the County’s Handbook on Personnel Policies and Procedures; discussion of the Northern Shenandoah Hazard Mitigation Plan and its adoption; a review of revisions to the County Parks & Recreation Department Code of Conduct Policy; and a projected Carryover Package by County Finance Director Alisa Scott.
Fire Chief James Bonzano acknowledged a general tendency by both the public and their elected representatives to resist raising taxes. However, he noted that reluctance was often tied to vagaries surrounding the reasons for tax hikes. He suggested that when approaching a need to hike taxes for services the public depends on and supports, among those Fire & Rescue emergency services, if that connection to specific services is including in presenting a tax hike to the public, much of that general opposition will evaporate. Point well taken, chief.
The County video of all these work session presentations and subsequent Q&A’s will be linked to this story when it becomes available.
Town EDA Ponders Its Mission, Branding, Funding, and Support Agreement with the Town
At noon, Monday, December 4, at Town Hall, the Front Royal Economic Development Authority (FREDA for now, but for how long?) held its last meeting of the year. Under discussion was the path ahead, including “a very rough draft” of a Memorandum Of Understanding (MOU) administrative staff is developing to set the parameters of the town government’s financial and operational support system for its unilateral Economic Development Authority. FREDA as it initially became known, was created about three years ago (first meeting Jan. 2021) as town officials then in place attempted to legally distance the town government from liability for FR-WC EDA “financial scandal” monetary losses.
Also on the agenda was how FREDA will be known, or re-branded, as its determines a mission course forward. A first clue was offered in Town Manager Joe Waltz’s meeting opening introduction of “recently promoted” Town Director of Community Development and Tourism Lizi Lewis (1:03 video mark). Of Lewis’s presence Waltz told the FREDA board: “And she will, starting from this point forward, be providing leadership and direction for the FREDA board” to which that board enthusiastically greeted her aboard. “I’m excited, I think this is the missing piece that we need to move forward with FREDA,” Waltz added, as he segued to handing out the above-cited MOU rough draft (1:30 video mark).
A statement of purpose appeared on the first of the MOU’s three pages (plus a fourth signature page): “The purpose of this MOU is for the Town to provide financial and operational support to the Front Royal EDA on a voluntary basis to be used by the EDA to exercise its powers and satisfy its duties and responsibilities under Virginia Industrial Development and Revenue Bond Act, Town Code, and its Bylaws.” That operational support includes meeting facilities, office space as necessary, clerical, legal, and accounting staffing support, work-related expenses such as travel, as well as a stipend “not to exceed $200 per regular meeting” for the board members.
On the draft MOU’s second page concerning the distribution of public funds to FREDA it was noted that: “Nothing in this section (Funding Policy) shall be construed to obligate the Town to appropriate funds to the Front Royal EDA during future fiscal years.” adding that all such appropriations from the Town “shall be voluntary.”
However, near the end of the document on the third page under the heading Future Donations to Front Royal EDA by the Town it was also observed that: “It is the Town’s intention to consider additional appropriations and donations during future Fiscal Years upon receipt of a proposal by the Front Royal EDA, submitted to the Town by January 15 of each year.”
That January 15 date should get the FREDA board’s attention with the MOU admittedly still in a rough draft state and its next meeting, authorized at a later point (35:00 video mark) in Monday’s meeting, scheduled for January 8, 2024, from noon to 2 p.m. For page two of the draft MOU notes that: “It is the Town’s intention to appropriate $________ for the financial support of the Front Royal EDA upon execution of this MOU.” So, if my calendar math is correct, that gives the FREDA Board of Directors about five-and-a-half weeks to come up with a viable target budget for the next fiscal year, FY-2024/25, to continue in developing its economic or community development initiatives for the Town, with only one meeting thus far called over that five-plus week span. But surely with the MOU still in the developmental stage, the mayor and town council would offer their EDA a little leeway on that submission deadline for the next fiscal year, wouldn’t they?
But back on the “re-branding” and re-focusing front, Town Manager Waltz told the board, “I will say that bringing Lizi on, I am trying to change our focus to community development instead of economic development …”
Moving past the “Old Business” agenda topics of the MOU, bylaws, and re-branding, the board moved into a lively discussion of the various business backgrounds and strengths each member brings to the table as their mission is tweaked.
A handout presented a page-and-a-half list of “Economic Development Goals, that could also largely fit into the “Community Development” category (12:15 video mark), that would merge their evolving mission with the recently updated Town Comprehensive Plan. Five sub-categories under the “Economic Development Goals – Town Comprehensive Plan” header were: Small Town Character, Economic Sustainability, Reliable Utilities and Services, Environmental Sustainability, and Development Policies.
Prior to adjournment, the opportunity for board members to participate in a Virginia Economic Development Partnership (VEDP) sponsored virtual training session that Waltz predicted from past experience would last a total of about three hours on December 14, was raised (32:04 video mark). The board also bid farewell to departing member Mark Tapsak (36:44 video mark), whom it was noted was attending his last meeting. Tapsak will be replaced by Rob Elliott who was present observing the meeting from the gallery.
Discussion of Poultry Policy in Urban Agriculture Becomes Impassioned at Town Council Work Session
On Monday, December 4, 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 in which they spent a considerable amount of time discussing a proposed ordinance amendment to Town Codes related to poultry policy for Urban Agriculture uses. The discussion had been postponed from council’s regular meeting on September 25. The item was again postponed after an impassioned discussion in which Councilwoman Amber Morris expressed a strong opinion against certain included conditions.
The proposed amendment to Town Code respecting chickens allows for an increase in ownership from six chickens to ten chickens by any residential dweller in possession of a permit, but it may capsize when it comes to a vote because of the regulations that are attached to it. It is these regulations that Morris strongly opposes. They would keep all chickens in coops with a floor space of four square feet for each chicken “and or” – in the language of the amendment – a run space allowing for eight square feet per chicken. “No poultry shall be permitted to run at large,” the amendment reads. Planning Director and Zoning Administrator Lauren Kopishke explained that this “codification” would not be unprecedented, as it reflects the standards by which the Town has operated in the past; it would simply give “teeth” to those prerequisites for owning chickens in residential areas which the Town has historically applied as it inspects, and grants permits. But allowing the chickens to range free in a fenced in area is a priority for both Councilwoman Morris and Councilman Josh Ingram.
Among the many inputs Virginia Cooperative Extension Services Agent Corey Childs gave to council, he claimed that in his experience, six chickens are on the high end for a residential permit. And in a scenario where chickens are ranging free in a fenced area, he remarked that clipping their wings would be a deterrent, but it would not absolutely prevent them from flying over the barrier. While he did not precisely say that free range is out of the question he raised some concerns, emphasizing the importance of cleanliness and advised council to stay on the safe side.
For Morris, this issue is freighted with gravity as she promised one of her predecessors that she would pursue the goal of making urban space friendlier to agriculture. Unlike other council members, including recently installed Glenn Wood, who questioned whether a discussion on chickens surpassing half an hour is a legitimate use of council’s time, Morris considers it time well spent and believes there are many constituents who care deeply about this issue. The reality is that not all permit holders are completely in line with Planning and Zoning expectations, and Morris feels the codification of those expectations would be unfair to them. Non-compliance to the conditions under which the permit was given is a misdemeanor, but Kopishke explained in a private conversation after the public portion of the meeting that in such cases, the Planning and Zoning Department is content to simply revoke the permit without bringing a criminal charge.
After Mayor Lori Cockrell gathered a consensus that further discussion and informed guidance were needed, the item was postponed to a future work session. Having heard from Director of Finance B.J. Wilson, prior to the Urban Agriculture discussion, about a bid from Snyder Environmental Services, Inc., for the 2023 Sewer Rehabilitation Project, a bid which council expects to vote in favor of at the December 11 regular meeting, council quickly addressed several additional agenda items, and then went into closed meeting at 8:40 p.m. to receive legal counsel pertaining to HEPTAD litigation.
Supervisors OK Applicant Withdrawal of Slate Run Farm LLC 448-acre Ag to Commercial/Industrial Rezoning – For No More Than a Year
Perhaps the biggest takeaway from the Tuesday, November 28th Warren County Board of Supervisors Public Hearing meeting was what was not heard. That was the Slate Run Farm LLC rezoning request on 448.2-plus acres off of state Route 340 North/Winchester Road to be moved from Agricultural to Industrial and Commercial zoning. The properties are located off Winchester Road in the North River District, just north of the Blue Ridge Shadows golf course and subdivision.
At the meeting’s outset, South River District Supervisor Cheryl Cullers took a shot at the initial motion to amend the agenda to table the Slate Run Farm LLC rezoning request. That tabling was made at the request of the applicant, and likely headed off a flurry of North River District residents opposing comments. However, there was some confusion over the wording of the motion, leading to discussion with County Administrator Ed Daley and a re-making of the motion by North River District Supervisor Delores Oates stating that the tabling would be “until no later than November 2024.” That would seem to indicate the board does not want the future use of nearly 500 acres of property in the area held up indefinitely. With Shenandoah District Supervisor Walt Mabe’s second, Oates motion to table for not more than a year was unanimously approved.
The Slate Run Farm LLC rezoning has attracted some attention from area residents, particularly in the Blue Ridge Shadows development. As the Agenda packet staff summary noted: “The applicant is proposing four land bays which will be phased in for industrial development with a total of 2,500,000 square feet. The commercial property will have 25,000 square feet for commercial land-uses. This application does not have a specific land-use identified but the applicant plans to market it for warehousing due to its proximity to the Virginia Inland Port. Warehousing and distribution facilities are land-uses allowed by-right in the Industrial zoning district and are compatible with the current Warren County Zoning Ordinance.”
With the property’s proximity to a large Commercial/Industrial area, including the Inland Port, as well as close access to a four-lane divided state road that intersects southbound with Interstate 66 east/west, which in turn intersects with Interstate 81 north/south, the Agenda packet staff summary also noted: “The Future Land Use Map in the Comprehensive Plan identifies this area to be used for Industrial land uses and zoned Industrial (I). The request currently is compatible with the Future Land Use map of the Comprehensive (Plan) since this property is shown to be Industrial (I).”
So, while approval of the requested rezoning might seem a logical conclusion to the request due to existing future land use Comp Plan guidelines and transportation infrastructure, it will have to wait, as will the arguments against the rezoning by impacted north-side residents. So, the “Future is NOT quite NOW” for 448.2-plus acres of north-side property earmarked for “future” industrial development. One might guess that the applicant will need to submit a more detailed proposal on planned development to stem the tide of public opposition, opposition that might capture some supervisors attention. Included in such detail might be whether the currently proposed 25,000 square feet (cited at 4.47 acres of the 448.2+ involved acres, or 2,500,000 total s.f.) of Commercial land use will be enough and of the sort that might provide a benefit to area residents that might neutralize some of the opposition to the Industrial aspect of the proposal. But that is a discussion that is put off for now, though for not more than a year.
With the Slate Run Farm LLC rezoning removed from the agenda, that left the following public hearings for comment and action by the county’s supervisors. For the most part there was little to no public feedback other than by applicants called to the podium by board Chairman Vicky Cook, leading to a string of eight consecutive unanimous approvals, until the ninth and final public hearing on a Vesta Property Management Short-term Tourist Rental Conditional Use Permit application:
- CUP2023-09-06 – Vesta Property Management (John C. & Johanna R. Villalobos) A request for a conditional use permit for a Short-term Tourist Rental – staff presentation by Zoning Administrator Chase Lenz – The property is located at 207 Gary Lane and identified on tax map 15D, section 2, block 5, lot 202. The property is zoned Residential-One (R-1) and located in the Shenandoah Farms – River View section and in the Shenandoah Magisterial District.
It was noted that unlike the previously considered matters, the County Planning Commission had forwarded this request with a unanimous recommendation of denial due to a requested waiver of the county code 100-foot setback requirement for Short-term Tourist Rentals. Also unlike a previous considered request requiring a 100-foot setback waiver, the impacted neighbor, Anna Habley, whose property lies 62-feet from the proposed Short-term Tourist Rental, opposed the waiver. See this public hearing at the linked County video mark of 59:03, with Ms. Habley’s comments at the 1:01:45 video mark. And through some wording confusion, on Supervisor Mabe’s motion to deny, second by Butler, this CUP application was unanimously denied.
Prior to that denial, as noted above, the string of unanimous approvals included:
- – Ordinance to Amend Chapter 30 of the Warren County Code and to add and ordain Section 30-10 – staff report Ashley Woodall: motion to approve Oates, second Cullers, unanimous approval.
- R2023-09-01 – Comprehensive Plan Amendment – Future Land Use Map – Jennifer Wynn (Riverside Parcel 1 LLC) – staff summary Chase Lenz – A request to amend the Warren County Comprehensive Plan and Future Land Use Map for a rezoning from Agricultural (A) to Commercial (C). The property is identified on tax map number as TM# 28, parcel 124A. Motion by Mabe, second Cullers, unanimous approval.
- R2023-09-01 – Rezoning – Jennifer Wynn (Riverside Parcel 1 LLC) – staff summary Chase Lenz – A rezoning application to amend the Warren County Zoning Map to rezone a 1.66-acre parcel from Agricultural (A) to Commercial (C). The property is located at 10353 Stonewall Jackson Highway and identified on tax map 28 as lot 124A. The property is located in the South River Magisterial District and the proposed by-right land use is for a (tourist) hotel/motel. Despite some concern on assuring safe access and egress, on motion by Cullers, second Butler, unanimous approval.
- CUP2023-09-01 – Douglas Salzman conditional use permit request for private use camping – staff report Chase Lenz – A request for a conditional use permit for a Private Use Camping (Non-Commercial). The property is located at (0) Avalon Drive and identified on tax map 20C, section 1, block 4, lot 42. The property is zoned Residential-One (R-1) and located in Shenandoah River Estates subdivision and in the Shenandoah Magisterial District. Motion by Oates, second Mabe, unanimous approval.
- CUP2023-09-02 – Fox & Slate Investments, LLC – staff summary Chase Lenz – A request for a conditional use permit for a Short-term Tourist Rental. Staff report Chase Lenz. The property is located at 1312 Old Oak Lane and identified on tax map 17A, section 4, lot 11A. The property is zoned Residential-One (R-1) and located Shenandoah Farms – Chain Spring section of Subdivision and in the Shenandoah Magisterial District. Motion by Mabe, second Cullers, unanimous approval.
- CUP2023-09-03 – Adam Graziano for a short-term tourist rental – staff summary staff summary Chase Lenz – A request for a conditional use permit for a Short-term Tourist Rental. The property is located at 40 Sunset Village Road and identified on tax map 27B, section 2, lot 106A1. The property is zoned Residential-One (R-1) and located in the Junewood Estates subdivision and the Fork Magisterial District. Motion by Butler, second Mabe, unanimous approval.
- CUP2023-09-04 – Richard & Jennifer Jamieson for a guesthouse – staff summary Matt Wendling – A request for a conditional use permit for a Guesthouse. The property is located at (0) Knock Lane and identified on tax map 10P, section 4, as lot 18. The property is zoned Agricultural (A) and located in the Gafia Estates at Lake John subdivision and in the North River Magisterial District. Motion Oates, second Cullers, unanimous approval.
- CUP2023-09-05 – Vesta Property Management (Sergio L. Herrera) – staff summary Chase Lenz – A request for a conditional use permit for a Short-term Tourist Rental. staff summary Chase Lenz. The property is located at 141 Farms River Road and identified on tax map 15B, section 1, block 1, lot 59. The property is zoned Residential-One (R-1) and located in the Shenandoah Farms – River View section and in the Shenandoah Magisterial District. Motion by Mabe, second by Cullers, unanimous approval.
- Proposed Lease Agreement – Warren County Community Health Coalition – staff summary Tiffany Walker – Walker informed the board staff was asking to postpone the public hearing and action on the item as the lease was being revised and updated with the process not yet completed. On a motion by Mabe, second by Cullers, the board unanimously agreed to table the matter to a future date.
- Warren County Parks and Recreation Lease Agreements – Front Royal Little League use of Champs 53 Field Complex – staff report Recreation Manager Tiffany Walker, Office Manager Dana Winner – After some board discussion, beginning at 1:06:45 video mark, about reassessing actual costs for upkeep and property management related to various youth sports, including Midget Football’s use of County-owned property for their games and practices, so as to make them as affordable as possible, on a motion by Cullers, second by Mabe, the board unanimously approved the proposed lease agreement dating back to October 12, 2023, with the Front Royal Little League.
It’s business taken care of for the evening, the meeting was then adjourned at 7:17 p.m.
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.