Year in Review: Towns focus on projects in 2014
The annexation of the “golden triangle,” downtown revitalization and the wastewater treatment plant upgrade project kept Strasburg officials and leaders busy in 2014.
The North Shenandoah Industrial and Business Park now lies within town limits and Strasburg is planning its future development. The town annexed the park and adjacent land through an agreement with the county and officials began the initial work to market the property – eyed as a potential economic engine for the Strasburg. Development efforts will continue in 2015 as the town crafts a plan for the park.
Strasburg also saw work commence on its largest capital project in recent years – upgrades to its wastewater treatment plant. Strict environmental regulations spurred the town to improve the plant.
In April, the town had to evacuate the Department of Public Works from its building in the wastewater treatment plant when an inspector said the structure had become unsafe. Shortly thereafter, the town’s Director of Public Works said the situation accelerated plans to build a new department facility in the industrial park and agency employees were relocated until the town completes the project.
Also in 2014, Strasburg celebrated a milestone with the completion of the first two phases of the downtown streetscape enhancement project. Contractors replaced sidewalks, installed “bump outs” at several intersections and planted new trees along King Street between Capon to North Holliday streets as part of the town’s ongoing efforts to revitalize downtown.
Strasburg officials, elected leaders, property and business owners and other residents continued work on revitalization through a consulting firm in the hopes of obtaining more grant money the town could use to implement physical improvements to downtown buildings. The project included a survey of downtown needs, public meetings and workshops. At the same time, the town’s Economic Development and Planning Manager Kimberly Murray began work on a state grant aimed at the potential rehabilitation of the Strasburg Theater – a downtown landmark.
Other town activities included:
• The hiring of Felicia Hart as the downtown manager to work with businesses and property owners in the King Street corridor.
• Approval of the Unified Development Ordinance that combines Strasburg’s zoning and subdivision regulations, and the future land-use map.;
• Began the search for a permanent town manager to replace Judson Rex, who announced his resignation in December; appointment of Director of Public Works George R. “Jay” McKinley, a 20-year employee of Strasburg, to serve as acting town manager.
• Growing support, including Town Council backing and site selection for the Tribute to Trent Williams Skate Park.
Woodstock also kept busy in 2014 with Town Council and leaders completing or continuing work on large projects. The town embarked on a plan to upgrade its water distribution that includes making key connections to improve flow and allow the North Street tank to better run the system. Woodstock leaders also recently gave Town Manager Reid Wodicka the green light to move forward on financing for a project to upgrade the town’s water treatment plant.
The town also celebrated the completion of improvements to the W.O. Riley Park – a project that saw not only renovations to the facilities but the addition of several amenities, including playgrounds, an events area and a splash pad.
Other town projects in 2014 included:
• Completion of “Jane’s Garden” – a pocket park on Main Street.
• Planting of 225 trees along the streets and throughout town, with a few part of the W.O. Riley Park project, but also Tribute Trees and other plantings off of the right of way).
• Developed an internal weekly staff training program for each department (each department takes time to review a topic each week).
• Hired Katie Mercer as its new enhancement coordinator, replacing Jane Beasley, who stepped down from the position after 14 years; and John O’Neill as the new finance director, who replaced Mandy Belyea.
• Completed the review and re-write of the entire Town Code.
• Implementation by the police department of a wellness program aimed physical fitness tracking and training for its officers.
• Added mobile data terminals in police department vehicles.
Front Royal leaders spent much of the beginning of the year considering a proposal to swap the former Town Hall for the long-vacant Afton Inn. The exchange called for the owners of Afton Inn to take the Town Hall property on Royal Avenue. In exchange, Afton Inn LLC gave the former hotel building to the Front Royal Warren County Economic Development Authority, which then would market the property to potential developers.
The proposal drew fire from opponents who said Front Royal would lose a historical landmark and get, in return, a deteriorating building. After months of negotiations and discussions, both in private and public, Town Council voted to support the exchange. The swap went through later in the year.
Town Council spent time in the summer dealing with an old regulation on the books that banned fortunetelling, “gypsies” and practitioners of the magic arts. Pagans and other supporters demanded that council remove the outdated rule that conflicted with another regulation that allows the town to regulate such practices. Opponents of the proposal to remove the rule said the town needed to keep out fortunetellers and those people who practice the “black arts.” Eventually, after hearing vocal support and opposition for the move, Town Council voted to strike the code section.
Town leaders also spent much of 2014 continuing their discussion about the U.S. 340-522 North Corridor and certain taxes Front Royal can’t collect from businesses. Discussions among council members and the county Board of Supervisors touched on the town reinstating certain fees in the corridor and annexing the area. The county received the results of a study that showed the town reaped benefits from an agreement the two jurisdictions have on the corridor.
Other Front Royal activities in 2014 included:
• Progress on the Leach Run Parkway project, spearheaded by the EDA, to include easement purchases and design work.
• Continued work on the update to the town’s Comprehensive Plan, beginning with the creation of a “vision” for Front Royal.
• Reviewed options for the creation of a loop in the water distribution system that would keep water flowing to part of town in an emergency.
• Moved forward on plans to upgrade its wastewater treatment plant;
• Both Front Royal and Warren County were forced to clean up after a major storm swept through the area in early May.
• Completion of the first two phases of the Happy Creek Trail project.
Other towns in Shenandoah County moved forward on various projects or made changes to their staff rosters. Activities included:
• The appointment of longtime Director of Public Works Mike Ritchie as town manager to replace Evan Vass.
• The hiring of Brittany Clem, the town’s first events and marketing director.
• Embarked on projects to repaint the water storage tower and to build a sidewalk.
• Continued work on Holtzman Oil’s plans to expand its headquarters to the former historic Nelson House site.
• Moved forward on the planned Edinburg Square subdivision project.
• Heard a proposal to build a Dollar General on Old Valley Pike near the Toms Brook School apartments.
• Residents rallied behind an effort to save an old house.
• Approved a parking ordinance after dealing with complaints about tractor trailers parking a Liberty gas station.
• Heard a McDonald’s proposal.
• Began work on a proposed ballfield.
• Had book about Middletown, with history and photos, published.
• Longtime Mayor Joy Schull-Gellner retired. Councilwoman Martha Dilg was named interim mayor.
• Council reacts to Shentel’s tree-trimming work.
Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or firstname.lastname@example.org