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Warren County Budget process underway

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County Administrator Doug Stanley leads the discussion on the FY 2020 Warren County Budget.Photo and video by Mark Williams, Royal Examiner.

The Warren County Board of Supervisors held work session with County Departments and Constitutional Officers regarding the FY 2019-2020 budget on Tuesday, February 12, 2019.

Royal Examiner  will follow the process over the next few weeks. In this first session, County Administrator Doug Stanley gives the committee an overview discussion before the County Departments and Constitutional Offices appear. It’s interesting to hear the discussion and see the detail of what it takes to put a budget together. It’s a slow and long process, but necessary.

 

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Front Royal Town Council goes behind closed doors on councilman’s right-of-way request

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Will we supply water or not? That's the question asked at the Town Council July 15th Work Session. Photo and video by Mark Williams.

FRONT ROYAL — Front Royal Town Council members on July 15 held a roughly 15-minute work session before heading into a closed meeting regarding the Town’s disposition of publicly held real property.

Specifically, Town Council members needed to discuss an application by Front Royal Town Councilman Chris Holloway, who owns the privately held Chris Holloway Construction LLC in Front Royal, Va., to purchase or have a portion of an unimproved right-of-way on Carter Street vacated by the Town.

While further details were scant on Monday night, the right-of-way request went behind closed doors because “discussion in an open meeting would adversely affect the bargaining position or negotiating strategy of Town Council,” according to the work session agenda. All council members present unanimously agreed to the motion to go into a closed meeting on the item.

Near the start of the work session, Councilwoman Letasha Thompson broached the Crooked Run 2 development company request, which seeks Town water-sewer service for primarily residential development outside the town limits.

“I’d like to get a public hearing or whatever it is we need to do” regarding the Crooked Run West project, Thompson said during the council/mayor related items segment of the work session.

Crooked Run West LLC wants to rezone from commercial to a mixed-use but primarily residential project if the Town of Front Royal will supply the necessary water and sewer for it. Currently, agreements between the Town and Warren County on supplying water-sewer services to this area only allow commercial development so the request requires a change in the comprehensive plan.

Town Manager Joe Walsh said Monday that he interprets Town Code to mean that once the County has made such a request, it’s the Town’s turn to determine how it wants to proceed.

“The way I read the code, the ball’s in our court to make a decision at this point,” Walsh told the council members, noting that the county must apply for the water prior to any rezoning.

Walsh added that the county’s letter of request was received in April, the council looked at it in April, “but we didn’t do anything about it,” he said.

Councilmen Jacob Meza and Holloway were keen on pushing the decision off until the council’s next work session until they receive more details and data from Walsh.

“We need to understand everything that goes into that, not just whether we’re going to supply water or not,” Meza said.

“That’s why I thought they were coming back to us,” said Vice Mayor William Sealock, referring to the Warren County Board of Supervisors. “The decision basically is we supply or do not supply.”

Walsh said the item could be placed on the calendar for the council’s August 15 work session. He said he’ll provide more information to better inform council members at that time.

In other work session business, Town Council members heard from Town Finance Director B.J. Wilson that no bids have been received to date for the non-exclusive cable system franchise bid opening.

“We will move forward with the franchise agreement in some fashion and come back to the council in the future,” Wilson said.

Jeremy Camp, Town director of Planning & Zoning, had pretty much the same report for Town Council members regarding bids for the Facade Improvement Program. He said only one bid had been received and “it was not competitive” and was “way out of the ballpark.”

Based on input from contractors, Camp said the program’s management team has decided to rebid it.

“We’ll get back to you once we go through that rerun of the bidding process,” Camp said.

The Royal Examiner’s camera was there:

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Warren County Comprehensive Plan review underway

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Warren County Planning Commission work session to review Comprehensive Plan. Photo and video by Mark Williams, Royal Examiner.

Following the July 10th Warren County Planning Commission meeting, the Commission went into a work session to start the Comprehensive Plan review process. The first chapter of the Plan to be reviewed is Chapter 3 – Natural Resources.

You can view the Comprehensive Plan on the Warren County site: Chapter 3: Natural Resources

This process is scheduled to run until December 2020.

The schedule will be:

July-August 2019 – Chapter 3 (Natural Resources)
September-October 2019 – Chapter 2 (Demographics)
October-November-2019 – Chapter 4 (Growth Management and Land Use)
December 2019-January 2020 – Chapter 5 (Community Facilities)
February-March 2020 – Chapter 6 (Economic Development)
April-May 2020 – Chapter 7 – (Infrastructure)
June 2020 – (Implementation)
July 2020 – Prepare final revisions
August-September 2020 – Planning Commission – Public Hearing
October 2020 – Present Comprehensive Plan to Board of Supervisors
November-December 2020 – Board of Supervisors – Public Hearing

From the County’s website:

The Comprehensive Plan is the County’s official policy guide for future development related decisions. The Plan is long-range in nature, and provides a picture of how the community wishes to develop over the next 15 to 20 years.

As a policy document, the Plan provides a framework for the County’s residents and decision makers to conceptualize how the County should look and function. Within each chapter of the Plan, there are implementation strategies identified. All or some portion of the strategies may be implemented to accomplish the goals and objectives for any particular topic addressed in the Plan. The major purposes of the Comprehensive Plan are:

  • Provide a guide for the numerous public and private decisions that will create the future County.
  • Promote the interests of the community as a whole.
  • Enhance, describe, and promote the County’s physical environment.
  • Develop a coordinated, well-planned system of public services.
  • Evaluate short-term actions against long-term goals.
  • Recognize the natural resources, historical, and architectural significance of Warren County and the surrounding area so that they can be more effectively preserved, protected, and integrated into an orderly pattern of development.
  • Fulfill the legal requirement of Chapter 11, Title 15.1 of the Code of Virginia.
  • The overall goal of the comprehensive plan is to: Maintain and enhance the quality and character of Warren County’s natural and man-made environment by promoting the efficient use and conservation of the County’s land and natural resources in order to effectively meet the social and economic needs of present and future citizens.
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Warren County Planning Commission Meeting July 10, 2019

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Matt Wendling, Warren County Planner presents conditional use permit information to the Planning Commission. Photo and video by Mark Williams, Royal Examiner.

At the July 10th Warren County Planning Commission meeting, Loretta Boardwine and Darren Rhodes, Jr, requested a conditional use permit for private use camping. Their property is located off of Rivermont Acres Road and is zoned Residential-One (R-1).

Also, reports from the County Attorney, Planning Director and Planning Staff were presented.

The Royal Examiner’s camera was there:

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Meza explanation of pro-Crooked Run 2 stance resurrects corridor issues

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Jacob Meza during April work session as council colleague Letasha Thompson listens. Royal Examiner File Photos/Roger Bianchini

In addition to explaining why he doesn’t believe a majority of town citizens will tolerate an ongoing hike to either utility fees or taxes – even an 85-cent one – in support of any town service or public utility they may desire, Jacob Meza took time to respond to public criticism directed his way at the Monday, July 8, Front Royal Town Council meeting. That criticism came from Paul Gabbert, the one public speaker to address issues other than recycling during his remarks.

As reported in our related story on the continuation of recycling, after expressing support of opening speaker Adele Medved’s pro-recycling comments, Gabbert addressed the status of a trio of issues: the Afton Inn, the Crooked Run 2 development company request for Town water-sewer service for primarily residential development outside the town limits, and accountability for a past lack of due diligence regarding EDA business conducted inside the town limits.

China’s off the hook – Town will maintain single-stream recycling

It was the out-of-town water-sewer utility request, long a municipally contentious issue, that drew pointed criticism Meza’s way.

“The water in the Shenandoah is not yours to sell, sir, it belongs to everyone. I feel sorry for you if that’s how you look at the Shenandoah River,” Gabbert said of earlier work session Meza comments he interpreted as pro-Crooked Run 2 rezoning and town central utility access again being extended beyond the town limits into county land.

“At a work session several weeks ago, everyone except you, Mr. Meza, was against sending water out there. Your argument for sending water was, ‘Aren’t we in the business of selling water?’ which I assume means you are in favor of the rezoning” (of the Crooked Run 2 property from Commercial to Residential mixed use).

How do you look at the Shenandoah River? A state-winning view of the river near Cullers Outlook in Warren County was used for national tourism promotion for the Commonwealth of Virginia.

Actually the rezoning is county business since the property at issue is on county land, just west of the Target-based Crooked Run Shopping Center, north of I-66. However were the Town to deny the utility request, it has been a foregone conclusion by most that the rezoning would become a moot point without Town central water-sewer service.

“Look at the future. When those jurisdictions up river from us … build residential, what’s going to happen to us?” Gabbert asked of changing municipal central water demands along one of the region’s great recreational assets.

“Is it going to be a trickle by the time it gets to the Potomac,” Gabbert wondered of the Shenandoah’s future.

I don’t know if I’d drink out of it anyway – Former Shenandoah Riverkeeper Jeff Kelbe examines Shenandoah River cattle manure-fed algae bloom in 2017. OH WAIT, that’s what those tens of millions of dollars in water and wastewater plant upgrades are all about, right? Photo Courtesy Shenandoah Riverkeeper

Drawing on past meeting public comments Gabbert told Meza and his colleagues that he perceives an overwhelming citizen consensus opposed to authorizing the out-of-town extension of Town water-sewer beyond existing parameters, particularly as it might facilitate private-sector financial gain by way of out-of-town residential development.

“What you need to remember is the citizens of Front Royal and the county don’t want this rezoned; they do not want water to be sent to everything that’s going on in this county,” Gabbert said, adding an admonition to those on the council dais not to “play” the role of public servant, while operating on privately-held agendas.

“You hold your seats to do and to listen to what the citizens want, not what you as an individual wants,” Gabbert said as Vice-Mayor Sealock queried if he was concluding his remarks about a half minute after his time limit bell had gone off. That led Gabbert to hurry onto to his final topic, a request council members add a broader public apology to the one several of them had offered former colleague Bébhinn Egger on March 25, following her appearance to urge them to learn from past mistakes regarding an absence of due diligence in considering EDA requests for financial assistance, project rezonings and code exemptions.

Some 10 minutes later during council reports, Meza offered to sit down with Gabbert at some point to discuss in detail his constituent’s concerns.

Why not out of town?

“But I do want to go on the record that I am for different affordable housing options that were proposed in the Crooked Run project from apartments, town homes and senior living,” the councilman began, observing there was also a planned local commercial aspect to serve the neighborhood.

Meza said he had seen such development successfully done “IN the west end of Richmond” – an apparent indication that it was not done across municipal boundaries, as is being requested here.

“In order to make that happen you have to send water out and that’s what brings up the term ‘selling water’. It is actually what we do as a town for the commercial businesses out there; even the homes at Blue Ridge Shadows, we charge them for the water and it generates revenue for the infrastructure, and continues the expansion and building of our plants,” Meza said of the North Corridor’s industrial development on County land. It is development dependent on the extension of Town water-sewer service beyond the Town’s boundaries.

“So, I didn’t mean it as selling water as if we’re trying to make a profit on our community or on residents for providing our services (which is good, since that would be illegal by state law). But we’re charging for the water that we’re providing and in turn we develop the infrastructure that will provide water out there,” Meza said of what IS legal for municipal utilities. What is legal is charging fees that cover the cost of creation, maintenance and expansion of municipal utilities. Traditionally such municipal utility maintenance or expansion is accomplished within the jurisdiction’s boundaries, or to land that would first be annexed into those boundaries.

However, post the 1998-99 Route 340/522 Corridor Agreement that facilitated such utility extension beyond town limits without annexation such tradition has become blurred for many in this community, particularly those operating outside the town limits.

That Town-County corridor agreement approved as a first of its kind in Virginia by a three-judge panel will also probably be the last of its kind in the wake of the Town of Front Royal’s experience of it. That experience includes years of lost commercial tax base revenue from both corridor businesses that successfully sued to remove PILOT (Payment In Lieu Of Taxes) fees attached to Town water-sewer bills, and the loss of “mom and pop” business revenue in town due to the mega chain competition created outside town limits. But that is another story for another day.

“So, I do like the further development idea,” Meza reiterated of his pro-Crooked Run 2 perspective. He noted work session discussion of State-permitted water capacities versus existing usage and other variables impacting the Town’s ability to access the Shenandoah River for increased central water distribution.

An aerial view of Crooked Run 1’s Target-based commercial center – Crooked Run 2’s now planned residentially-based development lies to the west, at upper right of photo. Royal Examiner File Photo Courtesy CassAviation

“I do think your point is well taken but we do have to be very conscientious about that, very thoughtful about the rezoning that would allow – I am concerned that we have over a thousand residential households zoned in the Town of Front Royal proper that have been that way for a very, very long time, decades, and we haven’t seen the development of any of those houses.

“And I would like to see some development around the Town of Front Royal. It would be wonderful if it was within the town limits and wasn’t out at Crooked Run but that’s not happening. And I would like to see that done sooner rather than later, so that we do have some different, alternate housing options,” Meza concluded.

The FRLP variable

The unrealized development within town limits Meza was referring to is the Front Royal Limited Partnership (FRLP) land on two parcels: the 604 acres zoned to accommodate 818 homes north of Happy Creek Road and a nearby 150 acres zoned for either 150 or 300 homes dependent upon the type of residential units placed there.

The FRLP saga dates back well over a decade, perhaps as far back as 2004. It includes a two-year process that brought the 604 acres into the town limits on November 1, 2014, in a “friendly annexation” between the Town and County that would facilitate in-town utility rates as opposed to the double rate supposed to be charged for out of town utility service extension. And that saga appears to include years of a seemingly unresolved hashing out of variables including economic development loans, per-unit and transportation infrastructure proffers between the three involved parties, the Town, County and FRLP. Coverage at the time of the annexation indicated proffers on the table totaling nearly $30 million from the developer.

The annexed FRLP 604 acres earmarked for development of over 818 residential units lies on the cleared pasture land in upper right portion of photo off Mary’s Shady Lane, the winding dirt road to far, upper right. Perhaps ironically, the FRLP parcel is adjacent to Truc ‘Curt’ Tran’s acquired Millennium Lotus/‘FR Farms’ property in the partially-cleared, partially-wooded area at center and lower-center of photo.

Long-time FRLP real estate consultant Bill Barnett was an interested observer at the unscheduled July 8 council meeting discussion of Meza’s perception of why the Town should facilitate residential development on county land, while planned in-town development flounders at an apparent economic impasse.

An attempt to reach FRLP principal David Vazzana regarding the status of his projects and causes of the referenced decade-plus of delays was unsuccessful prior to publication.

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China’s off the hook – Town will maintain single-stream recycling

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Council had a change of heart on recycling – Royal Examiner Photo/Roger Bianchini. Video by Mark Williams.

After hearing from a small, but united contingent of six public speakers urging them not to jump to a decision to abandon recycling because of a declining international market negatively impacting costs, the Front Royal Town Council did an about face.

That about face was a unanimous vote to continue to collect recycling in the coming year, albeit under different guidelines sent to a new Manassas collection point. The different circumstance will be “single-stream” or unseparated recycling collection.

Council and Vice-Mayor Bill Sealock, the latter chairing the meeting for absent Interim Mayor Tederick, instructed Town Manager Joe Waltz to prepare educational material for town citizens on the parameters of such collection. Those parameters appear to involve more stringent rinsing of food materials from cans and the “de-labeling” of certain types of containers.

Since the recycling vote did not follow a public hearing, but was the final of five agenda items listed simply as “Council Approval” matters, citizens addressed council during “Public Petitions and/or Correspondences” near the meeting’s outset. First speaker Adele Medved set the tone.

Adele Medved set the public tone in asking council not to rush toward abandonment of recycling.

“As a citizen who really cherishes the environment and everything we have to offer here I think we should do everything that we can to consider not suspending the recycling program. Eighty-five cents additional seems like a very small amount to pay for something like that,” Medved told council of the anticipated monthly hike to Town utility bills to cover the rising cost of recycling in a declining international market for the purchase of recycling materials.

Town poised to abandon recycling due to rising costs

The following five speakers – former Councilman John Connolly and wife Sheila, Liz Powell, James Shandley and Paul Gabbert – concurred. Even Gabbert, who was there to address other issues including: the Afton Inn – tear it down; the Crooked Run 2 development request for Town water-sewer extended to county land – don’t do it; and the EDA financial scandal – apologize to the public for the lack of past due diligence; prefaced those remarks by saying he agreed with Medved on the recycling issue.

Sheila Connolly asks council not to abandon recycling as her husband John, background, tends to family reinforcements

At a July 1 work session the annual cost to the Town to continue recycling at the best available option, shipping single-stream collection to Republic Services of Manassas, was estimated at $43,050 in the first year, equating to an estimated 85-cent hike to the solid waste collection portion of Town utility bills. However as staff noted, those costs could be covered in the new fiscal year by the elimination of the need to purchase a new recycling trailer at a price of $48,000 set aside in this year’s budget.

Despite the positive nature of that news for FY 2019-20, at that work session a week earlier Interim Mayor Matt Tederick said he heard a clear council consensus to stop recycling and decide whether to pick it back up were market conditions to become more favorable. In fact, the agenda packet picked up by this reporter earlier in the day had only one proposed motion listed on the recycling summary page – “that council suspend the Town’s Curbside Recycling Collection until the market demand returns.”

But when Vice-Mayor Sealock called for a motion on the matter near the meeting’s end, Letasha Thompson’s response was to “direct staff to continue recycling collection for the FY19-20 by changing the process” as noted above, at the estimated $43,000 cost paid to Republic Services of Manassas with the $48,000 allocated to the recycling trailer purchase reallocated to cover those costs.

See the public comments, council discussion of their collective change of heart, including Jacob Meza’s concern that too many town citizens will not accept an ongoing, future hike to their fees or taxes – even an 85-cent one – in support of any town service in the long term, in the following Royal Examiner video:

Historic treasure or dilapidated eyesore – other things than recycling were on at least one public speaker’s mind Monday night

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Front Royal resident questions dual roles of Warren County Public Schools Superintendent

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James Harper questions school board members and Warren County Public Schools (WCPS) Superintendent Greg Drescher regarding the positions he holds for WCPS and as a member of the Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority (EDA) Board of Directors. Photo and video by Mark Williams.

James Harper, who lives on Rockland Road in Front Royal, Va., had 3 minutes to speak his peace during the community participation segment of the July 3 Warren County School Board meeting, but he went over that allotted amount of time.

During the regular meeting, Harper had several questions for school board members and for Warren County Public Schools (WCPS) Superintendent Greg Drescher regarding the positions he holds for WCPS and as a member of the Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority (EDA) Board of Directors.

Drescher stepped down as EDA chairman in August 2018 but remains a member of the EDA board, which is currently embroiled in a financial scandal in which two former EDA staff — Executive Director Jennifer McDonald and Administrative Assistant Michelle “Missy” Henry — each are in jail on multiple felony counts for their alleged involvement in the misappropriation or embezzlement of some $21 million in EDA assets.

“Mr. Drescher, first, I’m sure you’re a very talented guy, but I do not understand how you have time to be on the EDA board with two failing schools,” Harper said, reading from his prepared statement. “This is your first time as a superintendent and I would have thought maybe your time should have been spent helping the failing schools reach a standard of excellence.”

Town and county residents have been blowing up social media outlets and local government meetings asking for answers about the alleged theft by EDA staff and others of taxpayer dollars, among other suspected improprieties in the ongoing EDA case.

“Did anyone on the school board say anything to you about your desire to be on the EDA board?” asked Harper, looking up from his statement to stare directly at Drescher.

Harper then turned his attention to Warren County School Board Chairwoman Catherine Bower and her colleagues on the school board.

“Next is a question for Miss Bower and the board: Mr. Drescher was under contract from July 1, 2015 through June 30, 2019 with a salary of $154,000. Why give him a contract at a high salary — $165,837 —when he was already under contract?” Harper said. “I have been in sales for many years and been under contract. If I’d gone in to my superiors and said ‘How about a raise?’ during the middle of my contract, I would have been laughed out of the building.”

Harper added, “Did Mr. Drescher really deserve a raise because the schools went from two failing schools to one? You have teachers leaving the county because they do not make enough money and Mr. Drescher gets a $12,000 raise.”

Bower already had reminded the audience at the start of the community participation segment of the meeting that while school board members would not respond that evening to presented issues, “please be assured that any concerns will be reviewed.”

Interestingly, however, school board members did indirectly address Harper’s concerns during their individual reports to the board.

For instance, during Drescher’s superintendent report reviewing school year 2018-2019, he said the compensation benefits package presented in February “has ended up being a huge help to our efforts to retain teachers this year.”

“Our goal is to retain more staff,” Drescher said. “We know that any good business does not retain 100 percent of its staff all the time, but they don’t lose the level that we were losing.”

Drescher pointed to data showing that Warren County has had more than 60 staff leave each year for the last six years, an annually rising number that peaked last year with 72 staff leaving.

“But his year we’re at 59,” he said, “so our goal is to get in the 40s. We’re halfway there with one year making a difference in our salary. I’m very proud that that has happened. It’s going to make a difference for our students because more teachers are going to stay and gain those experiences and help our students learn.”

And school board member C. Douglas Rosen, who represents the Shenandoah District, publicly acknowledged those efforts.
“I was in business for 37 years and I know how tough it is fighting for dollars when you aren’t making any and losing employees,” said Rosen, leaning forward in his chair to look over at

Superintendent Drescher, who sat to his right. “One thing I can say about our compensation fund or study, we did the right thing. That will pay off and we all know that. So, I’m very pleased to thank the executive management, management groups, teachers, everybody that runs this system and runs it as smoothly and as well as transparent with everything that’s going on.”

In addition to his concerns about Drescher’s jobs, Harper suggested that school board members institute what he considers to be a few new county-wide educational benefits.

“I’d really like to see a larger, expanded technical school in Warren County teaching young people to be electricians, plumbers, HVAC techs, and so forth,” said Harper, noting that higher education isn’t for everyone.

Harper also said that he’d like to see an ethics class become mandatory for high school graduation in Warren County, Va.

“Growing up, I don’t ever remember my parents cussing and I try not to ever use those words because I believe there are better adjectives,” Harper said. “I’m not saying I never say one, but it’s very rare. An ethics class can cover many things, like being a better classmate, to being honorable in business, and finding better adjectives.”

In closing, Harper also suggested that the school board consider replacing former EDA executive director McDonald on its long-range plan review committee and said, “I hope you will spend the county’s money wisely like it’s coming out of your own wallet.”

The Royal Examiner’s camera was there.

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