In an effort to kickstart local economic recovery the Town of Front Royal and the Front Royal-Warren County Chamber of Commerce are partnering to offer small business consulting services. Businesses located in Warren County and Front Royal can contact Herb Melrath at 719.284.2291 or email@example.com to schedule an appointment.
“I welcome, one-on-one consulting meetings where we can discuss the business owners’ individual needs. We will also share relevant information with the entire business community from a variety of resources as we recover and invigorate our small business economy. We will do this in a variety of ways to include social media posts, email updates, and webinars.” said Melrath who is a former Main Street business owner and currently runs his own consulting business locally.
The consulting services are open to prospective and existing business owners. Niki Foster, President of the Front Royal-Warren County Chamber of Commerce stated, “Part of the Chamber’s mission is to connect business with the resources they need to be successful and encourage growth. We are excited to team with the Town of Front Royal to move forward from the economic downturn caused by the COVID-19 crisis. This is just part of what our organization does to help businesses thrive in our community.”
The consulting services are tailored to meet each individual business owner’s needs. Front Royal-Warren County Chamber of Commerce membership is not required to use these services. The services will be available until April 2022.
Town Planning Commission considers short-term tourist rentals, zoning for possible data center, asserts responsibility for Comp Plan
The Front Royal Planning Commission, at its regular meeting on May 18th, voted to authorize advertisement for public hearings for its first two special use permits for short-term tourist rentals.
The Commissioners previously reviewed the two applications as the Planning Department continued to iron out the procedures.
In February, the Planning Commission had considered and recommended approval of a draft ordinance that included a clause requiring short-term rental properties in residentially-zoned areas to be owner-occupied. On the way to Town Council enactment on February 28, that requirement disappeared. It remains to be seen whether the cautionary comments by the Planning Commission and also by now-former Councilman Scott Lloyd prior to the Council’s vote to adopt the ordinance as amended play out in the future.
Not surprisingly, one of the first two short-term tourist rental permit requests subject to the new ordinance language was made by a D.C. area investor, Bridget Scanlan of Alexandria, VA. That property is at 108 Virginia Avenue and is zoned residential. The other request was made by a local contractor, Aaron Hike, for the former Trout Drug building at 201 E. Main St. That property is zoned commercial and is in the downtown Historic District.
The consent agenda for the meeting included authorizations to advertise public hearings for those two special use permit requests and an interesting proposed change to the Town’s zoning ordinance. The change adds and defines “Data Centers” as a by-right use of property in the I-2 Industrial Zone.
A use by-right is a use permitted in a zoning district and is therefore not subject to special review and approval by a local government. In the case of the I-2 zone, automobile garages (auto repair) would be considered as a use by-right. Proposed uses other than those listed in the ordinance would require a special use permit. The advantage of the special use permit is that it requires a public hearing before its issuance, so community members get to offer input publicly twice – once to the Planning Commission and once to the Town Council.
The proposed zoning change would allow this new use – a data center – in the Industrial Zone without that check and balance of a public hearing.
The timing of the mystery zoning ordinance change is odd, given that one of the outcomes of the Town’s Comprehensive Plan rewrite is new zoning and subdivision ordinances. According to the Town’s $115,000 contract with Summit Design and Engineering Services, the contractor will begin the rewrite of the existing ordinances in July with the effort, described as the most time-consuming and labor-intensive part, over the next eight months. Making a significant change to the current ordinance before the rewrite leads to the question of why? The Planning Commission has so far not been given a town council resolution asking for the ordinance change, and a review of the Town Council’s public activities doesn’t provide a clue, but the Town’s Planning staff has produced one.
The recruitment of prospective businesses always raises the issue of government transparency (or lack thereof), and the newly-formed Front Royal Economic Development Authority will likely play its cards close to its vest as it negotiates the risky waters of matchmaking with prospective employers. But there is a reason for the processes established by law to provide accountability to the taxpayer. If the community learned one thing from the debacle a few years ago with the Front Royal-Warren County EDA, it is that oversight and consistent adherence to established policy is essential.
The Regular meeting was exceedingly short – six minutes (a new record!) since there were neither citizen comments nor public hearings, and the Commissioners held a short work session afterward, their second for the month. In the work session, Chairman Merchant distributed the Draft Future Land Use section of the Comprehensive Plan to the commissioners. Merchant reiterated his earlier concerns about “who does what” in the process of rebuilding the Town’s Comprehensive Plan.
While the town has a contractual relationship with the contractor, since the Code of Virginia clearly states that the Planning Commission shall act in an advisory role to the governmental body (Town Council), it would make sense for the commissioners to be consulted about the necessary elements of the plan. Yet so far, the commission has had a relatively minor role in providing edits to parts of the plan, getting some updates on progress, and providing previously completed sections to the contractor. A notable absence from the process has been the establishment of a citizen advisory committee, which the contract statement of work identifies as a component of the process. Previous rewrites of the plan have relied on the advisory committee to keep the final product aligned with community needs. Chairman Merchant said, “It’s sometimes messy, but it works!”
Planning Director Lauryn Kopishke, who was absent from the May 18 meetings, told the Commission in its May 4 work session that a Community Input session is planned for May 20 from 12 noon-2 p.m. in the community room at the Sheriff’s Office, 200 Skyline Vista Drive, and a second event on May 21 at 10 a.m. in the Town Hall lobby, during the annual Wine and Craft Festival held downtown. The planning director has emphasized that maximum exposure to this planning process by the public is the objective of the community input sessions. See separate story here. The finished plan ultimately will then be subject to two public hearings, one provided by the Planning Commission and the other by Town Council.
The next regular Planning Commission Meeting will be held on June 15 at 7 pm.
After explosive criticism from Farms POSF supporters, County Supervisors settle down, more or less, to its meeting agenda
Warren County Board of Supervisors Chair Cheryl Cullers opened Tuesday evening’s regular meeting open session by commenting on how pleased she was to see a good turnout of people present for the May 17th meeting. By the time the Public Comments on non-agenda items near the meeting’s opening were interrupted to move into the 7:30 PM Public Hearings portion of the meeting, she may have had second thoughts on her greeting of at least a portion of that crowd.
For it appeared a number of them were there to question the Board’s reasons, methods, and motives surrounding issues related to a transferring of responsibility for direct management of Shenandoah Farms Sanitary District road and other maintenance projects away from the elected Property Owners of Shenandoah Farms (POSF) Inc. Board. The supervisors authorized advertisement for volunteers to be appointed to a Farms Sanitary District “advisory board.” It was 7 of 8 speakers, and then 5 of 6 writers of messages read into the record by Board Clerk Emily Ciarrocchi, who was highly critical of the board of supervisors in this regard. The other two addressed other issues.
But more on that in a forthcoming Royal Examiner story.
For now, we will focus on the meeting’s scheduled action items.
The bulk of the evening’s action agenda was comprised of seven public hearings. Two, including an Ordinance Amendment to allow Conditional Use Permitting (CUP) of a “Day-Child Care Center (Nursery)” accommodating more than six children on Agriculturally zoned land, related to the Rivermont Baptist Church’s initiative to create such a child Day Care Center utilizing its existing Fellowship Hall building across Catlett Mountain Road from the church. A vacant lot across Figgins Road would also be used as a “non-commercial” playground and recreation area for the Day Care Center, the staff agenda summary noted.
A need to accommodate the use to serve working families in the Fork District was cited by the church in its permitting application. The County Planning Commission unanimously recommended approval of the church plan and use. The board followed suit with 5-0 votes of approval on both the ordinance amendment and Conditional Use Permitting for the church Day Care Center.
Four CUP requests for Short Term Tourist Rentals were unanimously approved without Public Hearing Comment or opposition expressed by any neighbors. Those Short-Term Rental CUP requests, in order of presentation, were by:
Soloman A. Stavis at 9 Oak Hill Drive in the Oak Hill Subdivision in the South River District;
Jared Smith at 31 Henry Way in the Blue Mountain Subdivision in the Shenandoah District;
James B. & Jeonghe C. Lal at 280 Overbrook Lane in Shenandoah Shores in the Shenandoah District. During the presentation, it was noted that the Lals were Christian missionaries whose work in Malawi, Africa, took them out of the country for extended periods of time, during which they wished to rent the property on a short-term basis;
And the final Short-Term Rental CUP request was from Rocky Quach for the property at 524 Freezeland Road in the Cherry Ridge Subdivision in the Happy Creek District. During discussion of this Short-Term Rental request, it was noted that the applicant currently resides in San Jose, California, and would hire a “local property management company” to handle the operation and property maintenance. The rental focus would be aimed at families with amenities for infants, including high-chairs and a portable travel crib, made available as part of the rentals.
A final CUP request was from Richard W. Durkee for non-commercial Private Use Camping at two vacant lots in the Riverview section of the Shenandoah Farms Subdivision. The staff agenda summary explained that the applicant’s family has owned the lots in a Special Flood Hazard Area since the 1960s. The original home on the property was “substantially damaged” by Hurricane Agnes in June 1972 and consequently removed. Durkee’s CUP request would facilitate construction of a single accessory structure of up to 216 square feet for the storage of recreational and property maintenance equipment. Staff observed that the applicant “plans to have a recreational vehicle and utilize a port-o-john” while camping at the property seasonally.
Like the six public hearing requests before it, Durkee’s was approved on a unanimous 5-0 vote by the board.
Cardinals beer sales and property acquisition
If the public hearings went off without much, if any board discussion or any expressed opposition, not so for two other action agenda items. First was a Consent Agenda item pulled for discussion on the Valley Baseball League Front Royal Cardinals management request to be allowed to sell beer at Cardinal home games at the County-owned Bing Crosby Stadium. That led to a largely guesswork board exploration of the alcohol content of various beers and of putting a cap on the strength of beer to be sold at games. Walt Mabe suggested a 3.2% cap while admitting no background knowledge on relative strengths of beers.
During a May 10 work session presentation to the supervisors on the team’s plan, Cardinals Vice-President Alex Bigles noted that no higher alcohol-content craft beers would be sold, and extensive security and sales measures would be established to prevent overindulgence and impaired driving away from the stadium after games. Those measures included sales staff training on signs of intoxication, a limit of two beers per customer sale, available breathalyzer testing, and free bus rides from the stadium, as well as no beer sales after the start of the seventh inning of the nine-inning MLB developmental league games.
As that discussion wore on Bigles noted the County had to approve the team’s request to sell beer to allow its state ABC (Alcohol Beverage Control Board) license to be applied for. A turnaround on ABC licensing of as much as a month was estimated by Cards representatives, who said they were pointing to a late June start of the new concession sales. With the board stuck on alcohol content guarantees, Interim County Attorney Jason Ham did a little research with his phone and told the board that mainstream U.S. brand name beers were rated at 5% or below.
After a half-hour of discussion and suggested adjustments to the presented Consent Agenda motion, board attorney Ham did a proxy reading of his rewritten motion into the record for the board. On Vicky Cook’s motion to approve the motion as read, seconded by Jay Butler, the board approved the Cardinals’ beer sales request at an alcohol content of “5% or less” by a 5-0 vote.
Then it was on to the final agenda item of the evening, authorization for staff to move forward on the purchase of an East 2nd Street residential lot at a price of $212,000 that would complete County ownership of the block on which the Warren County Government Center (WCGC) lies. That led Delores Oates into a brief treatise on small government to justify a vote against authorizing the purchase. “We own too much property,” Oates reasoned in arguing against the purchase based on political ideology directed at shrinking governmental functions and apparently future property and space needs.
However, Board Chair Cullers pointed out that a state-mandated staff position was currently officed in a storage space in the WCGC, indicating an existing need for more space in the county governmental center complex, not less. Vicky Cook’s motion to authorize the purchase passed by a 4-1 vote, Oates dissenting.
And after two hours, the open meeting was adjourned at 9 p.m. See all the board’s business, including the latest chapter in the evolving story about the future of Shenandoah Farms Sanitary District project management and decision-making advise, in the County video.
Warren County: Notice of Real Estate taxes due
Warren County Real Estate tax bills for the first half of the year 2022 have been mailed. If you do not receive a bill for 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, South River, 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, 2022. When the due date falls on the weekend, bills will be due the following business day. Penalty will be added June 7th, 2022, if not paid or postmarked on or before June 6th, 2022.
Treasurer’s Office hours are 9:00 am – 5:00 pm, Monday through Friday.
Jamie L. Spiker
Town seeks citizen input on Comp Plan revisions on future developmental vision inside town limits
On Tuesday, May 17, Front Royal Town Manager Steven Hicks issued a brief statement alerting town citizens to opportunities to give town staff, and in turn its elected officials who will give final approval to it, their perspective on revisions to the Town’s Comprehensive Plan. Below is Hicks release detailing those opportunities this coming Friday and Saturday.
The Town will be hosting Public Input on the rewrite of the Town’s Comprehensive Plan on Friday the 20th, and Saturday the 21st. The existing Comprehensive Plan controls development and the Vision of the Town is 25 years old; therefore, your input is greatly needed to manage development and to create a sustainable community.
Here are the details on the information meetings:
- Friday, May 20thmeeting is from 12:00 PM-2:00 PM at the Warren County Public Safety Building (Sheriff’s and Fire & Rescue offices across from Skyline High School) located on Skyline Vista Drive
- Saturday, May 21stmeetings will be at the Town Hall 1st floor lobby on Main Street from 10:00 AM-12:00 PM and 2:00 PM-4:00 PM.
- Please visit https://publicinput.com/Portal/Q6282 for additional information regarding the Comprehensive Plan.
Additional questions, please contact Lauren Kopishke, Town’s Planning Director at firstname.lastname@example.org
Don’t forget that Saturday is also the Wine & Craft Festival downtown: frontroyalchamber.com/wine-craft-festival
County Planning Commission considers more tourist rentals, poultry processing, and retreat
At its regular meeting on May 11th, the Warren County Planning Commission faced a small firestorm of opposition from property owners near a proposed Short-Term Tourist Rental at 801 Esteppe Road in the Fork District. The property is zoned agricultural. The applicant, Vanessa Portillo, gave an emotional appeal to the commission in support of her request to give the property a second chance, despite hasty organizing of opposition by neighbors. She and her husband bought the property needing repairs and upgrades, according to her application, and were determined to save it rather than tearing it down.
Ten citizens spoke at the public hearing, and all were opposed to the permit. The complaint was a familiar one that a Short-Term Tourist Rental would bring strangers and dangers to a sleepy and close-knit neighborhood. Vice-Chairman Hugh Henry empathized with the neighbors but again noted that with all the short-term tourist rentals already in Warren County, there have been zero complaints or issues with law enforcement. That record is a clear indication that fears are most often overblown. Further, Mr. Henry continued, a short-term renter is just that – short-term. The applicant could just rent the property to someone for longer than 30 days, and as a long-term rental, there would be no permit or permission needed.
Chairman Robert Meyers pointed out that Short-term Tourist rentals are considered by the Virginia Legislature as residential uses, rather than commercial intrusions into residential neighborhoods. Vice-Chairman Henry also cited statistics that show traffic to a short-term rental property is, in fact, less than that for a full-time occupied dwelling.
After some discussion of property rights and the concerns of residents, the commission unanimously voted to recommend approval of the application, which now goes to the county Board of Supervisors. As always, the Supervisors also solicit public input, so another opportunity to express an opinion is available for residents who wish to be heard.
In a task left unfinished from the previous meeting, consideration of a Conditional Use Permit (CUP) for private use camping, the Commission heard from Planning Staff that the applicant, Patricia A. Brown, had agreed to two additional conditions for approval of the permit based on input from neighbors at the public hearing. The site is on Misty Meadow Lane in the Massanutten View subdivision. The final permit language will prohibit the use of major recreational vehicles on the site and will limit its use to no more than four organized non-commercial camping events. Property boundaries must be clearly marked throughout the duration of these non-commercial events. The commission voted unanimously to recommend approval of the amended request to the Board of Supervisors.
On a request by Justin and Maureen Sager, the Commission voted to recommend approval of a zoning ordinance change to define and regulate an exempt poultry abattoir, defined as a structure where poultry is slaughtered, processed, packed, and labeled for distribution. The number of slaughtered fowl will not exceed 1,000 per calendar year. Under the revised ordinance, this use would be allowed by right. There were no speakers at the public hearing, and Vice Chairman Henry asked if this ordinance change would apply to the whole county. Planning Director Wendling indicated it would apply to all Agriculturally zoned areas, subject to the supplementary regulations. The commission then voted unanimously to recommend the amended ordinance for approval by the Board of Supervisors.
Phong Nguyen is applying for a Conditional Use Permit for a short-term tourist rental for his property at 571 Wilderness Rd in Linden. The property is zoned Residential and is in the Skyland Estates subdivision in the Happy Creek District. Mr. Nguyen plans to use the property as a second residence part of the time and rent it out seasonally. There were no comments from other residents, and the Commission voted unanimously to recommend approval of the request.
A trio of requests from Emilia Cirker and Mark Saunders would grant a CUP for a Short-Term Tourist rental on their property at 5685 Gooney Manor Loop; amend the zoning ordinance to define and regulate retreat centers; and grant a Conditional Use Permit for a retreat center at that property. The brother and sister partners intend to offer wellness retreats, workshops, classes, and indoor and outdoor activities. Part of the time, the property will also serve Short-Term Tourist rentals. The public hearing yielded no speakers, so the commissioners asked if a bridge on the property would be sufficient to allow service vehicles access. The applicants indicated that they would initially restrict access to only neighboring properties that utilize the primitive bridge and ultimately plan to repair and upgrade it. It is currently in need of repair and is unrated for the weight limit. The commission voted unanimously to recommend the two permits and the zoning ordinance change for approval by the Board of Supervisors.
Carl Boswell has requested a CUP for a Short-Term Tourist Rental for his property at 338 Walker Farm Drive in the Shenandoah District. The property is residentially zoned, and the Shenandoah Farms Property owner’s association has been notified. One neighboring resident, Larry Cupp, spoke during the public hearing, in opposition to the permit, with similar complaints of unfamiliar persons in an established neighborhood. “We don’t know what they’re up to. It could be anything,” he observed.
Chairman Myers responded that the Conditional Use Permit is just that – conditional. If guests violate the conditions, the permit can be revoked. If there are problems with a guest, the appropriate action is to contact the County Sheriff’s Office.
Matthew Ben Tow has applied for a CUP for a Short-Term Tourist Rental for his Agriculturally zoned property at 110 Demel Court in the Happy Creek District. There were no public comments during the public hearing, and the commissioners discussed a prohibition on open fires as a condition of approval. The applicant indicated that many of the properties nearby have fire pits, and he hoped to offer one for his guests. The applicant could have a fire pit for his own use, but commissioners indicated it should be covered or blocked from guests using it. The Commission voted unanimously to recommend approval for the permit with the additional condition.
The Commission’s Consent Agenda consisted of 10 items for Authorization to Advertise for public hearings for CUPs for four short-term tourist rentals, a private use campsite, a bed and breakfast, a guesthouse, a church, and two Zoning Ordinance amendments. Those items will be considered at the next regular planning commission meeting on June 8.
Supervisors juggle budget numbers and taxing variables as await approval of a State Budget
At a Special Meeting Tuesday, May 10, the Warren County Board of Supervisors were briefed by staff on a trio of tax issues tied to the Fiscal Year-2022/23 Budget. Those included “Tangible Personal Property Tax Rates for the Calendar year 2022”; a Resolution of support for a 34% Tax Relief rate for Personal Property Taxes driven (pun intended) up by an unprecedented hike in used car values due to supply chain issues on new vehicles; and the setting of a public hearing on an ordinance amendment to “Delay Penalties and Interest Upon Certain Local Taxes”.
Finance Director Matt Robertson presented a general Tangible Personal Property Tax Rate of $3.80 per $100 of assessed value; for Volunteer Fire & Rescue Squad members – $1.90 per $100 of assessed value; for Business Furniture & Equipment – $4.00 per $100 of assessed value; and for Aircraft – 75-cents per $100 of assessed value. Robertson described the rates as an approximate 20% revenue decrease in the PP Tax Rate forced into the budget this year to compensate for the increased valuations being experienced. On a motion by Shenandoah District Supervisor Walt Mabe the board unanimously approved the rates as presented.
Based on numbers assembled by Commissioner of the Revenue Sherry Sours, County Administrator Ed Daley presented a recommended Tax Relief Rate for motor vehicle owners in the county at 34-cents for vehicles valued at $1,001 to $20,000. Vehicles valued at over $20,000 would get the 34-cent relief only on the first $20,000 of value. Vehicles valued at under $1,000 are eligible for a 100% relief rate. It was explained to the board that the annual relief rate on vehicles set locally is tied to the “no Car Tax” legislation adopted, if not fully implemented, by the Virginia General Assembly two years ago. Daley explained that the State would be compensating the County for $4.5 million of the relief based on a 35-cent relief rate, while the County will have to absorb an additional $200,000 required at the 34-cent rate proposed by staff. On a motion by Happy Creek Supervisor Jay Butler, the board unanimously approved the 34-cent relief rate.
The board also approved authorization to advertise for public hearing on May 24, an ordinance amendment to delay penalties and interest on certain tax payments until June 25. The county administrator explained by code taxes come due June 5. However, the County is delaying a final budget approval awaiting a decision in Richmond on final state budget numbers. So, with the whole process set back due to the General Assembly’s delay in coming up with approval of their final budget, the county is pushing back its normal deadline this year.
On a motion by North River District Supervisor Delores Oates, the board unanimously authorized advertisement of the public hearing on the tax deadline ordinance amendment. Daley noted the extension as currently worded applied only to Personal Property Taxes, but that staff was looking at adding Real Estate Taxes to the extended deadline as well prior to the anticipated May 24 vote on the ordinance amendment.
Following that 6 PM Special Meeting the board convened to a work session to hear a series of presentations by staff and one outside organization, the MLB-developmental-league-associated Valley League Front Royal Cardinals. Introduced by Parks & Recreation Director Dan Lenz, Cards President Donna Settle and Vice-President Alex Bigles, the latter who handled the bulk of a PowerPoint presentation on the beer sale initiative, explained their plan to add closely monitored beer sales to concessions available at the college-level player games. They noted beer sales would be done at a separate stand than general concessions and safeguards to prevent overconsumption or impaired driving leaving the stadium would be in place.
With the supervisors seeking input on the Town’s perspective, Bigles worried that a needed timely decision by the County would be negatively impacted by the Town’s refusal to schedule the Card reps for even a town council work session discussion of the initiative. The Town’s rationale apparently being they were not directly involved in County Parks & Rec property decisions or ABC licensing.
The Cardinal representatives were followed to the podium by County IT Director Todd Jones, whose PowerPoint presentation was described as a “Show-and-Tell” on the department’s status and planned reviews and upgrades to equipment and processes, including enhanced system security and personnel development.
Following Jones was Sheriff Mark Butler, who jumped on the PowerPoint bandwagon with an overview of his department’s personnel and organizational makeup and goals, as well as an update on the newest proposed location for a departmental training area and auxiliary storage facility. That 16.32-acre space is located off Catlett Mountain Road.
At times Butler was accompanied by County EDA Director Joe Petty and Public Works Director Mike Berry in covering various logistical aspects of development of the parcel and help answer questions about former recommended sites versus the current one.