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Officials say inn is safe

By Alex Bridges

Afton Inn remains safe, according to Front Royal and Warren County officials.

The historic building is part of a proposed trade under consideration by the property owner, Town Council and the Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority. Under the deal, Front Royal would trade the former Town Hall property at 16 N. Royal Ave., for Afton Inn, at 2 E. Main St.

Afton Inn LLC would take possession of the Town Hall building while the EDA would hold and market the inn for private development.

The town filed a lawsuit against Afton Inn LLC over the condition of the historic structure. The lawsuit filed by then Town Attorney Thomas Robinett, in Warren County Circuit Court, claimed that the building, constructed in 1867, was unsafe and he sought to declare the structure a public nuisance.

"Upon information and belief, the Town fears for the collapse of the Inn's roof and walls, especially under the additional heavy weight of recent heavy snows, and has recently found evidence of infestation by rodents and other vermin, further endangering public health," the filing stated.

Town Attorney Douglas Napier said in an email Thursday that "the owner was cooperative and has made sure the building is safe to public passersby, at least for the time being. The Town has confirmed this. The case has not been finalized yet in order that its status can be monitored."

Frank Barros, chief executive officer of JSC Concrete in Manassas Park and the owner of the Afton Inn, did not return a call for comment Thursday.

Warren County Building Official David Beahm said Thursday that he and representatives from the Front Royal firm, Engineering Techniques Inc., led an inspection of the Afton Inn in 2010. The owner also was present, Beahm recalled.

"It was fine," Beahm said. "There were a few things that needed to be tied down and tightened up. But as far as structurally the building is fine."

The items taken care of at that time had been precipitated by an earlier inspection, Beahm said. A subsequent inspection performed by Engineering Techniques found "everything on the building is structurally sound but there are maintenance items that need to be taken care of so that it does not deteriorate and become unsound," Beahm said.

Beahm explained that the building suffered from water infiltration. The owner had to take action to keep water from entering the building, through boarding up windows and other measures. Beahm said the second inspection, requested by the town, came about six months after the first assessment.

Town Council, the EDA and representatives had been discussing the proposed property swap for months. Mayor Timothy Darr announced that parties had reached a tentative agreement but that the swap would go to a public hearing Jan. 27.

Should council approve the swap, Barros would get a building appraised last year at $610,000. Conversely, the EDA would be left to market a building assessed in 2011 at $515,600.

The trade would put the Town Hall on the property tax roles. The deal is seen by town officials and the EDA as a way to bring developers to both properties. Town officials and council will work with the EDA to find potential users for the Afton property.

The EDA hasn't considered the demolition of the Afton Inn, Executive Director Jennifer McDonald said earlier this week.

The agreement includes covenants that would require the new owner of the former Town Hall to protect the exterior appearance of the historic building. The town also would have the right of first refusal should the property go up for sale.

Town Hall, constructed in 1935, recently housed most of the Front Royal administrative offices. The town relocated most of its departments to the former BB&T building on East Main Street across from the Afton Inn early last year.

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

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