Warren County leaders debate boundary shift

By Alex Bridges

A developer’s proposal to add land to Front Royal moved closer to approval this week but some Warren County leaders remain cautious.

The Front Royal Limited Partnership seeks to adjust the town boundary lines northward to incorporate 604 acres of land south of Interstate 66, east of the Shenandoah River and west of the Happy Creek area. The partnership made its intentions known last year and began talks with leaders and legal counsel for the town and county.

The developers tout the project benefits that include the construction of an east-west connector estimated to cost $15-$20 million.

David Vazzana and Bill Barnett presented the latest draft of a voluntary settlement agreement to the Board of Supervisors at a work session Tuesday. Some members of the board reiterated their concerns with the proposed contributions or proffers.

“I believe this is very important as far as the county is concerned as a significant portion of this land bay will be used for net fiscal, positive development in the future,” Vazzana said. “So by limiting the number of residential units it helps the county in the long term get closer to the balanced growth that it really needs to be fiscally sustainable.”

A proposed voluntary settlement agreement sets up parameters for the future zoning and timing of development for the property upon its addition to the town.

The issue remains over how much the developer should pay the county to cover the cost of services to the housing project that, at build out, calls for more than 800 homes.

Chairman Archie Fox asked County Administrator Douglas Stanley if the local impact model had been updated. Stanley said certain elements of the project keep the county from calculating the exact impact. Estimates put the total impact at $23,000-$24,000 per unit, with $15,000-$16,000 on the school system.

The partnership has offered to pay the county $13,500 per unit and Vazzana showed that the amount is higher than proffers included other area developments.

Fox pointed out that the proposed proffer of $12,500 falls well below the county’s estimated impact on services. County Attorney Blair Mitchell told the board he felt the proposed proffer of $12,500 per unit falls too low.

“[Vazzana] has some defenses of that number, part of which he’s already given you, but he knows that that’s been the broken record that I’ve been saying since day one,” Mitchell said. “Other than that the [voluntary settlement agreement] is basically fair. I think it accomplishes what we’ve been looking for because what we started talking back in February … was the 818 cap on the number of units, some number on the cash proffers, some minimum square footage on the houses and some escalation on the proffers.”

Barnett explained that the partnership can’t, at this phase, include more components to the proposed future development that the county could use to more accurately calculate the needed proffers. The number of age-restricted homes or commercial elements would likely offset the cost to the county.

Supervisors Richard Traczyk, Tony Carter and Dan Murray Jr. voiced support for the proffer amount. Murray had suggested increasing the proffers to an amount more acceptable by the county in the interest of moving along the process.

Mitchell said the Commission on Local Government needs a response from the county and town by Aug. 27. Front Royal Town Council plan to address and possibly act on the voluntary settlement agreement at its meeting Monday. Supervisors can take up the matter at its next meeting Aug. 20.

Vazzana pointed out that other projects in the region include proffers at much lower rates. Blue Ridge Shadows, for example, with 225 units, called for $8,000 per home. The national average impact fee was $8,251 in 2011 and $11,417 with utility costs.

The developers propose to build no more than 818 homes on the 604-acre site. The developers contend that annexation would allow them to build an east-west road that would connect the Front Royal Junction area to the Happy Creek Technology Park.

Front Royal Town Council members on several occasions have voiced support for the proposal. But from the beginning, Warren County officials voiced concern that any deal to annex the land should address the county’s interests. The county could see increased costs to provide services to the area in question even though the land would lie inside the town.

Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or abridges@nvdaily.com