By Alex Bridges
FRONT ROYAL -- Front Royal leaders signed off on a deal Monday to trade the former Town Hall for the Afton Inn.
Town Council voted 5-1 to approve a resolution and memorandum of agreement with the Warren County-Front Royal Economic Development Authority that incorporates a land-exchange deal between the EDA and Afton Inn LLC. Approval required a supermajority, or no less than five of the six council members, to vote in favor of the measure.
Earlier in the meeting, during the public comment section, council heard from residents both for and against the trade.
Under the agreement, the EDA would take the Town Hall property, minus the public parking lot, and give the building at 16 N. Royal Ave. to Frank Barros, owner of Afton Inn LLC. In exchange, Barros would give the Afton Inn, at 2 E. Main St., to the EDA for commercial development.
Councilman Daryl Funk made a motion to refer the memorandum of agreement and resolution to the Planning Commission for its review and consideration. Funk's motion failed to receive a second.
Vice Mayor N. Shae Parker made a motion to approve the agreement and resolution. Funk then tried to delay the vote to council's next meeting. Funk's attempt to amend the original motion failed. Then Councilman Thomas Sayre sought approval by way of an amendment of a modified memorandum of agreement that included the installation of a plaque at the Town Hall at the expense of Afton Inn LLC, as well as other conditions.
After the meeting, Mayor Timothy Darr, who only could vote to break a tie, said he would have supported the move.
Before the vote, Funk read a lengthy statement in which he expressed his opposition to the trade. Later, Funk continued to voice concern about the deal and questioned whether the town would have any say in how Barros could develop the Town Hall.
"This is what we're giving away," Funk said, holding a photograph of the former Town Hall. "This is the Afton Inn. This is what we're getting."
Councilman Eugene Tewalt told council that, while he was mayor from 2008 to 2010, it appeared town leaders "hit a brick wall" in trying to see movement with the Afton Inn. Tewalt noted that Barros had a bad experience with the town that involved legal action in the courts over the building.
Tewalt admitted that the Afton Inn has problems but would not go into details. He pointed out that Town Hall could also deteriorate if it is not used or developed. The councilman said the deal was one of the best decisions he'd seen come before council.
During the public comment portion of the meeting, a group of people spoke about the proposed trade. Most of the speakers told council to not trade the Town Hall for Afton Inn.
Joe Swiger criticized the deal.
"Trading the useful historic Town Hall for the useless, empty Afton Inn is just plain dumb," Swagger said.
Linda Allen spoke in favor of the trade, saying it would help spur development and business activity downtown.
Matthew Tederick said he still didn't feel council had a legal right to make the swap.
In response to questions from Sayre that related to Tederick's comments, Napier said the town has the authority to give public property to the EDA. The EDA can market said properties to private developers.
Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or firstname.lastname@example.org