Council pushes Main Street lights effort despite snags

FRONT ROYAL – An effort to light up Main Street should move forward despite recent snags, town leaders said Monday.

But the initiative to add more lights to the downtown street has hit some snags and slowed down recently. Many business owners want to participate. However, officials have had a difficult time getting property owners to buy into the idea, Town Manager Steve Burke told council Monday.

Given the delays in pushing the program forward, a major partner in the effort has asked for its donation back. The Front Royal Independent Business Alliance, which pushed for the lighting initiative in 2013, has made a formal request of council to refund the $2,700 provided to the town to help offset the cost of installing lights on buildings along Main Street.

The town has spent almost $4,800 on the project and council authorized $6,000 for additional design services.

Mayor Timothy Darr said he supported the project in the beginning.

“We were hoping it was going to go well and then we were running into a lot of time-sensitive issues,” Darr said. “I know some of the businesses on Main Street worked hard raising money.”

The organization bought bulbs and the town installed the lights, George McIntyre Jr., vice president of the Alliance, recalled.

Organization members discussed the success of the project. McIntyre and other members met with other business owners to get them on board. Town Attorney Doug Napier provided them with a waiver meant to make Front Royal not liable for damage to any building.

The effort to install lights stopped but the Alliance continued to raise money, McIntyre said. He provided a list of 30 businesses whose owners were interested in the effort and seeing downtown enhanced by the project.

“The whole thing was a pretty picture,” McIntyre said. “But it stopped. … It’s now gone on longer than it seems necessary.”

Donors have contacted the Alliance asking about the status of the project, McIntyre said.

“In my mind, if we don’t finish this project, it’s just another one of those black eyes that Front Royal gets from things that happen,” McIntyre said.

More people have given permission to install lights.

Joe Waltz, director of the Department of Energy Services, said 16 properties were identified in the design for the light canopy. Of the property owners, two have said yes, two have said no and the town has not received responses for the remaining buildings, Waltz said. The town has permission to put up two more strands of lights, Burke said. But part of the problem is getting permission from property owners, not proprietors. Property owners aren’t responding to the town’s requests, Burke said.

Darr suggested town officials create a map of the properties and owners, as well as who has given permission and who has not.

Vice Mayor Hollis Tharpe said it appeared that council supports the Alliance and the project. However, questions arose over how much effort the town has taken to reach the property owners. McIntyre said he had not received a letter from the town and he owns property on Main Street. However, his property lies outside the focus area for the lights. The town needs to follow up when it sends letters to property owners, Councilman Eugene Tewalt said.

“All we’re trying to do is enhance the downtown in our community,” McIntyre said. “We’re not trying to take anything away from anybody.”

“There’s going to be naysayers in everything you do,” Darr chimed in.

The Alliance approached council in late 2013 with the idea for the project. During the discussion, Tewalt asked if property owners would give the town a waiver that would ensure the town would not be liable should any damage occur on their buildings. McIntyre said then that he would look into obtaining those documents. Tewalt also asked about the cost of the project and McIntyre said that the organization would look at securing donations from businesses to help. Darr asked Burke to meet with the Warren County building official and the town Department of Energy Services to coordinate the project.

A local attorney also criticized town officials over the effort, specifically over the waiver. David Silek sent a letter to Burke dated Oct. 14 advising that his firm, the Silek Law Group, represents the Lola S. Wood Testamentary Trust. Silek states that his mother received a letter regarding the lighting program and he reviewed the waiver and release of liability.

“I find it unconscionable that the Town wants the property owner to assume all liability associated with the installation of this cable that you are requesting be installed on a property owner’s structure,” Silek states. “I also find it laughable that the Town is somehow equating a property owner’s desire to participate in a lighting program as an assumption of liability on their behalf.

“This is exactly why people should never trust the Town of Front Royal to ever do the correct thing,” Silek adds. “In fact, this document is absolute proof of the Town’s desire to ‘screw’ people.”

Councilman Daryl Funk, citing a Silek’s letter, said some property owners will refuse to participate.

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