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Town Planning Commission elects officers, approves site plan for ‘Wi-Not Stop’ at South Royal and Criser

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With still only four members until the Town Council appoints a fifth, the Front Royal Planning Commission on Wednesday night, February 17, met to begin what promises to be an interesting year for the Town of Front Royal.

Since the beginning of each new year always means an election of town commission officers, thankfully absent the fanfare or controversy of recent national elections, the commission members quickly nominated and unanimously elected Douglas Jones, Chairman and Connie Marshner, Vice Chairman.

Reduced by the lack of an appointed member, the bare quorum Town Planning Commission managed to elect its new leadership. Photo by Stephen Sill, Royal Examiner.

Once leadership was established without speeches or campaign promises, the Planning Commission got down to business. That business began with E. E. Wines’ site plan for a new Wi-Not Stop convenience store and gas station on the site of the old Joe’s Steakhouse – or before that, Dean’s for those who remember it with great fondness. The commission heard from Planning Director Timothy Wilson that comments from previous reviews had been incorporated into the plan and the only remaining issues for final approval is a stormwater plan that is under current review by town staff.


Newly re-elected Chairman Douglas Jones observed that the building is perhaps the most architecturally significant structure on the south side of town, and said he was pleased to see that the applicant planned to preserve and improve it with a “nice-looking” addition.

Vice-Chairman Marshner said she was not clear whether there would be an entrance from Beeden Lane onto the lot. Planning Director Wilson indicated that the entrances to the site will be from Royal Avenue and Criser Road. An application for the lot-lines has been submitted and is being reviewed. The site plan indicates that curbs and gutters are part of the project.

 

The plan for a gas station and convenience store at South Royal and Criser Road includes preserving the majority of the “Architecturally Significant” structure and adding to it.

Commissioner Merchant asked if permits will be required for signage, and the answer was “Yes”.

On a motion by Commissioner Marshner, seconded by Commissioner Merchant, joined by Chairman Jones and Commissioner William Gordon the site plan was unanimously approved. However, there will still be many steps and approvals required before construction gets underway.

Once the formal business is completed, commission members can raise any issues of significance. During his time, Commissioner Merchant indicated that Town Council had approved changing the stipend for Commission members from $50 per meeting to $100 per month, which seemed to be a generous act until you realize that monthly work sessions or extra meetings are now included in the new amount, not separate from it.

With no further business, the meeting adjourned.

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EDA’s future and regional water opportunities highlight first Liaison Committee meeting in 8 months

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The overriding theme of the first Front Royal-Warren County Liaison Committee meeting since January, on Thursday evening, September 16, was improved communications and working together to achieve the best for the community as a whole. As reported following the Warren County Board of Supervisors Work Session two days earlier in the same Warren County Government Center main meeting room, prominent among that coexistence theme was how to approach the future of economic development in the community. And the answer appeared to be to proceed toward two separate Economic Development Authority Board of Directors but without two separate, upper pay range EDA executive directors. Rather, the idea broached by County Administrator Ed Daley at the September 14 supervisors’ work session, a single “Director of Economic Development” who works for the involved municipality, in this case, municipalities, appeared to gain traction.

However, some concern was expressed on the County side that the reorganizational conversation was taking place without input from the existing EDA Board of Directors. The Town is still in its interview stage of potential FREDA board members, with no appointments made. Shenandoah District Supervisor Walt Mabe also wondered if two separate EDA boards would be necessary if there was a centrally functioning staff working to the benefit of both municipalities.

In a post-meeting discussion with Royal Examiner, Daley called such economic development organization “very, very common”, not only across Virginia but nationally. Regionally, the former 21-year Winchester City Manager pointed to Fauquier, where departing WC EDA Executive Director Doug Parsons is headed October 1, as well as Shenandoah County and Winchester among others in his experience in Virginia, West Virginia, and Kansas over his professional career.

After an eight-month hiatus, not just staff, but elected officials of the County and Town sat down for official discussion of matters of mutual interest. ‘Why did we stop doing this?’ some may have wondered after some crucial information was exchanged that would appear to be of potential benefit to both municipalities. Royal Examiner Photos by Roger Bianchini


But it wasn’t only economic development where municipal cooperation, rather than competition, was a key element of discussion. Other Liaison Committee topics where that factored in were:

1 – continued work on a Joint Town-County Tourism Committee structure;

2 – a potential property sale of the jointly held McKay Springs parcels;

3 – work on both municipal Comprehensive Plans and the related notion of establishing a long-term future vision for the community on both sides of the town-county boundary;

4 – improving the low-cost Town Trolley-County Corridor Connector municipal transport service;

5 – work to develop more widespread Youth Programs;

6 – development of a “Drug Court” system aimed at rehabilitation more than punishment;

7 – the continued move toward increased Short-Term Tourist Rentals on both sides of the Town-County line;

8 – and the future of water distribution and purchase on the county’s north side.

Water, whose water?!?

It was that latter matter, based on the county supervisors exploration of entering into a regional water authority in which Frederick County would supply water to Warren County on the western side of Route 340/522, north of Fairgrounds Road, that seemed to draw the most tension and disagreement in principle between the three liaison representatives of the county board and town council. Those representatives, up one person per side from past liaison meetings in which the board chair and mayor have been joined by one board and council member at the liaison table, were board and liaison meeting chair Cheryl Cullers, Delores Oates, and Walt Mabe on the county side, and Mayor Chris Holloway, with Vice-Mayor Lori Cockrell, and Gary Gillespie for the town. A number of staffers from both sides were also present.

It was Gillespie who first expressed concern from the Town side that the County would consider purchasing water from another municipality while the Town’s central water system based on access to the Shenandoah River, has the potential capacity to provide water for considerable commercial and residential growth into the future. It was noted that while the Town is currently permitted to draw up to 4 million gallons of water per day from the river by the State Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), it currently only draws about 2 million gallons, and has the capacity to draw as much as 12 million gallons, town officials indicated. We later confirmed updated numbers from Assistant Town Manager Kathleen Leidich. She reported the DEQ currently permits the Town to take 5.94 million gallons per day from the South Fork of the Shenandoah, with a current average Town daily outtake of 3.5 million gallons per day.

Culler took the lead in explaining the County perspective that having an alternate water source of a regional nature not wholly dependent on the Shenandoah River, could be an advantage for both the County and Town in the future as drought-impacted water levels and water quality concerns become increasing issues.

Liaison Committee Chair Cheryl Cullers, left, of the hosting county government, explains the advantage of joining a Regional Water Authority with more than one water source in case of future issues with the Town’s one source, the Shenandoah River. Town Manager Steven Hicks, far right, was an attentive listener.

 

However, the Town contingent noted it was in the process of finalizing a commitment to spend a cited $12 million dollars on a backup water line into the North Corridor per an agreement dating to Dominion Power’s decision to build its north side power plant feeding the eastern corridor here. That agreement carried the promise the Town would build a backup line to assure the Dominion Power Plant would continue to receive the water it needs to operate were the existing line to fail. At the time about a decade ago, Dominion committed $3.5 million to the project, which would have covered a much larger portion of the total cost than it currently does. – “That’s what happens when you kick the can down the road,” Gillespie observed the Town’s past reluctance to initiate the redundant water line project due to its covering the balance of the cost of expanding its central water utility infrastructure into the County’s North Commercial-Industrial Corridor.

Town officials have long pointed out that their agreement to expand the Town’s central water service beyond the town limits into the County’s Route 340/522 North Corridor, which began decades ago to allow DuPont to locate out there, facilitated the eventual commercial development explosion of two major shopping centers and other industry on county land. And on Thursday, September 16, 2021, current town officials seemed to be asking “for a little love” in return for the county’s expanded commercial tax base, a base created with the expansion of Front Royal’s central water utility. So, why go outside for water when we’ve got the capacity to provide more, DEQ permitting allowing.

But with supporting info from the county administrator, Cullers pointed out that while the Town’s central water supply is totally dependent on the status of the Shenandoah River, Frederick County has other water sources that can keep its supply flowing if the river’s supply was halted or impacted negatively by future environmental concerns.

County Administrator Ed Daley, charting at left, suggested town officials attend an Oct. 12 County work session presentation by Frederick Co. officials on creation of a Regional Water Authority. Town Manager Hicks, right, was sure to pinpoint the date of that presentation.

County Administrator Daley pointed out that the board of supervisors would be getting a presentation from Frederick County officials regarding a multi-jurisdictional Regional Water Authority initiative at an October 12 work session. Daley suggested that would be an opportunity for town officials, including council and the mayor, to attend and be briefed on the advantages of moving toward a regional water partnership.

Vice-Mayor Cockrell wondered if, with this turn toward potential regional authority participation by the County and perhaps the Town, council should reconsider the $12-million-dollar redundant water line project. However, Daley said he believed the Town was legally bound to the project by legal commitments made by council’s predecessors to Dominion Power. North River Supervisor Oates wondered if the regional authority option might present an alternative way to meet that legal obligation, at perhaps less cost to the Town. At this point, Town Manager Steven Hicks confirmed the date of the County work session regional authority presentation by Frederick County officials. Maybe the Town should put in for some reserved seating for that supervisors’ work session.

 

Short-term tourist rentals

During discussion of an increase in requests for short-term tourist rental Conditional Use Permits (CUPs), Assistant County Administrator Taryn Logan noted that despite sometimes passionately vocal public hearing opposition, the County has heard little in the way of neighbor complaints following board permitting approvals. She said the County had approved about 30 short-term tourist rental CUPs since requests took an upturn, with about 10 such uses having been grandfathered in for a total of 40 now permitted in the county. Where things like noise or garbage disposal have been issues, Logan said that once neighbors contact the renters, they have been cooperative in complying with neighborhood rules and common courtesies they may not have considered or been informed of in advance by owners or property managers.

However, the assistant county administrator and long-time planning director did observe that the use “was not for everywhere – there are some places where they don’t fit”. Establishing an objective, legal or code-based criteria for determining such locations in the permitting process is crucial to a successful resolution of those applications, Logan suggested.

As the meeting was adjourned at 8:54 p.m., just under three hours past its 6 p.m. starting time, there appeared to be a mood that things were changing for the better in Town-County relations. Reinitiating official face-to-face elected official communications on matters of mutual economic, social and legal interest would certainly seem a step in that direction.

If they’re laughing it must be a good sign – ‘This is fun (and informative), we should keep doing it’ seemed to be the consensus. A quarterly meeting was tentatively scheduled for December.

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Town Planning Commission tackles development projects – recommends denial of mayor’s

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The Front Royal Planning Commission at its regular meeting on September 15th tackled several development proposals that could affect town streets and neighborhoods. As a usual part of the commission’s meeting format, Chairman Douglas Jones asked if there were any citizen comments on matters not on the agenda, and there were none.

Town Planning Commission members listen as Planning and Community Development Director Lauren Kopishke explains the Planning Department’s Analysis of a Special Exception request for a private street. Royal Examiner Photos Stephen Sill

Turning to the Public Hearing portion of the meeting, the commission considered an application from Poe’s River Edge, LLC for a Special Exception requesting a new, non-dedicated private street for access to its Industrially Zoned (I-2) Property off the end of Kendrick Lane. This exception is required before an industrial subdivision can be approved. The applicant is not proposing any new public streets, instead of allowing for a privately maintained road to the property for future development.

At one time the 10-Acre property was fronted on old Kendrick Ford Road, which was abandoned by the town in 1944. Consequently, a special exception is being requested to provide access. The Director of Planning Lauren Kopishke explained in her presentation to the Commission that the applicants were proposing the conversion of a private right of way to a private road. William “BJ” Biggs, who is the Property Manager for a neighboring parcel, spoke during the Public Hearing. He told the Commission that there is currently not a maintenance agreement with the applicant for the road. He also said that the road under Norfolk Southern railroad overpass at the end of Kendrick Lane on the corner of the proposed access road is subject to severe drainage problems, and that could cut off the parcel completely since there is no other access.


The commissioners asked several clarifying questions of the applicants regarding the access road and the right of way. William Barnett spoke in favor of the proposal, as it facilitates development in that area which is ideal for the purpose. It is largely out of view – and hearing – of the public, far from a flood plain, and has been lying fallow for many years. Industrial property in the Town limits is very limited, so Mr. Barnett asserted that returning it to its intended use will mean increased tax revenues, possibly jobs, and in general a benefit to the community.

William ‘BJ’ Biggs describes the storm drainage issue at the end of Kendrick Lane for Town Planning Commissioners.

At the conclusion of the public hearing, the commissioners had an opportunity to query the applicants. Vice-Chairman Connie Marshner asked one of the earlier witnesses, Mr. Biggs, about the drainage problem he had mentioned in his comments. “Was it because of rain?” Chairman Jones asked if the drainage problems at the spot Mr. Biggs had referred to had been reported to the town. Answer: “Many times.” Commissioner Darryl Merchant commented that there was some uncertainty about the right of way as it was laid out alongside the Old Virginia building on the neighboring plot and although he was certainly in favor of approving this development, there needed to be some clarification about the maintenance responsibilities and the width of the right of way for the private road. He joined other commission members in being concerned with the access point to the property.

Vice-Chairman Marshner introduced a motion that forwards a recommendation of conditional approval to the town council, provided that the right of way be increased to 55 feet along the eastern edge of the parcel, and a turnaround for emergency vehicles be provided. Commissioner Gordon seconded and the commission voted unanimously to approve. The approval authority will be the Front Royal Town Council.

Holloway Construction private subdivision revisited
The second Special Exception application of the night was by Chris Holloway Construction for a new non-dedicated private street in the Steele Subdivision between Steele Avenue and Beeden Lane at the end of Carter Street. The unusual twist, in this case, is that Mr. Holloway is the sitting Mayor of Front Royal, leading to an uncomfortable position for the Planning Department, if not the Planning Commission itself. The proposed private street would service a series of 6 lots in that area for a block of new townhomes.

During the Public Hearing, two neighbors from Steele Avenue addressed the commission. Karen Tinkham testified that the construction on that site has resulted in substantial water and mudflow onto her property and brought photos to show the commission.

Drainage from a construction site in the Steele Subdivision creates a muddy mess in neighboring backyards during the site clearing process.

Another neighbor from Steele Ave, Christopher Settle, also reiterated the drainage problem and reported that the builder had installed some silt fence that may have slowed down some of the drainages, but did not stop it entirely, since the mud could come under the fence. The applicant, Chris Holloway, addressed the commission and acknowledged that heavy rains had caused some mudflow off the site and that his crew had installed a silt fence to stop the flow. He said it was possible that the wash could happen again given the topography of the site. He said the site had originally been lots, but that boundary adjustment had six lots to permit the construction of townhouses on the site, and that a street 20 feet wide was necessary to provide adequate space for the townhouse units on the lots with the required setbacks. Chairman Jones observed that a solution for the mud draining problem should be more permanent than a silt fence. Joe Brogan, who surveyed the property for the project, testified that when the units are completed, and the grassy areas are established. “Hopefully the natural drainage will solve the problem.”

Surveyor Joe Brogan answers questions about solutions for stormwater and mud runoff from the construction site.

Commissioner Merchant led off the commissioner’s comments by observing that the Subdivision Plat for this project had been signed on June 27 by the Town Manager, Interim Planning Director, and Finance Director. Since that time, the applicant was made aware that a Special Exception was required for “subdivisions on new non-dedicated private streets.” The subdivision plat was recorded at the courthouse on July 6 and was vacated on September 14. The request before the commission was to consider the private street and the proposed naming of that street. The problem arose because procedurally, the private street approval must be complete before a subdivision plat can be approved.

The applicant had requested that the new private street be named “Ryder Benson Court/Drive”. Commissioner Merchant expressed concern, as had the Planning Staff in a letter to the applicant, that the proposed street did not provide adequate access to emergency vehicles due to its width. The street would not meet the requirements that the town ordinance specifies. New public town streets must have a 50-foot right of way and have 37-feet of pavement. “Is there any reason we would modify our street standards for this development?” she asked.

One of the intents of the ordinance was to discourage private streets. Property owners on private streets may not have certain benefits that others enjoy – snow removal, trash pickup, or town road maintenance. Commissioners Gordon and Ingram addressed the issue of the process of approval. Planning Director Kopishke said that this request for a private street should be the first in the approval sequence, followed by the subdivision plat, site plan review, and approval, then building permits and inspections. In final remarks, commissioners concurred that the proposal was unworkable in its current form. On a motion by Commissioner Merchant, Seconded by Commissioner Gordon, the Commission then unanimously voted to recommend denial of the request.

Other business
Finally, the commission considered an application for a Special Use Permit by Allen Walters to construct a single-family dwelling on a nonconforming lot in the 1300 block of Warren Avenue. The lot is less than the minimum width and the minimum square footage according to the Town Code. The Planning Department review indicates the proposed dwelling will comply with the conditions established in the Town Code for a Special Use Permit. Before opening the Public Hearing, Commissioner Merchant told the commissioners that the case here was using a single 50-foot lot, unlike previous requests for combining several lots into one. The neighboring dwellings are built on 50-foot lots, and this proposal includes the required property line setbacks and the design of the structure as presented appears to meet the standards of the ordinance – it is what the ordinance was intended to do, it was observed.

William Jackson addresses the commission to object to the building of a dwelling on a lot neighboring his own.

Three citizens from the immediate area addressed the commission to oppose the building of a home on that lot. Neighbors to the north and south, Mr. Jackson and Mrs. Howard, both opposed the building because it was “too close” to their existing homes. Jackson provided some history of the lot and the subdivision itself. He recounted how the property was involved with his family for 50 years. He asserted that the property was given to his Aunt, but the problem was there was no deed. She knew that it was not big enough to build on, but since it adjoined her property, she assumed it as an extension of her own property. The family had been paying taxes and maintaining the property for 40 or 50 years.

Mr. Jackson said that when he eventually checked and discovered that there was no deed to the property and that he did not actually own it, he stopped paying taxes on it, and it went up for public auction. The applicant purchased the property and in conversation with Mr. Jackson, indicated he could possibly put a house on it. Mr. Jackson recalled he told the applicant that it was his understanding the lot was too small to put a house on. It emerged that the applicant does not intend to occupy the dwelling, and Mr. Jackson indicated that he was “basically giving up space” for it to be built.

Denice Howard, who occupies the property just north of the proposed site, was also opposed to its construction. Mrs. Howard addressed the commission to complain that the proposed dwelling would be too close to her house, and could impact the delivery of propane to her property. She was concerned about the loss of privacy and effects on her gas, water, and electricity with the new construction.

Lis Gonzales then addressed the commission to oppose the construction. Ms. Gonzales lives across the street from the proposed site. She said that many of her Spanish-speaking neighbors claimed not to have received the notification letter from the planning department and so could not attend the public hearing. She said that almost 100 percent of the houses on that block are homeowner occupied, and “We take pride” in the area. She also expressed concern about the potential for flooding. The new property, she asserted would be “almost on top of” the neighboring dwelling to the north.

Once the public hearing was closed, Vice Chairman Marshner expressed her sympathy for the neighbors’ plight, but the law says that a property owner has the right to use their property.

Commissioner Ingram concurred with the Vice Chairman’s comments, but the commission must be objective in applying the provisions of the ordinance. He was not comfortable with continuing a non-conformance. Chairman Jones also offered his sympathy for the witnesses and said that the decision must be balanced against the rights of the property owner. Commissioner Merchant reminded the witnesses that the commission only makes a recommendation to the Town Council, and there must still be a hearing there.

Following comments by the individual commissioners, the recommendation to approve the Special Use permit was unanimously passed. The permit application will now go to the town council for a public hearing and a vote.

The meeting was adjourned at 8:10 p.m.

 

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EDA in Focus

County work session takes unexpected turn on EDA front – ‘Reunited’ operational option broached

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What had been an hour-plus work session update on Capital Improvement Projects (CIPs) by County Project Manager Jeff Hayes took an unexpected turn about an hour and a quarter into that work session at the conclusion of Hayes PowerPoint presentation. I say “unexpected” because the only open session agenda cover sheet item was Hayes’ CIP report. However, the board elected to take what was labeled “Closed Session” discussion of “Personnel re: Economic Development Authority” into open session discussion.

What followed was County Administrator Ed Daley’s presentation on organizational opportunities presented by the pending October 1st loss of the second and final member of the two-person EDA staff. As previously reported, following Administrative Assistant Gretchen Henderson’s August 27 departure to the Northern Shenandoah Valley Regional Commission, Executive Director Doug Parsons announced his resignation, effective October 1, to take the EDA executive director’s job in Fauquier County.

Warren County Administrator Ed Daley explains the operational dynamics of realigning the EDA staff within the County’s administrative structure inside the WCGC. Royal Examiner Photos by Roger Bianchini

And what Daley presented to the board in open session echoed what EDA Board Chairman Jeff Browne told Royal Examiner in the wake of the pending loss of the entire EDA staff – this can be an opportunity, rather than a derailing of the EDA’s recovery from the multi-million-dollar financial scandal uncovered in 2018-19 under previous executive and board leadership. And while Browne focused on replacement personnel selection as the opportunity, Daley used that as a jumping-off point to explore previous supervisors discussion dating to early 2020 about an organizational realignment of the EDA. The County has already taken on the role of Financial Agent of the EDA. Continuing the broached realignment would bring the EDA staff into the Warren County Government Center, functioning more like a County Department. That option was first considered by some supervisors in the wake of the Town of Front Royal’s decision to operationally withdraw from the half-century-plus old joint EDA, in favor of creating its own unilateral Front Royal EDA (FREDA).


In Dec. 2019 file photo, then-Mayor Gene Tewalt at an EDA Board meeting. Tewalt urged Town Council to accept EDA-offered negotiations to determine exactly what the Town’s losses in the EDA financial scandal were – but council wasn’t listening. Will they now? Then EDA Board Chairman Ed Daley is at far left, flanked by Greg Harold, Doug Parsons, Jeff Browne, standing, a partially obscured Gray Blanton, and Jorie Martin. Now Supervisors Chair Cheryl Cullers is seated behind Mayor Tewalt.

That decision was driven by the Town Council’s decision, against the advice of then-Mayor Gene Tewalt, to civilly sue the old EDA for a larger portion of the allegedly embezzled and misdirected EDA assets related to County and Town business dealing handled by the EDA. Rather than costly and divisive litigation, Mayor Tewalt urged council to accept the new EDA leadership’s offer to have staffs simply sit down and follow the money to determine who was owed what. However, a council majority wasn’t listening to its then mayor. Consequently, the Town and EDA are currently engaged in dueling civil litigations.

And while Daley’s presentation began as a logistical exploration of processes of incorporating the EDA into the county governmental apparatus, it took a turn when one supervisor posed a legal question. “I’m going to call the elephant out in the room,” North River Supervisor Delores Oates said in pointing out that the existing EDA was jointly founded by the county and town governments over a half-century ago, and legally remains a Town-County EDA. So, can the County legally bring the EDA into its sole administrative oversight, she wondered.

“If I were sitting where you sit, I would invite the town council to participate in a staffed economic development department that works for the EDA but can also work for us in the County and the Town on economic development projects,” the county administrator replied. And as Daley pointed out, neither EDA currently has a staff, though at least one, the old EDA, has an exceptionally competent and proactive re-tooled board of directors.

“And I think that would be the best tactical advantage for the community, is if we would actually collaborate and not create independent organizations. Because otherwise we’re spending twice the money to do the same job,” Oates said in response to Daley’s suggestion.

Fork District Supervisor Archie Fox wondered how close to day-to-day EDA operations the county supervisors really wanted or needed to be. Below, North River Supervisor Delores Oates called ‘the elephant out in the room’ – the fact that legally the existing, co-founded EDA remains the ‘FR-WC EDA’. So, can the Board incorporate it into the county governmental apparatus were that path chosen?

The first face-to-face discussion of this latter option of reestablishing a jointly functioning Town-County EDA will apparently take place this Thursday, at the first Town-County Liaison Committee meeting since the Town Council decided to cut those quarterly meetings off in the wake of initiating the now dueling Town-EDA/County civil litigations. Daley noted that Liaison Committee opportunity was presented by the inclusion on Thursday’s Liaison agenda of a Town presentation on the status of development of its unilateral Town EDA.

Members of both council and the board of supervisors have recently suggested an altered, more collaborative Town-County path forward from the divisive and litigious one launched by council during the tenure of Interim Town Manager Matt Tederick. So, it will be interesting to see how Thursday’s Liaison Committee discussion develops with a new town manager involved; and how the full council will react to the idea of realigning into a jointly functioning EDA apparatus, possibly including collaboration in selecting the new FR-WC EDA staff were a speedy, positive reaction achieved.

The EDA discussion begins at the 1-hour-16-minute-30-second mark of the linked county video; Oates calls out the “elephant in the room” at the 1-hour-44-minute-45-second mark. The Capital Improvement Project PowerPoint and Q&A takes up the first hour-and-15-minutes of the video. And between the CIP and EDA portions of the work session, Board Chair Cullers gave an update on news of the birth of her newest grandchild Tuesday evening. – Welcome to the world on September 14, 2021, Ella Louise.

About those CIP projects

Prior to that turn toward the EDA and Town-County relations regarding cost-effective cooperation versus costly, counterproductive competition in future economic development initiatives, there were some interesting turns on the CIP front. Those included discussion of downtown Front Royal parking issues and the County’s ability to impact those issue with owned property in the Historic Downtown Business District vicinity. Also, under board scrutiny was the cost and effectiveness of air purification devices under consideration for other County facilities after being installed at the Warren County Courthouse to allow more normal judicial proceedings to be reinitiated during the COVID-19 Coronavirus pandemic. Discussion of the potential effectiveness against, not only the COVID-19 Coronavirus but other virally spread illnesses was broached in considering the purchase of as many as 60 of the machines at a cost of $2100 per unit.

County Project Manager Jeff Hayes had the floor with a power point review of Capital Improvement Projects for the first hour-and-15-minutes of work session.

See Hayes’ CIP power point on renovations to the Commonwealth Attorney’s Office; the Parks & Rec Department Splash Pad Pavilion; Rivermont Volunteer Fire Company 2 renovations; Shenandoah Farms Company 6 renovations; the Morgan’s Ford Boat Landing project; and Juvenile and Domestic Court renovations and related parking issue, including the observation that you “don’t build a court facility over or under a parking deck – BOOM!” (due to domestic terrorist concerns).

On the downtown parking deck front, Ed Daley noted that the Winchester City Council was scoffed at for proposing a downtown parking deck 20 years ago, adding that now the city has four.

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Special Events permitting, parking regulations and Town Comp Plan review move forward

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Regulations applying to downtown availability for special events and sometimes decades-old parking regulations that aren’t or cannot be enforced were two of a seven-item work session agenda of the Front Royal Town Council Monday evening, September 13. In the wake of those discussions, it appears council will move a revised version of its Special Events permitting matrix forward for approval at its meeting of September 27; and staff will attempt to “clean up” its parking ordinances, so they are legally supportable, and address issues faced by citizens in the 21st century.

Changes presented in the Special Events permitting process appeared to revolve around the striking of several controversial matrix criteria cited as favoring larger, tourism events that have the potential of generating higher fee and taxing revenues to the Town. Such deletions included: “Community Destination Benefit”, a demonstrated past history of “Success” and Organizational Structure Management “Capability”; “Direct Spending” and “Funding Capacity”; generating “Overnight Stays/(commercial) Room Nights”; and an “Evaluation & Management Plan”.

Recently named Assistant Town Manager Kathleen Leidich, bottom left, summarizes changes to the Special Events permitting matrix hoped to appease citizen complaints on the original submissions favoring larger, tourist-targeted events. Royal Examiner Photos by Roger Bianchini

A great deal of discussion was also generated about the advisability or not of refundable fees and the parameters of refunds if events were canceled closer to their scheduled date. Councilman Joe McFadden argued that a reasonable, non-refundable fee would indicate a certain commitment to following through with the necessary planning to see the event occur successfully. While somewhat divided on the issue, a council consensus appeared to be to leave the fees as included in the new draft. However, under “Tourism” in that draft, a number of fees ranging from $50 to $150 attached to the full or partial closure of streets were deleted.


So, after several aborted attempts at establishing a new Special Events policy, council will take another shot on September 27. And we will find out if, in fact, the drafted changes have eased the concerns of some involved citizens that the code changes were too restrictive on smaller community events.

The Parking Maze

As for parking regulations downtown, it appears there is no immediate plan to alter the existing non-enforcement of the posted 2-hour parking limit in the downtown business district, despite some recently added marked parking spaces along Chester Street off its intersection with East Main Street and adjacent to the Town’s Village Commons Parking lot, which carries the same non-enforced 2-hour limit.

The Town expanded its downtown painted parking spaces onto Chester St. on Sept. 8. However, it appears there are no immediate plans to begin enforcing the posted 2-hour parking time limit with ticketing. – They’re still just a friendly reminder there are businesses seeking customer parking in the area.

More specifically targeted for change were codes defining towing parameters as to after what period of time vehicles can be considered “inoperable” or “abandoned” including improperly licensed or registered vehicles. FRPD Chief Kahle Magalis indicated an absence of specific parameters in the town code. So, time limits on such regulations in neighboring communities were presented. Those ranged from Winchester City’s two-day limit to 10 days in Luray and Leesburg. Luray and Warrenton both had a “4 days without being moved” condition.

A great deal of discussion occurred around the right of people to sleep in their vehicles. The example of someone pulling over to rest while driving some distance to avoid a dangerous situation or just taking a nap in a public park parking area was counterbalanced by a specific instance of a homeless person utilizing their vehicle to repeatedly park and sleep in public parking areas. The dilemma of homelessness and a right to survive as best as possible, with limited publicly or privately offered alternatives available was debated at length.

“So, where are we? Do we look at it or just park it?” Mayor Holloway asked council after a lengthy discussion that included potential state or federal legal parameters that could impact local authority. Letasha Thompson’s “I’d park it” reply appeared to represent council’s consensus for the present.

After describing the ‘state of the beast’, Town Police Chief Kahle Magalis, at podium upper right, awaits a council consensus on a path forward in updating what was described at one point as ‘antiquated’ parking codes.

Also discussed were potential time limits on vehicles parked under protective shrouds, perhaps covering whether the vehicle is legally tagged, as well as ticketing of vehicles not parked “right wheels to curb” or against the traffic flow of the travel lane.

The Chapter 158 Code notated with problem areas comprised 43 pages; so, good luck reviewing staff.

A little late on that Comp Plan rewrite

Also on the work session agenda was an update from new Planning and Community Development Director Lauren Kopishke on the Town Comprehensive Plan update now underway. Kopishke noted Phase One was underway seeking input from town citizens on their thoughts on the most desirable future direction for residential and commercial growth within the town limits. The entire process, beginning at the Planning Department/Commission level, followed by council review and approval is anticipated to be completed over the next 18 months.

Kopishke noted that by state code, municipal Comp Plans are supposed to be reviewed and updated every five years. She observed that the Town’s current one was approved in 1998. That made it comparable to, if not quite as aged as some of the parking regulations discussed Monday evening.

The mayor and council listen as new Planning and Community Development Director Lauren Kopishke, at podium upper right, describes a somewhat overdue Comprehensive Plan update process now seeking citizen input on their vision of the town’s future composition and look.

Vice-Mayor Lori Cockrell suggested a more efficient means than simply relying on social media and Town website notices to alert town residents that council desired their input to develop a plan for future development aligned with that of the majority of people who live in town. Noting that a significant number of citizens probably did not do much, if any social media, the vice mayor suggested hard copy info sent out with Town utility bills, or possibly a mass mailing to citizens, with attached questionnaires that could be either returned with utility payments or dropped in the mail.

Open Discussion

During Open Discussion near the end of the two-hour-and-20-minute work session, as Mayor Holloway edged his seat away from the meeting room table, Town Manager Steven Hicks introduced recently discovered issues related to a scheduled September 27th public hearing. That public hearing is on a requested right-of-way vacation along Carter Street involving Chris Holloway Construction’s plans for the development of a non-conforming six-unit subdivision inside the town limits.

Mayor Holloway has subtly moved his seat away from the head of the work session table as late issues with his construction company’s private-road subdivision’s right-of-way exceptions are discussed. He was available to answer questions.

At issue for the planning commission/department, as the mayor found out when he went to seek a street naming addition to his planned private-road subdivision, are requested road construction rights of ways that do not meet Town codes. Those codes call for a minimum 40-foot street ROW. Staff explained that Holloway’s subdivision lots would each have on-property driveways, with no street parking allowed to facilitate the requested, and previously approved street width of 20 feet. The excepted streets would be private subdivision roads, not part of the town street system, staff explained. Councilman Thompson wondered if guests traveling by car would have to park at distance to be “shuttled in”. Councilman McFadden pointed to council’s past denial of a 30-foot ROW exception request to Front Royal Limited’s planned residential development off Mary’s Shady Lane in town.

“How did we not catch this before?” Vice-Mayor Cockrell asked as the discussion focused on preventing a repeat of any oversight in the approval process. Council and staff committed to bringing the matter to a successful conclusion, with excepted parameters explained and reapproved as necessary.

Also during the Open Discussion on a lighter note, Councilman Scott Lloyd addressed his research into the proper terminology for those people council represents who live inside the town limits. Noting he had once questioned the vice mayor’s use of “citizen” as opposed to “resident” because the Town does not have a “citizenship process” (to incorporate non-natives who move into town). Lloyd, whose pre-council stint as the Trump Administration’s Director of Refugee Resettlement at the southern border may have confused him on the necessity of a citizenship process here, said he had discovered upon consulting Mirriam Webster’s that, indeed, “citizen” was a proper reference, as is “resident”, of a municipality. – “I guess I’ll have to take it up with Mirriam Webster,” Lloyd responded by email to our query on the issue.

So, settle down my fellow Front Royal citizen transplants – we’re not going to have to pass a citizenship quiz on the history and laws of the Town of Front Royal to become legally voting citizens/residents of the town. And neither will the town’s transplanted elected officials to have to resign and pass such a test in order to legally run for municipal office here.

Other business

See the linked Town video for these discussions, as well as ones on Habitat for Humanity’s request for a waiver of water-sewer tap fees on new construction; work toward the Town’s establishment of its own Building Inspections Department and an Environmental Division, prior to adjournment to Closed Session to discuss a number of topics. Those Closed Session topics included consultation with legal counsel on litigation with “the Warren County EDA and Jennifer McDonald”; an unspecified personnel matter; consideration of the acquisition of “privately held real property for a public purpose”, as well as “the disposition of Town-held real property located outside the Town’s corporate limits; and discussion of “contractual and programmatic matters related to a contract the Town is a party to which has become problematic”.

 

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Local Government

County Planning Commission provokes fireworks over Short-Term Tourist Rental Permit in Highland Estates Subdivision

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The Warren County Planning commission held both a work session and its regular monthly meeting on September 8, as it continues to grapple with the planning issues of a changing community.

At the work session, Planning Director Joe Petty provided an overview of work done so far by the planning staff in collaboration with the Commission in the early parts of the Warren County Comprehensive Plan update. Some sections of the plan have not been updated since 2011, and land use is growing in prominence as an issue for citizens, as well as prospective developers. The 2020 U.S. Census Data that will be needed to assist in the process of rewriting the Comprehensive Plan is not yet available, so the Commission and the Planning Staff are pursuing a phased approach to the task with locally-developed data in the interim. A wide-ranging discussion covering public perceptions, concerns about large developer interests, and the provision of infrastructure, power, water, and sewer then ensued.

County Supervisor for the Shenandoah District Walter Mabe was present for the work session and weighed in regarding the difficulty of planning for orderly growth when water and sewer services are controlled by the Town. Maintaining the rural character of the county must be a priority while still allowing for growth in population and commerce that are inevitably coming. There are plenty of examples of localities nearer to the city that struggles with the results of poorly regulated growth. According to Mabe, the Board of Supervisors shouldn’t have a problem saying “no” where appropriate, but there must be consensus for it. The process should not be driven by developers, but by elected officials with citizen input.

Work on the Comprehensive Plan will continue through mid-2022.


Immediately following the work session, the Planning commission convened their regular monthly meeting, with Vice Chairman Hugh Henry as acting chair in the absence of Chairman Robert Myers. As is a standard part of each regular meeting, the Acting Chair opened the floor for public presentations to give citizens the opportunity to address planning issues that are not part of the planned agenda, but there were none.

The County Planning commission meets less its chairman to consider controversial conditional use permit requests for short-term tourist rental. Photos by Stephen Sill, Royal Examiner.

Quickly turning to the Public Hearing portion of the meeting, the Commission considered three Conditional Use Permit (CUP) proposals.

Charles and Lou Ann Dotson have requested a Conditional Use Permit for private-use camping on their lot in the Mandalay Subdivision on Burma Road. The property is in the North River magisterial district. The applicants plan to use their riverfront lots in the special flood zone for family gatherings and outdoor recreational use and intend to use a 5th Wheel Camping trailer seasonally.

When the chair opened the floor for public input on the proposal, there was none. So, the Planning Department recommended the conditions for approval would include the special flood-plain provisions. The commission unanimously recommended approval of the permit by the Board of Supervisors next month.

Jacob Lott and Sandra Kiepfer have applied for a Conditional Use Permit for a short-term tourist rental for their property at 50 Little Indian Road in the Shenandoah District. The property is zoned Residential (R-1). The applicants live across the street from the subject property so can provide on-site management. The applicants are also experienced in managing short-term rentals elsewhere in Warren County. Again, there was no public opposition to the proposal, and the commission voted unanimously to recommend approval.

Nicole and Sean McMinn are requesting a Conditional Use Permit for short-term tourist rental for their property at 277 Sagar Drive in the Fork Magisterial District. The property is zoned residential and located in a private subdivision on a marked private road. The applicants stated they intend to have a local contractor manage the property; and in preparation for the public hearing had engaged several neighboring property owners, as well as the Property Owner’s Association to hear and respond to their concerns.

Property owners Nicole and Sean McMinn describe their efforts to discover and mitigate other homeowners’ concerns about their proposed short-term rental property on Sagar Drive.

When the Chair opened the public hearing for this proposal, the meeting became a forum for fierce opposition to this Conditional Use Permit application. Seven impassioned property owners in the Highland Estates Subdivision came to the podium to express their thoughts. Several property owners were upset about the County allowing a use that could potentially impact their own security or privacy. At least partly because of the unique nature of the subdivision, which does its own road maintenance and provides its own security, the perception is that the county government is an unwanted overseer.

Some owners were concerned about strangers in their neighborhood, some charged that the short-term rental activity was a business rather than residential use, even though the Virginia legislature has explicitly stated it to be a residential use and not a business. The possibility that short-term rental guests might intentionally or inadvertently trespass on others’ property was another common complaint, particularly since the property in question does explicitly not have direct access to the river. There is a history of people who are not property owners in the subdivision getting access to the river by cutting across the riverfront lots and ignoring private property signs. There was a good deal of anger over outsiders coming in and changing the private nature of the subdivision.

Steve and Tammy Sagar express their opposition to the short-term rental use of a property in the Highland Estates subdivision.

Once the last property owner had spoken, the applicants were asked if they wished to provide a rebuttal, and Sean McMinn expressed his appreciation to the members of the public who had taken the time to come and express themselves. He said that he hoped they would be able to work with the surrounding property owners to allay their concerns and indicated great willingness to do so. Mr. McMinn also reminded the audience that a Conditional Use Permit can be revoked if a property owner does not abide by its conditions, which gives the surrounding residents some additional protections.

The commissioners briefly discussed the case and reminded the audience of the legislative declaration that a short-term tourist rental was not a business per se and cautioned the applicants that they have some “work to do”. Further, he noted that as an alternative to the McMinns seeking a CUP for short-term rentals, the property owners could simply rent out the property to whomever they chose long term, and neighbors would have to potentially live with a long-term problem, with no real recourse to subsequent problems. Absent any legal reasons not to, the commission voted unanimously to recommend approval of the CUP to the Board of Supervisors.

Several audience members then tried to interject their thoughts but were gaveled down by the chair since the public hearing had been closed, leading to a stormy departure from the meeting.

Angry audience members remonstrate with the Planning Commission after its vote to recommend approval of a Conditional Use Permit in Highland Estates despite vocal opposition.

For the second month in a row, proposed uses of private property have faced determined opposition by neighboring property owners. First commissioners, then supervisors, are facing balancing acts on individual property rights versus the opinions and concerns of impacted neighbors. Sometimes the balance tips toward the neighbors who may be adversely affected by a proposed use provided such an adverse effect can be validated. Sometimes the property owner’s rights can take precedence if all legal conditions are met, and adverse impacts are mitigated.

Commissioners have noted that it’s essential for opponents to be able to show specifically how they would be harmed by a use if it were approved. Merely being opposed to something is not enough: “We have always assumed we would have privacy here” or “We moved here to get away from all that” are not legally supportable reasons to deny another person a legally zoned use of their property. Potential public hearing speakers are urged to research what the law and local regulations say regarding specific uses in subdivisions. By the same token, property buyers should ascertain – in advance – what the local conditions are when considering a use that could affect others in proximity to their properties at issue. On the short-term rental side of the equation, much confusion seems to revolve around the state government defining that use as “residential” rather than a “business” use.

In a significantly quieter atmosphere, the commission turned to two authorizations to advertise for public hearings. Terra Site Constructors, LLC is seeking a Conditional Use Permit for a contractor’s storage yard at 6986 Winchester Road, a site zoned Industrial (I) in the North River District. The 10-acre site will be used in addition to the company’s current property at 900 Shenandoah Shores Road. An existing single-family dwelling on the property will be used as office space and/or housing for full-time staff. The Commission voted unanimously to approve the authorization to advertise.

Gordon Lee Birkheimer is requesting a CUP for a short-term tourist rental for his property at 52 Forest View Drive in the Massanutten Farms Subdivision in the Fork District. The property is zoned Agricultural (A) and will be used for this purpose while the owner is overseas. It will be locally managed and maintained. The commissioners unanimously approved the request for a public hearing on the application.

Finally, Planning Director Joe Petty introduced a new face to the Commissioners. Chloe Phillips will be providing administrative support to the Planning Department, bringing the team finally up to full strength. Director Petty particularly commended Deputy Director Matt Wendling for filling in to support the department in the absence of an administrative assistant.

The Chairman adjourned the meeting at 8:10 p.m.

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Local Government

COVID-19 policies close Front Royal Town Hall until October 15th

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The Town is working to maintain operations, programs, and activities while continuing to be concerned with the well-being of our employees and our citizens. Therefore, our leadership team revisited our policies and procedures that were implemented early this spring and feels it’s appropriate to implement them now.

The following policies and Town operations are now in place for 30-days beginning tomorrow, September 10th through Friday, October 15th, and may be modified or extended as necessary:

Town Hall will be closed for citizens and vendors. There will be a number at the main entrance of Town Hall for individuals to call to be seen by a Town employee for Permit services. Permit services will continue with customers and will be conducted in the conference room to provide for 6’ social distancing as recommended.

Utility customers will only be served via the drive-through at Town Hall. Customers will be encouraged to utilize some of our alternate methods of payment available online. The Town will continue to perform cut-offs and mail utility bills and applicable delinquent notifications.



All Council, Board, and Commissions will continue and citizens will be encouraged to wear masks.

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Front Royal
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Upcoming Events

Sep
19
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8:00 am 2021 Gnarled Orchard Hard Cider ... @ Valley View Farm
2021 Gnarled Orchard Hard Cider ... @ Valley View Farm
Sep 19 @ 8:00 am – Sep 20 @ 12:30 pm
2021 Gnarled Orchard Hard Cider Challenge @ Valley View Farm
Come enjoy the challenging routes at Sky Meadows State Park and Valley View Farm, home of the Gnarled Orchard. These courses are knotty, knot nice at the farm as they are a mix of cross[...]
Sep
20
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2:00 pm Trauma-Informed Training @ ONLINE
Trauma-Informed Training @ ONLINE
Sep 20 @ 2:00 pm – 4:00 pm
Trauma-Informed Training @ ONLINE
WARREN COALITION OFFERS FREE TRAUMA-INFORMED TRAINING IN SEPTEMBER Have you ever felt alone? Do you wonder why you react the way you do? Do you work with children? If you answered yes to any of[...]
Sep
23
Thu
6:00 pm Monument to Mosby’s Men Ceremony @ Prospect Hill Cemetery
Monument to Mosby’s Men Ceremony @ Prospect Hill Cemetery
Sep 23 @ 6:00 pm – 7:30 pm
Monument to Mosby’s Men Ceremony @ Prospect Hill Cemetery
The Col. John S. Mosby Camp, Sons of Confederate Veterans, will lead the annual “Monument to Mosby’s Men Ceremony” commemorating the fallen of Mosby’s command at 6 pm on Thursday, September 23rd, at Front Royal’s[...]
Sep
25
Sat
10:00 am 3rd Annual French & Indian War W... @ Abram's Delight
3rd Annual French & Indian War W... @ Abram's Delight
Sep 25 @ 10:00 am – 5:00 pm
3rd Annual French & Indian War Weekend @ Abram's Delight
Saturday, September 25, and Sunday, September 26, from 10 am to 5 pm. 18th Century Colonial encampments with historical interpretation of British, French and Native Americans on the Western frontier of the Virginia Colony during[...]
10:00 am National Public Lands Day @ Sky Meadows State Park
National Public Lands Day @ Sky Meadows State Park
Sep 25 @ 10:00 am – 3:00 pm
National Public Lands Day @ Sky Meadows State Park
Carriage Barn in the Historic Area. A blight decimated American Chestnut trees in North America in the 1920s. One hundred years later, Sky Meadows State Park has teamed up with the Virginia Chapter of the[...]
11:00 am Friends of Sky Meadows Farm Market @ Sky Meadows State Park
Friends of Sky Meadows Farm Market @ Sky Meadows State Park
Sep 25 @ 11:00 am – 3:00 pm
Friends of Sky Meadows Farm Market @ Sky Meadows State Park
Historic Area. Stop by the Friends of Sky Meadows Farmer’s Market for tasty preserved products, heirloom vegetables, eggs and more. Pick from seasonal vegetables grown in Sky Meadows’ authentic Kitchen Garden, July through September. Grab[...]
Sep
26
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10:00 am 3rd Annual French & Indian War W... @ Abram's Delight
3rd Annual French & Indian War W... @ Abram's Delight
Sep 26 @ 10:00 am – 5:00 pm
3rd Annual French & Indian War Weekend @ Abram's Delight
Saturday, September 25, and Sunday, September 26, from 10 am to 5 pm. 18th Century Colonial encampments with historical interpretation of British, French and Native Americans on the Western frontier of the Virginia Colony during[...]
Sep
27
Mon
2:00 pm Trauma-Informed Training @ ONLINE
Trauma-Informed Training @ ONLINE
Sep 27 @ 2:00 pm – 4:00 pm
Trauma-Informed Training @ ONLINE
WARREN COALITION OFFERS FREE TRAUMA-INFORMED TRAINING IN SEPTEMBER Have you ever felt alone? Do you wonder why you react the way you do? Do you work with children? If you answered yes to any of[...]
Sep
28
Tue
7:00 pm Community Parent Night @ Dominion Ridge Academy
Community Parent Night @ Dominion Ridge Academy
Sep 28 @ 7:00 pm – 8:30 pm
Community Parent Night @ Dominion Ridge Academy
Dominion Ridge Academy is proud to host this free community event for parents featuring international speaker, author, and comedian Christopher O’Shaughnessy. Come enjoy an evening of laughter and inspiration as Chris addresses the themes of[...]
Oct
2
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4:00 pm Oktoberfest: Family Fun Day @ Wakefield Country Day School
Oktoberfest: Family Fun Day @ Wakefield Country Day School
Oct 2 @ 4:00 pm – 8:00 pm
Oktoberfest: Family Fun Day @ Wakefield Country Day School
October 2, 2021 from 4pm-8pm All are welcome to attend the 2nd Annual Oktoberfest at Wakefield Country Day School. Loosen your Leiderhosen and get ready for Oktoberfest! This year, the Edelweiss Band is coming to[...]