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Town willing to form Creek project committee but will it allow time for it to function? FRPD construction loan and final 2020 live meeting authorized

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What is so hard about applying for a permit extension to facilitate doing a crucial town landscaping, stormwater, and erosion control project right, as opposed to on schedule by the quickly approaching through the Christmas Holiday December 31st deadline? That seemed to be the primary question at issue in the wake of a Monday, December 7th Front Royal Town Council work session discussion with nine-organization “Save Happy Creek Coalition” principal David Means.

Council discusses what it has heard from Save Happy Creek Coalition spokesperson and landscaping professional David Means, at the podium. Royal Examiner Photos by Roger Bianchini – Royal Examiner Video by Mark Williams

After two public hearing votes and a subsequent Resolution in support of authorization of finalizing an $8.483 million loan with United Bank to fund payment of the debt service on the new Front Royal Police Station, among three other Special Meeting agenda items taking a total of 15 minutes, the Front Royal Town Council adjourned to its five agenda item work session. Had there been public present in the limited confines of the Town Hall second-floor meeting room under Phase 3 COVID-19 Coronavirus pandemic social distancing parameters, their interest would have been focused on the fourth of those items – the status of the Town’s plans for Happy Creek and its bank along a visually prominent 1300-foot stretch between the Prospect Street Bridge and South Street between Front Street and Commerce Avenue.

Replacing removed vegetation with rocks the length of the project is not a good idea, environmentalists and waterside landscaping professionals agree; below left of Mayor Tewalt, Vice-Mayor Bill Sealock worries that years of neglect of Happy Creek’s bank maintenance has forced council’s hand to do something soon – but doing the right thing is important, he agrees.


Means was one of two members of the public invited appearing in the Town Hall Special Meeting/Work Session space. The other, Ron Llewellyn, addressed council on his HEPTAD developmental group’s request for a one-year extension on submission of a development plan for its Swan Estates project, which was granted.

But back on the banks of the Happy Creek discussion, Vice-Mayor William Sealock asked his colleagues to grant Tree Steward and former Urban Forestry Advisory Council member and landscaping professional Means three minutes of work session time to address them and staff to elaborate on what the Save Happy Creek Coalition of nine concerned groups have an issue with on the Town’s permitted plan.

As has been reported, at issue is a plan the creek coalition’s professionals say flies in the face of 21st-century water bank management best practices emphasizing the importance of riparian buffer, or natural tree and other indigenous vegetation’s presence for bank stabilization and stormwater management flow.

The Town’s plan submitted by stormwater management and Inflow and Infiltration consultant CHA appears to turn that stretch of Happy Creek along this “Tree City USA’s” Shenandoah Greenway trail into apparent vegetation barren “riprap” rock quarry and stormwater rapid disbursement shute with negative flooding implications downstream, the creek coalition believes.

Above, another view of clearing work done in preparation of a total riprap or rock-strewn creek bank along both sides from Prospect St. to South St. Below, Lori Cockrell points to the type of larger, more expensive riprap rocks downstream near the pavilion close to Bob Mason Softball Field, which Means said would be more effective for stormwater control at certain sections of the creek between Prospect and South Streets.

Save Happy Creek Coalition organizational partners agreeing with this perception and its counterproductive impacts on Happy Creek, it’s riparian buffer, nearby neighborhoods and the community’s Shenandoah Trail and related tourism industry businesses include the Alliance for the Shenandoah Valley, Beautification of Front Royal Committee, Friends of the North Fork of the Shenandoah River, Front Royal/Warren County Appalachian Trail Community, Front Royal/Warren County Tree Stewards, the Izaak Walton League, the Shenandoah Riverkeeper, Sustainability Matters and affiliated Garden Club of Warren County.

As previously reported by Royal Examiner, state officials have indicated that if all involved parties agree to file for a permit extension it would be granted, allowing the existing plan to be re-evaluated and its deadline extended past the end of December. Means explained that rather than any major changes to the permitting, what needs time and review is the thought process and effectiveness of the plan’s specifics.

“I’m not expecting to change that plan,” Means said in response to new Town Manager Steven Hick’s observations on what he was hearing on his first day on the job, adding, “I want to make sure that we have the thought process in mind because you will do that three miles more, and that’s a lot of distance. Some of its county property but boy, just by doing this one little section, it’s critical because of the effect downtown. We’re going to lose control – that’s what I’m worried about.”

“I think we can do it,” Hicks had commented of completing the project in a timely manner, noting he needed to be “brought up to speed” on all the involved variables as to permitting, specifics and sequencing of the necessary planning and work.

New Town Manager Steven Hicks, left, is introduced to Front Royal Town Council dynamics on the first day of the job work session. Councilwoman Cockrell explains riprap rock photos she took of past creek-side work further downstream after David Means, standing, pointed to such larger rocks as better-suited for portions of the Prospect-South Street section of planned work.

 

What Hicks was hearing was a council, several members of whom seemed very receptive to the critical input of landscaping and environmental professionals who have cited a permitted plan that appears to allow the replacement of most, if not all vegetation along what could become an ironically named segment of the Shenandoah Greenway Trail; and others more preoccupied with potential cost variables – more money for bigger rocks, less money for fewer rocks – or seeing the apparently misguided project completed on schedule.

Discussion led to the idea of forming a town official-citizen-coalition committee to further explore the creek situation. However, whether that committee’s creation would come with or without a permit extension application wasn’t clear. Though the formation of a committee without adding the time necessary – beyond a December 31 project deadline – for it to form and have any impact on the project would seem a futile endeavor.

As for the special meeting actions, as stated above, three – two public hearings and approval of a supporting resolution – revolved around finalizing assumption of the United Bank loan to pay off the FRPD construction project debt service in the amount of $8.483 million ($8,483,001.15 to be exact). The several-week delay in finalizing the terms of the loan added a question on where November’s interest payment over the negotiation period including November and December, would be placed.

Council finally approved the assumption of its police department headquarters debt service to the tune of $8.4 million of the thus far generated $8.8 million costs.

Responding to a question – should we continue calling him Interim Town Manager or Town Manager Transition Team leader? – Matt Tederick said that the Town had not been assessed with November’s interest as monthly payments transitioned from interest-only about $21,000 to principal and interest payment of just over $50,000 per month as the EDA and Warren County stopped covering the debt service previously held by the EDA.

But hey, what’s another thirty-thousand dollars thrown into the mix of the $400,000 in the interest the EDA has already paid on the project it believes the Town is also responsible for reimbursing it for?

The work session concluded with a discussion of how council should proceed with meetings in the wake of Phase 3 COVID-19 pandemic impacts. Valley Health employee and Councilman Jacob Meza described “higher case counts – much worse than it was in March” in pushing toward more virtual meetings.

Councilman Meza, also a Valley Health employee, worried over spiking COVID-19 numbers in the Lord Fairfax Health District in the northern Shenandoah Valley, which he pointed out are now worse than the March-April numbers during the first pandemic spike.

Mayor Tewalt suggested having the second December and final council meeting of the year, in the larger Warren County Government Center meeting room as had been occurring prior to Monday, and as the county board continues to meet with social distancing guidelines in place for staff and the public. Then as the year turns and more information on the pandemic and vaccine distribution becomes available, decide on a future course for 2021 after the newly elected council and mayor are seated in January.

“I don’t want those public hearings canceled,” Mayor Tewalt said.

Councilman Holloway, who will replace Tewalt as mayor in January, said moving toward virtual meetings immediately wouldn’t cancel the public hearings. Of course, it would limit direct public input to council. Councilwoman Lori Cockrell wondered whether utilizing the larger WCGC room with social distancing restrictions in place would provide a safe middle ground.

A final consensus seemed to be to follow Tewalt and Cockrell’s notion of a final live meeting of 2020 at the WCGC, with the public or staff overflow, kept out of the main meeting room until it was their turn to speak to a specific agenda item.

See all these meeting and work session discussions, and meet new Front Royal Town Manager Steven Hicks, in this Royal Examiner video:

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Council ponders where to find money for police budget and other projects

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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.

Town Planning Director Lauren Kopishke, upper right at podium, led council through a Comp Plan process update and discussion of proposed text amendments to the Town Code on Subdivision and Land Development. Below, ‘Council Initiatives’ for the coming year with cost estimates were presented by the town manager. Royal Examiner Photos by Roger Bianchini



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.

FRPD Chief Kahle Magalis waits to begin his budget and departmental summary as the town manager deals with some PowerPoint projection tech issues. Below, a comparison of the departmental budget request versus the town manager’s suggested numbers. There was a nearly $434,000 difference in the requested and administration-recommended numbers.

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 …”

In response to one observation on an increase in tickets issued helping to generate additional revenue support for his department, Chief Magalis explained that revenue from tickets issued was incidental, that traffic tickets are not issued as a revenue generating mechanism, but rather in pursuit of maintaining public safety.

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.

See these and all the special work session discussions in the Town video.

 

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Front Royal’s Economic Development Authority has inaugural meeting

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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.

Told the Jan. 20th FREDA meeting would not be livestreamed or videotaped by the Town, the Royal Examiner camera was present to record the inaugural FREDA gathering. Royal Examiner Photos by Roger Bianchini

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.


The full FREDA Board of Directors, executive director/town manager, and other Town support staff listen to VEDP General Counsel Sandy McNish virtually summarize an overview of EDA functions and legal parameters.

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.”

The full FREDA board meets and greets as Executive Director/Town Manager Steven Hicks presides at far head of the table.

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.”

As their executive director phrased it, the FREDA board is briefed in detail on ‘EDA 101’ by 14-year veteran VEDP General Counsel Sandy McNich.

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.

See the remainder of the VEDP presentation, as well as the FREDA board’s introductions, and other agenda topic discussions in this exclusive Royal Examiner video.

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Town Planning Commission considers short term rental ordinance and update on Town’s Comprehensive Plan process

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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.

Despite the hoopla surrounding the Town Planning Commission in December, a full complement of the current commissioners met to conduct their business on Wednesday evening. Royal Examiner Photos Roger Bianchini

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.


Commissioner William Gordon and Vice-Chair Connie Marshner listen as the planning director explains development of the proposed short-term rental ordinance. The Commission ultimately decided to defer approval action until further discussion at a work session on February 4.

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.

Front Royal Planning Director Lauren Kopishke reviews progress in the town’s comprehensive plan rewrite process and the 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.

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After work session discussion of Town building permit function, supervisors approve 3 CUP requests, 2 for short-term tourist rentals

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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.

Short-term Tourist Rental permitting applicants Richard Butcher and Gillian Greenfield address their broad experience in the realm leading to what was described by board Chair Cullers as an extremely detailed and complete business plan. Below, Butcher-Greenfield neighbor Terry Hartson said he is taking the lead on his Short-Term Tourist Rental business plan from his more experienced neighbors. Royal Examiner Photos by Roger Bianchini

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.

Board Chair Cullers looks for guidance from staff on whether to permit public speaker to continue personal attacks on members and others in a reworded ‘positive’ and ‘grateful’ manner. Below, filling in as interim county attorney for the meeting, Mark Bowman, to County Administrator Ed Daley’s left, suggested caution in cutting the speaker off early, but added that if the chair heard ‘one’ (personal attack) she was within her right to cut the speaker off. However, the speaker’s repeated use of the word ‘grateful’ for actions he either alleged without proof or doesn’t agree with, led the chair to allow him to finish this time around.

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:

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‘Grandfathering’ or not? County Planning Commission foresees the need to address Non-Conforming Properties

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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.

County Planning commissioners wrestle with the challenge of when to enforce the zoning ordinance and when to “grandfather”. Increasing numbers of Conditional Use Permits will require decisions about whether to recommend waiving County regulations for individual applicants.

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.

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Local Government

Town of Front Royal prepares for its 2nd, oh wait – 3rd winter storm of season

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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.

Front Royal will post updated information on the Town website (www.frontroyalva.com), Facebook (facebook.com/frontroyalva), and Instagram (instagram.com/frontroyalva) as necessary.

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.)

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Thank You to our Local Business Participants:

@AHIER

Apple Dumpling Learning Center

Apple House

Auto Care Clinic

Blue Ridge Arts Council

Blue Ridge Education

BNI Shenandoah Valley

C&C's Ice Cream Shop

Code Ninjas Front Royal

Cool Techs Heating and Air

Down Home Comfort Bakery

Downtown Market

Dusty's Country Store

Edward Jones-Bret Hrbek

Family Preservation Services

Front Royal Women's Resource Center

Front Royal-Warren County Chamber of Commerce

Gourmet Delights Gifts & Framing

Green to Ground Electrical

Groups Recover Together

I Want Candy

I'm Just Me Movement

Jen Avery, REALTOR & Jenspiration, LLC

Main Street Travel

Makeover Marketing Systems

Marlow Automotive Group

Mary Carnahan Graphic Design

Mountain Trails

National Media Services

Ole Timers Antiques

Phoenix Project

Reaching Out Now

Royal Blends Nutrition

Royal Examiner

Royal Oak Bookshop

Royal Oak Computers

Royal Oak Bookshop

Royal Spice

Salvation Army

SaVida Health

Skyline Insurance

St. Luke Community Clinic

Studio Verde

The Studio-A Place for Learning

The Valley Today - The River 95.3

The Vine and Leaf

Warren Charge (Bennett's Chapel, Limeton, Asbury)

Warren County Department of Social Services

Warrior Psychotherapy Services, PLLC

What Matters & Beth Medved Waller, Inc Real Estate

White Picket Fence

Woodward House on Manor Grade

King Cartoons

Front Royal
36°
Partly Cloudy
7:24am5:25pm EST
Feels like: 36°F
Wind: 2mph S
Humidity: 57%
Pressure: 29.81"Hg
UV index: 0
TueWedThu
39/16°F
27/9°F
36/23°F

Upcoming Events

Jan
26
Wed
6:30 pm Front Royal Wednesday Night Bingo @ Front Royal Volunteer Fire Deptartment
Front Royal Wednesday Night Bingo @ Front Royal Volunteer Fire Deptartment
Jan 26 @ 6:30 pm – 9:30 pm
Front Royal Wednesday Night Bingo @ Front Royal Volunteer Fire Deptartment
Bingo to support the American Cancer Society mission, organized by Relay For Life of Front Royal. Every Wednesday evening Early Bird Bingo at 6:30 p.m. Regular Bingo from 7-9:30 p.m. Food and refreshments available More[...]
Jan
28
Fri
12:30 pm Free REVIVE! Opioid Overdose and... @ ONLINE
Free REVIVE! Opioid Overdose and... @ ONLINE
Jan 28 @ 12:30 pm – 1:30 pm
Free REVIVE! Opioid Overdose and Naloxone Education @ ONLINE
Northwestern Prevention Collaborative, in conjunction with Northwestern Community Services Board, will offer a free, virtual REVIVE! Training on January 28th from 12:30 pm to 1:30 pm. The one-hour online class provides an overview of how[...]
Jan
31
Mon
3:00 pm Virtual Financial Services Workshop @ ONLINE
Virtual Financial Services Workshop @ ONLINE
Jan 31 @ 3:00 pm – 4:00 pm
Virtual Financial Services Workshop @ ONLINE
People Incorporated is cohosting a virtual financial services workshop for small business owners to learn about business loans, technical assistance, training, and other services provided by the agency. The workshop is scheduled for Monday, Jan.[...]
Feb
2
Wed
6:30 pm Front Royal Wednesday Night Bingo @ Front Royal Volunteer Fire Deptartment
Front Royal Wednesday Night Bingo @ Front Royal Volunteer Fire Deptartment
Feb 2 @ 6:30 pm – 9:30 pm
Front Royal Wednesday Night Bingo @ Front Royal Volunteer Fire Deptartment
Bingo to support the American Cancer Society mission, organized by Relay For Life of Front Royal. Every Wednesday evening Early Bird Bingo at 6:30 p.m. Regular Bingo from 7-9:30 p.m. Food and refreshments available More[...]
Feb
4
Fri
all-day First Friday @ Downtown Main Street
First Friday @ Downtown Main Street
Feb 4 all-day
First Friday @ Downtown Main Street
Come celebrate First Friday! Downtown businesses will be open late, until 8 p.m., on the first Friday and Saturday of each month.
Feb
5
Sat
all-day First Friday @ Downtown Main Street
First Friday @ Downtown Main Street
Feb 5 all-day
First Friday @ Downtown Main Street
Come celebrate First Friday! Downtown businesses will be open late, until 8 p.m., on the first Friday and Saturday of each month.
9:00 am Women’s Wellness Workshop @ ONLINE
Women’s Wellness Workshop @ ONLINE
Feb 5 @ 9:00 am – 1:00 pm
Women's Wellness Workshop @ ONLINE
Women’s Wellness Workshop – Virtual via Zoom Webinar – Key Note Speaker Dr. Neema. Registrations will begin January 5: frontroyalwomenswellness.com
4:30 pm Astronomy for Everyone @ Sky Meadows State Park
Astronomy for Everyone @ Sky Meadows State Park
Feb 5 @ 4:30 pm – 7:30 pm
Astronomy for Everyone @ Sky Meadows State Park
Historic Area: Discover our International Dark-Sky Park! Our evenings begin with a half-hour children’s “Junior Astronomer” program, followed by a discussion about the importance of dark skies and light conservation. Then join NASA Jet Propulsion[...]
Feb
9
Wed
6:30 pm Front Royal Wednesday Night Bingo @ Front Royal Volunteer Fire Deptartment
Front Royal Wednesday Night Bingo @ Front Royal Volunteer Fire Deptartment
Feb 9 @ 6:30 pm – 9:30 pm
Front Royal Wednesday Night Bingo @ Front Royal Volunteer Fire Deptartment
Bingo to support the American Cancer Society mission, organized by Relay For Life of Front Royal. Every Wednesday evening Early Bird Bingo at 6:30 p.m. Regular Bingo from 7-9:30 p.m. Food and refreshments available More[...]
Feb
12
Sat
10:00 am Winter Tree Identification Workshop @ Sky Meadows State Park
Winter Tree Identification Workshop @ Sky Meadows State Park
Feb 12 @ 10:00 am – 2:00 pm
Winter Tree Identification Workshop @ Sky Meadows State Park
Winter Tree Identification Workshop: Botany and Bloom Series Historic Area Even after the chilly breezes of autumn have stripped them of their leaves, trees provide clues to their identification by way of their bark, leaf[...]