‘Keep your expectations low’ Gillispie warns newest Councilman Rogers on revisiting EDA dynamics towards end of council work session
The Front Royal Town Council work session of Monday evening, November 14, began with just over 42 minutes of work session discussion of fairly routine matters. Those included authorization of several Special Use Permit (SUP) applications for public hearings on, guess what – two Short Term Rentals, one at 200 East Main Street (upper floor rentals) and another at 206 Lee Street (currently listed as 24 Stonewall Drive, full home rentals) – as well as one SUP application by Life Point Church to re-institute a daycare center at its 1111 North Shenandoah Avenue location; and a longer list of nine matters scheduled for Consent Agenda approval of more routine, if occasionally expensive budgetary, authorizations. All were approved for inclusion on the November 28 regular meeting agenda.
Two other agenda items were then addressed and authorized by council without dissent (Zach Jackson absent). First was an update to the Employee Handbook, adding “Juneteenth” (June 19th) as an official holiday commemorating notice of the post-Civil War end of slavery. Second was the donation of a “Retired” bucket truck to the Warren County Public Works Department. Responding to questions about the truck’s value, cited by Councilman Gary Gillispie as once about $100,000, and Vice-Mayor Lori Cockrell from one source more recently at $15,000, Interim Town Manager Kathleen Leidich noted that with its length of service and accumulated mileage, the bucket truck was now “fully depreciated” with essentially no assessed value. On a side note, a line item in the “FY23 Budget Amendment for Outstanding Purchase Orders” section of the agenda indicated a current price of $180,000 for “Replacement of Bucket Truck”.
With the County Public Work’s interest indicating its being seen as of some value today, likely for restoration maintenance or spare parts, Vice-Mayor and Mayor-elect Cockrell, chairing the meeting for absent Mayor Chris Holloway, called the donation a positive indication of cooperation between the town and county governments. At a time when the Town continues to pursue hostile civil litigation against the now-County overseen FR-WC EDA over disputed liabilities and lost assets from the financial scandal circa 2014-2018, such gestures may be more valued.
Town EDA suit legal costs
On a side note, that the Town’s civil litigation against the FR-WC EDA is running up some expenses was indicated, if not directly addressed by council, in Monday’s meeting agenda packet. Under Item 2D – “FY23 Budget Amendment for Outstanding Purchase Orders” on page 13 of the agenda packet, page 1 of the Budget Amendment package, under “Legal Dept.” budget line item 2201, are listed “LEGAL FEES EDA COURT CASE – $158,139” and “AUDITING SERVICES TO SUPPORT EDA CASE – $26,155” for a total of $184,294 of taxpayer money. As has been previously reported by Royal Examiner, that civil litigation was launched by council over the objection of then-Mayor Eugene Tewalt, circa 2019/20, despite a reformed FR-WC EDA staff and Board of Directors offer of “good-faith negotiations” to determine who was owed exactly what from what was cited as the unauthorized movement of EDA, Town, and County assets to personal gain alleged by former EDA Executive Director Jennifer McDonald and co-conspirators during the 2014-2018 time frame.
In civil litigation the now-County overseen FR-WC EDA has been awarded, on paper at least, about $23 million of the estimated $26 million in assets cited as misdirected as part of the financial scandal. However, on the now dueling Town/FR-WC EDA civil litigation fronts both sides have only legal expenses to show for their efforts with little, if any, time yet spent in a courtroom. And town residents, as dual town-county citizens, find themselves in the position of paying taxes to support both sides’ legal costs.
But perhaps we jumped the gun above in stating that council didn’t “directly address” the potential expense of its decisions regarding its former half-century-old joint EDA and current unilaterally created Front Royal EDA (FREDA). Because after the first six work session agenda topics, the final of those being an “Update of Capital Improvement Projects (CIPs) by Interim Town Manager Leidich, council reached the “Open Discussion” portion of the meeting. That is for non-agenda items of concern to council members. And among those were several from recently appointed Councilman Skip Rogers on topics he said had been brought to him by constituents, including: “About FREDA and the Front Royal-Warren County EDA”.
Rogers told council he had been discussing the topic with Councilman Gillispie, and has broached it in a preliminary manner with council as a whole. “I really do want to have an opportunity to try and open up a communication line and to just sit down and kind of talk about things, whatever that might be … And I would like Gary to join me and kind of see what we can do – and it may go nowhere,” Rogers admitted, adding, “But just for me in my time on council, it’s one of those things I want to address” at which point Gillispie entered the conversation, reminding Rogers of something he told him during their one-on-one conversations on the topic.
“I told you to keep your expectations low,” Gillispie said, drawing some laughter from his colleagues.
“We’ll see,” Rogers replied, perhaps remaining as optimistic as a shorter-tenured (as in weeks) council member might be on such topics that may have developed a litigious or municipal momentum of their own regardless of operational costs or likelihood of legal success. The conversation then segued into discussion of the topic of blighted properties and illegal activities that may occur in or around them, such as drug use in the community.
“I really do like the conversation we’re having on blighted buildings … and I want to move it further than blighted buildings,” Rogers said, gaining a head of steam for what he pointed out is the last 11 months of his 12-month appointed tenure. “I really do believe there’s something we can do to approach some of the areas that may be problem areas … and let’s see what we may be able to do – and we may not be able to do anything. But I want to make a real effort to identify those areas that seem to be consistent with drug use, drug arrests, and overdoses.”
Surviving the chair’s humorous reminder that, as he had noted, he only had 11 months left for his initiatives, Rogers then tackled one close to council’s collective interests – the partisan political committee endorsement of elected town office candidates in what by Town Charter is supposed to be a non-partisan town election.
“I want to start an open conversation … I would really like us to address the Town Charter, the non-partisan elections, and whether or not we’re really following our guidelines in this town as it relates to identifying non-partisan elections as it relates to engaging the entire community and not maybe isolating some of them because of Hatch Act and other things,” Rogers said acknowledging federal laws disqualifying federal employees from participation in politically partisan elections.
Subsequent discussion on these final two topics raised concerns first, on a blanket policy regarding blighted structures negatively impacting poorer segments of the community not involved in such illegal activities as cited. Vice-Mayor Cockrell suggested involving as many “stakeholders” as possible, including county and town law enforcement, landlords and motel owners, to try and rectify the situation without a blanket effort that would ban poorly kept residential properties often a last resort for lower income individuals and families. Rogers agreed, noting previous discussion with some of those stakeholders.
On the partisan election topic, Councilwoman Morris herself, like Mayor-elect Cockrell and all but independent conservative Bruce Rappaport, an incoming Warren County Republican Committee endorsed candidate in this November’s town election, cited the party line on such charter violation concerns. That line is that there is a legal distinction between an “endorsed” candidate and one “nominated” by a political party, nomination resulting in an “R” or “D” by a candidates’ name on the official election ballot. How that line may be blurred by sample ballots with party designations handed out at polling places on Election Day, or a published offer by a WC Republican Committee recruitment official to fully handle “endorsed” candidates’ campaigns, has not yet been addressed by a partisan endorsed-dominated council or its legal staff. Might it be over the next 11 months? Stay tuned, sports fans.
See the work session’s six action items, including budget status and transfers for coming and delayed Capital Improvement Projects, discussed over the first 42-plus minutes of the linked Town video. The Open Discussion” begins at the 42:50 mark, with Councilman Rogers’s Open Discussion remarks starting at the 52-minute video mark.
Watch the Front Royal Town Council Work Session of November 14, 2022, here.
Supervisors OK series of short-term-tourist rentals after lengthy joint discussion on Rural Event Facility lodging rental parameters
On Tuesday, March 28, the Warren County Board of Supervisors held its recently added third monthly meeting to deal with the increased number of public hearings largely fueled by short-term-tourist rental Conditional Use Permit (CUP) applications. Seven of the eight public hearings remaining on the agenda were seeking permitting for short-term-tourist rentals. Three public hearings related to Rushmark Rockland Road LLC’s north-side Industrial Zone development plans, originally including a data center, were withdrawn from the agenda at the applicant’s request. The first, and lengthiest, discussion involved a joint supervisors/planning commission public hearing on a planning staff forwarded text amendment recommendation on lodging rentals tied to Rural Events Facilities.
The 6 p.m. open meeting followed a two-topic Closed/Executive Session discussion regarding legal matters related to the various FR-WC Economic Development Authority litigations, and a late added discussion on the “Disposition of Publicly Held Real Property”. There were no announcements following the closed session.
The results of the public hearings were as follows:
C. Joint Public Hearing – Zoning Text Amendment 2023-03-02, Ordinance to Amend Warren County Code Sections 180-8 and 180-55.2 Regarding Rural Events Facilities – presented by Chase Lenz, Zoning Administrator. Two options were presented by staff:
“Option A includes express language under subsection §180-55.2B(2) of the draft ordinance requiring the rental of lodging units to be only in conjunction with an event, implementing a three-consecutive-day duration limit for rental contracts, and prohibiting the use of the lodging units as Short-Term Tourist Rentals. Planning staff recommends this option as these requirements are essential to the classification of the use as accessory to the Rural Events Facility and it distinguishes the use from a Short-Term Tourist Rental.”
“Option B excludes the requirement for the rental of lodging units to be only in conjunction with an event, increases the maximum duration limit for rental contracts to seven consecutive days, and removes the prohibition on the use of the lodging units as Short-Term Tourist Rentals. This option allows for the rental of the lodging units to be independent of the Rural Events Facility. It is the opinion of Planning staff that such rental of the lodging units independent of the Rural Events Facility should be classified as a separate principal use and not accessory to the Rural Events Facility.”
Shelly Cook, whose recent approval of Rural Events Facility permitting on her operational Agricultural vineyard property raised the issues on planning staff’s text amendment initiative, was present and answered questions related to her planned operations. During discussion, North River District Supervisor Delores Oates urged her colleagues to take a “pioneering” role statewide in defining acceptable Agricultural-Tourism uses to help financially struggling Agricultural operations stay in business, as opposed to selling or transferring their uses to full Residential or Commercial development. And following extensive discussion, the board took the planning commission’s recommendation to allow lodging as an independent use with the longer seven-day maximum stay, as opposed to three days tied to specific events.
- Discussion and Recommendation by the Warren County Planning Commission — After a nearly hour-long joint supervisors/planning commission discussion, first the county planning commission on a motion by Ms. Richardson, by a 3-1 vote, Mr. Huson dissenting, Mr. Henry abstaining, recommended Option B be adopted.
- Discussion and Motion by the Warren County Board of Supervisors — On a motion by Mrs. Oates, seconded by Mr. Butler, unanimously approved Option B of the text amendment proposals.
D. Public Hearings
- Conditional Use Permit 2023-01-01, Dominik Golczewski for a Short-Term Tourist Rental located at 398 Briar Lane and identified on Tax Map 15E, Section 5, Block 5, Parcel 443 – Chase Lenz, Zoning Administrator — On a motion by Mr. Mabe, seconded by Mrs. Oates, unanimously approved the request. There were no speakers at the public hearing.
- Conditional Use Permit 2023-01-03 Vitaliy Hayda & Oleksandr Mokrohuz for a Short-Term Tourist Rental located on 540 Bragg Drive and identified on Tax Map 23C, Section 8, Block 4, as Parcel 16 – Matt Wendling, Planning Director — On a motion by Mr. Butler, second by Mrs. Oates, unanimously approved the requested permitting. Again, no public hearing speakers though communications from neighbors was put into the public hearing record.
Conditional Use Permit 2023-01-04, Thomas Ryan for a Short-Term Tourist Rental located at 944 Wilderness Road and identified on Tax Map 23A, Section 8, Block 45, Parcel 17A – Chase Lenz, Zoning Administrator — On a motion by Mr. Butler, second by Mrs. Cullers, unanimously approved the requested permitting. The applicant was present to answer questions.
Conditional Use Permit 2023-01-05, David Bediz for a Short-term Tourist Rental located at 303 Marino Lane and identified on Tax Map 15D, Section 2, Block 5, Parcel 95 – Matt Wendling, Planning Director — On a motion by Mr. Mabe, second by Mr. Butler, unanimously approved the permitting request. No speakers addressed the board and the applicant was not present.
Conditional Use Permit 2023-01-06, Nathan L. Phenicie for a Short-Term Tourist Rental located at 1264 Freezeland Road and identified on Tax Map 23I, Parcel 3 – Chase Lenz, Zoning Administrator — On a motion by Mrs. Oates, second by Mr. Mabe, approved the application unanimously. Applicant was present, there were no public hearing speakers.
Conditional Use Permit 2023-01-07, Kari Meyer for a Short-Term Tourist Rental located at 121 Cheyenne Lane and identified on Tax Map 26A, Section 7A, Parcel 18A1 – Chase Lenz, Zoning Administrator — On a motion by Mrs. Cullers, second by Mr. Butler the application was unanimously approved. Applicant was present, again no one spoke at the public hearing.
Conditional Use Permit 2023-01-08, Matthew Williams & Jay Gilbert for a Short-Term Tourist Rental located at 12 Far View Lane and identified on Tax Map 15A, Section 1, Block 3, Parcel 103A1 – Chase Lenz, Zoning Administrator — On a motion by Mrs. Cullers, second by Mrs. Oates, the board unanimously approved the application. Initial opposition from the Blue Mountain POA was noted by staff, though Lenz told the board the applicant had met with POA representatives to ease their concerns. The applicant verified discussion with the POA chairman by email, working toward a mutually agreeable resolution still in the works.
The meeting adjourned at 7:33 p.m.
See the discussions and actions taken in the County video.
Council approves Commercial Outdoor Recreation operation after recognizing FR Karate Club’s half century and Skyline High’s State semifinal basketball run
The Front Royal Town Council kicked off its meeting of March 27th with a student-guest leading of the national Pledge of Allegiance — R-MA senior Sophia Wagner did the honors — and approval of Proclamations of Recognition for the Front Royal Karate Club of Sensei Art Drago’s 50th anniversary at the same downtown Kidd Lane location and the Skyline High School basketball team’s district and regional championship runs to the Virginia State semifinals.
A four-item Public Hearing agenda saw unanimous approval of all four items before council. First up was Jeff Kelble’s Special Use Permit request for a Commercial Outdoor Recreation Facility at 1847 N. Royal Avenue. Prior to its approval on a motion by “Skip” Rogers, seconded by Amber Morris, individual council members lauded Kelble’s detailed proposal for river-focused options prominent among his planned recreational activities on the town’s north-side.
The public hearing drew one speaker, Robert Sealock, who urged council to approve the Special Use Permit as creating, not only a venue for tourism, but also for the community’s youth to engage in healthy and wholesome outdoor activities offered by their community.
The staff summary noted: “The property is zoned A-1, Agriculture and Open Space Preservation District. Outdoor recreation facilities are permitted only by special use permit in the A-1 zone. The property consists of 12 plus acres and is contained within FEMA’s ‘floodway’ and the flood zone. Planning Commission has recommended approval with conditions.
“Proposed uses include the following: Canoe and Kayak Rentals with Shuttle; Canoe, Kayak and Stand Up Paddleboard Rentals: During low water levels; Inner-tube Rentals; Low impact rustic camping and light camper camping that would give guests the ability to recreate in and explore Front Royal for several days. The effective peak season for river activity, from which most vehicle trips will be generated, is Memorial Day to Labor Day, about 15 weeks out of the year. Campsites will be at least 30’ wide and 1600 square feet as required by code.” Transportation and parking would be provided giving the facility the “capacity to serve about 1000 river users in any one of our various river activities.”
Destinations would include shuttling services upriver to “Eastham Park, Karo Public Boat Landing or beyond, so guests can paddle back downriver to the North Royal Avenue Location.” Destinations downriver would be another option. Mayor Cockrell noted the potential positive impact tourist-wise of a Rail Trail destination along a nearby section of the Shenandoah River by the old VFW site.
Other public hearings included: an Ordinance Amendment to Town Code Chapter 4-1 to accommodate council’s addition of a work session the first week of each month.
A Budget Amendment and Bid Award for the Fleet Maintenance Building Project to LCW Construction in the amount of $1,995,000 and approve a budget amendment in the amount of $2,450,000 to allocate funds for the construction and associated equipment.
And a Resolution for Financing of the Fleet Maintenance Building Project with Webster Bank in the amount of $2,450,000 with an interest rate of 4.345% for a term of 20 years.
Council discussion of the Fleet Maintenance Building Project and financing noted that while the expenditures were significant, in the long-run experience has shown that department and its services have saved the town government significant money, so it would be money well spent.
During Public Comments on non-agenda items, the mayor and council heard from the new chairman and president of Destination Management Organization (DMO) “Discover Front Royal”, Clare Schmitt, and Christopher Morganstern, town vape shop owner.
Schmitt introduced herself and described the DMO’s mission of promoting “the common economic interests of all the commercial tourism (businesses) in the Town of Front Royal and Warren County” and “increasing tourism revenue” to the community as a whole. She thanked past DMO board members, singling out past Discover Front Royal Chairman Kerry Barnhart, who was present, for agreeing to stay on the Discover Front Royal board to help bring her up to speed on the DMO’s work in managing community tourism promotion. She suggested town officials, as well as members of the public present or watching the meeting video, visit the Discover Front Royal website for additional information on the group’s efforts.
On the vape shop front, Morganstern described his longer-termed operations in town as traditional vape shops, which he differentiated from the recent influx of vape shops surrounding Virginia’s phased-in legalization of marijuana and other THC-based products. As former FR-WC EDA board member Greg Harold did on these pages (Commentary: Vape Shop regulations – Discriminatory or Failure to Act?), Morganstern urged council to use zoning regulations in place to control the influx of vape shops appearing to be focused on distribution of legalized THC products and paraphernalia, more so than products designed to be safer alternatives to tobacco smoking.
Council also unanimously approved a five-item Consent Agenda as presented; appointed Clare Schmitt to the Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA), noting no apparent conflict of interest to her recent appointment as chairman/president of Discover Front Royal; and reappointed the members of the Joint Towing Advisory Board due to a technical issue with their original appointment and expiration dates. That motion explained the appointments would be “retroactive from August 2022, said terms ending August 31, 2026.” Those appointments were: Towing/Recovery Business Representatives Gloria Knott – Keens Towing; Louis C. “Peanut” Tharpe – Tharpe’s Towing; Alan Crawford – Midway Towing; and Law Enforcement Members -WCSO Captain Robert Mumaw; FRPD Sergeant David Fogle; and VSP Sergeant Brian Davis
See these discussions, votes and other business in the Town video.
Council aims at Real Estate Tax revenue equalization, Personal Property rate will stay same as values fall from last year’s increases
Following a summary analysis by Finance Director B. J. Wilson at a Special Work Session of Wednesday evening, March 22nd, the Front Royal Town Council, minus one member — Amber Morris was absent, reached a consensus to advertise the setting of a Public Hearing on Real Estate and Personal Property Tax rates at its April 24th meeting. The Real Estate Tax rate must be reset to equalize tax revenue or justify any increase, in the wake of real estate reassessments that generally saw significant increases in values. While at the county level those increases have been estimated as high as 40% on average, Wilson said in town real estate values increased an average of 27.8%.
The finance director’s recommendation, based on council’s stated goal of not increasing the tax burden on citizens, was to reduce the existing Real Estate Tax rate of 13 cents per $100 of value to 10 cents per $100 of value to essentially equalize the Town’s real estate tax revenue to its previous level. As reported earlier, by state code any reassessment resulting in a greater than 1% tax revenue increase must be either equalized to within 1% if its previous revenue level or advertised as a tax increase if the new rate produces more than that 1% revenue increase.
The Town’s Real Estate Tax rate has bounced back and forth between 13 cents and 13.5 cents since 2014, when it was raised to 13 cents from 11 cents where it had stood for three years. It had been at 13 cents in 2006 before dropping to 7 cents for four years (2007 to 2010).
An agenda packet chart accompanying Wilson’s presentation indicated that based on the 2023 real estate assessed values, 1 cent of real estate tax equals $185,630 of revenue to the town government. The 10-cent rate was estimated to produce $1,826,050 of revenue, falling $64,635 short of the proposed Fiscal Year-2023/24 budget revenue. Various ways to compensate for that loss were discussed.
Wilson also advised council to defer late fees and penalties on the Town’s first Real Estate Tax billing due in June (the second is due in December) because of the late April setting of the rate resulting in the billings being sent out very close to the first installment payment coming due.
On the Personal Property Tax side, Wilson reported a reduction in Personal Property assessed values in town of approximately 20% or $36,586,875. Initial numbers on vehicle values, which skyrocketed last year, was a 12% loss of value from a year ago. His recommendation was to leave the Personal Property Tax rate where it is, at 64-cents per $100 of value.
Regardless of valuations up or down annually, the Town’s Personal Property Tax rate has been at 64 cents since 2011, when it was increased from 60 cents.
Following this discussion, council adjourned to a Closed/Executive Session to discuss “legal matters requiring the provision of legal advice by such counsel, specifically, proposed agreement with Discover Front Royal, Inc., and proposed agreement with Warren County.” There was no action out of the closed session.
See the tax discussion in the open portion of the meeting in the Town video.
Supervisors authorize departmental expenditures, fill a number of appointed board seats
At its meeting of Tuesday, March 21st, the Warren County Board of Supervisors took action on a number of budget-related departmental funding requests, as well as on annual contract renewals or modifications to existing contracts, and on a request from the Warren County Sheriff’s Office to approve submission of a non-matching State grant application in support of a number of its law enforcement functions. The board also took time to acknowledge and pose for a photo with its Emergency Management Team in recognition of Emergency Management Professionals Week, March 19th to 25th. Approval of an official Proclamation in support of the local support of the statewide recognition of the vital work of Emergency Management staffs was removed from the Consent Agenda for individual approval, allowing County Emergency Management staff present to be recognized.
Big budget items approved by the supervisors included for a solid waste Transfer Station Wheel Loader to the tune of $346,894.80, coupled with an annual preventative maintenance contract fee of $32,740.27. Staff, including Finance Director Alisa Scott, Public Works Director Mike Berry, and County Administrator Ed Daley described the history of the equipment and its key role in moving solid waste out of the county for disposal — “If we have any incident or accident (with the equipment), trash in the county stops” the public works director observed. Noting past issues with the equipment, going down for as long as a month-and-a-half without being able to replace parts, Berry noted that a extended maintenance contract was actually saving the County money.
The staff summary of the request noted that a transfer of $379,635.07 from the Refuse Hauling line item 4-1-42040-3204 to the Asset Replacement fund would cover the total cost of the 2023 John Deere 624 P 4WD wheel loader to the transfer station, along with the maintenance contract. The agenda packet also pointed out the wheel loader price reflected “a 40% discount off the vehicle’s list price.” Berry told the supervisors that the average lifespan of this equipment is 7,500 hours, and that the County’s piece being replaced was at 10,000 service hours. With all the numbers and statistics described, perhaps unsurprisingly the board, on a motion by Vice-Chairman Cheryl Cullers, seconded by Walt Mabe, unanimously approved the transfer, purchase, and extended maintenance contract.
After hearing Sheriff Mark Butler explain the dynamics of the Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Services Non-matching Grant, not requiring any match from the County, and with a quickly approaching submission deadline of March 24 at 5 p.m., just three days away, the board also unanimously approved, on a motion by Mabe, seconded by Jay Butler, submission of the grant application. The staff summary noted if selected as a recipient, the Sheriff’s Office could be awarded up to $216,000 to various uses. Uses described by the sheriff included an automated license plate reader that could be set up at various locations to ID the vehicle tags of people on the criminal justice wanted list, as well as upgraded recording systems. Noting the non-matching aspect, Sheriff Butler called the grant “very favorable”. And the supervisors agreed.
An eight-item Consent Agenda saw all but two items removed either for individual discussion and action, primarily appointments to various boards. One item, approval of the FY 2021-2022 Audit Report of Robinson, Farmer, Cox Associates, the County’s auditing firm, was entirely removed from the agenda, staff citing a delay in receipt of the Comprehensive Annual Financial Report or annual audit.
Tackling the items removed from the Consent Agenda to allow individual consideration and action, the Board of Supervisors did the following:
On a motion by Mrs. Cullers, seconded by Mr. Mabe, by a unanimous vote the board nominated Jessica Dean to be appointed by the Warren County Circuit Court to the Warren County Board of Equalization (BOE) as alternate to preside over appeals related to the 2023 General Assessment, that the existing alternate, Amanda Slate, be made a regular member of the BOE, and that Jennifer Avery be removed from the BOE.
On a motion by Mrs. Cullers, seconded by Mrs. Oates, again unanimously, the board nominated John Pennell to the Warren County Board of Zoning Appeals to be appointed by the Warren County Circuit Court to fill the unexpired five-year term beginning upon appointment and ending December 31, 2027.
On a motion by Mrs. Cullers, seconded by Mr. Mabe, the supervisors unanimously appointed David Rushton as the Alternate for the Warren County Board of Building Code Appeals to fill the unexpired four-year term beginning upon appointment and ending September 30, 2026.
On a motion by Mrs. Cullers, seconded by Mr. Mabe, the Supervisors designated Sergeant David Fogle for the Front Royal Police Department, Sergeant Travis Cave for the Warren County Sheriff’s Office, and Sergeant Brian Davis for the Virginia State Police as law enforcement agency representatives on the Front Royal/Warren County Joint Tow Board. The vote was again unanimous.
The two items approved on the Consent Agenda for routine business without individual discussion were: a Proclamation Recognizing National Procurement Month and Professional Buyer’s Day; and approval of the “Addition of a Part Time Fire Marshal Position, Job Description, and Grade Placement”.
The meeting began at 6 p.m. with a Closed/Executive Session discussion of personnel matters related to the Board of Equalization and Shenandoah Farms Sanitary District Advisory Committee, as well as legal matters surrounding the various EDA-related civil litigations versus “Jennifer McDonald, et al” and the dueling civil litigations initiated by the Town of Front Royal against the FR-WC EDA and the County, as well as related financial matters, asset recovery, and potential liabilities. Other than appointments to the Board of Equalization during the open meeting, there was no action out of closed session.
In other New Business not related to Consent Agenda items, the board approved:
Item J: a Proposed FY 2022-2023 Locality Agreement between Warren County and the Virginia Department of Health;
Item K. Request to Approve a Grant from the Virginia Department of Aviation of $17,600.00 for Hangar Site Preparation – Environmental Coordination;
Item M. Staff Recommendation to Approve Contract Modification: Renew Divaris Real Estate, Inc. Annual Term Contract for Real Estate Broker Services;
The final agenda item “O” was a requested Amendment to the Blue Ridge Shadows Subdivision Covenants removing a $200 lot fee supporting the provision of County emergency services to the north-side subdivision. County Administrator Daley informed the board that no other subdivision in the county has a similar covenant mandating lot fees, in this case $200 per lot, funding emergency services to the subdivision. And despite the loss of $44,800 per year of supporting revenue from the subdivision’s residents, based on that inequity, on a motion by Ms. Oates, seconded by Mr. Butler, the board unanimously approved the requested amendment removing the covenant supporting the emergency services lot fee.
And with no additional business brought forward, the meeting was adjourned at 8:12 p.m.
See highlights of the meeting in the County video.
Town Planning Commission OKs Warren Coalition recovery house
At its regular meeting on March 15, the Planning Commission reviewed a proposal by the Warren Coalition to locate an addiction recovery house in its facility at 200 North Royal Avenue. The Special Use Permit (SUP) for a “lodging house” attracted 9 speakers at the public hearing, two of which were occupants or owners of nearby properties.
Zoning Administrator John Ware briefed the commission on the ordinances controlling the use. The property has been used as a lodging house in the past, from 1989 to 2019, prior to the adoption of the ordinance. Because that use ceased for more than 3 years, the ordinance requires the SUP. The property does have adequate parking, and the planning staff recommended approval subject to the occupancy not exceeding 10 persons, and parking to be provided for 8 vehicles.
Warren Coalition Executive Director Christa Shifflett addressed the commission about the specifics of the proposal, which calls for a residential capacity not to exceed 10 persons, with average stay length of 9-12 months. Residents are expected to have or get jobs, and the coalition assists with miscellaneous needs such as specialized clothing or interim transportation. The facility will not provide meals for the residents, but has a kitchen facility that residents can use to prepare meals for themselves. Residents will be responsible for obtaining their own supplies, living items, and proof of employment to qualify to live in the facility. Shifflett also said that security cameras will be extensively employed inside and outside the facility. The rules established for the facility include a provision for regular drug screening. Substance abuse or violent behavior will be grounds for immediate termination. All residents will be required to be in some form of outpatient treatment, including but not limited to counseling thru Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT), Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), or Narcotics Anonymous (NA). Currently, a lack of local residential recovery facilities in this region may require prospective residents to travel as far away as Richmond or Virginia Beach, meaning there is an additional time and travel burden on families and residents who come from the local area.
Chairman Darryl Merchant opened the public hearing to hear from 9 speakers. Two speakers were property owners in the immediate area of the subject property. Phil Caslavka owns a nearby residence on Virginia Avenue. He surfaced the concern that there is drug-dealing and usage activity in the immediate area. “In this block we already have a problem with drug-related issues”, he said.
Mr. Caslavka also cited instances of confrontations with violent individuals, even finding a knife under the window of his daughter’s room, finding drug paraphernalia and beer bottles in his yard. He concluded by saying, “We do have a current problem here, and I don’t think this would be something that would help that problem.”
Stephen Bieker, whose property adjoins the proposed lodging house, also addressed the commission, describing drug dealing in the bank parking lot next door, discarded needles in his yard, previous instances of violent behavior by residents in the former lodging house, to the extent that he put up a fence between the properties to protect his children. He reminded the commission that the building was in a “Drug-free zone” and a zone. “I don’t believe it would be a good fit for our town.”
Seven more speakers spoke in favor of the facility, among them recovering addicts who had benefited from similar facilities. Brandon Butler spoke eloquently of the need for recovering addicts to have someplace safe to go when completing treatment – a place to find employment, stability, and acceptance. He spoke of his own experience in recovery and readjusting to a normal life. He also addressed the resident’s concerns about existing drug activity in the area. “I’ve been an addict for over 20 years of my life, and I know if you put a recovery house in a neighborhood, it kind of pushes away that element, if it’s there.”
It was observed that those in addiction treatment programs and recovery facilities are as a rule people who want to make the change in their lives to stay away from addictive behavior and not relapse into substance abuse that has already negatively impacted, not only their lives, but often the lives of family members around them.
Michael Hall, who will be the facility’s resident manager and Peer Recovery Specialist, also addressed the Commission to talk about his own experience with recovery and treatment.
“What addicts need most is hope, and without a place to go to get started, it’s hard to sustain the hope you have when you finish treatment. This house will provide that stable, safe environment,” Hall told the commissioners.
At the conclusion of the public hearing, the commissioners had the opportunity to question the Warren Coalition executive director. Commissioner Michael Williams had a series of questions. “You mentioned that the residents would be referred. What agency or entity will be doing the referring?” Answer: “Residents will be referred from local treatment facilities such as National Capital Region in Fairfax, several facilities in Richmond, as far away as Galax – these are local people who are in treatment that far away.”
After extensive discussion, the commission, on a motion by Commissioner Williams, seconded by Commissioner Connie Marshner, voted unanimously to recommend approval of the permit with the cited rules, oversight and surveillance to assure house ruled are observed. The request will now go to the town council for final action.
The Commission also voted to advertise a public hearing on April 19 for the Town’s Comprehensive Plan update. The commission and planning department have been working on that project for over a year.
The Meeting was adjourned at 7:50 p.m.
Watch the full video on the Town website.
Supervisors tackle permitting dynamics for Rural Events Facility, building inspection and permitting fee hikes, and Corridor utility hook up issues
At a 3-plus-hour work session of Tuesday, March 14, the Warren County Board of Supervisors and staff reviewed a proposed zoning text amendment to fill definitional gaps in local and state codes regarding Rural Events Facility uses related to overnight accommodations, which segued into a somewhat related “Guidelines for Short-Term Tourist Rentals”. After those discussions County Building Code Official David Beahm wrapped the work session up, with some assistance from Planning Director Matt Wendling, presenting two options to increase inspection and permitting fees on building projects to improve the percentage of departmental costs covered by fees collected by the County in those processes. The meeting opened with discussion of a Pump and Haul Sewage Permit Request from Front Royal Self Storage in the Route 340/522 North Corridor. Other business included a “Modification Request for Conditional Use Permit” by Gillian Greenfield & Richard Butcher for Private Use Camping (Non-Commercial) Located off Beech Road.
In reviewing Shelly Cook’s permitting for her Rural Events Facility project on over 40 acres of working Agricultural land housing a vineyard operation, the board seemed anxious to find a way to allow her Rural Events Facility to get maximum use of residential cabins built as part of the project. Cook noted her neighbors all supported her planned use as an alternative to commercial or residential development. Cook noted she is a Class A contractor and 50-year resident of Warren County.
She explained her Rural Events Center initiative as an attempt to increase revenue enough to “save” her farmland for an Agricultural use established in 2019. One concern, particularly of Chairman Vicky Cook, was that the board not set a precedent that could be applied to Short-Term Tourist Rentals. During the discussion Deputy County Administrator Taryn Logan observed that tying the overnight cabin use of 7 days or less to events held at the Rural Events Facility, predicted by Cook to occur on a weekly basis, would appear to accommodate the facility’s residential usage being a separate one from short-term rentals, which also have a longer 30-day maximum staying period. See details of the Rural Events Center discussion beginning at the 44:30 video mark, transitioning to the Short Term Tourist Rental guidelines at the 1:32:20 mark.
In presenting his proposal for building inspections fee increases County Building Official Beahm estimated that with current fees, on a good year about 60% of the County’s fees are covered, on a “bad year” only 40% are, leaving the County absorbing from 40% to 60% of its costs annually. With Option 1 Beahm estimated 80% to 90% of costs being covered, with Option 2 he guaranteed 100% coverage of Building and Planning Departmental costs on inspections and permitting. Beahm recommended adoption of Option 1 due to the suggested fees being closer to surrounding jurisdictions existing fees. The accompanying agenda packet charts showed an existing Standard Construction minimum fee on Residential buildings in Warren County at $50, with Option 1 recommended raising that to $100, and Option 2 to $150. The existing minimum fee on Commercial structures is $75, with Option 1 at $150 and Option 2 at $200.
For comparison, existing fees in the Town of Culpeper are $75 Residential and $125 Commercial; Fauquier County $100 Residential and $150 Commercial; Shenandoah County $100 Residential and $150 Commercial; Frederick County not listed for Residential, with $120 Commercial; and Winchester City at $46 Residential and $69 Commercial. Beahm’s presentation and board discussion begins at the 2:29:15 video mark, ending at the 3:07:35 mark.
Pump and Haul Permit applicant David Printz of Front Royal Self Storage described issues with being unable to find underground space to install the necessary infrastructure, particularly to connect to Town central sewer service. Prince told the supervisors he began digging for infrastructure space on December 1st last year and had still not found a way through underground rock into the second or third week of January. “There’s a reason it’s called Rockland,” it was observed of the north-side county area.
Staff observed approval wouldn’t create a precedent for the use by right, due to the particular hardship circumstance discovered underground at the property. It was also suggested that county staff communicate the intent to approve the special circumstance permitting to town public works staff to assure they did not have issue with it. North River District Supervisor Delores Oates wondered if Front Royal Self Storage was able to receive central water from the Town but not sewer, if the Town would be able to adjust its system of charging customers for sewer based on their water usage. See this discussion beginning at the :00 mark of the linked county video due to a late hook-up of the live-stream broadcast, concluding at the 38:50 video mark.
The Greenfield/Butcher Conditional Use Permit modification on a Private Use Camping application seemed to be headed for a rather routine approval as the applicants agreed to all the staff recommended changes. Supervisor Oates observed the only notable change in the process was removing feedback from the Shenandoah Shores Property Owners Association out of the equation. This matter is addressed from the 38:50 to 44:30 marks in the County video.
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