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State agency holds hearing on annexation

By Alex Bridges

The public has another chance to comment on a plan to add 604 acres of Warren County to Front Royal.

The Commission on Local Government plans to hold a hearing Monday on a proposed voluntary settlement agreement between Front Royal and Warren County that calls for the town corporate limits to shift and outlines some limitations on future development.

David Vazzana and the Front Royal Limited Partnership filed a request with the commission in the fall 2012 seeking to annex the property located north of Happy Creek Road, south of Interstate 66, east of the Shenandoah River and west of Shenandoah Shores Road.

Officials with the commission plan to take a bus tour of the site Monday morning. Representatives of the three parties involved then give oral presentations to commission officials at the county government center at 220 N. Commerce St. The commission will hold the public hearing on the voluntary settlement agreement at 7 p.m. in the center.

The agreement limits future development of the property to 818 single-family dwelling units.

But as town officials and partnership representatives have said on numerous occasions, any commercial or residential development on the 604 acres would need to go through Front Royal's regular approval process.

While the annexation could take effect next year, Vazzana state in an email that any building on the property remains far off.

"We have no current timeline for development of the 604 acres as such would need to be approved by Council subsequent to the annexation," Vazzana said. "Land use is probably the most regulated industry in America, and given the many local, state, and federal agencies that would review any future submissions we are many, many, years away from beginning any development on the 604 acres."

Warren County Board of Supervisors and the Front Royal Town Council endorsed the agreement late this summer after nearly a year of negotiations among the elected groups and the owners. County officials sought assurances that any boundary adjustment also looked into the future and potential development of the property and any agreement between the parties kept the needs of the larger jurisdiction in mind.

County officials have expressed a hope that any development of the property would include a mix of uses rather than just houses.

"There will be a neighborhood commercial/office component to the project as well as an age-restricted component in the future," Vazzana stated in response to whether the property would include mixed uses.

With the annexation, Front Royal would benefit financially from the future development of the property through real estate taxes and utility connection fees, officials have said. Warren County also would benefit from taxes generated by residential or commercial building on the site.

The property owner has touted the annexation and future development of the land as a way to build an east-west connector road through the property to the Happy Creek Technology Park.

Development, while not anticipated to occur on the property for years off, could require some changes to the roads in the area. The partnership contracted with Gorove/Slade Associates to conduct a traffic study of the area proposed for the annexation. The study indicates that full build-out of the property is expected by 2033. The study also notes that future development of the property would also include the construction of an elementary school for 600 pupils.

Vazzana stated in a recent email that Mary's Shady Lane current access point to Happy Creek Road would close with the construction of an east-west connector. Vazzana explained that the connector would provide residents living the north of Happy Creek Road with two ways to go in and out of the area. Residents currently have only the one access point.

"The [connector] will greatly improve both the safety and the capacity of the transportation network in the Happy Creek Road area," Vazzana stated.

The Virginia Department of Transportation has advised local officials that the agency would not review or comment on the traffic study because no proposal to rezone or build on the property has come before Front Royal. The state agency's practice is to review such an analysis if and when a proposal is filed.

As Vazzana stated, traffic studies done for the property owner and the two jurisdictions call for the construction of the connector, regardless of any development in the 604 acres.

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

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