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Commission looks to hold hearing

Proposed amendments to town's slope ordinance would be up for discussion

By Ben Orcutt - borcutt@nvdaily.com

FRONT ROYAL -- The town Planning Commission hopes to hold a public hearing next month on proposed changes to rules for building on steep slopes in new subdivisions.

The six-member panel held a lengthy work session Wednesday at the Town Hall, which also was attended by members of the town planning staff and those with local building interests.

Planning Commission Chairman David Gushee has referred to the current slope ordinance as a "straitjacket." Although the rules allow for residential construction on slopes of 15 percent and up to 20 percent if the soils are suitable, the requirements in place that would allow for development on slopes up to 25 percent are very difficult to meet, Gushee says.

However, there appears to be some reluctance on the part of some commission members to tweak the ordinance to make it easier to build on slopes in excess of 20 percent.

Commission member Sandra Charles said that she has had builders tell her "that 25 percent slope is pretty tricky" to work with. Charles said that during the process of tweaking the slope ordinance, the commission should strive to "protect our environment and the look and feel of our community."

Commission members Therese Brown and Glenn Wood also expressed concern about treading into areas that in some cases could allow for a slope to exceed 25 percent, citing the slope that exists behind a car dealership on Va. 55, east of Front Royal.

"To me, it's not aesthetically pleasing," Wood said.

One of the elements that the commission will have to resolve is how to allow for a walk-out basement within the slope guidelines.

"You can't have a walk-out basement unless you have 25 percent [slope]," said Joseph E. Duggan, who owns the Winchester landscape architectural firm J. Duggan and Associates and whose client, David Vazzana, has a pending rezoning request before the commission that would be affected by changes to the slope ordinance.

Town Planning and Zoning Director Andrew J. Conlon Jr. said that consumers like walk-out basements.

"The market says that walk-out basements are desirable," Conlon said. "That doesn't mean we have to facilitate them."

Conlon said he would be happy to receive input from the Warren County Builders Association in ordinance form regarding proposed changes to the slope rules.

George Cline Jr., owner of Cline Construction Inc. and president of the local builders group, said the builders will make every effort to provide the commission with that input as soon as possible.

Charles noted that if the commission could receive feedback from the builders and other groups, such as the local tree stewards, in order to hold a work session on Sept. 9, then scheduling a public hearing on the issue for Sept. 16 would be feasible.

Following a decision by the commission, the matter will move on to the Town Council for final approval.

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