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Vacant inn sparks debate over dilapidated buildings

The Afton Inn in Front Royal
The Afton Inn, located at the corner of Royal Avenue and Main Street in Front Royal, is the subject of an effort by town officials to have the building either renovated or demolished. Rich Cooley/Daily

By Ben Orcutt -- borcutt@nvdaily.com

FRONT ROYAL -- One of the highest priorities for Town Manager J. Michael Graham is having the vacant Afton Inn at the corner of Royal Avenue and Main Street renovated or demolished.

Graham and members of the Town Council are urging Warren County Building Official David C. Beahm to help them light a fire under Afton Inn owner Frank Barros to address the situation.

Barros, chief executive officer of JSC Cos., a Manassas Park construction firm, was out of the office on Friday and could not be reached for comment. On Wednesday, Barros said he does plan on repairing the Afton Inn, which dates back to 1867, and is in the process of determining "what's the best way to do it."

In 2005, then-Warren County Building Official Ira Neff declared the Afton Inn unsafe. Graham and members of the Town Council feel that nothing has changed since that determination and would like for Beahm to be more proactive in helping the town address the issue.

"The town would be interested, with the council's approval, in getting an independent assessment from a construction engineer of the safety of that building in order to work with the county," Graham said. "You see windows that are just hanging in their frame. The outside structure looks like there are loose bricks that could fall off anytime. If someone breaks in, they can fall right down to the basement because the building does not have a first floor.

"If the building is not safe, then the least we should be able to do is to make the owner make it safe, and that's all I'm asking for."

Beahm said Friday that, in his opinion, the Afton Inn does not pose an imminent threat to public safety.

"I don't feel it's structurally unsafe and it's not in an immediate danger of any portion of the unsafe building or structure collapsing or falling," Beahm said.

Beahm said he has examined the exterior of the structure every week, but has not gone inside. As he has stated previously in a town-county liaison meeting, Beahm thinks the best avenue for the town to address the Afton Inn is to adopt a state law that allows local jurisdictions to tackle such cases through the use of tax incentives with building owners.

However, Town Council members say that method of addressing the problem is easier said than done and does not provide a short-term solution.

"The tax credits were something that we were exploring before the liaison meeting," Vice Mayor Bret W. Hrbek said. "From what I understand, you can't discriminate and have it just in the historic district. I can tell you from an economic perspective it's not a helpful building anchoring our main street, and you'd think from that perspective that the county would want to do everything it could to re-create that corner into a viable, commercial area."

Hrbek revisited a suggestion he made earlier this week.

"The ideal situation would be for the owner to improve it and if they don't want to do that, donate it to a nonprofit group that would be willing to do it," he said.

Mayor Eugene R. Tewalt expressed a sense of urgency.

"There's loose bricks," Tewalt said. "There's windows that's rotted so bad a puff of wind cold blow them out at any time. The first floor is completely gone. If somebody were to break in, they'd fall 12 feet to the basement floor."

Tewalt said the Town Council certainly can look into Beahm's suggestion about exploring the use of tax credits to address structures such as the Afton Inn.

"We could consider that, but that still doesn't take care of the initial problem," Tewalt said. "I'd like to see him come back and look at it again, evaluate it, and hopefully he could find something in the law that would force Mr. Barros to repair and/or raze it."

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