Front Royal building swap still in works
By Alex Bridges
A “legal glitch” shouldn’t hinder a planned swap of Front Royal’s old Town Hall for the Afton Inn, attorneys say.
Council agreed earlier this year to exchange the former Town Hall on Royal Avenue for the Afton Inn on Main Street. The Warren County Economic Development Authority would then market the Afton Inn for future commercial use. Town Council plans to go into a closed meeting at its work session Monday to discuss the property swap with legal counsel.
A question of whether or not the Front Royal Fire and Rescue Department holds a stake in the Town Hall property has arisen late in the exchange process.
Both County Attorney Blair Mitchell, working on the EDA’s behalf, and Town Attorney Douglas Napier said Friday they don’t see this potential connection as a major hurdle for the exchange. Napier called the matter a “legal glitch.” EDA Executive Director Jennifer McDonald said Friday she expects the exchange to take effect in the coming weeks.
The fire department’s connection didn’t come up during public discussions about the exchange. Neither Joie Starcher Sr., president of the organization’s board of directors, nor Vice President Junior Kisner returned calls for comment Friday.
In 1936, the Warren County Circuit Court allowed the Relief Hook & Ladder Company to exchange property it owned on South Royal Avenue for part of the Town Hall site, on which the organization would build a new station, Napier explained. Individual members of Town Council were named as trustees of the charitable organization in the exchange, Napier said.
“Nobody had realized that for many, many years,” Napier said.
The fire station remained in use for that purpose until about the 1960s, Napier said. Relief, which had formed in 1892, changed its name to the Front Royal Fire Department in January 1960, according to information on the organization’s website. The Front Royal Volunteer Fire & Rescue Department currently operates out of its station on North Commerce Avenue.
A private firm recently performed a title search ahead of the property swap and discovered the deed of exchange that involved the Relief Hook & Ladder Company.
“In order to convey good deed to the property there will have to be a conveyance by the trustees of the Relief fire department of this undivided interest to the northern part of the Town Hall,” Napier said.
The question remains: Is there any value to the part of the Town Hall owned by an organization that no longer exists, of an undivided piece of property no longer suitable for a fire station that could not be removed from the rest of the building?
Napier said he and other parties involved in the work on the trade are investigating whether or not the Front Royal Volunteer Fire and Rescue Department has any vested interest in the former station in Town Hall.
Matthew Tederick, a vocal opponent of the swap, said Friday this new information should prompt Town Council to slow down its efforts to close the deal. Tederick said he learned about the connection Thursday when he checked the files in Warren County Circuit Court. Tederick claims council plans to move the exchange along without input from the fire and rescue organization.
“Although I am not an attorney … it reasonably appears that the Front Royal Fire Department are the beneficiaries of the now existing Town Hall,” Tederick said. “I think prudence would dictate greater investigation into the title and this suit, which dates back to 1936, to determine if the Town Council, as trustees of the property, can legally swap it or sell it without the Front Royal Fire Department’s vote of support.”
Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or firstname.lastname@example.org