The question at root of legal dispute over Meza Council appointment
Was Jacob Meza’s appointment to the Front Royal Town Council on January 4 a legal violation of the Town’s own rules designed to prevent the appearance, or actual fact, of cronyism in the conduct of its municipal business? That was a question circulating by a phone conversation, on social media, and around the Royal Examiner office on Tuesday, January 5.
At issue was whether the Town Charter or a Town Code forbids the reappointment of a council member within a year of their leaving council. After taking the public point on a number of controversial council actions over the past several years, including approval of a maternity ward-less Warren Memorial Hospital being constructed by his employer Valley Health, Meza chose not to run for reelection in November 2020. Officially he left office at the turn of the year with the new council members being sworn in, then was appointed by those new and returning members four, two working, days later.
With a little help from our friends, Royal Examiner tracked down the applicable Town Charter reference dating to 1937, Chapter 6, Section § 47. In its entirety it reads: “No member of the council of the Town of Front Royal shall be appointed or elected to any office under the jurisdiction of the council while he is a member of the council, or for one year thereafter, except that the council may appoint one of the members of the council as town treasurer with all or any part of the duties, powers, obligations, and responsibilities of the town treasurer provided by this act (1937, c. 44)”.
At question would appear to be whether council itself is legally considered an “office under the jurisdiction of the council”.
One might argue that council is under the jurisdiction of the citizen electorate every two years when they vote for mayor and half the council seats. But citizens have no day-to-day authority over council operations and policy decisions. And citizens are not authorized to appoint people to immediately fill sudden council vacancies. In fact, it appears a “Special Election” to fill out now-Mayor Holloway’s vacant council seat’s two remaining years term will not be held until November 2021, with the citizens’ choice not taking office until half that term has expired. Whether elected councilmen whose terms haven’t expired should be allowed to seek the mayor’s seat creating unscheduled council vacancies if they win is a philosophical argument for another day.
Today’s argument is by whose authority is council directed in the daily conduct of its business, including appointments to immediately fill vacancies. Theoretically at least, though there have been recent citizen questions whether its “tail” has been wagging the council “dog” over the past year-plus, as Meza’s now and last year Lori Cockrell’s at the end of a long history of appointments illustrate, it is council that has that “jurisdiction”.
So, does Mr. Meza’s appointment – or should we call it reappointment since he first came to council by appointment to fill a previous vacancy – four calendar days after he left office fly in the face of the Charter Section § 47 statement that, “No member of the council of the Town of Front Royal shall be appointed or elected to any office under the jurisdiction of the council while he is a member of the council, or for one year thereafter”?
We sought guidance from attorneys. Town Attorney Doug Napier was out of the office Tuesday, January 5. So, this reporter left him a voice message seeking information on the Charter section and Meza’s appointment. While we did not hear directly back from him, one might say that the Town Attorney responded to our, and apparently other, inquiries on the matter in a press release opinion released through Town Public Information Officer Todd Jones at 6:38 p.m. Tuesday evening, January 5, addressing “press and public” inquiries on the matter.
The short version of Napier’s opinion is that the Charter Section § 47 only addresses what he terms “double-dipping or conflicts of interest where a Town Council member is also an employee of the local government in which he serves.”
That press release assertion by the town attorney that Town Charter Chapter 6, Section § 47 does not apply to council appointments is posted on Royal Examiner’s home page in its entirety, along with a conflicting legal opinion by local attorney David Downes submitted to Royal Examiner Wednesday morning, January 6.
However, yesterday following the unsuccessful attempt to contact Napier directly, this reporter sought the opinion of a local attorney involved in town political issues recently, sometimes in an adversarial position related to parking on his property, but occasionally in a well-received advocacy role as well – guess who: Virginia Beer Museum proprietor and defense counsel David Downes.
Below I will report his initially expressed opinion, given prior to issuance of Town Attorney Napier’s written opinion of Tuesday evening.
After some research, Downes responded. He observed that his exploration of Town Charter Chapter 6, Section § 47 indicated that no amendments have been made to it over its 83-year existence, something that perhaps attorneys will take more note of than a non-legally trained journalist.
“The legal phrase ‘under the jurisdiction of’ is synonymous with ‘subject to the jurisdiction of’ a legal body. If the town council has the jurisdiction to ‘appoint’ the office of town councilman, then section 47 applies, and that jurisdiction is subject to the one-year limitation. In other words, they cannot have it both ways,” Downes told us Tuesday in a written response to our questions.
“The context of Section 47 makes this interpretation clear,” Downes elaborated, adding, “The only exception for council appointments is if ‘one of the members of the council’ is appointed as town treasurer. If the Founding Fathers of Front Royal intended to permit ‘one of the members of the council’ to be immediately re-appointed ‘councilman’, then they could have said so in the Charter.
They chose not to.
“Examining the purpose of this section also supports the reasonable interpretation that ‘under the jurisdiction’ includes all offices within the jurisdiction of council for appointment. The objective is to prevent nepotism and an appearance of impropriety where colleagues would simply reappoint former fellow councilmen after a vacancy is created on the council. Consequently, attempting to appoint Mr. Meza less than one year after his service as a councilman would be an ultra vires act, or outside their lawful authority based on the Town Charter.”
What do YOU think?
Royal Examiner would like to know.
Supervisors approve series of permitting and other requests with little to no public input in monthly public hearing meeting
At 6 p.m. Tuesday, May 23, the Warren County Board of Supervisors held its now third monthly meeting to handle an increase in the number of public hearings it faces fueled largely by short-term tourist rental requests. Following are the seven public hearing items on this agenda and board actions taken.
C. Public Hearing – Lease with Shenandoah Area Agency on Aging, Inc.
A summary and explanation of the lease parameters was given by Assistant County Attorney Caitlin Jordan: “Shenandoah Area Agency on Aging, Inc. (“SAAA”) has leased the County-owned building located at 1217 Commonwealth Avenue, also known as the Senior Center, since approximately May 2001. When the last lease was executed, it was anticipated that the SAAA would move to the Health and Human Services Complex (“Services Complex”) once improvements were complete. While the Services Complex is owned by the Warren County School Board, the County currently leases the Services Complex through a lease agreement dated October 18, 2011 that granted permission to the County to lease a portion of the Services Complex to the SAAA. Now that the improvements are complete, the SAAA would like to lease a portion of the Services Complex for a period of five (5) years, beginning June 1, 2023 and ending on May 30, 2028.”
No one spoke at the public hearing. On a motion by Vice-Chairman Cheryl Cullers, seconded by Delores Oates, by a 4-0 vote, Walt Mabe absent, the supervisor approved a motion to “authorize the County Administrator to execute a lease for a designated area of the Health and Human Services Complex with the Shenandoah Area Agency on Aging, Inc. for a period of five years, beginning June 1, 2023 to May 30, 2028.”
D. Public Hearing – Proposed Amendment to Warren County Code §172-2 “Designation of Certain Private Roads as Highways” to include Blue Ridge Shadows.
Summary and Explanation, again by Assistant County Attorney Jordan: “Lieutenant Seal of the Warren County Sheriff’s Office received the enclosed letter from Scott R. Kresjes, President of the Blue Ridge Shadows Home Owners Association, requesting that the private roads within the Blue Ridge Shadows subdivision be designated as highways for law enforcement purposes. On March 17, 2023 Sheriff Butler submitted a letter to the County Attorney’s Office stating that he was in agreement with the Board of the Blue Ridge Shadows HOA request … Virginia Code Section § 46.2-1307.1 permits the Warren County Board of Supervisors to adopt ordinances designating private roads within any residential development containing 50 or more lots as highways for law enforcement purposes. Blue Ridge Shadows contains 233 lots and may be listed specifically in § 172-2 of the Warren County Code.”
After hearing Blue Ridge Shadows HOA President Kresjes summarize the subdivision’s desire to have all its roads classified as VDOT system “highways” for law enforcement purposes, the board on a motion by Ms. Cullers, seconded by Jay Butler, approved “the amendment to section 172-2 of the Warren County Code to include Blue Ridge Shadows” roads by the “highway” designation by another 4-0 vote.
E. Public Hearing – Conditional Use Permit 2023-03-01, Shelly Cook for a Short-Term Tourist Rental Located at 0 Lee Burke Road and Identified on Tax Map 27E, Section 7, as Parcel 3.
Summary and Explanation presented by Zoning Administrator Chase Lenz: “The applicant is requesting a conditional use permit for a short-term tourist rental for the property she purchased in December of 2015. The subject property is currently under development and is accessed by a private access easement through the adjacent 42.9143-acre parcel also owned by the applicant. The owner is constructing a single-family dwelling on the property to be used as a ‘honeymoon suite’ for her Rural Events Facility approved for her adjacent parcel.”
It was noted in the agenda summary that by a 4-0 vote on April 12, the county planning commission had forwarded the request with a recommendation of approval, with conditions as cited in the packet.
After hearing from the applicant on details of how this “honeymoon suite” short-term rental parcel fits into her overall plan for her Rural Events Center and Vineyard operation, on a motion by Ms. Oates, seconded by Ms. Cullers, by a 4-0 vote the board approved “the Conditional Use Permit request of Shelly Cook for a Short-Term Tourist Rental with the conditions as recommended by the Planning Commission and staff.”
F. Public Hearing – Conditional Use Permit 2023-03-03, David Cressell for Gunsmithing Services Located at 275 Gary Lane and Identified on Tax Map 15D, Section 2, Block 5, as Parcel 206.
Explanation and Summary again by Zoning Administrator Lenz: He explained that the request was in a Residential-One zoning district in the Shenandoah Farms subdivision River View section; and that County codes define Gunsmithing Services as a commercial enterprise where a gunsmith performs repairs, renovations, safety inspections, modification alterations for special uses, and appraisals of firearms and that sales are allowed with proper permitting. But due to state and federal regulations it is not considered a “Home Occupation”.
However, in a residentially zoned location in order to preserve the character of the neighborhood certain conditions were required. Those include no change in the outside appearance of the property. And since the shooting of firearms in the Shenandoah Farms subdivision is prohibited, “all test firing will be conducted offsite and there will be no discharge of firearms associated with the gunsmithing services operation on the property.”
The applicant was present but did not address the board and there were no public hearing speakers or board discussion. On a motion by Mr. Butler the board presumably, since Butler’s microphone was either off or so far from his mouth his voice was not audible, approved the permitting request by a 4-0 vote.
G. Public Hearing – Conditional Use Permit 2023-03-04, Michaun Pierre for a Short-term Tourist Rental Located at 726 Harmony Orchard Road and identified on Tax Map 38C, Section 1, as Parcel 6
Summary and Explanation was by Planning Director Matt Wendling despite the chair’s continued call to a “Mr. Welding” who did not appear to be present. But however you pronounce his name, the planning director explained that Ms. Pierre was requesting the Short-Term Rental Conditional Use Permit for a property she purchased in January of 2023.
She has explained her family is from neighboring Rappahannock County and that she has wanted to move back and own property in the Shenandoah Valley. She told planning department staff that her current work and family situations require her to be transient, so she doesn’t stay at the property full-time and would like to rent it when she’s not staying there. Her long-term plan is to settle here in the future when her life is less transient. She told planning staff she will manage the rentals remotely and hire a local handyman or property management company to handle cleaning and maintenance and be available for emergencies and general property issues. She has submitted a property management plan for review by County staff.
The planning commission forwarded the request in April with a unanimous recommendation of approval with conditions as suggested in the packet.
Again there were no other speakers than the applicant. On a slightly more audible motion by Mr. Butler, seconded by Ms. Oates, the board approved the Conditional Use Permit request of Michaun Pierre for a Short-Term Tourist Rental with the conditions as recommended by the planning commission and staff.
H. Public Hearing – Subdivision Variance #2023-03-01, Erica Baker – for a subdivision variance to Warren County Code 155-3.B(1)(b) of the Subdivision Ordinance, Located at 64 Tara Road, identified on Tax Map 15 as parcel 2C2.
Staff summary again by Planning Director Wendling, who noted that existing County Code §155-3.B(1)(b) of the Subdivision Ordinance requires “that the property owner requesting a subdivision shall have held fee simple title to the property to be subdivided for a period of five years prior to the filing of the family subdivision application with the county.” At this time, staff noted that Ms. Baker and her family have held the property since January 6th, 2022 (approx. 1 year and 2 months). This date was when their father passed away and the property was willed to Roger Smith, Erica Baker, Alise Barton and Alfred E. Smith, Jr.
After hearing from the applicant, there were no other speakers, the board did discuss the matter with the planning director who gave some background on the history of similar requests, though generally not related to a family inheritance based on a death and inheritance division among family members. Then on a motion by Ms. Oates, seconded by Ms. Cullers, approved the subdivision variance “with the condition as recommended by the Planning Commission and staff, that the lot shall not be voluntarily transferred to a non-immediate family member for nine (9) years after approval of the family subdivision plat. This would be in lieu of the required five years and make the time frame approximately ten years.” With those conditions the planning commission forwarded the matter on a 5-0 vote with a recommendation of approval.
I. Public Hearing: re: Warren County Fair Association CUP request for a Motor Freight Terminal.
The evening’s final public hearing was the item added at the meeting’s outset, the Warren County Fair Association’s request for use of a portion of its property as a Motor Freight terminal for overflow trailer parking by the nearby, across Fairgrounds Road, Family Dollar warehouse and distribution center. Planning Director Wendling explained the use was anticipated as a seasonal one around certain holidays, as opposed to a steady year-round use. He noted that Dennis Grove was present representing the Fair Association but did not address the board and no questions were directed his way.
Again, without any public hearing speakers, on a motion by Ms. Cullers, second by Ms. Oates, the board approved the CUP application by a 4-0 vote.
With no new “New Business” on the agenda the meeting was adjourned at 6:36 p.m. Click here to view all or portions of the meeting in the Board of Supervisors Special Meeting.
Mayor and Council acknowledge 2023 Front Royal Scholarship recipients
As noted at the end of our lead story on the Front Royal Town Council’s regular meeting of Monday, May 22, recipients of three annual Town scholarships to graduating seniors from the community’s high schools were announced at that meeting (9:45 video mark). In fact, two of those recipients present at the meeting’s outset led council in the Pledge of Allegiance opening the meeting.
Following are Mayor Lori A. Cockrell’s remarks introducing the trio of Benjamin Windt (R-MA), Tyler Burhams (WCHS), and Landon Pond (WCHS) to council and the public that evening.
“The town awards three scholarships each year to deserving seniors who live in the Town of Front Royal. Both Councilwoman Morris and Councilman Ingram serve on the scholarship committee.
Applications have names and addresses removed before the committee reviews the applications. I believe that choosing just three recipients was very challenging from all of the applications the town received.
“The application requires students to respond to the following areas: post-high school education plans, plans for employment once completing their post-high school education, extra-curricular and community activities while in high school, honors and awards earned, and describing how living in Front Royal has influenced their future plans.
“The first recipient is Benjamin Windt. Benjamin attends Randolph-Macon Academy. He plans to pursue a career in advancing the world’s space capabilities and aeronautical design. While in high school, he was involved in Air Force Junior ROTC, captain of the tennis team, and served as the Student Life Committee’s treasurer. He also is very involved in the local Izaak-Walton League.
Benjamin noted that he has never missed a Festival of Leaves, goes to every Christmas and Firemen’s Parade, the Fourth of July events at 4-H, and baseball games at ‘The Bing’.
“The second recipient is Tyler Burhams. Tyler graduated from Warren County High School last week. Tyler plans to pursue a career in engineering, specifically computer science. Tyler enjoys discovering how things work! In the last couple years, he has learned how to metal cast with a propane furnace, making different types of metal alloys. He noted that living in Front Royal has given him an appreciation for the land, especially the mountains. He enjoys camping, the forest, and wildlife and still has aspirations of a career in preservation, even though he feels engineering is where his strength lies.
“Our third recipient is Landon Pond. Landon also graduated from WCHS last Thursday. He plans to study cybersecurity and computer science. While in high school, he was a member of DECA, National Honor Society, and Wildcats Live and played on the golf, basketball, and baseball teams. I hope Landon doesn’t mind me sharing his comments about living in Front Royal.
“He said, ‘Front Royal will always be an integral part of my story. I am a Southerner, a small-town boy, and a Wildcat for life. No matter where my life’s journey takes me next, Front Royal will remain an emotional landmark filled with all of my firsts, my accomplishments, failures, beginnings, losses, and the fondest of memories. Front Royal embodies all of what truly matters and will forever be the place I call home.’
“Congratulations to all you gentlemen, and I hope all of you always feel a connection to Front Royal and know that your community supports you on your journey and the next chapter of your life,” the mayor, whose career has been in public education, concluded.
Following her remarks council left the dais for congratulatory handshakes and a photo op with these three outstanding students and community members selected from a pool of such students/citizens. As Mayor Cockrell observed in calling the agenda item, it was a very difficult task narrowing that pool down to just three recipients from the Class of 2023.
Good luck to all those students in that pool, the three recipients, and not only Front Royal but all of Warren County’s Class of 2023 graduates. Remember, the future is always only a moment away.
To be or not to be? THAT was the question posed to town council on the future of joint tourism promotional efforts
Front Royal Mayor Lori Cockrell and the town council she chairs may have gotten more than they bargained for after the mayor introduced the “Public Comments” on non-agenda topics section of the regular council meeting on Monday, May 22nd. It was a one-two punch to put up or, if not shut up, to at least inform those involved of the Town’s real intentions moving forward on joint, or not joint, tourism efforts. Those verbal “punches” were delivered by Discover Front Royal (DFR) Chairman Clare Schmitt and Downtown Front Royal (the other DFR’s) board member Ellen Aders.
They came after council had conducted the agenda’s two rather routine public hearings, first approving an ordinance to amend Town Code Chapter 175-137 on Fees, Charges and Expenses to Add the Application Fee of $400 for Processing a Local Board of Building Code Appeals (LBBCA) application; and second, an ordinance to amend a Town Code Chapter (98-2) regarding Business, Professional and Occupational Licensing to add the definitions of “Mobile Food Unit” and “New Business” and related to include additional information to Chapter 98-3 regarding License Requirement to add “Mobile Food Unit” to Chapter 98-61 on Licensing Peddlers and Itinerant Merchants “to incorporate additional legislation enacted by the Code of Virginia § 58.1-3715.1 regarding mobile food units.”
It was perhaps a surprise that no speakers addressed implementation of a $400 fee necessary to challenge any Town Property Maintenance Official’s rulings on derelict or deteriorating properties after council moved toward implementation of the process under discussion for — is it a decade yet? — with the January 2023 establishment of a Local Building Code Board of Appeals. With no speakers at that building code of appeals fee implementation public hearing council may have thought it was going to be a smooth sail through public concerns for the evening. But it wasn’t to be.
Discover Front Royal Board Chairman Schmitt opened by noting the topic of “tourism agreements with both the County and DFR” (Discover Front Royal) was on council’s closed meeting agenda at the open meeting’s end. The closed session motion cited legal advice by counsel towards “1) proposed agreements for promotion of economic interests and tourism with Discover Front Royal, Inc. and Warren County” as one of three closed session topics, another being the dueling civil litigations launched by the Town several years ago against the County and the still legally named Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority.
Schmitt, recently appointed to succeed Kerry Barnhart at the helm of the independent 501-c6 Destination Management Organization (DMO) Discover Front Royal, jointly created by the Town and County to oversee joint tourism efforts, urged council to come out of that closed session discussion with a clear message to all involved on its intent on the future of tourism promotion in the community.
“I’ve heard many of you publicly say, either from this dais or during the liaison meeting or other venues, that you support a joint tourism effort with the County for our region and that you want to move forward with DFR and with the County.
“And so I guess what I’m asking for you all to do is put your money and your vote where your mouth is and move this forward,” Schmitt added pointedly of the conflicting messages she perceives coming from the Town side of the joint tourism equation. Of that mixed message, Schmitt observed that she had heard that some on council, perhaps a majority, did not want to move forward with the joint tourism effort.
“That’s okay … and you won’t hurt my feelings, and you won’t hurt any of my board members’ feelings if you decide to just do your own thing. But what we would ask, if that is, in fact, what the majority wishes, is to stop wasting time and just move forward and say that — say, ‘We don’t actually want to work with the County, and we don’t want a joint tourism effort, and we don’t want to work with you guys.’ Or maybe even ‘We do want to work with the County, but only the County and we don’t want to work with you, DFR.'”
Schmitt reiterated that such a move wouldn’t be taken personally by her board, noting, “This is volunteer work, and frankly, the last few weeks and months have been pretty thankless, especially since we don’t seem able to get anything done since this doesn’t seem to be a priority,” Schmitt told the town’s elected leadership. She continued to make it clear her and her board’s preference was the joint path forward she again reminded some council members they have publicly supported.
“If you do choose to have separate, individual tourism efforts for the Town and County, I would just ask you to make that decision and explain to the citizens the ‘why’ of your decision and not just continue kicking the can down the road. There is a little bit of an expiration (date) on this — we’re starting a new fiscal year (July 1) … and I think it’s time to make a decision. So, I would just ask you come out of tonight’s meeting and do that,” Schmitt circled back to her opening request for clarity from the town’s elected officials on their intent moving forward on tourism promotion.
Downtown Front Royal’s Aders was up next to carry forward Schmitt’s theme, if from a different DFR perspective to the same end of not keeping joint tourism efforts in a political limbo. “And I want to echo everything that Clare just said,” Aders began. “I’ve been at work sessions, I’ve been at council meetings, I’ve talked to some of you on an individual basis. And it seems at every turn you guys are supportive of it — you want to work with DFR, you want to work with the County and get those tourism dollars here to be spent in Front Royal.
“But somewhere along the way, there’s a breakdown, or seems to be a breakdown in communication because we’re three months out from disengagement, and we don’t seem to be any closer to re-engaging,” Aders pointed out of the dissolution of the Town’s Memorandum of Understanding with the County on joint tourism that led to the creation of Discover Front Royal as the point entity for both municipalities on that effort. As we understand, one of Discover Front Royal’s roles as the 501-c6 Destination Management Organization (DMO) in that effort is to apply for state tourism-directed grants the municipalities themselves are ineligible for.
“We get positive feedback from you all and a path forward, and then that gets passed off to staff, and then things just kind of stall. So, I’m not really sure what happens. Either we’ve misunderstood what your intentions are or the communication to your staff is different than what we think (we’ve heard) … But either way, all of us involved seem to be chasing our tails around this a little bit,” Aders said of the lack of forward movement on joint tourism promotion.
Aders pointed to the acquisition of a grant, she did not specify by which DFR, part of which she said had been spent on the still unilaterally run Town Visitors Center, another portion earmarked for phase two of Visitors Center remodeling, and another portion committed to marketing and advertising that Aders said must be spent by the end of the year. — “I wasn’t sure you were aware of that,” she said of the deadline on grant spending.
Aders concluded, again echoing Schmitt: “So, tonight I just would ask you to make a decision, communicate it clearly to our community, the County, to our board, so that we can either move forward with success or terminate the DMO (Destination Management Organization Discover Front Royal) and just move on and quit talking about it,” Aders concluded. Then like Schmitt, she thanked council for the time to make her case for definitive messaging on the future of joint tourism efforts in this community.
After a third speaker, former Councilman Scott Lloyd, more playfully addressed the cooped-up chicken limit of six inside town limits, hoping for an expansion to nine or even 12, at least in more open areas of the town limits, council moved through the rest of its agenda.
First up were staff and member reports, then unanimous approval of a five-item Consent Agenda without discussion. Those Consent Agenda items involved three previously discussed departmental purchases, approval of the writing off of bad debts deemed uncollectable in current Fiscal Year-2023, and a current FY-2023 Budget Amendment.
That budget amendment was explained in the agenda packet: “Council is requested to approve a FY23 Budget Amendment in the amount of $480,000 to account for revenues that exceeded FY23 budgeted amounts and to approve a FY23 Budget Transfer in the amount of $248,000 from the General Fund to Street Fund. This proposed FY23 Budget Amendment and Transfer will allocate additional funds for the Town to move forward with a transportation Plan, allocate funds to be used for Criser Road Sidewalk Project and allocate additional funds for Paving Projects.”
With no new business on the agenda, council then convened to the much-discussed Closed/Executive Session at about 8:03 p.m. The third topic of discussion was the filling of vacancies on FREDA, the Town’s unilateral and currently on-hold Front Royal Economic Development Authority, created in the wake of the launching of the hostile civil litigations against the County and FR-WC EDA several years ago. According to town staff, there were no announcements out of the closed session, which, as noted above, was said to have adjourned after 10 p.m.
The full meeting is viewable on the Town Council video link below, with Public Comments beginning at the 22:30 video mark. And in a teaser for a related story, the meeting opened with some recognitions, including of this year’s three Town Scholarship award winners: Benjamin Windt (R-MA), Tyler Burhams (WCHS), and Landon Pond (WCHS).
Click here to see all those acknowledgments at and near the outset of the Town Council video.
Town approves Dynamic Life Ministries Special Use Permit to facilitate burial of late Pastor Rogers on church grounds
After a month-plus of trying to expedite action to allow Dynamic Life Ministries to bury its late pastor and co-founder W. Carlton Rogers on the church property, in just eight minutes on Monday evening, May 22nd, the Front Royal Planning Commission and Town Council joined forces to conduct a public hearing and successive votes approving the Special Use Permit request to facilitate that burial.
Other than Pastor Rogers wife, Elvi, who was invited to the podium by Mayor Lori Cockrell to comment on the process, there were no public hearing speakers. At the podium, Elvi Rogers commended town staff and boards for expediting action on the matter.
The public hearing closed, first on a motion by Commissioner Connie Marshner, the planning commission voted 4-0 (Commissioner Wood absent) to recommend approval of the request. Council followed a motion by Amber Morris to approve the SUP request.
And now Pastor Rogers may be laid to rest on his and the ministry’s choice of locations on the property he helped found and develop into a vibrant spiritual part of its community. The staff agenda summary noted that the cemetery plot would be just 10 feet by 10 feet on Dynamic Life’s expansive property and would not come within 250 yards of any residential properties and therefore be in compliance with the performance standards set forth in Town Code Chapter 175-107.4.
And with that accomplished, the Special Joint Meeting was adjourned by both bodies at 6:48 p.m.
The planning commission was then done for the evening while the council prepared for its regular meeting, slated to start at 7 p.m.
Watch the 8-minute-plus video of the meeting here.
Warren County: Notice of taxes due
Warren County tax bills for the first half of the year 2023 have been mailed. If you do not receive a bill for Personal Property, Real Estate, Sanitary District for Blue Mountain, Cedarville Heights, High Knob, Lake Front Royal, Linden Heights, Osprey Lane, Riverside, Shangri-La, Shannon Woods, Shenandoah Farms, Shenandoah Shores, Skyland Estates, Shangri-La, or Wildcat Drive, please contact the Treasurer’s Office at 540-635-2215.
Failure to receive a bill does not relieve the taxpayer of the penalty for late payment. Tax bills are due on June 5th, 2023. When the due date falls on the weekend, bills will be due the following business day. Penalty will be added June 22nd, 2023 if not paid or postmarked on or before June 21st, 2023.
Treasurer’s Office hours are 9:00 am – 5:00 pm, Monday through Friday.
Jamie L. Spiker
Town Planning Commission acts on parking exception proposal and short-term rentals, again defers final Comp Plan approval
At its regular meeting on May 17th, the Front Royal Planning Commission, less an absent Commissioner Glenn Wood, Approved a Consent Agenda for advertising a public hearing for a rezoning request for Ramsey, Inc for a 1.3-acre parcel at 10160 Winchester Road, downzoning from Highway Corridor Business District (C-3) to Residential (R-2). The public hearing will be held on June 21st.
The commission held five public hearings:
Vesta Property Management has made a request on behalf of Fidman Investments LLC for a Special Use Permit (SUP) to allow a short-term rental located at 211 S. Royal Avenue. The property is zoned C-1, Community Business District, and is in the Historic Overlay District. After Deputy Zoning Administrator John Ware summarized the project for the Commission, Chairman Darryl Merchant opened the public hearing. There were no speakers for or against the permit, and, on a motion by Commissioner Michael Williams, seconded by Commissioner Connie Marshner, the Commission voted unanimously to recommend approval.
Peter Lemmon and Scott Lloyd – An application requesting an exception from the town parking requirements for the property located at 15 Chester Street. The property is zoned C-2, Downtown Business District, and is in the Historic Overlay District. The current zoning ordinance for commercial businesses requires 1 parking space for each 300 gross square feet of building. That would require the applicants to provide 9 parking spaces. In order to do that, the applicant argues that existing trees, hedges, and landscaping would have to be removed, resulting in a less attractive site directly adjacent to the town’s main point of gathering, the Gazebo area. The applicant’s planned use of the property for offices rather than mixed office and residential will not have a need for the 9 spaces called for by the ordinance. During the public hearing, local business owner Ellen Aders said that during the town’s Comprehensive Plan rewrite, citizens clearly prioritized small-town charm. She urged the commission to recommend approval of the exception.
After the public hearing, Commissioner Michael Williams observed that there were many options for parking adjacent to the property aside from the 4 spaces already on the site. He asked if the office hours were expected to be 9:00 am to 5:00 pm – Answer: Yes. Chairman Merchant observed that the long-standing problem of parking in the downtown area continues to be discussed regarding Chester Street properties, and no solution has yet been developed. Planning Director Lauren Kopishke indicated in response that once the Comprehensive Plan is completed, the zoning ordinance will be revisited, and that will provide an opportunity to deal with the parking issue. On a motion by Commissioner Williams, seconded by Vice Chairman Daniel Wells, the Commission voted unanimously to recommend approval.
Commissioner Williams recused himself from consideration of the three SUP applications submitted by Cook Realty due to an existing or potential business relationship.
Cook Realty submitted a request for a SUP to allow a short-term rental located at 1125 John Marshall Highway. The property is zoned R-1, Residential Single Family. The property is part of a project called “The Trellis,” which encompasses an old lodging property dating from the 1930s called the Wilson Motor Coach Lodge. The whole property includes a main house and five cottages in a semicircle around it. The property has been divided into three lots, and this permit request includes the main house and an accessory structure.
Deputy Zoning Administrator Ware described the planning department’s recommendations for the permit, including withholding final approval until construction and all inspections are complete. During the public hearing, there were 11 speakers, all enthusiastic supporters of the project. Realtor Andi Robinson reminded the commissioners that the Comprehensive Plan Future Land Use section projected that area as “Mixed use” rather than strictly residential, and its location along the entrance corridor further supported that designation.
Surveyor Joseph Brogan told the commission that the property was in a state of extreme dilapidation for many years, and the applicant’s major investment in the property should restore it to what it originally was – an attractive asset to the community and a positive impression at the entrance to Front Royal.
After the close of the public hearing, Chairman Merchant reiterated his general opposition to short-term rentals in residential areas, but he acknowledged that this was an excellent use for the property. Applicant Shelly Cook, who has developed several dozen residential and commercial projects in Warren County, described her vision for the property as an ”ideal option for family, church, friend, and community groups looking to spend time together while also having separate spaces.” In the end, on a motion by Commissioner Connie Marshner, seconded by Vice-Chairman Wells, the commission voted unanimously to recommend approval, contingent on construction and inspections being complete, and the permit would be valid for 1 year, after which it could be renewed with a waived permit fee.
Cook Realty has made a second request for a SUP to allow a short-term rental located at 1121 John Marshall Highway. This parcel is adjacent to the property, is zoned R-1, Residential, and is part of the Trellis project. Each of the speakers from the previous hearing reaffirmed their support of this request, and the commission voted unanimously to recommend approval with the same stipulations.
Cook Realty’s third request was for a SUP for a short-term rental located at 1135 John Marshall Highway. The property is also zoned R-1, Residential, and is the third and final part of the Trellis project. At the public hearing, all the previous speakers again affirmed their support, and without further discussion, and on as motion by Commissioner Marshner, seconded by Vice-Chairman Wells, the commission voted unanimously to recommend approval.
Finally, the commission turned its attention to a Major Site Plan submitted by 116 South Street, LLC, for a 1,260 sq. ft. building expansion; a 219 sq. ft. trellis addition and patio, and the addition of a new parking lot containing thirty-nine (39) spaces at 116 South Street (Spelunker’s) The plan creates additional lanes for drive-through orders and creates parking space across Pine Street, to reduce congestion and help with access. Owner Steve Antonelli summarized the project, which is designed to improve traffic flow and reduce backups on South Street.
After a short discussion, the commission, on a motion by Commissioner Marshner, seconded by Vice-Chairman Wells, voted unanimously to recommend approval of the site plan, contingent on input from town utilities and the county.
Planning Director Kopishke provided an update on Department activities so far this year:
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The Commission heard that the final version of the Comprehensive Plan is nearly ready for a final vote, and Commission will review it on June 7 at its work session so that it can be voted on at the next regular meeting on June 21.
The Meeting adjourned at 8:40 PM.
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