Warren County leaders OK annexation

By Alex Bridges

FRONT ROYAL – A plan to bring more than 600 acres of Warren County land into Front Royal passed a major hurdle Tuesday.

The Warren County Board of Supervisors voted 4-1 at its meeting to approve a voluntary settlement agreement with the town and the Front Royal Limited Partnership that sets the terms for the annexation of 604 acres north of Happy Creek Road. The agreement includes an adjustment of the town boundary northward. The partnership has touted the project as a way to create an east-west connector road to the Happy Creek Technology Park.

No one spoke on the matter at the public comment section of the meeting. The county was not required to hold a public hearing on the voluntary settlement agreement.

Supervisor Daniel J. Murray Jr. said the matter “needs to be brought to a head” and voiced support for the motion to approve the agreement. Supervisor Richard H. Traczk concurred and noted that Front Royal would benefit from the future development of the site through utility fees. The county also stands to benefit from the build-out.

“I think it’s a good move for the town,” Traczyk said, adding that Front Royal needs to plan and create a vision for the building on the property.

Chairman Archie Fox said he would not support the agreement. Fox voiced concerns with the amount of traffic the development would generate in the areas of South River Estates and Shenandoah Shores Road.

“So it’s going to be a nightmare,” Fox said.

Fox relinquished his role as chairman to Supervisor Linda Glavis and made a motion to make the board’s approval of the motion contingent on Front Royal’s agreement to not pursue the annexation of any more property for 10 years. The motion failed 3-2.

Fox then sought to amend the original motion to make the approval contingent on Front Royal agreeing to not seek a change in its status from a town to a city.

Supervisor Tony Carter and Murray complimented Fox on his attempt but both expressed doubt that the town would agree with the moratorium on annexation.

County Attorney Blair D. Mitchell explained the terms of the settlement agreement that spans 375 pages. He called the document a “bare bones” agreement because it lacked specific terms related to a future rezoning by the town.

Front Royal Town Council voted to accept the terms of the agreement at its Aug. 12 meeting. Council heard from three area residents during a public hearing who voiced concerns with the prospect of having hundreds more homes near Shenandoah Shores Road.

The partnership, represented at the Tuesday meeting by principals David Vazzana and Bill Barnett, has proposed to build no more than 818 dwelling units on the site and they expect to complete the project by 2033. The proposed annexation is expected to result in the county receiving $10.22 million in future payments as “proffers,” or voluntary contributions made by the developer as homes are built. The project is also expected to add 280-330 students to the Warren County school system.

Vazzana submitted the petition for the annexation with the Commission on Local Government last fall. Staff and elected officials with the town and county conducted work sessions and discussed the matter. The town and county had an Aug. 27 deadline to file responses to the petition to the state agency. The agreement was sought as an alternative to a contested annexation.

Now the commission will review the agreement and other corresponding documents and schedule a site visit and public hearing in the area. The commission will draft a report with its recommendation and the agreement will go before a panel of three appointed judges for a final approval. The judges would hear any arguments by town or county staff before making a decision.

Vazzana told supervisors that once the commission issues its report and recommendation the agreement comes back to the board for a public hearing and a second vote to approve or disapprove the matter.

In response to a question from Supervisor Tony Carter, Mitchell explained that the county could submit comments or concerns with the project during the town’s rezoning process.

Terms of the voluntary settlement agreement include:

  • Adjusting the boundary to bring the land into town limits and zoned initially for agricultural use under the Front Royal zoning ordinance
  • The partnership may apply for a rezoning to allow for residential and other uses on the site
  • The partnership and its successors will never request to build more than 818, “market rate” homes defined as dwellings for people age 55 and younger
  • Detached, market-rate homes will be a minimum of 1,600 square feet with no minimum size for attached or multi-family units
  • The partnership proposes to offer approximately 56 acres of the site to the county for a school, park, open space or other governmental use though the county is not obligated to accept any of the land
  • The partnership will pay the county $8,750 per unit at the time of occupancy for the first 409 units and $16,250 for each of the remaining units
  • Cash payment will be adjusted per the Consumer Price Index beginning two years after the court approves the agreement, up to a maximum of 2 percent per year
  • The value of the land dedications to the county as determined by the average of three appraisers will reduce the amount of cash payments on a dollar-for-dollar basis
  • The town will allow the partnership to extend public water and sewer facilities into the site at the partnership’s expense
  • The county and the partnership will endorse the expansion of the town’s electric service into the site, though this is not a given because the area is currently served by Rappahannock Electric Cooperative
  • The county and town will amend their comprehensive plans to show the proposed future development for the site to include market-rate and age-restricted housing and commercial uses
  • The county and town will dedicate the needed right of way for the connection of the east-west connector road to Commerce Avenue, with the partnership to cover the cost to relocate any public facilities if needed
  • The town will use its best efforts to consider approval of any requested rezoning within 12 months of submitting the application
  • All parties agree to submit the agreement to the Commission on Local Government and the special annexation court for approval
  • The town will support the partnership’s applications for public funding to aid in the construction of the east-west connector road
  • The agreement terms shall be binding for 25 years or at the complete build-out of the project

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