Front Royal Leach Run Parkway project moves ahead

By Alex Bridges

FRONT ROYAL — Construction of the long-awaited Leach Run Parkway could begin this winter or spring.

The Warren County Economic Development Authority continues its work as the lead agency on the planned highway designed to connect Va. 55 to Happy Creek Road. The four-lane highway divided by a median would include biking and walking paths.

EDA Executive Director Jennifer McDonald said Wednesday she expects the Virginia Department of Transportation to provide its input on the design this week. Once the state agency signs off on the design, the EDA can put the project out to bid later this month, McDonald said.

“So you’re looking at the winter time before we could start construction,” McDonald said. “So, realistically, I think we’re looking at spring unless we have a really good winter.”

The EDA estimated the cost at $12 million, though they won’t know the true price until companies submit bids and the authority picks a contractor. VDOT, Front Royal and the county will share the cost of the project.

The EDA is in the process of acquiring several acres of land from three remaining property owners along the planned route for the parkway — HEPTAD LLC, Warren Memorial Hospital and the New Covenant Church — for rights-of-way and temporary construction easements. The EDA has already obtained land and, in some cases, entire homes, from private owners whose properties lay in or near the parkway path.

While the EDA has assured Warren Memorial Hospital that its property would have access to the Leach Run Parkway, HEPTAD sought a guarantee in writing from Front Royal. Town Council voted 6-0 at a special meeting Monday to approve a memorandum of understanding with HEPTAD LLC concerning the connection of its development’s connection with the parkway.

Even though the EDA serves as the lead agency on the project, Town Manager Steve Burke explained to council that HEPTAD wanted assurance that the developer could connect to the parkway prior to land transferring to the EDA. HEPTAD representatives had a concern about the connection because the town is not directly receiving property from the agreement. The EDA has taken the lead on the parkway project and is acquiring rights-of-way from property owners along the route.

The town has allowed the development to have one access point to Leach Run Parkway. The development’s connection would need to meet Front Royal’s road standards.

In response to a question from Councilman Thomas Sayre, Burke said the issue of burying electric transmission lines has been removed from the discussion about parkway access.

The town rezoned 98.25 acres from the suburban residential district to planned neighborhood development district for HEPTAD in April 2012. A proffer statement submitted with the rezoning application proposes up to 450 dwelling units plus space for commercial and recreational uses.

Town Council has granted two extensions of those proffers in the past year because neither Front Royal nor the Warren County Economic Development Authority had obtained the rights-of-way for the project.

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