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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
Council ponders where to find money for police budget and other projects
Money and spending priorities were on the mind of the Front Royal Town Council Thursday evening, January 20, at a Special Work Session called, if not specifically for budget matters, for a number of things with cost analysis and price tags of some significance. Among those were a Water Plant Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) System Procurement to replace the 15-year-old system now in place; “Council Initiatives” including some Capital Improvement Projects (CIP) for the coming fiscal year (July 1, 2022, thru June 30, 2023); and an outside contract with an “Executive Search Services” company in the hiring of a new lead town attorney.
Other agenda topics at what was a four-hour-plus work session chaired by Vice-Mayor Lori Cockrell in Mayor Holloway’s absence, were a Comp Plan Update/Existing Conditions Report; and proposed text amendments to Chapter 148 (Subdivision and Land Development), both presented by Planning Director Lauren Kopishke; and “Open Discussion” including a pending council resolution establishing the Town of Front Royal as a “Destination Marketing Organization” with the town manager as “Chief Liaison” on the DMO tourism promotional effort.
Vice Mayor Lori Cockrell chaired the work session in the absence of Mayor Holloway. Council member Amber Morris attended by remote phone connection to give council full attendance.
The open portion of the work session followed a Closed Session at the meeting’s 6 p.m. outset for interviews for positions on the Board of Zoning Appeals, the Town Local Building Code of Appeals, and Joint Tourism Committee.
And there was one “Budget Overview” specific to the Fiscal Year 2022-23 budget process of particular interest to elected officials and their constituents. That was a presentation on factors and budget needs within the Front Royal Police Department (FRPD) by Chief Kahle Magalis. In introducing the police chief, Town Manager Steven Hicks noted that at its recent “Retreat” council had expressed an interest in hearing directly from the chief about the proposed police budget. That introduction, presentation, and discussion begins at the 1:35:05 mark of the Town video.
FRPD needs and costs
And with “public safety” generally seen as one of the priority functions of government at every level from both sides of the political aisle, FRPD funding needs and how to achieve them were a major concern. However, apparently following what he believes to be council’s lead on balancing the FY-2022-23 budget, Town Manager Hicks pointed out that “my recommendation will not be for a tax increase”. Rather, budget cuts, push back of some projects to future budget cycles, or the use of contingency or reserve funds to fill revenue gaps seemed the favored strategy. That message followed Hicks’ summary of variables in presenting a staff-recommended budget to council for approval:
“Once I do my budget recommendation, the process is in your all’s hands and you have all means to tweak it … Also, I may come back with financing, looking at how we may be able to (access) potential other funding sources. But everything is on the table, our reserves, our debt services, and other options because I may need that” at which point his above observation “Other than that my recommendation will not be for a tax increase …” was made.
However, Councilman Gary Gillespie appeared to leave the tax increase door open should a need become apparent. “I’m just saying if we’re needing one, give us a recommendation on how much maybe. Because the other stuff is important too, Steven,” Gillespie said of the myriad “Council Initiatives” and other Capital Improvement needs – like a new or majorly renovated “Fleet Maintenance building” projected at initial costs in the coming budget year cited as $170,000 with an eventual total cost of $1.7 million – presented to council before Chief Magalis reached the meeting podium.
The agenda cover page of the “FY23 Police Department Overview” noted a current FY-2021/22 Budget of $5,227,200, with a Town staff-recommended $5,300,000 FY-2022/23 versus a department requested $5,733,960. That means the administrative staff recommendation leaves the police department with a $433,960 funding deficit for projected needs in the coming fiscal year.
Of that deficit, just under $104,000 are cuts to requested “Merit Increases” to departmental staff. Another $200,000 appeared to be in “Fleet Replacement” vehicle costs in which the “Town Manager’s Review” cited no allocation, as it did not in the “Narcotics K-9” ($15,000) and “Taser Replacement ($47,500) categories. Merit increases are now seen as essential in maintaining qualified, experienced staff in an increasingly competitive municipal staffing environment. The chief also noted the department would be hit by four pending retirements mid-year, including Captain Kevin Nicewarner.
The FRPD budget is in support of 38 certified police officers (Magalis corrected from 39 in the agenda summary) and “14 full-time and 3 part-time civilian employees” (55 total), in addition to “2 police canines” though one will be retired due to obsolete drug training due to the legalization of marijuana, it was explained; working in three divisions – Patrol, Investigations, and Communications – in addition to the department’s administrative staff. Average police departmental funding over the past 5 years has been $5,109,808 the staff summary noted. And while his and the chief’s budget recommendations were over $400,000 apart, the town manager did laud Magalis in recent budget cycles – “The chief has done a lot with a little,” Hicks told council.
Related to the need to replace one drug-sniffing canine due to changed drug laws forcing dogs trained in marijuana sniffing into retirement, it was suggested to seek funding help from the state legislature on that $15,000 expense since it was created by legalization legislation at the state level.
When council discussion turned to the possibility of writing of more traffic tickets as a revenue-producing source, perhaps with changes in state driving laws contributing to such an effort, Chief Magalis pointed out: “We don’t write tickets for revenue. We write tickets for public safety. And we’ve always had that, we’ve never had quotas for officers or anything like that …”
The chief’s point for council to consider is that unlike some Enterprise Fund departments like public utilities where user fees can support operations, law enforcement is not constructed as a self-supporting, revenue-generating department. Rather, it is a public service department created to ensure the public safety and at the local level the Constitutional assurance of a “General Welfare” of a government’s citizens. Due to these variables it is a service often supported to a large extent by tax revenue paid by the citizens of the enabling government.
Regarding another change at the state level disallowing the suspension of driver’s licenses as a punishment for certain offenses, Gillespie lamented that change and any corresponding fine-generated revenue loss. “Something I disagree with is taking the leverage away from the fines. Because guys, let me tell you something, there’s nothing in our Constitution that says you have a right to drive – nothing!”
However, the councilman did not address the fact that when the Constitution was written circa the early 1790’s, motor vehicles themselves and the need to drive them over increasing distances to maintain basic necessities like employment and access to basic essentials, did not yet exist. In fact, one might argue that the Ninth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution: “The enumeration in the Constitution of certain rights shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people” could be applied to the right of American citizens to drive in a modern world never envisioned by the nation’s “Founding Fathers” some 230 years ago.
Perhaps related, if not anticipated to be connected to a Constitutional rights discussion related to law enforcement funding, were improvements to the Town Trolley transit system. Those included establishment of covered route stops and a broader time schedule and more easily available information on scheduled stopping times at various locations throughout the town limits.
Front Royal’s Economic Development Authority has inaugural meeting
The newly formed Front Royal Economic Development Authority (FREDA) met for the first time, at 11 a.m. Thursday morning, January 20, 2022, in the second-floor Town Hall meeting room. Royal Examiner was notified that what was primarily an orientation meeting and the first gathering meet and greet of the town council-appointed FREDA Board of Directors would not be livestreamed or videotaped by the Town, leading to the presence of the Royal Examiner camera to visually document the occasion.
The meeting was chaired by Town Manager Steven Hicks, who has been tasked by the Town Council to also serve as FREDA’s executive director. The meeting began two of seven board members short, with Nick Bass and Rick Novak both arriving a few minutes after the 11 a.m. starting time. Final arrivee, Royal Cinemas owner Novak, explained a concession stand equipment malfunction had delayed his arrival.
The now fully manned board took on a four action-item agenda, including presentation of draft bylaws for review; setting dates for a FREDA retreat (March 8), as well as its next meeting (Feb. 17, indicating a third Thursday rotation of regular monthly meetings); and Virginia Economic Development Partnership (VEDP) General Counsel Sandy McNish’s remotely presented PowerPoint overview of EDA functions and state legal parameters for EDA operations, including financial lending utilizing public funds to stimulate economic development for a public good.
McNish noted Virginia as a Dillon Rule state in which localities and political subdivisions like EDA’s cannot exceed authorities “expressly granted by the General Assembly”. She also noted that municipally created EDA’s are independent entities from the municipalities that create them and utilize their services in economic development initiatives and assistance in financing economic development projects.
In prefacing the FREDA board for the VDEP presentation, Town Manager/FREDA Executive Director Hicks said, “Today is obviously our first overall meeting. We’ve got a pretty decent agenda, more of just an intro of what we’re going to do. We’re going to talk about EDA 101 … and also I would kind of like to go around the table and have everyone introduce (themselves) with a brief bio of who you are, as well. And then I’m going to introduce the staff that will be supporting the EDA as we go forward.”
Those FREDA Board of Director introductions included (in the order listed in the agenda packet summary of their backgrounds):
Isaac Rushing (1-year term), owner of Honey and Hops Brew Works at 212 E. Main St., also cited as “a former supervisor with the Town of Front Royal” though no department was included in his profile;
David Gedney (1-year term), owner of Element Restaurant (317 E. Main St.), also a current member of the Town Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA), who has past experience “in planning/growing a recycling effort for VCU” (Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond);
Mark Tapsak (2-year term), owner of Mountain Music (217 E. Main St.), also cited as “a medical device research scientist and consultant with Diabetic Health Inc., as well as a university (unspecified) teacher of biochemistry and chemistry courses.”
Rick Novak (2-year term), as previously noted owner of Royal Cinemas (117 E. Main St.) and Royal Family Bowling Center (430 Remount Rd.), also cited as a former owner of the Blue Ridge Motel and Royal Family Amusement Arcade;
Frank Stankiewicz (3-year term), owner/manager of Green to Ground Electrical LLC (316 Warren Ave.), also cited as “President of local (unspecified) networking organization”;
James Crowell (3-year term), owner of Quecon, Inc. IT Engineering Co. (134 Peyton St.) “that specializes in cybersecurity, software engineering and telecommunications” who is also cited as “Graduated from Goldman Sachs 10,000 small business program (10KSB), Veteran’s Institute of Procurement (VIP), VA Scaling for Growth (S4G), Small Business Administration (SBA) business development.”
Nick Bass (4-year term), cited as “Geotechnical and construction consultant; experience reviewing construction contracts and subcontractor agreements to identify risky language; marketing experience and communications skills.”
In her presentation to the newly created FREDA Board of Directors, VEDP General Counsel McNish, who noted a 14-plus year tenure at VEDP, said, “So, what’s an EDA? You’re enabling legislation is the Industrial Development and Revenue Bond Act. You’re a political subdivision of the Commonwealth, much as the VEDP is; you are a separate legal entity, as the VEDP is. You’re not the town that created you, the town that created you is not you. You have a separate subdivision, you are a different thing.”
She continued to note that EDAs “are usually created by one locality but they can … be created by two or more, as you know. And authorities, even if they’re from separate localities, can, indeed, work together in a cooperative way on projects.”
One might hope that as an evolving independent subdivision of the Town of Front Royal, that type of inter-EDA cooperation will develop, as has been offered by the WC EDA Board, despite the total cut off of all communications, other than civil litigation, example that has been set in recent months by the Front Royal Town Council and its town management staff.
“You have very broad powers under the Industrial Development and Revenue Bond Act. And you can do most anything, so long as you do it under your animating purpose, which is to promote industry and develop trade by inducing manufacturing, industrial, governmental, etc. facilities to locate in or remain in the Commonwealth.
“Now if you’re providing a branch or something to somebody or helping with a developmental plan, that’s certainly going to benefit a private company. But that’s okay because that’s not why you are doing it. You’re doing it for a public purpose,” McNish pointed out of attracting business or industry to an area as a general economic benefit to the community in which the EDA operates.
Town Planning Commission considers short term rental ordinance and update on Town’s Comprehensive Plan process
The Front Royal Planning Commission entered the new year with a quiet and businesslike first meeting on January 19th with all commissioners in attendance to consider a topic that has taken up a good deal of its attention (no, not the fiery allegations of the last meeting) – rather, the proposed ordinance change to address short-term rentals. In November the Town Council requested the planning commission to develop a proposed ordinance that would assure a uniform process for approval of conditional use permits for this use, as distinguished from hotels, motels, and bed & breakfast establishments. The planning staff adapted a proposed ordinance from that used by the County to establish standards and conditions for short-term rentals, and Planning Director Lauren Kopishke submitted it to council earlier to get feedback.
Since the topic of this ordinance amendment was postponed at the December Planning Commission meeting, Commissioner Darryl Merchant asked Planning Director Kopishke for an update on the proposed text. The Planning Director referred the commissioners to a version in their packages that had been sent to Town Council for their January 10 meeting. Council’s only change was a request to remove the prohibition on street parking in the draft version. There followed some discussion about what the Town Council’s intent was – the original draft prohibited parking for short-term rentals in yards or along public right-of-ways, which would effectively bar a guest from parking along a street even if a marked parking place. Many properties in town have no other parking than on the street.
Commissioner Merchant observed that conditions in town are different than those in the county, and that it could be worthwhile to consider whether different zones in the town are not appropriate for this use. Permitting short-term rentals in all zones may not be appropriate, he reasoned. Vice-Chairman Connie Marshner said that several citizens have approached her with doubts about whether short-term rentals should be allowed.
Commissioners Josh Ingram and William Gordon also commented that the ordinance established a standard for a special use permit. Consequently, each permit must be reviewed by the commission for a recommendation to the town council for approval. So, decisions of appropriateness are made on each application on a case-by-case basis and an ordinance is not a blanket permission for property owners to start offering short-term rentals by right.
At length, rather than voting to recommend approval of the ordinance, Commissioner Merchant offered a motion to postpone action and refer the subject to a Planning Commission work session on February 4, so that it could be discussed and alternatives identified prior to a final vote. The commission unanimously approved that motion.
The commission then turned its attention to a presentation by the Assistant Town Manager, Kathleen Leidich, on the Fiscal Year 2023-27 Capital Improvement Plan. The Plan is a forward look at capital projects the Town foresees in the upcoming five years. The $2.5 million plan for streets in FY 2023 incorporates primary and secondary street repaving, new sidewalk construction, replacement of the 8th St. bridge, and rehabilitation of the Fleet Maintenance building. The plan also identifies projects that are further into the future, such as a Leach Run flyover, an east-west connector, further improvements to Happy Creek Road, and various trails and road extensions.
$1.5 million in planned improvements to the Town’s water system in the upcoming fiscal year include replacement of undersized water lines between Colonial Drive and Leach Run Parkway, and waterline replacement throughout the town in conjunction with the town’s paving plans.
The Electric Department projects $1.1 million for its improvements in this fiscal year to expand the Happy Creek substation, replacement of transformers that have reached or exceeded their service life, and further funding for the Automated Metering Infrastructure, (AMI) which allows remote meter reading and service connects and disconnects. It will eventually mean all meters throughout the town will be replaced.
After being briefed on the plan, the commission discussed its own role in the process as it provides feedback to the town staff and then makes recommendations to the town council as part of the budgeting process. Commissioner Gordon wondered what the ultimate role of the commission was in the CIP process, and how the commission could be of help to the Town in establishing priorities and identifying needs. “It seems like we’re being asked to rubberstamp a budgeting process that’s already been done,” he observed.
Assistant Town Manager Leidich responded, “In general, town staff brings the CIP to planning to get feedback. Ultimately it is the town council that approves the CIP.”
The emerging consensus from the Commission was that earlier involvement will mean better knowledge of the proposed priorities, and that for this cycle, it was better for the commission to recommend approval and then work with town staff in a more collaborative process for the next budget cycle.
The Commission ultimately voted unanimously to recommend approval of the CIP.
The final order of business was an update on the Comprehensive Plan rewrite process by Planning Director Kopishke. The staff and its support contractor have produced an Existing Conditions Report.
The report packs a lot of information into its 35 pages. It outlines statistics such as population, business, income, employment, and education, as well as useful information about infrastructure and services. The Commission and the planning department are continuing work on the plan. You can find the report, as well as links for your input, here.
The meeting was adjourned at 8:30 p.m.
After work session discussion of Town building permit function, supervisors approve 3 CUP requests, 2 for short-term tourist rentals
The Warren County Board of Supervisors agenda of Tuesday, January 18, began with a no cameras, caucus room work session highlighted by a presentation by County Building Official David Beahm on implications of the Town of Front Royal taking over the building and maintenance inspection function within town limits. It is a long-discussed on the Town side shift, that began in the first decade of the 21st century if memory serves. But after hearing about constantly shifting variables on interpretation and enforcement of stormwater management and erosion and sediment control aspects at the state level, one might wonder if the Town might want to reconsider its decision to finally move into the in-town inspection world.
“That’s ridiculous,” North River Supervisor Delores Oates chimed in with a colorful declaration after hearing Beahm’s description of ongoing shifts in State interpretations of its own rules on parameters of municipal enforcement of state rules on these aspects of building variables. Responding to questions, Town Planning Director Lauren Kopishke estimated full town inspection department enforcement, including stormwater and erosion and sediment control by June. The Town department was officially enacted on January 3rd. Dynamics of in-town inspection records being shifted to Town control from the County system was discussed, as was alerting in-town property owners to seek those records from the Town when they were transferred.
County Finance Director Matt Robertson also presented a look at new online links to a budget development site for easier member and staff access during the budget cycle.
Following those two presentations the supervisor adjourned to closed session for discussion of advisory board appointments and real estate transactions outside the town limits.
Then it was on to a rather straightforward regular meeting agenda featuring three public hearings on Conditional Use Permit (CUP) requests, one for a guesthouse off Buck Mountain Road in the South River District’s Stone Subdivision by Joshua Branson, and two for short-term tourist rentals on Riverview Shores Drive in the Shenandoah Shores Subdivision.
The first of those latter two was submitted by experienced and multi-county short-term, Air B&B style rental operators Gillian Greenfield and Richard Butcher; the second by a property neighbor of Greenfield and Butcher, Terry Hartson. Hartson told the board that he had taken his business management plan lead from his more experienced neighbors. Hartson spoke in support of his neighbors’ request, as they did in support of his. With acknowledgment the Branson guesthouse would not be used as a commercial endeavor, and detailed management plans for the two short-term rental requests in place, all three were approved by unanimous consent with little or no opposition submitted to the board prior to the public hearing.
About five minutes into the meeting during Public Comments the Town’s recent “interim man” returned to the dais to play word games to repeat still-unsubstantiated accusations against County and Town officials, as well as gripes about the Royal Examiner and its reporters not covering “news” as he desires it to be covered – apparently unsubstantiated, without first-hand verification, and without an objectively critical eye toward the documented actions of public officials, particularly within Town Hall.
See the above discussions, public comments, as well as board member reports, and approval of a four-item Consent Agenda, including more coyote bounty awards, and discussion of a removed consent agenda staffing search item, and two late agenda additions in this County video:
‘Grandfathering’ or not? County Planning Commission foresees the need to address Non-Conforming Properties
At its regular meeting on January 12, the Warren County Planning Commission confronted a nagging issue that members expect will increasingly come up in the future, that of property owners in older subdivisions whose dwellings were built long before there were local zoning ordinances or even building inspections. Even though building codes date back to the Babylonian King Hammurabi, and rudimentary standards in the late 18th century, most large American cities didn’t begin enacting or enforcing them until 1900 or so, and in most smaller localities they were not widely enacted until the 1970’s, and even after that not uniformly enforced. In Warren County, for example, many small “summer cabins” were built near or on the river in the 1940’s or before, when that requirement did not exist. They weren’t originally intended to be permanent homes, but rather vacation places. In modern times, local zoning ordinances would preclude many of these from being built at all, or certainly sited where they are.
The continuing challenge for the County is to strike a balance between a property owner’s investment in his property, the need for uniform enforcement of the building code, and common sense. More and more requests for Conditional Use Permits (CUPs) for short-term tourist rentals, for example, show that property owners, sometimes with “nonconforming lots”, still want to rent their cabins out to tourists. But the standards of the County’s short-term tourist rental ordinance require things like 100-foot distance between dwellings. So, the commissioners spent some time discussing what the right approach to that challenge is. Zoning law is where the term “grandfathering” is often found – provisions that allow some deviations from standards where the original construction predated the standard. It’s certain that the commission and the county board will have to eventually develop a solution that can be applied fairly and uniformly.
An example case will likely be considered at next months meeting, when the commissioners will be looking at a request from Alvand Khoshgavar for a CUP for a short-term tourist rental for his residentially zoned property at 668 Old Dam Road in the Shenandoah District. His property doesn’t meet the 100-foot setback requirement, so that requirement would have to be waived for a permit to be issued. The request was approved for advertising the public hearing, but the commissioners agreed that the topic of these properties will need to have a better solution. The County can waive provisions of an ordinance, but every waiver creates a precedent.
Meanwhile, this month, John LaVoie is requesting a CUP for his residentially zoned property at 1196 Old Oak Lane in the Shenandoah District. Deputy Planning Director Matt Wendling briefed the commission on the details of the application. The proposal meets the County short-term rental supplementary regulations, and comments were received from the County Building Official and the Department of Health. There were no citizen comments during the public hearing, and no comments or objections were received from neighboring property owners by the County Planning Department.
With no other comments by commission members, the vote to recommend approval was unanimous. The permit request will now go to the County Board of Supervisors for final approval.
The consent agenda for the meeting consisted of authorization to advertise public hearings for seven Conditional Use Permit requests and one zoning ordinance change. Those items will be on the agenda for next month’s meeting on February 9th.
Chairman Myers adjourned the meeting at 7:45 p.m.
Town of Front Royal prepares for its 2nd, oh wait – 3rd winter storm of season
On January 14, 2022, the operations team that includes Public Works, Energy, Fleet Management, Finance, and the Police Department met to discuss the upcoming snowstorm forecast to drop from 6 inches to a foot or more of snow here. Public Works crews are treating primary roads now in preparation for the winter storm now predicted to begin around 1 p.m. on Sunday. Road crews and Fleet will begin working 12-hour shifts over the weekend to continue treating streets and plowing snow as needed.
The Police Department is asking citizens to stay off the roads during the storm if possible. Road crews are better able to cover streets with less traffic. The Town is asking residents to use off-street parking this weekend if available.
Town Energy Services crews are prepared and will be working this weekend to cover possible power outages. Power outages after work hours should be reported to Front Royal Police at (540) 635-2111. If you have internet connectivity during working hours, please report outages at frontroyalva.com/FormCenter.
As always in an emergency call 911.
Public Works and Energy Services also have contractors on standby if additional crews are needed.
The Virginia Department of Transportation Staunton District is preparing for forecasted snow and some sleet to occur during the daytime on Sunday, January 16, and into overnight hours, ending by early Monday, January 17. VDOT crews began brine operations at 8 a.m. on Friday, January 14 and will conclude this work later in the day.
In the Staunton District, around 900 – 920 pieces of equipment will be deployed for snow removal operations. VDOT crews will be out to plow and treat roads as the winter weather begins. Wreckers will be pre-staged to assist with vehicle removal at traffic crash locations along interstate roads. Tree crews are ready to assist as needed during and after the storm.
Travel during the storm should be avoided and local forecasts should be monitored. Winter weather with wind and snow rates can change quickly, causing dangerous driving conditions and possible white-out situations.
Travelers should be prepared for emergencies. Travel emergency kits can include flashlights and batteries, ice scraper, cell phone and charger, jumper cables, blankets or quilts, first aid kit, bottled water, non-perishable food, abrasive material for traction, and a shovel.
(The Front Royal Public Information Office updated its release on the above preparations to acknowledge this will be the third, rather than second snow of the season to hit the town.)