By Alex Bridges
FRONT ROYAL - Preserve downtown, the view and avoid "Manassas decisions," say some residents helping to shape Front Royal's future.
Nearly two-dozen people on Thursday attended the first of two public workshops aimed at developing a vision for the town. Staff and leaders eventually will use the vision to help craft the town's comprehensive plan.
Representatives of the Renaissance Planning Group led the group through a series of exercises with a goal of collecting input on what key assets participants feel the town should keep or preserve and places that need improvement.
After the group exercises, people from each group shared their ideas with the rest of the participants. Bicycle and walking trails ranked high on the list of needs for the town, as did the preservation of small-town aesthetics, the downtown and historic sites. The Dominion power plant under construction, which is in Warren County, came up as a negative aspect of the town as far as the view of Front Royal.
Resident Sonya Carlborg called the plant a "Manassas decision," in response to one man's concern that Front Royal should not look like the city to the east, as well as plans to build a Popeye's on Shenandoah Avenue.
"It just seems like one property but that's how you get Manassas," Carlborg said. "We were very much interested in trails, greenways, biking, preserving our historic assets, filling in rather than spreading out, restoring old structures."
Participants divided into four groups of about six people and brainstormed their ideas about Front Royal's future. Groups filled out dozens of Post-it notes and marked up maps of Front Royal, highlighting parts of town that fell into preservation or improvement categories.
Front Royal staff and several Town Council members also attended the session, floating around to the different groups.
One group consisted entirely of people not originally from Front Royal, yet making the town a "lifelong community" ranked highest among its participants.
During the group activity, Carlborg voiced concerns about turning some parts of Front Royal into areas that resemble larger cities rather than preserving historic sites. She and other members of the group pointed out the diner on Shenandoah Avenue and suggested creating a historic district in that area.
"We say we don't want to be another Manassas, but replacing the diner is Manassas," Carlborg said.
A woman in Carlborg's group noted the entrance to Strasburg from U.S. 11 includes mostly fast-food restaurants.
In one group, participants suggested that Front Royal should turn Main Street into a walking mall, similar to the one in downtown Winchester. The group suggested that the town could build a parking garage behind the buildings on Main Street. In another group, people recommended Front Royal restore or demolish and redevelop the historic Afton Inn downtown. The group also focused on the need to develop the Happy Creek area and the former Avtex site. They also saw a need for face-lifts for many of the downtown businesses. The group also suggested using the former school on 15th Street to attract an institution of higher learning as a satellite center.
The second exercise called for participants to discuss broader ideas, which were listed on posters with colored circles of paper. Groups looked at Front Royal as a destination, having a vibrant downtown, serving as a lifelong community and preserving its assets.
The town is more than halfway through the seven-month visioning process. The Envision Front Royal website, through MindMixer, went online in July. In the 37 days since it began, the website has attracted 210 participants, 128 of whom post comments, according to information from Director of Planning and Zoning Jeremy Camp. The website allows visitors to post comments and ideas based on changing sets of questions. So far, participants have posted 200 ideas and 175 comments. Other data from the website show that the average age of participants is 47.5. Approximately 58 percent of the participants are women.
The town plans to hold the second public workshop from 9 a.m. to noon Oct. 26 in the government center.
Carlborg suggested participants encourage younger people to visit the envision site and post comments and ideas about the town's future.
"It would be really great to hear from people who actually are going to be here in the future," Carlborg said.
Renaissance will take the suggestions from the workshops and the website and incorporate the input in the town's continuing efforts to update its comprehensive plan.
Visit www.envisionfrontroyal.com to view and leave comments, ideas and photos as the town plans its future.
Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or firstname.lastname@example.org