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Planners seek public input on rules

Front Royal aims to make changes in development, zoning and tree ordinances

By Alex Bridges

Front Royal's building, zoning and tree rules need an overhaul, town planners say.

The public has a chance to weigh in on the proposed changes to the town's ordinances on zoning, subdivision and land development and trees. The Planning and Zoning Department is taking comments from residents, developers and anyone else interested in the modifications.

Planning and Zoning Director Jeremy Camp explained this week that the town needs to update its ordinances that the rules on zoning, subdivisions and other developments. The tree ordinance also could undergo significant changes.

"There's a lot of cleaning house, certainly," Camp said. "But there's also some substantial changes. Most of that's in regards to things we've discussed over the last several years about changing our pavement widths and things along those lines."

Whether changes to the design standards of planned development or the width of pavement in a building project would affect or interest the average town resident remains uncertain.

"In some respects it's a little more friendly to developers because it's a little easier to understand, less subjective, with more objective criteria in there with engineering standards, than per whatever the town says, which is a lot of the case how the ordinance is now," Camp said.

The town also needs to fix some conflicts that exist between the different ordinances and to make language consistent, Camp said. For example, the ordinance refers to "gas station" in one zoning district but calls such a business an automotive service station in another district, Camp said.

"Legally, it's good for the town to have an ordinance they can rely on that can basically defend itself in court," Camp said.

Town planners hope to put the changes into effect ahead of any resurgence in the housing market and construction.

"It's probably to the advantage of the town and the developers that we have this adopted before things really take off again in terms of housing," Camp said. "In this downtime we've been kind of working on this ordinance for the last couple of years."

Likewise, the town should craft parts of the regulations that mirror the state code. Currently some parts of the town ordinances reflect state regulations from 20-30 years ago and long since changed.

State code allows towns to have a process by which a developer can receive a special exception to certain rules. However, the town needs to adopt an ordinance that sets up the process. Camp said a proposed change in the regulations would set up this process.

Should a developer come to the town requesting to use low-impact design standards or other building criteria in a subdivision that is friendlier to the environment, the applicant could seek a special exemption to the regulations. Currently that option does not exist, Camp said.

The town requires 40 feet of pavement for roads with curb, gutter and sidewalks, Camp said.

"So a lot of the time the kind of cookie-cutter mold that our ordinance is now doesn't make the most sense," Camp said. "It could be done better. You could put islands inside of the cul de sac, for example, a tree in the middle or something."

The town held a public hearing on the ordinances about two years ago but officials chose then not to take action. Representatives from the development community voiced concerns about the ordinances at that time, Camp recalled. The town "went back to the drawing board" to revisit the ordinances.

"We'd like to go ahead and adopt it because it's an improvement over what we have," Camp said.

Work on the ordinances comes at the same time as the town's visioning effort, which plays a role in the effort to update Front Royal's comprehensive plan. Front Royal officials set up www.envisionfrontroyal.com to allow residents, business and property owners and others interested in the town's future to use the website to give input and ideas to the town as officials work on the comprehensive plan. The town also has scheduled a public forum for Oct. 26 as part of the planning effort. The public is invited to attend and give input in person while working in groups and using maps to help plan the town's future.

Camp said the goal is to adopt the changed ordinances before the updated comprehensive plan. Town officials may need to go back and make some changes to the ordinances in response to the comprehensive plan updates, Camp said. But the director said he expects the town to complete the visioning process first. The Planning Commission then would hold meetings and work sessions on the comprehensive plan.

Visit http://tinyurl.com/mqqg86g to download and view the three ordinances and the proposed changes.

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

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