Survey shows few vacant buildings in Front Royal

A sign shows retail space available for occupancy along Main Street in Front Royal. Rich Cooley/Daily

Front Royal has fewer empty buildings downtown than perceived but many properties need a lot of work.

The Northern Shenandoah Valley Regional Commission and the town are seeking grant money through the Department of Housing and Community Development aimed at helping Front Royal revitalize its downtown.

Front Royal received the initial $5,000 of a potential $35,000 planning grant that the commission used to study the town’s building stock. The commission filed its application with the survey results in the hopes of receiving the rest of the money that it can use to create an economic restructuring plan. Ultimately, Front Royal can apply for up to $1 million in grant funds that the town could use to set up programs aimed at helping to improve downtown buildings.

When the town can expect to learn if it qualified for the rest of the planning grant remains uncertain.

A group of residents who attended a public input meeting on the project suggested that the commission focuse its efforts on Main Street and branch off to meet the vacancy or deterioration criteria. Commission staff performed on-site evaluations of properties and collected data on the building stock in the area of Main Street, Jackson Street and Chester.

The management team met recently and discussed the project area and the property survey results.

Stephanie Langton, regional planner with the commission, explained Friday that the town had to meet several criteria to qualify for the remaining $30,000 of the grant. In addition to engaging the public in the process and setting up a management team to oversee the work, Front Royal needed to show either 50 percent of its properties in a specific project area are vacant or partially occupied or that 20 percent of the buildings require physical improvements.

The vacancy rate fell slightly below the minimum 50 percent, Langton said. The deterioration rate exceeded the 20-percent minimum, she added.

Planning and Zoning Director Jeremy Camp said Friday that commission workers scored the buildings based on the structures’ exterior appearance.

“It was surprising we didn’t meet that because we do have some vacant buildings,” Camp said. “I guess that would be a positive thing. It shows there’s at least a demand … that people want to be downtown.

“It’s just the buildings are deteriorating a little bit and that’s really what our focus is, is trying to improve the buildings,” Camp added. “We believe the demand is there. People will want to be here if the buildings are in better condition.”

At least 20 percent of the buildings in the study area were considered deteriorated, dilapidated or blighted. The exact percentage or number of dilapidated buildings was not immediately available.

The results demonstrate “that we can use a revitalization plan and we could use the redevelopment money and there is demand to be downtown so if we had those funds available we could do a lot with it,” Camp said.

Strasburg recently went through the same process in its work to obtain downtown revitalization money. The town was turned down initially for the remaining $30,000 because it didn’t meet the vacancy or deterioration criteria. The commission and town officials had been too stringent in how they scored buildings on their condition. Strasburg qualified once commission workers took another look at the buildings. Strasburg applied for grant funding after officials spent months engaging the public in the effort. Town Council decided to apply for funds and create a façade improvement program.

Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or