Following public criticism from one citizen, Gary Kushner, during public remarks at its Tuesday morning, September 3 meeting, the Warren County Board of Supervisors took an about face on an item listed as routine business within its Consent Agenda.
That item was a planning staff request to return the Crooked Run West (aka Crooked Run 2) residential rezoning request to the County Planning Commission for reconsideration due to changes to the applicant’s proposal package.
Those changes include a reduction in the size (54 acres from 109); type (all apartments or assisted living units from mixed single-family, apartments and age restricted; total number of residential units, to 750 from 1,025); and private funding of road improvements rather than seek VDOT revenue sharing assistance.
The latter transportation funding change notes that planned road construction will not extend new roadway from Crooked Run Boulevard to Ritenour Hollow Road to the north, the latter a state-maintained road and second exit path from the development. The planning staff summary also observes that the remaining 55 acres will remain zoned commercial, at least for now.
Town Planning Director Taryn Logan explained her department felt the submitted changes were significant enough to justify a revisiting by the planning commission.
However in his remarks, Bentonville resident Kushner wondered if the item’s presence on the Consent Agenda limiting public or board discussion could be a sign of political subterfuge. He noted the planning commission’s initial review resulted in an April recommendation of denial of the rezoning request as non-compliant with the County’s Comprehensive Plan for future development.
Kushner told the county board of supervisors that were the town council to approve the request for central water-sewer service outside the town limits in this case it would set a precedent for future requests relinquishing the Town’s control of its own utilities.
The public consensus is that without Town central water-sewer the project cannot be developed.
“If the town council denies access to public water-sewer service to a high-density residential development beyond its borders, as it should, the project will get the death that it deserves,” Kushner said of a point perhaps better made at Town Hall.
However he then added pointedly to county officials, “This board has a separate duty to all its citizens and it should act now … the objective elements of this project overwhelmingly confirm that it’s not in the best interest of the citizens of this county. The board should not delay the process any further, “Kushner said in urging the supervisors proceed with its public hearing, rather than taking a second shot at a more favorable recommendation from the planning commission.
South River Supervisor Linda Glavis asked County Planning Director Logan about the impact on the process were the board to follow Kushner’s suggestion and proceed to its public hearing on the Crooked Run West proposal. Logan indicated that county planning department staff would then review the submitted changes, rather than the board-appointed planning commission.
While time would still be added to the process, upon the staff review the board could then hold its public hearing expediting the process without a second planning commission public hearing being held.
With some confusion as to the wording of the subsequent motion made by Glavis, a 3-2 majority – Murray, Glavis, Fox for; Carter and Sayre against – approved moving the process toward a final public hearing before the supervisors, rather than a second go round with the planning commission regarding the applicant’s changed proposal.
The applicant changes appear geared to stem public opposition to the project. Past public comment has indicated a fairly substantial public majority opposing the change from future commercial development to residential.
That requested zoning change also brings into question past town council approval of the extension Town central water utility to the property. That approval was okayed for future commercial development only. In explaining the zoning change request at past public discussion the applicant Crooked Run West LLC, represented by Tom Mercuro, Ed Murphy and real estate attorney Joe Silek Jr., have addressed a change in commercial development patterns toward increased online transactions leading to a significant fall off in brick and mortar commercial and retail development.
The fact that the Town of Front Royal has about 750 undeveloped acres earmarked for future residential development off Happy Creek Road has played a role in the public and municipal debate over the Crooked Run West rezoning request.
County Board Chair Dan Murray asked Town Manager Joe Waltz about the status of that undeveloped land, 604 acres of which was allowed by the County to be annexed into the town limits in 2014 to facilitate residential development within state guidelines on where such development should occur. Murray suggested that if there are no signs that land will be residentially developed, it be given back to the County.
However Waltz replied that the town government had launched a more proactive effort to address hindrances, including within its own subdivision ordinances that may be holding up the planned development of the Front Royal Limited Partnership (FRLP) property.
See the discussion in its entirety as both the County and Town traverse a delicate and volatile public and policy landscape with potential long-term effects on the future of Town control of its own utilities in this Royal Examiner video:
Sign, sign everywhere a sign
This is the season where political signs are everywhere. Questions have been asked about these signs. The answers in this conversation with Warren County Zoning Administrator Joe Petty and Front Royal Zoning Administrator Jeremy Camp. They are in the Royal Examiner studio with our publisher Mike McCool.
EDA – Do we want something different? Now is the time to say
“Do we want something different? Now is the time to say, ” said Councilman Jacob Meza.
At the Front Royal Town Council work session on September 16, 2019, Councilman Meza gave an update from the recent EDA Reform Committee meeting. During this discussion, Mayor Matt Tederick brought up the probability of the Town to create its own Economic Development Authority. He said that it would not be uncommon as other communities in Virginia have established such entities.
The discussion continued concerning the “double” draws from the Towns line of credit. Mayor Tederick said, “As soon as the Town was aware of the transaction, Town officials reported to the proper authorities of what gave the appearance of something inappropriate.” He went on and said, “We’re not paying for it. Town citizens are not paying for that money.”
Councilman Chris Holloway ask Town Attorney Doug Napier, “If the bank mistakenly puts a million dollars in my bank account and I spend it, is it criminal?”
Vice-Mayor Sealock informed Councilman Meza to watch his words concerning the Police Department project, “The Police Department is not finished. There is a major punch list.” Councilman Meza clarified his words.
Town Council members went into a closed meeting to consult with legal counsel and staff regarding “probable litigation,” as well as to discuss and consider “performance, demotion, salaries, disciplining, or resignation of specific public officers, appointees, or employees of Town Council,” according to the agenda.
Watch the discussion on this Royal Examiner video:
Personnel items at forefront of supervisors last meeting of September
At its meeting of Tuesday evening, September 17, the Warren County Board of Supervisors announced the contracting of an interim county attorney; the pending departure of County Finance Director Andre Fletcher, and the reappointment of George Cline Jr. to a new four-year term on the County Board of Building Code Appeals.
The attorney and Cline announcements came after a 15 minute closed session near the meeting’s end. Fletcher’s resignation, effective October 18, was announced by County Administrator Doug Stanley during his report to the board. Fletcher is leaving for a job at the Prince William County Sheriff’s Office where he has previously worked, Stanley said.
Jason Ham, who represented the County Board of Building Code Appeals at last week’s Buracker Construction-Kristie Atwood Building Code Appeals hearing, was present in departed County Attorney Dan Whitten’s seat during Tuesday’s meeting. Ham confirmed to media following the meeting that he works for Litten & Sipe LLP which is the firm contracted to handle the County’s legal responsibilities on an interim basis pending the hiring of a full-time replacement for Whitten.
Whitten’s final day officially was September 13, though he indicated last week he might actually work through the weekend. Whitten left the county attorney’s position here to take the county attorney’s job in Prince George County, Virginia. Whitten was elevated to the County’s top legal job upon the retirement of Blair Mitchell in the spring of 2016.
Assistant county attorney at the time, Whitten was appointed interim county attorney on May 1, 2016, then named county attorney four months later on September 1. His tenure at the top of the County, and consequently the EDA, legal hierarchy overlapped the evolution of a number of EDA projects begun during his predecessor’s term that are now key elements in the EDA financial fraud investigation and consequent civil litigation.
Those include the ITFederal project at the EDA’s Royal Phoenix Business Park now listed as the vehicle for a fraudulently-acquired $10 million loan from the EDA and the Workforce Housing Project now written off as $640,000 loss begun in 2014 as a $10 gift to the EDA from the former EDA executive director’s uncle and aunt; then purchased by the EDA for $445,000 in April 2017; and then sold to representatives of a regional developer for $10 in late November 2018* – wasn’t it fun, Dan?
Fletcher was appointed interim finance director on September 1, 2016, the same day Whitten had the “interim” removed from his title; and had that word removed from his job description on April 1, 2017. Fletcher replaced Kathleen Dellinger who held the position for just over a year following the April 30, 2015 retirement of long-time County Finance Director Carolyn Stimmel. Stimmel has enjoyed her retirement by continuing to periodically help out around the Warren County Government Center, and even more excitingly this year, at the EDA office – isn’t retirement a blast, Carolyn?
Coincidentally on Tuesday, County Human Resources Director Jodi Saffelle gave an update on the status of implementation of Phase One of a Compensation Plan in the wake of a consultant’s compensation study of county government employee salary levels both internally and compared to surrounding jurisdictions.
While the current cost estimate of $321,886 and change is nearly $22,000 above the amount authorized by the board for Phase One implementation, Saffelle reported that “staff anticipates savings that will keep the funding well within the approved range of $300,000.”
Among the variables impacting those savings are changes at the top of several Constitutional Office departments. Among those are Treasurer, Sheriff, Circuit Court Clerk and Commonwealth’s Attorney, all of which had retirements, two (Circuit Court Clerk Daryl Funk and Commonwealth’s Attorney Brian Madden) to judicial appointments, at the top position within the last year.
The fifth county constitutional officer is the commissioner of the revenue, who has not retired – have you, Sherry?
And speaking of constitutional offices, on Tuesday the supervisors unanimously approved a joint request by Sheriff Michael Arnold and Interim Commonwealth’s Attorney Bryan Layton to move the County’s Victim-Witness Coordinator’s position from the sheriff’s to the commonwealth attorney’s office.
Human Resources Director Saffelle’s summary of the request noted Sheriff Arnold’s observation that most jurisdictions place that position within the auspices of the commonwealth attorney’s office. Examples offered were Clarke, Fauquier, Frederick, Shenandoah and Page Counties and the City of Winchester – well, that pretty much has us surrounded.
It was also noted that the position, which is currently vacant here, is enabled through a grant awarded to the County by the Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Services. Saffelle told the supervisors that Sheriff Arnold, Layton and County Administrator Doug Stanley were working with the grant administrator to assure the change, if approved, would be reported to the proper state administrative sources, so as not to interfere with the grant process in coming years.
Tuesday’s meeting got off to a colorful start with the presentation of a Dr. Joseph Warren informational plaque for the Warren County Government Center commemorating the Revolutionary War figure for whom the county is named. As noted by Larry Johnson in prefacing the presentation, similar plaques have been place in all nine county public schools as an educational initiative.
It was noted by members of the James Wood Chapter of the Sons of the American Revolution that the presentation was being made on the “Birthday of the American Constitution”. It was on September 17, 1787 that the Constitutional Convention that saw the writing and signing of the U.S. Constitution came to a close in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Items included the presentation by Johnson, Chapter President Dale Corey, Ned Farenholtz and Dale Carpenter referenced Dr. Joseph Warren of Massachusetts as a “forgotten Founding Father” who might have been president of the young nation had he not been targeted and killed by the British at the Battle of Bunker Hill.
See this entertaining, informational and colorful start to Tuesday’s meeting and the rest of the county business conducted in this linked Royal Examiner video:
* FOOTNOTE: Whitten did not act as EDA legal counsel on that Nov. 28, 2018 Workforce Housing parcel sale, having recused due to a County-EDA conflict of interest. Local real estate attorney Joe Silek Jr. represented the ED
Town Engineer presents South Street Traffic Study update to Council
At the Front Royal Town Council meeting on September 23, 2019, Council will approve a budget amendment in the amount of $2,823.09 to accept funds from Edward Greco for the CDBG façade improvement program related to 109 E Main Street. The funds obtained from Mr. Greco and the funds from the Community Development Block Grant will be used to pay the contractor for the façade improvement program.
As the Town moves forward with façade improvements, future budget amendments will need to be approved in order for the Town to accept the funds from the property owners. The amounts
required to be paid by the property owners are dependent on the amount of bid being awarded, so the Town will be unable to process the budget amendments in advance. Budget amendments
In November of 2015, VDOT completed a draft version of a planning level corridor study of South Street between the intersections with Royal Avenue and Commerce Avenue.
At the request of the Town of Front Royal, Virginia, VDOT Staunton District Planning initiated a planning level corridor study in the Spring of 2015 along South Street (Route 55) between the intersections with Royal Avenue (US 340) and Commerce Avenue (US 522). The Town wants to evaluate the applicability and effectiveness of a Road Diet improvement along South Street, in order to enhance multimodal safety and operations along the corridor, as well as aesthetic enhancements. A Road Diet is a practice where vehicular travel lanes are eliminated in order to provide multimodal enhancements such as bike lanes and improved sidewalks along the roadway, in order to improve safety for all users of the corridor.
Where existing pavement and right‐of‐way widths permit, a Road Diet may also incorporate medians for improved pedestrian crossings and landscaping. In order to effectively evaluate a Road Diet improvement along the corridor, the study also analyzes a future No Build scenario and an Access Management improvement scenario as alternatives to the Road Diet improvement.
At the September 16, 2019 Town Council work session, Town Engineer Robert Brown presented a summary of suggestions to the Council.
Watch the discussion of these two items in this Royal Examiner video:
Town Council updated on downtown, revenue-sharing projects
FRONT ROYAL — Infrastructure improvement projects and downtown revitalization work, both partially funded by the state, are progressing, said Front Royal staff during the Front Royal Town Council’s Monday night work session.
Town Engineer Robert Brown said that Town staff has applied to the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) for revenue-sharing funds that would pay half of the total costs of three local infrastructure improvement projects.
If approved, the funding would become available in fiscal year 2021, Brown said.
“All three projects have made it through the pre-screening process and the next step is to complete the application,” Brown told Town Council members, who now must pass a resolution in support of the projects to get the application filed by the October 1 deadline.
The three projects are:
- To mill and repave both the northbound and southbound lanes of N. Royal Avenue from W. 14th Street to Commerce Avenue;
- Removing the wooden deck on the Prospect Street bridge and replacing it with a concrete deck, installing VDOT-compliant railings, and repaving both approaches; and
- Replacing the roughly 18 decorative acorn street light poles along N. Shenandoah Avenue from 14th Street to the South Fork bridge with 30’ overhead lights matching those already installed on the bridges.
Brown said the N. Royal Avenue paving project’s total cost is $208,000 with the Town match being $104,000. The Prospect Street bridge repairs would cost $200,000 with the Town match being half of that amount, he said, and the N. Shenandoah Avenue project’s total price tag is $265,000 with the Town match being $132,500.
Town Council members agreed with the staff’s recommendation to consider the resolution at its next regular meeting, which is September 23.
Jeremy Camp, director of Front Royal’s Planning and Zoning department, updated Town Council on the status of several project activities that are part of the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program, which are federal funds administered by the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development.
The Town was originally awarded a $700,000 grant for economic development, specifically for revitalization of the downtown area. “We’ve focused on the short-term plans because the grant was only $700,000,” Camp said, adding that the Town currently is in the CDBG implementation stage of the grant, which runs through September 25, 2020.
The CDBG project activities include the design and construction of a pavilion and public restrooms on the Town Plaza costing $219,680. All plans must be submitted by December and construction is scheduled to begin in March 2020 with most of the project finished mid-summer next year, said Camp.
Another CDBG project is the Façade Improvement Program to assist downtown property owners in restoring their building facades by giving out so-called grant funds, which Camp said the owners would have to match by at least 50 percent of a project’s total cost.
Construction is slated to start next month on Round 1A of the Façade Improvement Program, which has two more rounds with construction beginning and ending at different intervals next year. Round 1A construction is set to end in January 2020.
“Staff is actively speaking with contractors to raise awareness and interest in bidding on the projects,” said Camp, who noted that related advertising is being done via social media, news outlets, flyers, and the Chamber of Commerce, among others.
In a related item, Town Finance Director B.J. Wilson requested that Town Council approve a budget amendment in the amount of $2,823.09 to accept funds from Edward Greco for the CDBG façade improvement program related to 109 E Main Street.
The funds obtained from Greco and the funds from the CDBG will be used to pay the contractor for the façade improvement program, Wilson explained, noting that as the Town moves forward with façade improvements, future budget amendments will need to be approved in order for the Town to accept the funds from the property owners.
The amounts required to be paid by the property owners are dependent on the amount of bid being awarded, so the Town will be unable to process the budget amendments in advance, Wilson said, adding that the budget amendments will need to be processed as the bids are awarded.
Following the discussion of other agenda items — including a draft traffic study for South Street and an update from Councilman Jacob Meza on his attendance at the recent EDA Reform Committee meeting —Town Council members went into a closed meeting to consult with legal counsel and staff regarding “probable litigation,” as well as to discuss and consider “performance, demotion, salaries, disciplining, or resignation of specific public officers, appointees, or employees of Town Council,” according to the agenda.
Interim Mayor Matthew Tederick told the Royal Examiner that no announcements would be made regarding the closed meeting.
Also in attendance at the work session were Vice Mayor William Sealock; Councilman Gary Gillispie; Councilman Chris Holloway; Town Attorney Douglas Napier; Councilman Eugene Tewalt; Councilwoman Letasha Thompson; Town Manager Joe Waltz; and Clerk of Council Jennifer Berry.
County Building Code Appeals Board reduces Atwood violations to five
A second Warren County Building Code violations appeal go-round between local builder Buracker Construction and disgruntled home construction client Kristie Atwood on Tuesday, September 10, resulted in a similar result to a first appeal go round in 2018.
That result was a reduction from six to five determined code violations on the Atwood home construction project; as well as a promised appeal to the state review level by Buracker attorney T. Joel Francis on those five Warren County Building Code Appeals Board violations rulings. Atwood had claimed 60 violations based on an independent contractor inspection 12 to 14 months after she moved in to the new home.
The dispute revolves around Buracker Construction’s 2016 building of Atwood’s replacement home on Pilgrim’s Way in Bentonville. Atwood lost her previous home to fire.
In 2016 the County Building Code Department inspected the home upon completion, found no violations and a Certificate of Occupancy was issued on July 19, 2016. Fourteen months later after having moved in Atwood contracted a home inspection company not licensed in Warren County which reported 60 alleged code violations. Upon its first review the County Building Code Appeals Board initially cited 12 potential code violations, a number eventually reduced to six and Tuesday down to five.
A first appeal to the state level of that ruling resulted in the case being returned due to a conflict of interest determination. David Buracker, principal of Buracker Construction is on the county appeals board but recused himself from the case. The conflict was alleged by Atwood with Appeals Board member George Cline Jr. Buracker had sub-contracted Cline to fix those initial code violation determinations when Atwood refused to let Buracker to do the work. She claimed the Buracker Construction company wasn’t licensed in the county.
That led to a somewhat convoluted back and forth during a July hearing in which County Building Code Official David Beahm noted that Buracker himself and a related contracting LLC run by Martha Buracker were licensed. Beahm claimed the state typically allowed such licensing arrangements leading to his approval of Buracker to build in Warren County. Atwood disagreed and would not allow Buracker to engage in repair work or subcontract the repair work out to Cline.
When Cline participated in the 2018 county appeals board review, the conflict of interest claim was lodged by Atwood, leading to Tuesday’s board review of its initial ruling when Cline participated. Only appeals board members Arthur Saffelle, Dan Hotek and Wendell Hatcher participated in Tuesday’s hearing.
Buracker attorney Francis questioned Atwood’s motivation. He noted that the appeals board’s authority came down to ruling on violations and authorizing fixes of those violations.
“What’s the remedy – a violation is determined and has to be fixed or the responsible party has to pay to have it fixed,” Francis told the board, adding that he believed Atwood “is not looking for a fix, she is looking for a windfall – and that’s not coming from this board … That’s why we have judges … and I don’t think any of you want to be judges,” Francis told the board, drawing some smiles.
“I am not looking for a windfall,” Atwood responded during her rebuttal to the Buracker case. She pointed to the licensing issue which she said left her with no remedy from the state level, adding, “I’m screwed all the way around.”
She then attacked County Building Official Beahm – “I’m calling him out, he’s not doing his job … the board of supervisors should have fired him; it’s not just me. What if someone’s house burns down and kills them all? There are lives on the line and he shouldn’t be allowed to get away with it.”
The three-person board quorum then launched into discussion of its authority and perception of the building issues under review. Hotek and Hatcher agreed to uphold the board’s earlier ruling on five of the six violations found with Cline participating. So it would seem Atwood did better with the allegedly conflicted board member than without.
Board Chairman Saffelle dissented on the violations, stating he felt the determinations fell beyond the board’s authority.
A 10-minute recess was called to allow appeals board attorney Jason Ham to craft a Resolution reflecting the board decision. That decision by the 2-1 majority was that items referred to as numbers 3, 4, 7, 10 and 12 remained code violations as they stood by the 2009 Uniform State Building Code. Two related to work around a fireplace, the other four outside deck support.
The Royal Examiner’s camera was there: