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Town's 'vision' draws praise, concern

By Alex Bridges

FRONT ROYAL -- Town planning officials gave the public another chance Wednesday to weigh in on a "vision statement" used to guide Front Royal's future.

But a Warren County resident who owns property in Front Royal claimed the statement emphasizes a need for more government restrictions on local businesses. Matthew Tederick spoke to the Planning Commission at a public hearing held on the vision statement.

"I just don't believe that this document accurately reflects the sentiments of our community," Tederick said.

The former Warren County supervisor cited part of the vision statement that emphasizes the preservation "of strong, historic core, focused on arts and cultural amenities, a diverse economy and benefits for continual collaboration between the town and the county." Tederick pointed out that he supports preserving historic buildings but cautioned against making such an effort the major focus of town planning.

"To me, when I hear a lot of preserving historic cores -- and it's riddled throughout this document -- I hear greater regulations," Tederick said. "I hear limitation on personal freedoms, personal liberties, infringement on property rights."

Planning and Zoning Director Jeremy Camp explained that the statement comes out of the town's effort to include the public in the process to update the Comprehensive Plan.

"The vision is sort of a preamble to the Comprehensive Plan, so it's intended to be a little more general and focus on the big-picture items that we want to become in the future as well as to move kind of a little beyond that in this document and also putting forth some ideas for consideration," Camp said.

Following the public hearing, the commission voted 6-0 to forward the statement to Town Council with a recommendation that leaders approve the document.

Camp then advised the commission the town needed more volunteers to serve on a steering committee that would work on updating the Comprehensive Plan. After the meeting, Tederick offered to volunteer on the panel.

Town Council and the Planning Commission held a joint meeting Jan. 8 to discuss the vision statement that came out of two public workshops and an Internet-based initiative that collected input from interested residents and property owners. The panels agreed then to hold the public hearing.

Tederick admitted he neither attended the joint meeting nor participated in the workshops. But Tederick questioned the use of the term "statistical focus groups" in the document, suggesting instead these gatherings included individuals interested in the visioning process. Commission Chairman David Gushee said the panel agreed the groups did not represent a statistical sampling.

Leslie Fiddler called the vision statement "beautiful" but urged the commission to put economic development first when drafting the Comprehensive Plan. Fiddler went on to say that "until the town's tax base has been strengthened, that our population increase be accommodated via redevelopment at slightly increased densities."

Fiddler criticized what she called an effort by the town and Warren County to funnel more industrial and residential traffic to rural roads to the north in the Rockland Agriculture District, and west, via the proposed Leach Run Parkway, on Va. 55. Fiddler said the commuter route already suffers from high traffic congestion.

"I think these are poor planning practices and I'm hopeful that a different solution could be found," Fiddler said.

Linda Allen suggested that the commission take a "town center approach" to planning the future by which officials would organize development outward from a core of government offices and businesses. The town should look beyond developing just Main Street but also investigate ways to promote second-floor housing downtown.

Vice Chairwoman Deborah Langfitt thanked the speakers for their input.

"This was an exciting process for all of us because we live here with you guys and it affects us, too, and our families," Langfitt said."

"It's nice to hear these comments come back because we tried so hard to leave the process open," Gushee said.

The Comprehensive Plan and corresponding documents likely would include in more detail how the town could implement the goals and concepts of the vision.

"It seems to me that the vision draft as presented does not exclude any of these suggestions," Gushee said.

The chairman added that the vision statement becomes final once the town adopts the Comprehensive Plan.

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

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