Front Royal Limited Partnership wants 605 acres annexed into town limits
By Alex Bridges
A plan to grow Front Royal by 605 acres is moving forward, but many steps in the annexation process remain, including a second opportunity for public comment before the proposal reaches final approval.
Town Council voted 5-1 earlier this week to pass a motion to approve a boundary line adjustment that allows the Front Royal Limited Partnership to annex property into town limits. The boundary line would shift northward to incorporate 604.76 acres of property in Warren County south of Interstate 66, east of the Shenandoah River and west of the Happy Creek area. The land would remain classified as open space and agriculture until rezoned.
In the same motion, council approved a voluntary settlement agreement that sets forth certain conditions under which the partnership would develop the property, once rezoned, including a cap of 818 dwelling units on the property and the timing of such construction. The agreement comes in lieu of a contested litigation for annexation.
Town officials now plan to present the agreement and related documents to the Commission on Local Government, of the Office of Community and Housing Development.
Council held a public hearing on the agreement and proposed boundary adjustment on Monday. Three speakers voiced concerns about the proposal, with a focus on the impact the property would have on the roads when fully developed.
Mayor Timothy Darr tried to belay the fears of some audience members by noting that the developer likely would need to come back to council to seek rezoning of the property. Such a process would involve public hearings and discussions about the town's requirements of the development of the property.
Former town mayor and councilman Stan Brooks Jr. and Dan McCarty also asked why the proposal was being rushed through the process.
Warren County and Front Royal face an Aug. 27 deadline to file the voluntary settlement agreement or a response to the partnership's proposal with the Commission on Local Government. Officials with the state agency on Wednesday explained that the process still involves numerous steps and could take months to complete.
The commission and the agency staff will review the agreement and then send any questions they may have to the parties, said Zack Robbins, senior policy analyst with the state agency. The commission has tentatively scheduled Nov. 18 for a site visit and tour of the property with staff. The agency will hold a public hearing on that day or the next, depending on how long the tour takes.
The commission does not act on the proposed adjustment on the same day as the hearing. Rather, the agency reviews the proposal and drafts a report on the matter. The report likely would be released in January. The report, distributed to the parties, would contain any recommendations from the commission.
The Virginia Supreme Court then would select a panel of three judges who would hold a hearing on the voluntary settlement agreement. The report would be entered as evidence in the matter. The panel would rule on the voluntary settlement agreement. The boundary line adjustment could take effect on the day the court enters its ruling or on July 1 following the hearing.
Councilman Thomas H. Sayre, who voted against the motion, said he didn't feel that members should vote on the voluntary settlement agreement or the boundary line adjustment at this time. Sayre noted his concerns with the rezoning of property previously annexed by the town that lies adjacent to the land under consideration.
Director of Planning and Zoning Jeremy Camp said assuring a developer builds the connector road through the property remains a priority.
Problems with the rezoning of adjacent property in town prompted the Planning Commission to recommend the land in the current proposal come into Front Royal zoned for agricultural use, Camp said.
Town staff and the commission faced a challenge of making a recommendation without first receiving comments from the Virginia Department of Transportation, Camp said. The property owners supplied a transportation impact analysis on the proposed development to staff and the commission. However, VDOT does not comment on such analyses until the rezoning phase.
Without VDOT's input, Camp said staff and the commission could not make a decision on the impact of the development on the roads.
The previously approved rezoning for the smaller property now in the town addresses the issue of the east-west connector road. Camp said the rezoning lays out a path for the connector and calls for the developer to sell the easement for the road to the town. Camp said the rezoning for the property already in town includes an approved location for the road.
Planners have not determined how the addition of 818 housing units over 605 acres changes the transportation needs and the ultimate design of the connector road, Camp said.
Town Attorney Douglas Napier said Sayre may vote on the motion to approve the voluntary settlement agreement and boundary line adjustment. Napier provided a written opinion indicating that the fact Sayre owns property on Shenandoah Shores Road that would be affected by the boundary line adjustment does not create a conflict.
The matter required only one reading by council for its approval, Napier said. However, the attorney noted that council did not have to take action on the agreement or adjustment.
Councilman Eugene Tewalt echoed Brooks' concerns that the town should secure the easement through the property to Bing Crosby Stadium.
In response to concerns over the town rushing the matter to approval, Councilman Bret Hrbek pointed out that council began discussing the proposal nine months ago. The partnership began working with staff in the town and county in the months before then.
Hrbek voiced support for the project and said future development of the property should help offset the costs to upgrade the town's water treatment plant. Hrbek added that a good housing stock serves as a key element of economic development.
Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or firstname.lastname@example.org