Council hopefuls weigh in at forum

By Alex Bridges

FRONT ROYAL — Candidates running for Front Royal Town Council responded to questions about local issues at a forum Thursday.

Linda J. Allen, Alford D. Carter III, John P. Connolly, Bebhinn Cecilia Egger, Vice Mayor N. Shae Parker and Councilman Hollis L. Tharpe are running for three seats on council. Parker and Tharpe are seeking re-election to their seats. Robert M. Tennett Jr., also on the ballot, could not attend due to an illness.

The Chamber of Commerce held the forum in the Warren County Government Center and board member Patrick Nolan served as moderator. Each candidate was allowed to give a statement about themselves at the beginning and then closing comments at the end of the forum. Mayor Timothy W. Darr was given three minutes at the beginning of the forum as the lone, unopposed candidate. Town resident Tim Ratigan gave a statement for Tennett on the absent candidate’s behalf.

Candidates had one minute to answer each of seven questions that touched on how council would address the needs of the town’s roads and infrastructure, Front Royal’s relationship with Warren County, enhancing tourism in the community and other topics.

Tharpe mentioned the creation of the future Leach Run Parkway that he said would draw some traffic around the town and that Front Royal needs living-wage jobs. Parker said a pro-active council that plans ahead should be able to address the roads and infrastructure issue. Egger suggested that the town implement a 20-year plan to put sidewalks in neighborhoods that lack the amenities. Connolly said the question goes beyond roads, pointed out that the water and sewer rates are high and recommended that the town set aside money to help improve its infrastructure. Carter said the town needs economic growth and that will determine how much money Front Royal can set aside for infrastructure needs. Allen pointed out that developers can provide voluntary contributions, or proffers, to help pay for infrastructure improvements.

Another question asked what each candidate sees as council’s role in revitalizing downtown.

“The town’s role can be an active one in promotion, perhaps offering grants or rebates and tax breaks and so forth,” Parker said. “But it would take a true public-private partnership and you don’t want to give away all the town’s resources or over-extend the town’s resources to one particular area without making sure it would benefit the town as a whole.”

“I think one thing the town can definitely do to attract more businesses downtown is to definitely keep up with the infrastructure,” Egger said. “I think maybe we could think more about a broader sense of improving the streetscape on South Street and thinking about the downtown as like Main, Royal, South Street area because all those businesses are important to our economy.”

“Something that I’d like to see done before the council takes any drastic measures is to get a good, solid delineation of downtown,” Connolly said. “But I do think the town’s gonna play a role in the infrastructure down there are that’s going to be critical in driving the revitalization of the economy.”

“I see the council as taking a lead role in revitalization,” Carter said. “If you use the town council as the people to lay out the schedule, the planning — and I’m not referring to a comprehensive plan, I’m talking about a business plan … When you get to the milestone, you hit the landmark, you know you’re there and I believe it’s council’s role to push that effort to its maximum.”

“I want to go back to the mechanism that I proposed — the community development authority and a director with a business plan — and we could get started with that because the town council has made progress,” Allen said. “They’ve saved about $150,000 or more to do that job so I’d like to see it get started.”

“I thinking the biggest role in the development of the town — main street development downtown — would be being a good partner,” Tharpe said. “Getting the owners together to make the decisions to make their own future. That’s about as far as council should even get involved in the redevelopment.”

Egger said Front Royal should be a welcoming community to enhance tourism and not have laws that make it hard for tourists to visit. Connolly said council needs to take steps to promote destination businesses downtown. Carter said the town needs to look at tourism as a business. Allen suggested that council explore the idea of creating a tourism zone in the town. Tharpe said the town needs to advertise its amenities, promote the town through its visitors’ center and support more family-related events. Parker said the town acts more as a pass-through than a destination and needs more adequate accommodations for tourists.

Each candidate gave a brief closing statement. Nolan said the entire forum will be shown on local Channel 16 and on the web at http://vimeo.com/channels/tfrtowncouncil.

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