By Alex Bridges
FRONT ROYAL -- A bid to add Warren County land to Front Royal could end up in court over demands for millions of dollars to cover development costs.
The Board of Supervisors and Front Royal Town Council met Thursday with representatives of the Front Royal Limited Partnership to continue the discussion over the developer's request to annex more than 600 acres of land from the county to the town.
While the idea of letting a panel of judges decide the fate of the annexation request came up in the meeting, representatives of the three parties made efforts to avoid a legal battle.
Front Royal Limited Partnership filed a proposal with the Commission on Local Government last year seeking to annex the property once considered for residential development. The developer touts the proposal as a benefit to both localities with tax revenue from hundreds of new homes and improvements to area roads.
After nearly 90 minutes of discussion, parties decided that the town's Planning Commission would look into the rezoning of the property. The developer indicated he needs assurance the town will rezone the property if Front Royal takes in the land.
Councilman Eugene Tewalt said he wouldn't want to sign any agreement that would guarantee the town would allow the rezoning. In the meantime, officials asked for a third extension to the filing deadline for the annexation request.
The parties have until March 6 to file a response with the Commission on Local Government indicating whether both sides had come to an agreement or if the agency would need to move forward with the annexation process that eventually would involve a panel of judges that would decide whether to approve the request.
County Attorney Blair Mitchell prepared a letter to send to Susan Williams, executive director of the Commission on Local Government, asking for an extension to file a response to the annexation proposal to May 24.
Council members reiterated their endorsement of a friendly boundary line adjustment. Town Manager Steven Burke noted that officials recognize the county has concerns.
"Discussions with council have indicated that we can't give away the farm to bring this property into town and that's why staff has worked to approach as equitable a voluntary settle agreement as possible," Burke said.
But the developer, David Vazzana, bristled at the demand for payment of more $22 million, known as proffers, to cover fiscal impacts to the localities. Vazzana referred to the proposed settlement agreement that he received a short time before the meeting.
"To be completely honest, my impression is that whoever directed this document to be written clearly wants all of us to go to court and [is] leading us down in that direction," Vazzana said. "I believe we can ... work out an agreement that is in the best interest of the community and of the town and of the county."
Vazzana expressed a desire to avoid the court by reaching an agreement.
Board Chairman Archie Fox said the county needed to remain firm on the proffers as requested to cover the impact of the development.
County Administrator Douglas Stanley estimated that at full build-out the development would add approximately 391 school-aged children to the system. Such an influx would result in costs of $14 million to the county, Stanley said. The county would need to build a 600-pupil elementary school at a cost of $18-$20 million to serve the area around the new development, Stanley said.
"I think we look at it as 'what is the impact, particularly on the school system, and what's it going to do to us as far having to come out and invest in school facilities to meet the needs of the development?'" Stanley said.
Mitchell said the developer currently proposes to build 818 units on the property. Mitchell noted that Town Council last week discussed proffers of $15,000 per unit with Vazzana to help cover the fiscal impact of development on the county schools, public safety and other services.
County officials also want to discuss Vazzana's offer to give back 76 acres of the property for public use and to credit the developer at $100,000 per acre, thereby reducing the amount of money he would need to pay in proffers, Mitchell said. The attorney said the county doesn't need that much land and would want someone to appraise the value of the property.
The amount of proffers the county would require remains unknown, though the locality calculates such payments through its impact model, Mitchell said.
Stanley said the latest figures put the amount at $19,600 per unit, but that could change. The cost to build schools to accommodate the children anticipated to come with development continues to increase.
"Those numbers are continuing to move and will continue to impact the cost of facilities," Stanley said.
A memorandum dated Thursday from Town Attorney Douglas Napier summarizes the proposed voluntary settlement agreement. The agreement proposes that the property would have a density no greater than two dwelling units per gross acre at maximum build out. The developer would pay no less than $27,500 per dwelling, divided evenly between the town and county for each unit with school-aged children. The same amount for age-restricted dwellings would be divided 70 percent to the town and 30 percent to the county.
The agreement, as proposed, allows the partnership to credit offsets to the payments by the dollar amount of the appraised value of donations in real estate for roads, biking trails, park land and other public infrastructure improvements the town and/or county accept.
The town can add the land by one of three methods: A friendly boundary-line adjustment, a voluntary settlement agreement, or annexation. The last option would involve a special panel of three judges and the Commission on Local Government, which would weigh the facts of the annexation request and decide whether or not the proposal should move forward.
Town officials expressed an interest in the friendly boundary line adjustment early on in the process, but efforts shifted toward the voluntary settlement agreement after supervisors voiced concerns about the potential impact of development on the county.
Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or firstname.lastname@example.org