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Council supports Afton Inn, town hall swap

By Alex Bridges

A Front Royal leader says the town would benefit in a deal on the table to swap two historic buildings.

Vice Mayor N. Shae Parker on Friday shed more light on why Town Council proposes to trade one building for another, and to let the Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development market the Afton Inn at 2 E. Main St. The EDA also would sell the former Town Hall building on North Royal Avenue.

Parker responded Friday to growing concerns and criticism over the proposal. He explained Town Council has been in talks with the parties since broaching the idea months ago. Asked whether most or all council members support the deal, Parker said they wouldn't have announced the proposal if they did not.

"It wasn't an arbitrary whim or whatever," Parker said. "Once presented with all the information I think it does make sense."

Afton Inn owner Frank Barros would no longer be responsibile for maintaining the long-vacant, troubled building at 2 E. Main St., which he's owned since 2005. He would get the former Town Hall building on North Royal Avenue -- vacant after barely a year and appraised at a higher value than the Afton Inn. The EDA would market the Afton Inn for private development.

The town had "exhausted all efforts" to get someone to rehabilitate or develop the Afton Inn, Parker said. He said didn't want to speculate as to why the current owner did not move forward and develop the property.

"However, now it's to the point where one of the better ways for us to allow redevelopment of the property was to suggest something like this," Parker said. "By transferring it to him, he's responsible for taxes."

A public hearing on the matter is Jan. 27.

"We could've just given the town hall to the EDA and let them do whatever, but we wanted to be upfront and honest with the community of what we're thinking and still garner their input," Parker added. "Yes, the majority of council is supporting this. But if the community comes to us and says 'we don't like this idea' for whatever reason, we still represent them as well."

Parker said the community should know council's reasoning behind supporting the proposal.

"We don't have a use for the Afton Inn; we're not going to control the Afton Inn," Parker said. "The EDA will do it and the EDA will do what they do best."

The town contacted neighboring property owners to see if anyone had an interest in using the former town hall building.

"It is a unique building," Parker said. "It's sort of a downtown-type of building in that there's only so many uses."

Town Hall has been vacant for about a year since departments that occupied the building moved to the former BB&T branch on East Main Street. Town officials and council looked at ways to reuse the building and, several months ago, had the property, along with other vacant structures, appraised.

The town received some feedback from people or entities that wanted to occupy the building. No one came forward with an interest in buying the property, Parker said. Putting the building up for sale through a bidding process could result in the town selling the property below its assessed value, Parker said.

Warren County officials also have turned down the offer to take the Town Hall building. Parker said he posed the idea at the Town-County Liaison Committee meeting Thursday.

Warren County has, in recent years, moved some agencies to new facilities or in renovated buildings and freed up space in other structures.

Should the deal fall through, Parker advised that the EDA still can market the former Town Hall. The building would not contribute to the town's tax base until the EDA finds a commercial buyer. The Afton Inn would remain a boarded up building with a sale price of more than $1 million, Parker said in an email.

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

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