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Afton Inn swap back in council's hands

By Alex Bridges

Front Royal leaders are revisiting the controversial Afton Inn-Town Hall swap to consider proposed changes to the deal.

Town Council met in closed session last week to discuss the possible acquisition of the Afton Inn on East Main Street and the disposition of the former Town Hall on North Royal Avenue. The exchange agreement has undergone some changes since Town Council approved the documents Feb. 10. Council held a public hearing on the documents it approved.

Town Attorney Douglas Napier said Friday the Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority approved an exchange agreement last month that reflects some changes made by the agency and Francisco Barros, a managing member of Afton Inn LLC.

"I'm not sure whether or not Town Council will agree to that," Napier said.

Council on Feb. 10 approved several documents related to the exchange after hearing support and opposition to the deal from members of the public.

Town Council may discuss the proposed changes to the agreement at its meeting Monday. Council asked Napier to produce a red-line version of the agreement to illustrate exactly what changes the EDA and Afton Inn LLC have made.

"It's just a matter of discretion of Town Council as to whether or not they are substantial enough that it affects the public's due process rights," Napier said.

Council must review the documents any time a party to the agreement makes a change, Napier explained.

"What happens is before it can become finalized - if there are any substantial changes and, in my view, these changes would be substantial - Town Council has to re-approve them." Napier said. "Because there's more than one signatory to these agreements, all the parties have to agree to them."

A potentially major change made by the EDA to the agreement relates to the right-of-first-refusal condition pushed by council that gives Front Royal the opportunity to buy back the former Town Hall if Afton Inn LLC decides to sell the property. Council would have a first shot at buying back Town Hall for the price offered by the owner.

The latest version of the land exchange agreement as modified by the EDA includes a 5-year right-of-first-refusal. The condition calls for Afton Inn LLC to notify the town manager about any proposed sale of the Town Hall within five years after Afton Inn LLC takes ownership of the municipal property. The agreement approved by council in February does not ascribe a specific time limit on the town's right of first refusal.

The version of the exchange agreement initially approved by council in February calls for Afton Inn LLC to take ownership of the Town Hall property but excluding the municipal parking lot to the rear of the building.

Afton Inn LLC has since asked that Front Royal include with the Town Hall six of the parking spaces in the lot behind the building on the west side of Union Street. Afton Inn LLC wants the agreement to give it or any subsequent owner of the property exclusive rights to the six parking spaces for its employees or guests.

Should council agree to the dedication of the parking spaces, Napier said this would be an example of a substantial change to the agreement. If council agrees to any substantial changes to the agreement, the town would need to hold another public hearing on the revised document, Napier said.

The original agreement as approved by council called for the closing on the Town Hall property to occur within 60 days. The new version extends that time to 90 days.

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

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