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Planners prepare for work session

Residents voice concerns following meeting with several town officials

By Ben Orcutt - borcutt@nvdaily.com

FRONT ROYAL -- Warren County residents who fear they will be adversely affected by a rezoning request to allow 320 homes also are concerned that some town officials have come to support the proposal before a vote has been taken.

David Vazzana, president of Front Royal Limited Partnership, has requested the rezoning of roughly 150 acres in the area of Happy Creek Road and Mary's Shady Lane from residential estate to a denser residential zoning to allow for 320 single-family homes, as opposed to 75 to 99 that could be built by-right.

The town Planning Commission held a public hearing on the rezoning on Wednesday and has scheduled a work session tonight at 6:30 p.m. at the Town Hall. The panel is expected to vote on the request at its Sept. 16 meeting, recommending approval or denial to the Town Council.

The Tuesday preceding the Planning Commission's public hearing, Town Manager J. Michael Graham, Mayor Eugene R. Tewalt, Councilman Thomas E. Conkey, Town Attorney Thomas R. Robinett and Town Director of Planning and Zoning, Andrew J. Conlon Jr., met with a group of the residents concerned about Front Royal Limited Partnership's rezoning request.

Some residents who use Mary's Shady Lane -- Vazzana has a case pending in Circuit Court to close a portion of the road -- and who met with Graham and other officials got the impression that town officials support the rezoning.

Trudy Purdy said Monday that she thinks Graham was an advocate for the project.

"Yes, I would say so," Purdy said. "He made a statement that it's actually gonna happen. It's gonna happen, one way or the other."

Purdy said that she did not think it was proper for Graham to "be so seemingly open to Mr. Vazzana's wishes, that it's gonna happen."

Graham disagreed with Purdy's perception.

"I want to do what's right for the community," Graham said. "You can grow [the area] and we just want to grow it in a way that's good for the community. My concern is that if it's gonna happen, that it's done properly."

Ramona Bowden, 81, who lives on Windy Knoll Drive, asked for the meeting with town officials.

"They did not allay any of our fears at all," Bowden said.

Bowden said she got the impression that Tewalt was in favor of the rezoning request, which she thinks is "improper" for the mayor. Bowden said that she also got the impression that town officials were representing Vazzana, who was not at the meeting.

"Definitely, because they have money to earn," Bowden said. "The proffers. They're gonna gain like mad if he wins."

Tewalt said he thought the meeting was proper and that town officials did not tip their hand to the residents on whether they support the proposal.

"We didn't lead them to believe one way or the other," Tewalt said. "Until we get all the details, it's hard for us to make any rational decision."

Conkey spoke in a similar vein.

"They were kind of pressing for us to tell them that we were going to vote against the rezoning," Conkey said. "I told them that we had to go in with an open mind, listen to all the facts. I think it was actually a good meeting. I think we defused some of their concerns."

George Shafer, 59, who also lives on Windy Knoll Drive, also attended last week's meeting. Shafer, who is opposed to the rezoning because he thinks road concerns should be addressed first, said he got the impression town officials were "neutral."

"If anything, they're against it," Shafer said. "That's the impression I got. It depends on the proffers they get and the road. The town pretty much wants a [access] road at a different direction rather than going to Shenandoah Shores."

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