Downtown Front Royal property owner David Downes expressed some frustration at a Town Planning Commission work session on Wednesday, August 1. He returned for his second work session discussion of a parking exemption request for his Virginia Beer Museum.
Downes recently constructed a wooden fence around the rear patio and parking area for the museum in the historic Board House at 16 Chester Street and his adjacent law office at 14 Chester. Downes owns both buildings and the parking area behind them.
His intention is to expand his backyard patio area into a beer garden capable of hosting larger crowds for special events or just larger gatherings of fans of the history and taste of Virginia craft beers. That expanded patio would extend into what are currently private parking spaces for Downes’ two buildings.
The parking behind Downes’ buildings abuts the Town’s Peyton Street Parking lot near the intersection of Chester and Peyton Streets. The owner of an East Main Street business complained to the town council recently that Downes’ fence had cut off her long-time parking access behind the Downes property, as well as direct access to the Peyton Street parking lot.
Downes arrived to the Wednesday evening work session at 7 p.m., an hour after it started in the Town Hall second-floor meeting room. His attention was quickly caught by an idea in one of the agenda packet’s reference materials broached earlier by Planning Commissioner Cee Ann Davis. That idea pulled from “Front Royal Redevelopment Recommendations” is a cash contribution to the Town for future parking improvements per exempted private parking spaces lost in the designated “Downtown Revitalization Area”.
That area largely centered along the East Main Street Historic Business District and portions of Chester and Jackson Streets is earmarked for public and private-sector upgrades with $700,000 in recently-awarded State Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funding and local matching dollars. East Main Street-addressed businesses are exempted from parking requirements; however, those on Chester and Jackson Streets are not.
The amount Davis had referenced to go into a funding pot for future parking improvements, possibly including at some point a tiered parking deck, was $5,000 per space. Cost estimates for a fee-based 250-space parking deck was quoted between $2.5 million and $6.5 million. Monthly operational and maintenance costs were estimated at $350 to $600 per space with parking fees designed to help cover that expense.
However, a Northern Shenandoah Valley Regional Commission (NSVRC) report presented by staff citing the above numbers, noted that current demand for parking was “adequately met by the supply of free spaces” and that a fee-based parking deck in downtown Front Royal was “financially infeasible” at the present time.
The NSVRC report did point out that four existing sites downtown could meet minimum space requirements for a tiered parking deck without the demolition of any existing structures. One of those is in the Peyton Street lot adjacent to the Downes properties. Others include the old sheriff’s office parking lot where FRPD is currently housed and two other nearby properties on Jackson Street.
Not being present to hear that $5,000 per-space number questioned by some of Davis’s colleagues earlier, Downes may have been thinking, “Wait, what?!!?” as he quickly moved from the front row of public seating to the conference table the planning commissioners and staff occupied.
Attorney by trade, State Beer Museum operator by avocation, Downes argued that his 20 years as a tax-paying downtown property owner and efforts to redevelop what had been a vacant building where the Virginia Beer Museum now sits should hold some weight as far as the imposition of additional fees to allow him to utilize his property as he best sees fit.
“I’m getting a little frustrated,” he told the five planning commissioners present, “I’m surrounded by parking – parking the Town cites as getting 20% usage.” Actually, stats presented by Town Planning Director Jeremy Camp earlier indicated a 20% to 39% usage of the section of the Peyton Street lot adjacent to Downes’ property between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m.
Downes cited a past reputation of the town government as “not business friendly”. He contended that reputation contributed to some long-term building vacancies downtown, like the Board House the Beer Museum now occupies. Downes said placing what he considered unreasonable financial demands on him to get a parking exemption to best utilize his properties could lead him to shut down the Virginia Beer Museum.
“It will go back to being vacant if that’s the attitude,” he told town planners of the $5,000 per exempted parking space idea.
Prior to Downes arrival Planning Commissioner Joseph McFadden said, “To my mind he has a case for exemption – he has a closed-off space no one else really uses – it will probably be approved.”
At this point, McFadden tried to ease the applicant’s mind.
“You understand, we’re the planning commission; we look at long-term development and trends … We don’t decide, we make recommendations to the council. I think we’re sympathetic to you … We have to consider what’s the best way forward, which is why we are scheduling one more work session to have the (town) attorney in to discuss how this fits in with the Comprehensive Plan,” McFadden said, adding, “I think this board is friendly to businesses and business owners.”
“Thank you for your service,” Downes replied to McFadden’s summary of his commission’s stance and perspective.
However, one sticking point remained – time.
Downes asked at what pace consideration of his exemption request would move forward. “This year is already past as far as landscaping a beer garden,” he noted.
With or without the additional work session, Planning Director Camp told Downes the earliest the planning commission could hold its public hearing due to timelines for required public advertising was September. Following the public hearing and vote the commission would forward its recommendation to the town council, launching the final arbiter’s public hearing process and eventual vote to approve or deny the request.
“Things don’t move fast – they take time,” McFadden observed of the governmental process.
Downes noted that the second anniversary of the Virginia Beer Museum’s opening was September 22. And with the Virginia Beer Museum’s creation being a result of legislation passed by former Governor Terry McAuliffe to promote Virginia’s craft beer brewing industry, Downes noted that he had reached out to current Governor Ralph Northam to be a guest at that second-anniversary celebration.
Of his hope to have the museum’s expanded beer garden ready for that event, Downes lamented he would just have to report to the governor’s staff, “I’ll just say, Ron, things take time.”
But after six months-plus in the State’s top executive office, chances are both the governor and his staff already know that.
Ed Carter, VDOT report to Board of Supervisors: Route 55-High Knob gets more rumble strips
At the December 11th Board of Supervisors Meeting, Ed Carter from VDOT made his monthly presentation to the Board. Mr. Carter gives updates to VDOT projects in the County.
- Addressed numerous potholes on various hard surface routes with cold mix and anticipate the Same in December.
- Conducted grading and stone application on non-hard surface Routes 652, 610, 607,626, 613, 631 and 639. Several of these routes we covered several times as continued rainfall necessitated. They’ll continue this month as well.
- Used contractor pipe flusher on Routes 603, 638, 636, 650, 631 and 639. Will be continuing for an additional week in December.
- Completed all mowing operations and will cutting brush on Routes 652 and 656 in December.
- Performed shoulder repairs on Route 340 and will continue on various primary routes in December.
- Mobilized and responded to two weather events in November.
Lake Front Drive is awaiting finish pavement layer, which is scheduled for this week in December, weather permitting.
Ashby Station Road and Rocky Lane environmental permits were not cleared by November 30th. New date is December 10th. As soon as VDOT has the permits, staff will be meeting with the contractor to begin pipe replacements.
Existing rumble strips have been refreshed and a new set installed closer to the intersection at High Knob. Traffic Engineering is working to verify flasher sensor lights will work at this location. Residency Administrator met with High Knob Owner’s Association on November 12th to address their concerns.
Signal Group is evaluating timing at Country Club Road and Route 340/522 for extending green time from Country Club.
Town Council wrestles with new property maintenance authority
FRONT ROYAL – It’s rough having the power – especially when you’ve pursued it for so long, then finally achieve it.
That is the situation the Front Royal Town Council wrestled with at a December 3 work session – how to approach enforcement of a property maintenance code that allows it the same powers as cities and counties to enforce building maintenance standards within its boundaries.
As Royal Examiner readers may recall from tracking the issue over the course of the last year and a half, the dilemma is that while the town’s elected officials want the ability to enforce standards that will improve the overall look, livability and property values of Front Royal, how much is it going to cost the town government and its citizens to achieve these things?
The one dissenting vote to both readings of the new property maintenance code, Vice-Mayor Eugene Tewalt, has continued to predict unexpectedly high costs, even for what has been described as a lower-cost, middle ground option adopted by council nearly two months ago. Tewalt has also been critical of his younger council colleagues for continuing to approve capital improvements, and now additional code enforcement, without creating revenue streams to pay for either long-term debt service or required staff additions.
However, undiscussed thus far has been the potential return on investment from more aggressive enforcement if a corresponding rise in property values leads to increased real estate tax-base revenue.
After months of debate dating to at least July of 2017 for this council, on October 22, 2018 council approved the second reading of a new property maintenance code that took the above-described middle ground approach of five options presented by staff. That option, formerly known as Option C, enforcement-wise “addresses all structures in the Town”; “addresses maintenance issues” and “can be enforced on a complaint basis or proactive enforcement”.
At the December 3 work session Chris Morrison pushed for immediate implementation of that option – “I think things can be implemented now – tell me if I’m wrong,” Morrison challenged his colleagues.
He also suggested council give citizens some clarity on the parameters of what has been approved – that citizens can initiate action through complaints to the town government.
Morrison has been the chief council proponent of a new property maintenance code and a rental inspection program, the latter eliminated from consideration by a council majority as definitely too expensive to implement. And on the back end of his council tenure having failed to hold his seat in the November election, Morrison seemed driven to see a commitment to forward movement on what has been adopted by his colleagues before the end of his council tenure come January.
Morrison suggested outsourcing the role of a building inspector to make legal judgments on mandated repairs or demolition in the absence of council agreeing to fund creation of its own building inspection department. Morrison noted that council had set aside funds toward some kind of implementation of a building inspection operation. While he cited $40,000 available, staff appeared to put the amount as high as $75,000 in past work session discussion.
“So why can’t we outsource now … why can’t we do it immediately?” Morrison asked his colleagues.
“If we do it under those conditions I have no problem starting with blighted buildings,” Tewalt replied of a proactive approach with outsourcing as necessary when town mandates on corrective action are challenged by property owners.
Councilman William Sealock suggested bypassing use of Warren County’s Building Inspection Department and utilization of town staff for initial phases up to the point where a state-certified official whose opinion would have legal standing in court was needed. Morrison agreed.
Town Manager Joe Waltz suggested revisiting the option of partnering with the Town of Strasburg in enforcing a property maintenance code. Like Front Royal now, Strasburg has taken the first step of approval of a property maintenance code but has yet to begin enforcement due to cost parameters.
“We can put it out there and see what kind of prices are set,” Waltz suggested.
“We can start slow – there’s nothing wrong with doing it right,” Mayor Hollis Tharpe suggested of a measured, slow and inexpensive approach to implementation.
“We’ll let Joe get behind the wheel,” the mayor said of having the town manager explore enforcement and outsourcing options.
“We need time so the town manager can put a plan together,” Sealock observed.
“I will move as fast as I can,” Waltz replied.
Morrison said he felt some good had come out of the discussion that will allow the Town to move on complaints forwarded by citizens, as well as initiate proactive movement against derelict structures. However Morrison worried at the lack of “closure” on a process as council’s final meeting of 2018 approached on December 10.
Downtown parking: Mayor breaks tie vote on Virginia Beer Museum parking exemption request
There were two issues on Downtown parking at the December 10th Town Council meeting. The first dealt with designating and authorizing the Town Manager regarding the installation and placement of traffic signs and parking regulations and to remove all references to the On-Street Parking Policy in the Town Code by rescinding the 1993 Resolution authorizing approval of the On-Street Parking Policy. Download the this agenda item and background information here.
The second was a public hearing on exempting off street parking for the Virginia Beer Museum. Mayor Tharpe broke the tie vote on the first reading. Download the this agenda item and background information here.
These issues will be back on the agenda for the second reading.
BOS: Public Hearing Jan 22nd to adopt new rules for public presentations
At the December 11th Meeting of the Warren County Board of Supervisors, County Attorney Dan Whitten ask for authorization to advertise for a public hearing on January 22, 2019 to amend the Warren County Code Section 56-3 re: rules for Address to the Board of Supervisors by Nonmembers During Public Comment Period.
Watch the discussion.
Ordinance Amendment to Town Code Chapter 72 (Special Events)
During a recent Business Forum several business owners discussed concerns with parking during Special Events held in the Gazebo Area located at Main and Chester Streets in Downtown Front Royal. Town Staff has proposed amendments to Chapter 72 to help alleviate this concerns and has also changed other areas of Chapter 72 to make the Chapter more user friendly.
Town Council honors departing Connolly and Morrison
At the December 10th Town Council meeting, Mayor Hollis Tharpe presented each departing Councilman plaques in recognition of their service to the Town of Front Royal.