Workforce housing project sought for town

FRONT ROYAL – An effort to create housing in town for up-and-coming professionals continues to move forward.

The Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority is working with the town to come up with a possible solution. The EDA needs to obtain a special-use permit to develop an apartment complex on a site off Royal Lane in town, Executive Director Jennifer McDonald said Monday. The EDA has yet to buy the land for the project.

“Until we know we can put apartments there, we’re not willing to move any further with a group or with purchasing the property or anything,” McDonald said.

Front Royal’s Planning and Zoning Director Jeremy Camp said he and EDA representatives plan to meet this week to discuss the town’s requirements.

“It’s their project and we’ve basically just been working with them, as we would any developer or someone interested in developing the property,” Camp said.

The property eyed for the project is zoned for commercial use. The town zoning regulations allows for apartments on the property with a special-use permit, Camp said. The EDA would need to request the permit. The Planning Commission and Town Council would need to hold public hearings on the request.

But the property lies at the end of a dead-end road and the town wants to make sure the project addresses any traffic problems that might arise, Camp said.

The town code includes requirements for apartment developments such as adequate parking and access. Requirements and limitations also depend on the lot size for a project.

The EDA needed to make some revisions to the plan, McDonald told the authority board at its meeting on Friday. The property under consideration for workforce housing is in a cul de sac. The town’s zoning ordinance limits the number of apartment units to 25 in a cul de sac, McDonald said. The EDA’s plan calls for 36 units, she said.

McDonald recently met with Town Manager Steve Burke and Camp, the planning and zoning director, who said they would not consider it a cul de sac if the plans include a parking lot with an entrance and exit. However, engineers with Pennoni Associates could not fit three buildings and the parking lot on the property, McDonald said.

The plans now call for two buildings, one with 24 units and the other with 12. McDonald said the EDA is working with Camp and Pennoni to see how they can configure apartments on the site.

The EDA also must do a traffic impact study on the project – again. The town code requires developers to conduct traffic studies any time they apply for special-use permits, rezoning or to change the use of a property, McDonald said.

Members of the board scoffed at that requirement.

“Haven’t we already done enough traffic studies?” Chairwoman Patricia Wines asked.

A new study could incorporate data from previous studies, McDonald said. Board member Bill Sealock asked how many times do they need to repeat the same data.

“It just doesn’t make sense,” Sealock said. “We’ve had this discussion before.”

Front Royal Vice Mayor Hollis Tharpe, sitting in on the meeting, said he agreed with Sealock. McDonald said the Planning Commission and Town Council would need to change the wording in the code to remove that requirement.

But another board member warned that traffic problems created by a development likely would spur criticism if the town had not required a traffic study beforehand.

Sealock called the need for a new study a delay tactic and said this requirement puts the EDA back to the beginning after working on the project for two years.

EDA members have cited a need for housing options that can attract and keep professionals in the Front Royal-Warren County area. Warren County Public Schools Superintendent Greg Drescher, who also sits on the EDA board, said 65 percent of the new teachers hired by the division this year do not live in the county.

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

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