By Ben Orcutt -- email@example.com
FRONT ROYAL -- Response was mixed from several Town Council members and an outgoing planning commissioner on Thursday regarding remarks about the future of the Happy Creek Road corridor by the town's planning and zoning director, Andrew J. Conlon Jr.
Conlon made the remarks during a Tuesday Planning Commission work session that dealt with a pending rezoning request from Front Royal Limited Partnership for 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 May 9, 2005, decision by the Town Council to downzone the portion of land in the Happy Creek Road area, which includes the pending rezoning, from four units per acre to one unit per acre has placed the town in limbo, according to Conlon.
"We can't straddle the fence," Conlon said. "We can't be something in between, and I say that one unit to the acre with town water and sewer is something in between. It is neither agricultural or town urban.
"If the town thinks it should be rural character, then I would sure recommend that it be de-annexed. That it's not reasonable at all to provide town water and sewer to rural, agricultural development and if we think that's the way this should be, then it should be left to the county with a strong statement that we will not provide town utilities to this area."
Councilman Carson C. Lauder Jr. came to Conlon's defense.
"The fastest way to use up your land would be to just put one home per acre and do we want to use up all our land with one house per acre?" Lauder asked. "Conversely, the fastest way to overcrowd is cram a lot of houses together and then if we do that, we have to catch up with providing service utilities. So perhaps, Mr. Conlon might be right, we might have to revisit the downzoning."
Mayor Eugene R. Tewalt, who attended Tuesday's meeting as an observer, was of a different opinion. In his campaign for Town Council in 2006, Tewalt held that the downzoning was a good idea.
"I'm still in favor of the comprehensive plan and I'm still in favor of having larger lots in the area," Tewalt said. "If a developer can prove to me that it's best to cluster an area and leave open space then I will consider that. But I think that we need to look at smart zoning and make sure we're doing everything that's best for the community."
Councilman Thomas H. Sayre took Conlon to task for his remarks.
"That was a ridiculous statement," Sayre said. "I don't know why he's working for the massive national builders."
Outgoing Planning Commission member Therese Brown also called Conlon's remarks into question in light of the pending rezoning request.
"We need to realize that this decision isn't about 320 homes on 150 acres, that it's really a decision about the entire undeveloped land bay in this northeast area," Brown said. "If we go to Mr. Conlon's described town-character density of four units per acre, we're talking about 2,000 homes. We need to be very sure that rezoning proffers for this density would adequately mitigate infrastructure and public service needs. I wouldn't call 4,000 additional vehicle trips per day over an already unsafe at-grade railroad crossing [intersection of Happy Creek and Shenandoah Shores roads] a safe or adequate mitigation."