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Opponents of Browntown commercial camping and event sites project poised to make their case at November 10 Planning Commission meeting

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Four Conditional Use Permit (CUP) applications submitted to the Warren County Planning Commission for review by Edwin Wright appear to have stirred up a hornet’s nest of local opposition. Two of those CUPs are for the development of commercial campgrounds and two are for event facilities. Information received is that the two campgrounds are proposed for 100 individual sites each, and the event sites would accommodate up to 250 people each. The address submitted in the permitting applications for the two camping sites is 2905 Gooney Manor Loop on an agriculturally zoned property; the event site’s address is listed as 0 Wellspring Road, also on the agriculturally zoned property.

One prime issue for opponents is traffic that will be created on Gooney Manor Loop, described by one area resident as an “environmentally sensitive” Rural Rustic road, often reduced to the width of one lane. But that is just one of five categories of concern listed in an online petition circulated against the proposal. Others include potentially negative impacts on well water in the area; noise and light pollution; public safety in timely emergency service responses, as well as the current lack of adequate cell phone service; and a lack of experience of the applicant in managing such commercial operations.

Browntown area photo included in ‘Stop Browntown Commercial Development’ online petition. Photo – Social Media Graphic

Stacie Mikels, who launched the opposition petition “Stop Browntown Commercial Development”, was one of several people who contacted the Royal Examiner about the Wright commercial proposals poised for permitting hearings before the planning commission this Wednesday, Nov. 10. Of what she hopes is a gathering momentum of informed dissent, she said, “A group of Browntown residents got together and formed ‘Stop Browntown Commercial Development’. We’ve made a Facebook page and have an online petition that received over 100 signatures in the first 24 hours. We’re also making an effort to inform other neighbors and individuals that use this area frequently by placing informative signs in the area.”


And she contends this opposition is not simply a “not in our backyard” stance.

“Our number one concern is public safety. We already have lengthy waits for EMS and Fire in this area due to severely limited access to fire and rescue equipment and staff/volunteers in Browntown. When you add two campgrounds and two event centers to these narrow roads, it’s a recipe for disaster,” Mikels contends, adding, “We are hopeful that many of the residents will show up and voice their concerns at the public hearing on November 10th at 7 pm.”

Wright’s four public hearings are the 7th through 10th of 11 scheduled for the 7 p.m. planning commission meeting at the Warren County Government Center Wednesday evening.

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Town Police Chief Magalis acknowledges departmental personnel movement and promotions accomplished in-house

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At the January 23rd Front Royal Town Council meeting, Front Royal Police Chief Kahle Magalis introduced officers recently promoted in the department and others recently brought on board. Near the meeting’s outset (beginning at the 6:30 mark of the Town video below), Chief Magalis brought six of seven FRPD officers forward for acknowledgment. Now-Major Jason Ryman was not present for the presentation.

“I always look forward to this type of a presentation where we can talk about some new folks that we’ve brought on and folks that we’re moving into different areas of the department,” the chief told Mayor Cockrell and council in opening his presentation.

Magalis noted the recent retirement of Major Kevin Nicewarner at the outset of the new year, whom Chief Magalis noted was “Florida” and “Gulf Coast bound” after nearly 30 years with the department, in explaining the personnel juggling involving incumbent officers Captain Brian Whited, Sergeant Tony Clingerman, Corporal Michael Gallagher, and Major Jason Ryman.

Chief Magalis then introduced recent departmental additions (from right to left in photo and Town video) Jacob Dodson, and Richard Williamson, both on patrol duty since September, and Jack Weaver, a Front Royal native who transferred to FRPD from the Winchester Police Department.


Chief Magalis, at the podium, introduced, from left, Captain Brian Whited, Sergeant Tony Clingerman, Corporal Michael Gallagher, and recently added FRPD Officers Jack Weaver, Richard Williamson, and Jacob Dodson. Now-Major Jason Ryman was not present. Below, council and the mayor pose for a photo with the acknowledged FRPD officers.

The chief then segued back to his departmental veterans (again right to left in photo and video) Corporal Michael Gallagher (promoted from Master Police Officer), Sergeant Tony Clingerman (promoted from Corporal), and Captain Brian Whited (from Sergeant), and the absent Major Jason Ryman (from Operations Captain). Chief Magalis noted that now-Captain Whited would take over Logistics Captain duties as Captain Crystal Cline, who had previously handled those duties, moved to Operations.

“So, quite a bit of movement, we’ve got some new faces, and I’m happy to report at this time,” the chief said with a nod to Town Manager Joe Waltz, the Human Resources Department, and council, “We’re actually fully staffed” whispering the last two words, observing that, “Right now, and I’m proud to say it because there isn’t a whole lot of law enforcement agencies that are operating with a full enforcement staff. And right now,” the chief added knocking on the wooden podium, “we are.”

He noted a vacancy in communications but concluded, “We’re very happy where we’ve been able to bring recruitment and retention to. And that’s something we’re going to talk to you guys about as we keep trying to move that forward … so we can continue to attract qualified people like these gentlemen here and retain all that institutional knowledge instead of letting them walk out the door because we’ve been able to staff this from in house and that’s awesome … I’d just like you to congratulate all these guys for coming on board and doing such a great job,” Chief Magalis concluded, leading to a standing ovation from portions of the crowd and council dais.

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Council upholds BAR denial of demolition permit for portions of old ‘Murphy Theater building’ in Front Royal’s Historic Downtown Business District

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After hearing from SEESUU LLC applicant Gary Wayland (1:18:48 linked video mark) and his real estate agent Bill Barnett (1:29:22 mark), as well as three other public hearing speakers reiterating points made by 14 speakers at the December 13th Board of Architectural Review (BAR) public hearing opposing the SEESUU application for a partial demolition permit for the historic “Murphy Theater” building at 131 East Main Street, the Front Royal Town Council unanimously upheld the BAR denial of that application.

Board of Architectural Review denies partial demolition application for Murphy Theater building

Councilwoman Amber Morris offered the motion on the appeal (1:41:03 mark). Citing the record of the BAR public hearing and “additional evidence” her motion was to “… affirm the decision of the Board of Architectural Review, the BAR, denying the issuance of Certificate of Appropriateness on the application submitted by SEESUU LLC to demolish and remove a portion of a contributing structure on a property located at 131 East Main Street …” Morris’s motion was seconded by Vice-Mayor Wayne Sealock, leading to the unanimous vote upholding the BAR denial.

Citing a family history of involvement in town historical preservation, Amber Morris made the motion to uphold the BAR denial of the partial demolition permit for 131 E. Main St., also known as the old Murphy Theater building. Below, attorney David Silek cited a past family history of ownership of the building in arguing against demolition of any portion of the historic structure.

Addressing council on reasons to uphold the BAR denial were David Silek (1:21:00), a family member of past owners of the property; Ellen Aders (1:26:50), a neighboring resident, business and property owner; and James Smithlin (1:35:10), who offered observations on the historic nature of the terra cotta portion of the old theater building “made before talking movies” he noted, targeted for demolition. Those speakers, as several council members later would, pointed to the applicant’s lack of structural engineer’s report citing the condition and viability of renovation as opposed to demolition of the old theater and rear residential portions of the building.


“When you buy property in a Historic District it comes with a great responsibility. You’re buying into what is and what will be the story of out town,” Aders began, adding of other Historic District property owners, “To allow demolition of the Murphy Theater would be a punch in the gut to folks like the Poes, who are bringing life back to the old Warren Paint & Supply building; the Barnharts, who searched tirelessly for just the right stone for the Weaver building’s facade, and the Capital Gate,” Aders said of the group she pointed out is bringing the Afton Inn back to usability, among other Historic District property owners, “who take great pride in maintaining their little piece of Front Royal’s history.”

Adjacent and nearby property owner Ellen Aders urged council not to deliver a ‘punch to the gut’ of Front Royal Historic District property owners who are committed to preservation along lines of Historic District structural ambiance and restoration.

Aders then referenced the BAR public hearing at which she also spoke, pointing to a reluctance by the applicant to provide sought-after information. “If you watched the BAR public hearing you saw a total unwillingness on the part of the owner of the Murphy Theater. He denied the BAR access to the interior; he denied the request for a structural engineer’s survey; he refused to provide a cost analysis of restoration versus demolition and new construction.”

Aders also pointed to occupied apartments and daily meetings held “like clockwork” in the targeted portions of the building. Just because the owner is unwilling to restore the building, doesn’t mean that it’s ready to be torn down,” Aders concluded in urging council to reject the denial appeal.

Following SEESUU real estate representative Barnett to the podium, Smithlin opened by noting online research indicating terra cotta as “the oldest building material known to man”. Noting a personal 31-year history of meetings in the building, Smithlin said, “I’ve never seen a piece of tile or a whole tile fall.” While citing great respect for both the applicant and his real estate agent, he noted, “That building is over a hundred years old and is part of Front Royal’s Historic District. It would be tragic to tear it down, rather than restore it. As he closed he noted the Murphy Theater dated to “before they had talking movies” in urging council not to overturn the BAR demolition denial.

“I’m here to do something good for the town, that’s my intent and that’s really all I have to say,” Wayland told council in opening the public hearing when called to the podium by the mayor. He noted that the email he had sent to the town manager for distribution to council prior to the meeting was his intended “for the record” statement for the appeal hearing.

SEESUU LLC principal Gary Wayland asserted his plan to demolish and rebuild rear sections at 131 E. Main St. was a ‘good thing’ for the town and its Historic Downtown area. Below, SEESUU real estate agent Bill Barnett told council that restoration of the terra cotta portion of the building, particularly the towering 70-foot tall theater stage section, is impractical because it is ‘functionally obsolete’. He did not address the functionality of the rear, apartment section, also targeted for demolition.

After introducing himself as a real estate agent with a track record of restoration projects in downtown Front Royal, including “seven on Chester Street when it was one of the most run-down streets in the town” Barnett attempted to tie the SEESUU plans for the Murphy Theater building, including 40 or more “dwelling units” too small to be termed apartments by town code, to that track record. Pointing to the 40 x 40, 75-foot tall tower section of the terra cotta, theater/stage portion of the building, Barnett said that it, “Is totally functionally obsolete. There is no commercial or residential use that you can apply to this property today. The challenge of it is to find a way to put this property back into use, so it’s producing taxes and jobs and places for people to work and to live.”

Two views of the old Murphy Theater building and applicant’s rendering of rebuild. The oldest sections are the commercial addition facing East Main, added in 1908/09, and the original Methodist Church section dating to 1879, which is the darker bricked section behind the E. Main commercial addition that goes two windows back along Church St. The lighter terra cotta (believed dating to 1920s) and rear apartment section (circa 1940s or ’50s) are the targeted for demolition portions of the building.

But if the applicant and his agent were selling the SEESUU partial demolition and rebuild project as a positive for the historic downtown community, neither the public nor council was buying.

On the council side, the reviews of the demolition proposal and subsequent rebuild weren’t too positive. Addressing the applicant, Councilman Skip Rogers (1:48:16 mark) pointed to the period architectures involved in, not only the targeted building, but the Historic District in general. “We love the architecture, we love the feel, we love the comments of the folks that come into our community and appreciate how beautiful it is, what a feel you get when you go into the downtown area. So, my one concern, sir, is the impact that demolition would have,” Rogers paused, then referenced what he had seen in renderings of the reconstruction proposal.

“When I looked at that rendering I honestly thought of a contemporary prison, a very stark, almost aluminum-appearing structure, bright and shiny and static. And that in itself was enough for me to say this is not the way I believe our community needs to grow.”

Councilman Skip Rogers described renderings of the applicant’s plans for a rebuild as ‘very stark’ reminding him of ‘a contemporary prison’ and ‘not the way I believe our community needs to grow’. Below, the BAR and town planning staff at terra cotta section on site visit several days before their Dec. 13 public hearing and vote of denial of the SEESUU partial demolition permit application. The BAR was not granted inside access. But it looks like a little exterior maintenance along cracked section of the approximately 100-year-old terra cotta bricks might be in order. Final photos are the applicant’s renderings of the rebuild from front and rear.

Having made the motion to uphold the BAR denial, Councilwoman Morris cited her family history in the community and its ties to the historic memory of the community (1:45:46 mark), stating, “I really care about the preservation of the Historic District and I do have a vision for Front Royal. And unfortunately, and I mentioned this in the work session,” she said of comments on ownership in the Historic District, continuing, “and other people have touched on this – when you purchase a building of this magnitude with these plans in place, you know these costs and these things are going to arise. It’s a property owner’s responsibilities. And with that being said, with the current rendering we’d be foolish as a council  … to approve this without a vision of what we intend to see moving forward.”

Morris also addressed the by-right aspect of denial after an unsuccessful year of attempting to sell a building denied demolition in the Historic District raised at earlier work session discussion. She reasoned that offered at a reasonably assessed value to parties interested in Historic ownership and restoration as the applicable town code indicates should be done, it would likely find a buyer.

And if Rogers had compared the rebuild renderings to a prison, Morris was perhaps gentler in her assessment – “The current rendering looks like something, I know some people have mentioned Georgetown, for me it looks like something I’d find in Miami. And it’s not the vision I have for Front Royal or our Historic Downtown that we all know and love.”

See these and other comments in the Town video.

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Supervisors hold initial third monthly meeting to deal with Short-Term Rental-fueled increase in public hearing numbers

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On January 24, at 6 p.m., the Warren County Board of Supervisors held their newly added third meeting to deal with the influx of public hearings, largely driven by Short-Term “Tourist” Rental permitting applications. Nine of the 14 public hearings that night were on Short-Term Rental applications. These Public Hearing-driven meetings will be a regular part of the supervisor’s schedule moving forward.

But prior to getting down to scheduled business, Board Chairman Vicky Cook acknowledged the passing of Company 8 District Fire & Rescue Chief Homer Cross the previous day, asking those listening to remember “his family, his friends, and his colleagues in your thoughts and prayers during this time of heartache.”

 

Chair Vicky Cook opened the meeting with a remembrance of Company 8 District Fire & Rescue Chief Homer Cross before setting the supervisor’s sights on their 14 public hearing agenda. Perhaps fortunately, nine of those public hearings had no speakers, and only one reached as many as four.

 

Below is a list of the 14 January 24th public hearings topics with the staffer’s name and position presenting the item and the board’s action on them:
C. Public Hearings (unless otherwise indicated there were no public hearing speakers):


1. Ordinance to Amend and Re-Ordain Section 160-62 of the Warren County Code – Caitlin Jordan, Senior Assistant County Attorney – Result: On a motion by Walt Mabe, seconded by Cheryl Cullers, the proposed Ordinance Amendment was approved by 4-0 vote, Delores Oates absent due to illness according to the chair.

2. Sale of County-Owned Real Property Located at 30 East Jackson Street – Alisa Scott, Finance Director – Result: On a motion by Jay Butler, seconded by Mr. Mabe, the sale at a price of $200,000 to TCG Real Estate Holdings LLC was approved by a 4-0 vote.

This 30 E. Jackson St. property was approved for sale at $200,000 to TCG Real Estate Holdings LLC.

3. Modification Request for Conditional Use Permit 97-11-01, Alan Munson for Commercial Campground, Canoeing, Boating (kayaking and inner-tubing) and Fishing Equipment Rental and Sales Located at 192 Panhandle Road and Identified on Tax Map 34 as Lot 3B – Chase Lenz, Zoning Administrator – Result: On a motion by Ms. Cullers, seconded by Mr. Mabe, the CUP Modification request was approved by a 4-0 vote.

4. Modification Request for Conditional Use Permit 2015-01-01, Gillian Greenfield & Richard Butcher for Private Use Camping (Non-Commercial) Located off Beech Road and Identified on Tax Map 13C, Section 1, Block 1, as Lot 206 – Chase Lenz, Zoning Administrator – Result: After hearing from four public hearing speakers, including applicant Gillian Greenfield, two Shenandoah Shores residents opposing the private use application, and a SSPOA official who sought tabling of the matter to resolve legal oversight authority questions, on a motion by Mr. Mabe, seconded by Ms. Cullers, the board voted 4-0 to table the matter to acquire additional information to be discussed at a February work session before returning to the board for a vote.

5. Conditional Use Permit 2022-10-02, Maura & Daan De Raedt for a Short-Term Tourist Rental Located at 54 Arrowood Road and Identified on Tax Map 23A, Section 1, Block 4, Lot 1 – Chase Lenz, Zoning Administrator – Result: After hearing from applicant, Reston resident Daan De Taedt, and an adjoining neighbor asking for denial of the application by absentee owners, the board on a motion by Ms. Cullers, seconded by Mr. Mabe, voted 4-0 to deny the CUP application.

6. Conditional Use Permit 2022-10-03, Wendy C. Willis for a Short-Term Tourist Rental Located at 154 Woodthrush Way and Identified on Tax Map 24D, Section 11, Block 00, Lot 1012 – Chase Lenz, Zoning Administrator – Result: On a motion by Mr. Mabe, seconded by Ms. Cullers, the board approved the CUP application by a 4-0 vote.

7. Conditional Use Permit 2022-10-04, Anthony Constable for a Short-Term Tourist Rental Located at 195 Old Oak Lane and Identified on Tax Map 15E, Section 2, Block 2, Lot 628 – Chase Lenz, Zoning Administrator – Result: On a motion by Mr. Mabe, seconded by Ms. Cullers, the board approved the CUP application by a 4-0 vote.

8. Conditional Use Permit 2022-11-01, Jacob Horowitz for a Short-Term Tourist Rental Located at 5433 Gooney Manor Loop and Identified on Tax Map 44 as Lot 18 – Chase Lenz, Zoning Administrator – Result: On a motion by Ms. Cullers, seconded by Mr. Mabe, the board approved the CUP application by a 4-0 vote.

9. Conditional Use Permit 2022-11-02, Jeffrey May for Gunsmithing Services Located at 425 Valley Road and Identified on Tax Map 30C, Section 1, Block 2, Lot 19 – Chase Lenz, Zoning Administrator – Result: On a motion by Mr. Butler, seconded by Ms. Cullers, the board approved the CUP application by a 4-0 vote.

10. Conditional Use Permit 2022-11-03, Lydia Freeman for a Short-Term Tourist Rental Located at 400 Chipmunk Trail Lane and Identified on Tax Map 24A, Section 210, Lot 420 – Chase Lenz, Zoning Administrator – Result: After hearing from one nearby neighbor in opposition to the application, on a motion by Mr. Mabe, seconded by Ms. Cullers, the board approved the CUP application by a 3-1 vote, Mr. Butler dissenting.

11. Conditional Use Permit 2022-11-04, Sergiu Luca for a Short-Term Tourist Rental Located at 104 Marino Lane and Identified on Tax Map 15D, Section 2, Block 5, Lot 128A – Chase Lenz, Zoning Administrator – Result: After hearing from one adjacent neighbor in support of the CUP application, on a motion by Mr. Mabe, seconded by Mr. Butler, the board approved the application by a 4-0 vote.

12. Conditional Use Permit 2022-11-05, Stacy Weng for a Short-Term Tourist Rental Located at 5 Oakwood Drive and Identified on Tax Map 13C, Section 1, Block B, Lot 10A – Matt Wendling, Planning Director – Result: On a motion by Mr. Butler, seconded by Ms. Cullers, the board approved the CUP application by a 4-0 vote.

13. Conditional Use Permit 2022-11-06, Matthew Williams & Jay Gilbert for a Short-Term Tourist Rental Located at 1862 Khyber Pass Road and Identified on Tax Map 23A, Section 321, Lot 1A – Chase Lenz, Zoning Administrator – Result: On a motion by Ms. Cullers, seconded by Mr. Mabe, the board approved the CUP application by a 3-1 vote, Mr. Butler dissenting.

14. Conditional Use Permit 2022-11-07, Matthew Williams & Jay Gilbert for a Short-Term Tourist Rental Located at 1424 Khyber Pass Road and Identified on Tax Map 23A, Section 935, Lot 28 – Chase Lenz, Zoning Administrator – Result: After hearing from applicant Matthew Williams, on a motion by Ms. Cullers, seconded by Mr. Mabe, the board approved the CUP application by a 3-1 vote, Mr. Butler completing a trifecta of “No” votes on Short-Term-Rental CUP applications in Skyline Estates, these last two and an earlier one by the De Raedts in which his colleagues joined him in denying the application.

Their business completed, the chairman adjourned the meeting at 7:48 p.m.

Click here to see the staff summaries of the public hearing items, including Planning Department recommended conditions, board discussion, motions, and votes in the County video.

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Lead off Liaison Committee meeting of 2023 tries to outline a path toward improved Town-County joint efforts

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Front Royal Town Council and Warren County Board of Supervisors members met at the first Town-County Liaison Committee meeting of 2023 at 6 p.m. Thursday evening, January 19. Newly-elected Mayor Lori Athey Cockrell chaired the meeting at the Town Hall second-floor meeting room. Vicky Cook joined Cockrell in representing their respective boards for the first time as non-rotating Liaison Committee members from their respective chairman’s seats.

And whether the Liaison Committee should continue in its established six-seat format, each board’s chairman and one rotating member from the town and county’s elected bodies (Morris and Cullers, respectively, this time), with staff support from the town manager and county administrator, was one of an 11-topic agenda tackled over three-and-a-half hours.

Noting continued efforts to restore more positive inter-municipal cooperation in the wake of hostile civil litigations launched by the town council, circa 2019/2020, in the wake of the joint Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority financial scandal, Mayor Cockrell suggested perhaps including more members officially, perhaps the entire elected bodies. Expanded membership, the mayor reasoned, would keep all members directly involved in matters of common interest to both municipal governments. That might be especially important on her side, Cockrell noted, with four and soon five of council’s six seats occupied by new members seated by election or appointment since November.

Town-County Liaison Committee members from the near left at table: Town Manager Joe Waltz, Council member Amber Morris, Mayor Lori Cockrell, County Administrator Ed Daley, County Board Chair Vicky Cook, Supervisor Cheryl Cullers, and at near right, Town staff support from Council Clerk Tina Presley. At left other elected officials present, including from far left down the front row of public seating, Councilmen Skip Rogers and Bruce Rappaport, Supervisor Delores Oates, and Councilman Josh Ingram’s legs.


 

That discussion during the meeting’s first topic – “Review of Liaison Committee Meeting Policy,” was eventually followed by one directly related matter: “Front Royal-Warren County EDA Negotiations/Next Steps,” and a number of others on matters that can evolve into either mutual or dueling self-interests.

Those included:

  • Community Water Capacity Update
  • Disposition of the McKay Springs Property
  • Town and County Comp Plan update
  • The resurrection of Youth Activities/Reinstitution of Youth Center
  • Tourism Business/Marketing Plan Update and Next Steps for DMO (Destination Marketing Organization), the 501-C6 organization created to head a joint tourism effort by the town and county governments known as “Discover Front Royal.”

One unasked question on that latter front was: “If it is a joint tourism effort, why isn’t the DMO called “Discover Front Royal and Warren County?” That would seem particularly true since many of the natural resources that draw tourism to the community and related businesses found in and around national and state parks are outside of town, in the county.

Be that as it may, at least “improved communications and cooperation” are on the table now. A disconnect on that front became apparent when that previous council lineup, circa 2019/20, ignored the advice of then-Mayor Eugene Tewalt to forego hostile civil litigation against the joint EDA over disputed liabilities in favor of “good faith negotiations” between the Town, County, and EDA. Interim Town Manager Tederick soon brought the Alexandria-based law firm of Damiani and Damiani to council’s attention to handle that civil litigation on the Town side.

Be that as it may, at least “improved communications and cooperation” are on the table now. A disconnect on that front became apparent when that previous council lineup, circa 2019/20, ignored the advice of then-Mayor Eugene Tewalt to forego hostile civil litigation against the joint EDA over disputed liabilities in favor of “good faith negotiations” between the Town, County, and EDA. Interim Town Manager Tederick soon brought the Alexandria-based law firm of Damiani and Damiani to council’s attention to handle that civil litigation on the Town side.

That same level of cooperation continues despite the still unresolved civil litigation may have been indicated by compliments from officials on both sides of the liaison table to the efforts of Town Finance Director B. J. Wilson for his work on tracking EDA-related expenditures as the County and its now unilaterally run EDA (in the wake of the Town’s decision to create its own unilateral EDA) attempt to assist auditors in finalizing reports on the final years the alleged financial misappropriations occurred.

Mayor Cockrell noted that it was difficult to negotiate an out-of-court settlement of the EDA financial issues without those final annual audits tracing the movement of EDA, Town, and County resources. But it would appear that financial accounting movement in that direction is occurring, and it would seem in good faith and out of court.

Click here to see the full Liaison Committee meeting discussion of the above-cited topics and the rest of the agenda in the Town video. The full agenda, in order of scheduled discussion with the municipality that brought the topic to the table noted, were:

1) Review of Liaison Committee Meeting Policy – Town
2) Review of MOU for Use of Board Meeting Room – Town
3) Tourism Business/Marketing Plan Update and Next Steps for DMO – Town/County • MOU between Town and Discover Front Royal
4) Water Capacity Update – Town/County
5) Town and County Comprehensive Plans Update – Transportation -Town/County
6) Alternate Access to Shenandoah Shores Road and Mary’s Shady Lane Town/County
7) Front Royal-Warren County EDA Negotiations/Next Steps – County
8) Report from Front Royal/Warren County Anti-Litter Council – County
9) Disposition of McKay Springs Property – County
10) Discussion of Youth Activities/Reinstitution of Youth Center – Town
11) Joint Towing Advisory Board – Town

 

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DeDomenico-Payne named to fill Mayor Cockrell’s council seat pending Nov. Special Election, other appointed vacancies also filled

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Following a Closed/Executive Session convened at 9:38 p.m. at the end of its regular meeting on Monday evening, January 23rd, the Front Royal Town Council appointed Melissa DeDomenico-Payne to fill the vacant seat resulting from Lori A. Cockrell’s election as mayor.

Melissa DeDomenico-Payne, Ph.D., is the Grants Manager at Laurel Ridge Community College in Middletown, Virginia. She has a B.A. English and B.S. Psychology (magna cum laude), M.A. from Shenandoah University; Psychological Services Counseling, Marymount University; and a Doctoral Degree in Public Administration (graduated with distinction), Capella University.

Melissa DeDomenico-Payne

The agenda summary and draft motion of the matter noted that: “The term of office of the person so appointed will begin immediately upon qualification and will expire upon the qualification of the successful candidate elected during a special election to be held on November 7, 2023.”


Other appointments announced at Monday’s meeting as part of “New Business Items” included:

  • Michael S. Williams to the Planning Commission;
  • Lewis Moten to the Board of Zoning Appeals, where he will replace Michael Williams;
  • And Gary Gillispie, Ellen Aders, and Charles Gornowich to the Local Board of Building Code Appeals.

It was noted that filling the new Board of Building Code Appeals is a step toward realizing enforcement of the long-floundering Derelict Building Code council has been trying to implement for several years.

In regular meeting business council unanimously upheld the Board of Architectural Review (BAR) denial of the SEESUU LLC application for partial demolition of the Old Murphy Theater building at 131 East Main Street, and by a split 3-2 vote, Rogers and Rappaport dissenting, authorized the appointment of “viewers” to inspect the alley vacation area requested by members of former Mayor Chris Holloway’s family to allow their private use of the localized access way between 12th and 13th Streets off of Virginia Avenue. Five speakers, either residents whose home properties abut the alley or members of the Church of the Brethren, which also abuts the alley, all urged denial of the request so as not to limit their use of and rear access to their properties. More on those actions in coming Royal Examiner stories.

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Public Hearing speakers raise issues on Shenandoah Farms Sanitary District management and tax revenue usage

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While the bulk of the open portion of the January 17 Warren County Board of Supervisors meeting was fairly routine, shortly after adjourning from a nearly hour-long Closed Meeting to discuss personnel matters originally intended to include the board-appointed Shenandoah Farms Sanitary District Advisory Committee, in addition to appointments to the Board of Equalization to deal with tax assessment appeals, the supervisors reached the Public Comments portion of the open meeting on non-agenda items.

Two residents of Shenandoah Farms, Tracie Lane and Sarah Saber, both chairpersons of their respective Farms Sanitary District groups, rose to express continued dissatisfaction with how the county’s elected officials are allowing business to be conducted in the Farms Sanitary District. Lane’s remarks begin at the 5:20 mark of the video, Saber’s at the 11:25 mark. Among issues raised were a lack of county government transparency in dealings with the Shenandoah Farms Sanitary District finances, infrastructure costs, decision making, and a seeming blanket refusal to accept suggestions from resident advisory groups, even the one they appointed.

In addition to the above-cited Farms Sanitary District issues, a failure of supervisors and involved staff to respond to direct questions about Sanitary District tax revenue usage and requests for meetings to try and help clear matters up was broached.

“I have a few things to say to you folks,” Lane began after introducing herself as the recently elected chairman of the Property Owners of Shenandoah Farms (POSF) and a three-year participant in the POSF Board’s activities as the past Farms residents-elected advisory group to the County on Farms Sanitary District matters. “I watched the Advisory Committee meeting from January 5th, and there were some challenges, some comments about how we are not responding to emails with lists of properties and things like that. Mr. Mabe, you said you didn’t get an email from me, and I have a copy of the email you received several days before that with your name on it, so you did get that,” Lane told the supervisors’ representative to the Advisory Committee meetings of her emailed response to a request for a list of the POSF-owned Common Properties in the Sanitary District.


Current POSF Chairman Tracie Lane makes her case on a lack of transparency by the supervisors regarding use of Shenandoah Farms Sanitary District tax revenue in front of meeting spectators, many Farms residents who had showed up for a specially called Advisory Committee meeting that was later canceled by the supervisors’ administrative staff.

The Pot calling the Kettle black?

Lane continued to note that county officials, including the supervisors, had, in fact, failed to respond to her “repeated” email requests for meetings “to hopefully start a new dialogue” between the Sanitary District’s elected POSF representatives and the County. “And you haven’t responded at all, nothing. As a citizen in this county I at least deserve a response,” Lane said pointedly to the county’s five elected representatives and their administrative staff.

She then traced the POSF’s unsuccessful two years of seeking Farms Sanitary District financial reports while POSF served as the County’s official Farms Sanitary District advisory group since 2011 (after voluntarily handing management authority it had held since 1995/96 over to the County as the district’s annual budget climbed into six figures). “Instead of answering our board, which was elected by property owners, we were replaced by your appointed board. January 5th, your appointed board asked for that same disclosure on how funds were being spent – repeating their request from July.

“Instead of the disclosures, we learned that the fourth financial director of Warren County since 2019 had resigned. In the past three years (the county’s) had more financial directors than 1965 to 2019 combined. Why do they keep quitting?” Lane asked pointedly, making an analogy to a bank that didn’t send statements to its account holders. “That would be a bank that most people would fire. Now you want more tax money from us? All I have to say is no new taxes until … you guys account for every penny you have spent,” Lane challenged the board directly, ending her remarks with a “Thank you” for her three minutes to state her case.

Current supervisor-appointed Shenandoah Farms Sanitary District Advisory Committee (SFSDAC) Chairman Sarah Saber began on the topic of a specially called SFSDAC meeting originating with the supervisors’ administrative staff, later canceled, that would have coincided with the supervisor’s 6 p.m. closed session on personnel issues that evening. “I just wanted to clarify since nobody responded to my emails from this afternoon – not a single one of you, you were all copied – in addition to Ed Daley (county administrator), Mike Berry (public works director) – Just wondering what the justification was behind the impromptu scheduling of the meeting, which part of the bylaws which you all wrote – you can’t actually schedule a (SFSDAC) meeting.”

Farms Advisory Committee Chairman Sarah Saber wondered at an apparent breach of bylaw procedures created by the supervisors for their appointed Shenandoah Farms citizen advisory committee, in the calling of the later cancelled special meeting of the committee for that evening.

The bylaws referenced in her email, which Royal Examiner acquired a copy of, say of scheduling of SFSDAC Special Meetings in the bylaws Article 5-2: “Special meetings may be called by the chairman or by two Directors upon written request to the secretary …” with additional processes addressed. Saber’s point appears to be that Farms Advisory Committee Special Meetings are to be called by the SFSDAC chairman or two directors thereof, not by the supervisors or their administrator, with no involvement of the committee.

Saber then referenced another written inquiry involving FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) she made as a committee member dating to July, asking: “So, I’d also like it if the county attorney, who was copied on the email chain back from July, could take another look and see exactly what pertains to FOIA since I sent it to Delores, you ignored it; Walt, you ignored it; Cheryl, you ignored it; and Jay Butler, you ignored it; and Vicky now you’re on the emails too?” Saber asked of the new board of supervisors chairman. “Just wondering. I asked several questions and no acknowledgment, no responses,” Saber said, noting the speaker’s three-minute time clock at 1-minute-20-seconds remaining.

“Any of you planning to respond? Did you think nobody was going to notice? You’re going to slide through an impromptu meeting that you can’t actually do, nobody’s going to notice?” Saber continued to challenge the county board, noting the number of people who had shown up at the Warren County Government Center for the 6 p.m., specially-called Farms Advisory Committee meeting, who had not gotten notice of its cancellation several hours earlier that afternoon.

“No explanation, not one of you,” Saber continued, drawing comment from Board Chairman Cook, “Excuse me, I don’t mean to interrupt, but this is not a question or answer period, is that correct?” Cook queried staff, which confirmed that to be the case. “So, I’ll just keep talking since it’s 30 seconds left,” Saber noted her time clock (Uh Oh).

Saber’s repeated questioning of the board on their intentions regarding thus-far ignored correspondences regarding Farms Sanitary District issues drew a caution from Board Chairman Cook that Public Comments were not a question-and-answer format. Saber’s subsequent comments to close out her allotted time were less than a favorable assessment of the board’s management of the Farms Sanitary District and its relationship to its citizen advisory groups. Below, silent applause continues beyond the chairman’s caution against a public display of support for speakers.

“The fact that you all are unwilling to answer questions is reprehensible. It is disgusting. And it speaks of an absolute disregard for any citizen requests, partnerships with citizen advisory boards, or any transparency. It speaks volumes,” Saber concluded as the timer began beeping. She left the podium glaring the board’s way as scattered applause began, leading Chairman Cook to caution citizens – “No applause, please. We don’t need applause,” which brought silence though one man seated two rows behind the podium continued a silent applause gesture for several seconds.

The Farms Sanitary District officials’ concerns come at a time the incumbent supervisor’s majority in office going into their fourth year (Cullers, Oates, Mabe), without dissent from two-year members Cook and Butler, continue to publicly brag about not having raised taxes during their tenure during one of the most inflationary periods of the past 50, if not 100 years in the U.S. economy. The looming question for many in the Farms is how does a municipal government maintain service levels without increased revenue during such an inflationary period, especially when you continue to opt for higher-cost road infrastructure projects recommended by county staff versus lower-cost ones recommended by your various citizen advisory bodies? – Do you simply use up all your various fund reserves, potentially weakening the County bond rating if your reserves go below prescribed levels, or as some seem to suspect, “rob Peter to pay Paul” as in shifting some Farms Sanitary District tax revenue to uses outside the Sanitary District where there is a revenue void?

Click here to see these remarks at the above-noted spots in the meeting video.

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Blue Ridge Arts Council

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Fussell Florist

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Garcia & Gavino Family Bakery

Gourmet Delights Gifts & Framing

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I Want Candy

I'm Just Me Movement

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KW Solutions

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Main Street Travel

Makeover Marketing Systems

Marlow Automotive Group

Mary Carnahan Graphic Design

Merchants on Main Street

Mountain Trails

Mountain View Music

National Media Services

Natural Results Chiropractic Clinic

No Doubt Accounting

Northwestern Community Services Board

Ole Timers Antiques

Penny Lane Hair Co.

Philip Vaught Real Estate Management

Phoenix Project

Reaching Out Now

Rotary Club of Warren County

Royal Blends Nutrition

Royal Cinemas

Royal Examiner

Royal Family Bowling Center

Royal Oak Bookshop

Royal Oak Computers

Royal Oak Bookshop

Royal Spice

Ruby Yoga

Salvation Army

Samuels Public Library

SaVida Health

Skyline Insurance

Shenandoah Shores Management Group

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The Institute for Association & Nonprofit Research

The Studio-A Place for Learning

The Valley Today - The River 95.3

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Vetbuilder.com

Warren Charge (Bennett's Chapel, Limeton, Asbury)

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Warren County Department of Social Services

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