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One-way East Main Street idea appears dead for now

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Which way are we going? Still both it would seem. Photos/Roger Bianchini

Before getting down to the nuts and bolts of the next fiscal year budget, balanced in theory by staff by February 5; and health care options for employees (both things with lots of numbers that I will refer you to our publisher’s video of the February 5 work session for), the Front Royal Town Council reviewed the status of several things in the works over a number of months dating back to last year.

Those included:

  • the status of a wastewater pumping station to facilitate the first commercial re-development at the former Avtex Superfund site;
  • movement toward a property maintenance code without specific protections for renters;
  • what appears to be an extremely unpopular idea – turning East Main Street into a one-way street through the historic downtown business district.

Where to start?

One Way – NO Way

As for the one-way East Main Street idea, Town Planning Director Jeremy Camp offered poll results indicating an overwhelming thumbs down from BOTH East Main Street property/business owners and town citizens who regularly visit the downtown business district. There were 311 total responses to the survey, most received digitally online.

Jeremy Camp explains that survey indicates no momentum for a 1-way East Main St.

Of “regular visitors” – more than 2 visits downtown per week – 72.5% of town citizens responding opposed the idea; with 63.5% of downtown property owners joining in that opposition. Only 25.4% of downtown property owners supported the change. The property owner numbers closely mirrored the overall response. Of all respondents, 65.8% were against, 24.4% for, with 9.7% neutral to the idea.

The highest rate of support came from “non-citizens” though the staff summary offered no further stats on that group other than it encompassed a total of only 16 responses.

Councilman Eugene Tewalt, who also served as Town Public Works Director for years, recounted his memory of East Main Street’s past incarnations as a one-way street, ending in 1985. Tewalt noted that prior to 1985 when the downtown business district’s main thoroughfare was last returned to a two-way street, at various times it had been one-way running both east and west. Tewalt re-expressed his ongoing reservations about the idea, adding that 100% of the citizen calls he has gotten have been against the idea.

Gary Gillispie said he felt the change would push additional traffic flow onto adjoining residential neighborhood streets. Mayor Hollis Tharpe noted that was also a concern of the absent John Connolly, whom the mayor noted was home dealing with four sick children.
At the outset of his presentation on the matter, Planning Director Camp noted that at its current width of 30-feet, East Main Street is 2-feet, 1-inch under VDOT’s minimum standard for pull-in, angular parking. Adding street parking spaces appears to have been a major motivation for some downtown business owners who brought the idea of the change forward, according to Councilman William Sealock.

Camp said that while VDOT would not prohibit the Town from enacting angular parking due to the street width, doing so below the state transportation agency’s minimum standards could jeopardize future VDOT funding streams for other East Main Street improvements.

A majority council consensus appeared to be to abandon the idea in the face of the poll results and other questions raised by staff like the potential of lost state revenue streams for future downtown street improvements. However, Sealock noted that with $700,000 in Community Development Block Grant funding coming the Town’s way for improvements to the downtown, looking at ways some of that money could be spent to improve downtown parking should continue to be on the table now.

Tewalt responded he had no issue with keeping the one-way option “in the loop” as part of that discussion; though with overwhelming public, as well as significant downtown merchant opposition, he doubted it should be a first option in solving downtown parking issues.

Local Government

Warren County Budget Process: Commissioner of the Revenue, Director of Elections and Social Services

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Commissioner of the Revenue Sherry Sours discusses her budget with the Board of Supervisors. Photo and video by Mark Williams, Royal Examiner.

The Warren County Board of Supervisors held work session with County Departments and Constitutional Officers regarding the FY 2019-2020 budget on Tuesday, February 12, 2019.

Royal Examiner  is following the process and in this fourth session, the Commissioner of the Revenue Sherry Sours, Director of Elections Carol Tobin and Social Services Director DeAnna Cheatham was before the Board of Supervisors with their proposed budget items. Each had about 10 minutes to make their case. The final decision will be determined by the Board of Supervisors.

Watch the process:

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Local Government

Warren County Budget Process: Building Inspector, Airport, Shenandoah Farms, and Magistrate

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Warren County Building Inspections Department David Beahm shares his proposed budget to the Board of Supervisors. Photo and video by Mark Williams, Royal Examiner.

The Warren County Board of Supervisors held work session with County Departments and Constitutional Officers regarding the FY 2019-2020 budget on Tuesday, February 12, 2019.

Royal Examiner  is following the process and in this third session, Warren County Building Inspections Department David Beahm, Deputy Administrator Bob Childress and Chief Magistrate Monica Martin each had their ten minute block of time to discuss their proposed budget with the Board of Supervisors. Deputy Administrator Bob Childress discussed the Airport and Shenandoah Farms Sanitary District budget items. The final decision will be determined by the Board of Supervisors.

Watch the process:

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Local Government

Warren County Budget Process: Sheriff, Administration and Finance

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Warren County Sheriff Danny McEathron makes his pitch to the Board of Supervisors. Photo and video by Mark Williams, Royal Examiner.

The Warren County Board of Supervisors held work session with County Departments and Constitutional Officers regarding the FY 2019-2020 budget on Tuesday, February 12, 2019.

Royal Examiner  is following the process and in this second session, Warren County Sheriff Danny McEathron, County Administrator Doug Stanley and County Finance Director Andre Fletcher each had their ten minutes in front of the Board of Supervisors to give the highlights of their proposed budget. The final decision will be determined by the Board of Supervisors.

Watch the process:

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Local Government

Warren County Budget process underway

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County Administrator Doug Stanley leads the discussion on the FY 2020 Warren County Budget.Photo and video by Mark Williams, Royal Examiner.

The Warren County Board of Supervisors held work session with County Departments and Constitutional Officers regarding the FY 2019-2020 budget on Tuesday, February 12, 2019.

Royal Examiner  will follow the process over the next few weeks. In this first session, County Administrator Doug Stanley gives the committee an overview discussion before the County Departments and Constitutional Offices appear. It’s interesting to hear the discussion and see the detail of what it takes to put a budget together. It’s a slow and long process, but necessary.

 

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Local Government

County Fire & Rescue presents 5-year plan to augment staff, service

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You don’t need them till you need them – and when you do, you appreciate their importance to you and your community. Photos/Roger Bianchini. Video by Mark Williams, Royal Examiner.

Warren County Fire Chief Richard Mabie and Fire Marshal Gerry Maiatico presented a Five-Year Staffing and Implementation Plan to the Board of Supervisors at a February 5 work session. Maiatico utilized a power point presentation (see Royal Examiner video below) to explain the rationale and cost implications to the county’s elected officials who hold the purse strings to realize the plan.

Maiatico stressed that the plan was developed to be “realistic and attainable”, taking into consideration where the county has been, is, and is anticipated to be demographically in five years; as well as where emergency services across the country are. That latter aspect is important as a comparison point to other communities’ departments the County’s Fire & Emergency Services Department must compete against in seeking federal or state grants to help fund operations or departmental expansion.

So far the department has not fared well in such grant applications, Maiatico noted. However, movement toward implementation of the plan presented Tuesday morning will give the department, not only a needed staffing boost, but also improve its competitive position in future grant applications.

“If you don’t swing, you don’t get a hit,” Maiatico said in response to Supervisor Linda Glavis’s frown at the information that emergency services grants are competed for by a nationwide array of emergency services departments.

Gerry Maiatico explains the process and plan to expand county fire & rescue over next five years to meet county needs – Dan Murray, right, and Archie Fox are pictured.

Crucial to the plan titled “Evaluating the Past, Preparing for the Future” is bringing the department into compliance with standards for staffing and response times based on specific community demographics developed by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). Those standards are called NFPA 1720.

“How do we meet NFPA 1720 standards to be eligible for grant funding,” Maiatico asked in prefacing the five-year plan he was about to present details of.

The short answer is over a five-year period add a total of 26 uniformed positions to the department’s current paid, uniformed career staffing total of 46 positions. Without significant grant assistance, Maiatico acknowledged such a goal “was not likely” within the recommended time frame.

But you have to start somewhere – and somewhere appears to be tied to a successful application for funding through the Safety for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) Grant Program to add 15 additional staff positions; or failing that, a County commitment to add initial additional staff through County funding likely tied to a tax increase.

“If you don’t have adequate professional fire & rescue it is hard to attract better-paying jobs to the area – that is one thing companies look at when they are considering where to locate or expand,” Board Chairman Dan Murray commented.

A map of county fire & rescue service areas and station locations

The plan for the initial 15 positions, as with the eventual total of 26, would be to place them strategically, including floater positions that could move as countywide needs dictate.

“Some positions are slated to staff and serve additional units in underserved areas of the county, while others are planned to provide essential support services for field personnel,” page 4 of the report states.

The report includes a five-pronged “strategic objectives” plan of departmental priorities. Those objectives are: 24/7 staffing at Rivermont Company 2; increased staffing in high call volume stations; an increase in “floater” positions; adding some support service positions; and an increase in volunteer retention.

“We don’t have a recruiting problem, we have a retention problem – it is too easy to walk away these days,” Maiatico told the supervisors.

On the volunteer side of the department’s current makeup are 65 operational volunteer response personnel, with 45 associate personnel. Those volunteer responders help man eight combination fire and emergency medical staff stations serving more than 39,600 citizens over a 216 square mile county.

And as one person who is alive to write this story due to the timely, approximately two-minute response time, I am told, by Company One’s Advanced Life Support (ALS) unit upon the occasion of my cardiac arrest just over six years ago, I vote – if I had gotten that board vice chairmanship and had a vote – to see that County Emergency Services gets the funding and staffing necessary to adequately cover Warren County as we approach the third decade of the 21st Century.

Because as has been pointed out to me by a number of people since, had Company One’s ALS staff been covering, as they often do, an emergency outside town limits I would not be here now – lobbying for any necessary expansion of their budget to meet departmental needs.

As noted above, see Royal Examiner’s linked video of Gerry Maiatico’s power point presentation detailing a departmental staffing overview and Strategic Five-Year Staffing and Implementation Plan.

 

Oh, and thanks to Paula for keeping me going for those two minutes till Company One’s ALS boys arrived on scene.

A month after his heart abruptly stopped for no good reason this reporter thanks some of those who saved his life the afternoon of Dec. 31, 2012. Photo/Roger’s camera in hands of Co. 1 staff

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Local Government

Holloway says too early to discuss Beer Museum legal challenge

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The Front Royal Town Council hurried through a brief open-meeting agenda – then there were those ongoing closed session EDA debt service issues. Photos by Roger Bianchini, Video by Mark Williams, Royal Examiner.

A perhaps record-setting for brevity 10-minute long regular meeting of the Front Royal Town Council on Monday, February 11, saw an approval, an appointment and adjournment to closed session – a closed session that went on over an hour.

The closed session discussion was of two items requiring private legal counsel regarding “legal mechanisms related to handling potential debt service related to prior and current budget years with respect to the Economic Development Authority”.

During the regular meeting, appointed unanimously to the Urban Forestry Advisory Committee was Jason Lamb; and approved unanimously was a requested revision of proffers by BMW Real Estate LLC for development of a vacant property across John Marshall Highway from Royal Lane at the southeastern entrance into town.

No announcement was forthcoming following the closed session, which included EDA Interim Executive Director John Anzivino and EDA Attorney Dan Whitten, as well as 2 East Main Street LLC architect Jim Burton. The second closed session agenda item involved the Afton Inn property which the 2 East Main Street group is redeveloping.

However, of particular interest was one item that did not make the agenda. Newly-installed Councilman Chris Holloway, a former councilman and vice mayor, cast a lone vote not to add a third closed session item – discussion with legal counsel of David Downes’ Friday filing of a court petition seeking a legal reversal of council’s 4-2 vote denying his request for an off-street parking exemption for his Virginia Beer Museum.

Eugene Tewalt made the motion to add the third closed session item, which as a last-minute addition required a unanimous vote of approval. Queried about his vote keeping the item from being added to the closed session agenda, which drew a surprised glance from Mayor Hollis Tharpe, Holloway said he didn’t believe the discussion was necessary at this point. He noted council had just received information on the filing and observed that as of Monday evening the Town had yet to be served with Downes’ court petition.

Chris Holloway was in no mood to discuss a legal challenge of one of his first majority votes back on council.

As previously reported by Royal Examiner, Downes filing claims the January 14, 4-2 negative vote reversing a December 10, 4-3 vote of approval of the parking exemption request singled Downes out unconstitutionally as “a class of one without any rational basis for treating similarly situated property owners differently that own (a) other art galleries and museums in Town; (b) other properties on the west side of Chester Street between East Main Street and Peyton Street, and (c) other properties on Main Street and Jackson Street that are in the same revitalization area of downtown Front Royal.”

Virginia Beer Museum owner petitions court to overturn parking exemption denial

On January 14 Holloway joined Eugene Tewalt, Gary Gillespie and Bill Sealock in forming that 4-2 majority vote denying Downes’ parking exemption request (Meza and Letasha Thompson voted for approval). That vote reversed a December 10, 4-3 vote approving the request – Sealock, Meza, Morrison, Tharpe for, Tewalt, Connolly, Gillespie opposed.

Asked by the media whether he would consider changing his negative vote as the meeting adjourned to closed session, Holloway said, “I can’t be bullied into changing my vote.”

See all 10 minutes of this believed-to-be historically short regular meeting in this Royal Examiner video:

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