Shenandoah Farms Sanitary District Advisory Committee Chair tells county supervisors they are poised to repeat EDA financial scandal mistakes
As promised, sports fans – coverage of another side of the Warren County Board of Supervisors meeting of November 16th, including Public Comments following the feel-good opening revolving around the life-saving actions of Skyline High students Parker McGann and Carson Richardson. Four Public Comments speakers followed Fire & Rescue Lt. Austin Cucciardo’s opening acknowledgment of the teens to the podium, all four addressing Shenandoah Farms Sanitary District issues. First two up, John Cermak and Kathleen George, addressed specific topics related to sanitary district properties, which we will get to below. But it was the final two speakers who raised troubling issues surrounding the board’s management of the Farms Sanitary District and plans for its accumulated tax revenues currently cited at $3.2 million dollars.
Could the supervisors be ignoring the next financial-scandal powder keg brewing under their noses despite information being brought to them by two successive advisory groups, one of those speakers asked. Continuing with the sports-writing metaphor, last batter up, but first on the “Where did that ball she hit land? – And was it fair or foul?!?” Public Comments speaker list was Sarah Saber. Formerly vice-chair, Saber is now the supervisor-appointed Farms Sanitary District Advisory Committee chairperson in the wake of the November 3rd resignation of initial Chairman Bruce Boyle at the conclusion of his final meeting that night.
In explaining his resignation on November 3rd, Boyle expressed frustration at the Advisory Committee’s lack of success in receiving support from the board of supervisors on the committee’s advice concerning which road capital improvement projects should be pursued as the best “bang” for the Farms’ residents’ “bucks” of tax revenue paid to the County, versus conflicting opinions of county staff, Sanitary District Manager Michael Coffelt and Public Works Director Mike Berry. In fact, Boyle told his committee and others present November 3rd , including November 16th public speaker Joe Andrews and the supervisors’ Farms Advisory Committee liaison Walt Mabe, that he and his wife are planning a move out of Shenandoah Farms and Warren County.
But apparently Boyle is not the only one feeling such frustration levels. Previously, Property Owners of Shenandoah Farms (POSF) member Joe Longo resigned from the Warren County Planning Commission amidst his concerns the supervisors were running the Farms Sanitary District “like a criminal operation”, concealing information on how and why the district’s tax revenue was being spent as it was over the objection, initially of the POSF Board of Directors, and now it seems contrary to the supervisors’ own appointed advisory committee’s advice.
Enter Farms Sanitary District Advisory Committee Chairperson Sarah Saber at the 14:55 mark of the linked County video of the November 16 supervisors meeting. Remember, she’s got three minutes to make her case.
Why have an advisory board if you won’t listen to their advice?
“You all know who I am because you put me on this advisory board after you dissolved our citizen-elected board, which I also was at one point in time a part of,” Saber opened, noting she had left the POSF board in the hope of making a difference within the structure the supervisors had chosen to take, cutting POSF out of the Sanitary District management equation. “Since then I have gotten nothing but blatant unwillingness from you, Delores; from you, Cheryl; from you, Vicky; especially from you, Walt,” she said pointedly to the supervisors’ representative to the Farms Advisory Committee, adding, “Jay as well,” of the absent Jay Butler. “So, I’m done staying involved in the outright, blatant misuse of funds – this is not some conspiracy, this is well-documented. We’re bringing these issues to you and you are allowing your paid employees to look the other way.”
Saber’s reference to “conspiracy” theories appeared to be an acknowledgment that it seems to be individual Farms residents and anti-POSF conspiracy theorists that have the county’s elected officials’ ears more so than their designated Farms advisory groups; first, the community-elected POSF Board of Directors, and now the supervisor-appointed advisory committee Saber chairs. In fact, later in her comments Saber alluded to apparent consequences of certain Farms resident’s anti-POSF allegations.
“And you, Cheryl, have done nothing after you and Delores made such a stink and stomped down to the POSF Inc. office (to) ‘audit us now’ and you want to sit there till 10 o’clock at night and audit our books. And you found nothing (indicative of wrongdoing). But I’ve handed you an illustrated disregard and misuse of funds on a silver platter, and you’ve looked the complete opposite direction. In fact, you’re telling us that we’re wrong. Do you realize how absurd that is?” Saber asked board Chair Cullers, reminding her that she has not attended one of the supervisors-initiated Shenandoah Farms Sanitary District Advisory Committee meetings. “You haven’t been to a single one. Do you remember what I said when I sat down at the interview when you hand-appointed me to the position? So, where’s the involvement, where’s the oversight??” Saber asked.
“Now all of you want to be unassociated with the embezzlement scandal, and all of that,” Saber said broaching the “reform” aspect, particularly of the three, three-year tenured supervisors Cullers, Oates, and Mabe, regarding their campaigns for office in the wake of the EDA financial scandal and alleged embezzlement of EDA resources. “But you’re standing here seeing it happen again, and you’re doing nothing. Do you want that on you? Because we’ve got $3-million dollars at stake right now,” Saber said of the Farms Sanitary District’s reported tax revenue account balance ($3.2 million) and the ongoing Farms stakeholders debates with county staff over the direction of that balance’s future use, particularly on road upgrade and maintenance projects.
“And it’s another million every year that you’re watching them piss away. And you’re being told they’re pissing it away and you’re ignoring it,” at which point Board Chair Cullers interrupted Saber to warn her about her use of language to which Saber replied, “Excuse me, piss is not a curse word,” to which Cullers responded, “I know, but let’s remember where we are.”
“Yeah, we’re in front of the government that’s been put in place to not allow our taxpayer funds to be thrown in the trash,” Saber observed, continuing to confront the supervisors over their past financial scandal “reform” image.
“I mean, you’re allowing it to happen again, you’re allowing it to happen. I’ve told you the issues are there. You’ve said ‘Take it to Ed Daley’. Whose employee is Ed Daley? Who has oversight over him? Isn’t that your job? Isn’t that the full reason you’re sitting up there?” Saber pressed her point as Cullers informed Saber her three minutes of Public Comment time had expired, at which point Saber glared at board of supervisors’ advisory committee meeting observer Mabe, offering a parting and less-than-favorable opinion of his liaison work between the board and its advisory committee. At that point Cullers told Saber to leave the podium or be escorted from the premises by Sheriff’s Office security, as Saber returned to her seat with a final held glare Mabe’s way.
Joe Andrews sets the table
Prior to Saber’s pointed assault on the supervisors lack of attention to Advisory Committee advice from Sanitary District stakeholders and blind adherence to staff counterpoints to that advice, Joe Andrews stepped up to the podium to address the supervisors: “I’m here tonight to talk to you about sanitary districts in general – I ask that the County get out of the public’s business. I don’t personally live in a sanitary district. I fear that one day I would. In any one of the neighborhoods where I own property, I’d hate to see the overreach I see in some of these sanitary districts,” Andrews said in opening.
“In Shenandoah Farms what I’ve witnessed is an elected board (POSF) being pretty much done away with. You folks have appointed your own advisory board that you neglect to listen to – That’s a fact, it’s not an opinion. You’ve got a few people between you and the advisory board that are stonewalling you and giving you misinformation. That’s a fact – I witnessed it at the last advisory board meeting (of Nov. 3),” Andrews observed in an apparent reference to involved county staff, as noted above County Sanitary District Manager Michael Coffelt and Public Works Director Mike Berry, both present as Andrews spoke.
“I would say at this time you really need to keep an eye on the folks you’re putting all this trust in. I see them asking you to spend money on unnecessary equipment; I see them purchasing materials that are improper for the job; I’ve seen them lie and say the materials are cheaper than the alternatives – not the case,” Andrews asserted with a negative head shake. He continued to question an apparent staff recommendation to add a road, Dry Run Court, into the Farms Sanitary District. “That road is going to be a headache for you. It’s something you probably better look into a whole lot more than your trusted folks are telling you. They’re telling you that it’s okay, it’s no big deal. It’ll take a little shoeshine, this road’s going to be okay. Trust me, it’s not the case.
“What I’d like for you folks to consider is getting rid of sanitary districts – get out of it, get out of the business. Let’s give these people their money back. Show them where the books are, show them the books (on sanitary district tax collection balances and revenue expenditures), have some transparency, give them all their money back and get out of the business,” Andrews suggested with an observation he said was offered without malice, only to illustrate why his suggestion should be taken seriously.
“I don’t think you’re equipped … you folks don’t know the road business. You have no business telling these people how to spend their money. And if they spend it the wrong way – let ’em do it. But you can’t tell them how to spend it when you, yourself don’t know whether it’s right or wrong. And the people that are feeding you the information don’t know,” Andrews concluded with a thank you for his three minutes to present his case.
Softer(?) Farms Sanitary District issues
Earlier Public Comments speaker and Farms resident John Cermak asked the board to deny the Conditional Use Permit (CUP) request of Jeffrey Steven Taylor for Private Use Camping on property located off of Howellsville Road listed under “Unfinished Business” in the meeting agenda. Later, after board and staff review of past issues with stored materials and inoperable vehicles on the property, as well as flooding threats to materials that might be kept for camping uses, the board denied the permitting by a 4-0 vote (Butler absent).
Kathleen George then addressed the board concerning “Common Properties” of general use to residents of the Shenandoah Farms Sanitary District. She noted the importance of these properties to residents and the necessity of their upkeep and facilities’ public availability regardless of who had ownership or management authority.
Currently those properties are under the ownership and management authority of the Property Owners of Shenandoah Farms (POSF). POSF, which has been a voluntary membership group creating issues around its status as a POA, was the Farms Sanitary District’s first management entity, circa mid-1990s to 2010/11, and for the next decade official advisors to the County on management issues and Capital Improvement Projects after turning what had climbed to a six-or-seven figure annual Sanitary District management budget over to the county government for direct oversight in 2011. However, the supervisors now appear reluctant to fund POSF for any Sanitary District oversight activities in the wake of POSF’s effort earlier this year to regain management authority by voiding the 11-year-old management agreement between POSF and the County.
That effort, according to POSF officials, was motivated by several years of a lack of financial accounting, and a lack of responsiveness to POSF budget and management inquiries by the new county board majority – Cullers, Mabe, Oates, elected three years ago as “reform” candidates in the wake of the EDA financial scandal. But rather than reinstate POSF as the Sanitary District’s manager, as noted above the county board created its own appointed Farms Sanitary District Advisory Committee, while maintaining Farms Sanitary District management authority, cutting POSF out of the equation, other than the aforementioned Common Properties ownership/upkeep.
Perhaps in a hint of what was to come, that supervisors’ reluctance to fund POSF for its existing common properties management in the Farms comes despite the recommendation of its own Farms Sanitary District Advisory Committee for at least one year of funding of POSF at $52,000 to cover its existing Common Properties ownership, management responsibilities. No action was taken on this matter Wednesday night.
In other agenda action items, by successive 4-0 votes the board approved one rezoning request and three Conditional Use Permit applications following public hearings. All four were forwarded by the County Planning Commission with recommendations for approval. Those were:
Ray Pennington and W.P. Associates rezoning request from Residential 1 (R-1) to Agricultural (A) for several lots totaling 640+ acres, with as staff noted 741 “previously platted parcels” that are part of a conservation easement accepted by the county in 2012. The staff agenda packet summary noted that: “The applicant is proposing the rezoning to allow for agricultural/forestal land uses and construction of buildings that conform to the Agricultural Zoning district for the large lots which are also consistent with and conforming to uses and development allowed by the conservation easement.” Despite the concern of some neighbors, including Public Hearing speaker Kathleen Mancini, in the vicinity of the property located off Reynolds Dr., Switchback Rd., Elseas Farm Rd., and High Top Rd. in Linden where some past logging activities have occurred, following the background explanation of Planning Director Matt Wendling, on a motion by Supervisor Cook, seconded by Oates, the rezoning was approved by a 4-0 vote.
CUP request of Ryan Wesley Eshelman for Combination of a Single-Family Dwelling Unit and a Commercial Repair Garage & Wrecking Service located at 1034 Rivermont Drive. The staff summary noted: “The property was formerly used as a commercial garage by the applicant’s father, Mark Eshelman who was issued a conditional use permit in October 1987. His father closed the business in 2009 and the permit has since expired. The applicant will be using the existing 36’X 50’ garage shop for repair and will use the existing sign, parking will be along the driveway to the shop on either side. He states that hours of operation will be Monday thru Friday 8:00AM to 5:00PM and that his wife will be the only other employee of the business as an office manager and bookkeeper. All parts and materials related to the auto repair business will be stored inside the garage and storage containers for fluids will be adequately labeled.” On a motion by Oates, seconded by Mabe, the CUP was approved by a 4-0 vote.
CUP request of Cindy L. DuVall for a Short-Term Tourist Rental located at 197 Marissa Court, on a motion by Mabe, seconded by Cook, approved 4-0.
CUP request of Jay Newell for private-use camping (non-commercial) located off Avalon Drive, also approved unanimously on motion by Cook, seconded by Oates.
The board also approved a meeting schedule for calendar year 2023. On a suggestion by Supervisor Oates, the board approved a third scheduling option not submitted by staff, without 9 a.m. meetings scheduled in part to facilitate outside agency monthly updates. Oates noted her and the absent Supervisor Butler’s daytime work schedules in offering the suggestion. Despite some question about its impact on outside agency staff, particularly those traveling from out of town, the board approved the morning-less schedule by a 4-0 vote.
Click here to watch all these discussions and votes in the County video.
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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