VFW trying to rebuild after fire

Aerial units from Warren County, Strasburg, and Stephens City attack the roof area of the Front Royal VFW Post 1860 on North Royal Avenue during the July 11 fire. Rich Cooley/Daily

FRONT ROYAL – The local Veterans of Foreign Wars chapter faces a tough time rebuilding after losing its home to fire six months ago.

Some members of the organization say town and county officials, along with federal rules, are making it difficult to move forward and construct a new home on their property at 1847 N. Royal Ave.

VFW Post 1860 Commander Chuck Midkiff said Tuesday his organization is considering an option to replace its old, two-story headquarters with a smaller building. But the process has left some VFW representatives frustrated.

“They decided that they didn’t want us to rebuild down there because it’s in a floodplain,” Midkiff said. “Really, we’re up against a wall now and we didn’t really, didn’t realize how much.

“We’re looking at other aspects now,” Midkiff added. “We’re not so sure we want to go that way right now.”

Front Royal Planning and Zoning Director Jeremy Camp said Wednesday that the organization’s building did not conform to state and local flood plain regulations. State code allows the organization to restore the structure, if destroyed by fire, to its original condition. The VFW cannot expand the size of the original structure but can still rebuild within the same footprint.

A new structure would still need to meet building codes and comply with the local floodplain ordinance, Camp explained.

“The town has communicated with their contractor that we would be more than glad to help them through the process,” Camp said.

The VFW can bring forward a proposal to build a new headquarters that would meet the floodplain requirements by either elevating the structure or, because it’s not inhabitable, flood-proof the building, Camp said. These options might make the project cost prohibitive, Camp added.

The VFW and its contractor can also apply for a variance through the town’s Board of Zoning Appeals. Such a variance could provide some relief from the floodplain requirements, Camp said.

“The question mark lies with the county,” Camp said. “The county has indicated that, regardless of what action the town takes, (the VFW) would still have to comply with the floodplain requirements when they get a building permit, which would be required.”

Camp and the VFW’s contractor need to set up a meeting with the county building official who would then explain their requirements, he said. The county’s decision could ultimately determine whether or not the VFW would pursue the restoration of its headquarter, Camp added. If the county doesn’t plan to honor the town-issued variance, should the Board of Zoning Appeals grant the request, then it doesn’t make much sense to go through that process, Camp said.

Building Official David Beahm said Tuesday the county is waiting for an approved zoning application from the town before his office issues a building permit. Beahm said he can’t proceed until the town has approved the VFW’s request.

The post’s representatives met with town officials Tuesday to discuss the organization’s plans and requirements.

The VFW chapter has used the building since the early 1980s. The property lies in the floodway, Midkiff noted, and he recalled it has flooded three times since the VFW took ownership.

“We wanted to keep it in the same place because of the grounds,” Midkiff said. “It’s a pretty location.”

The VFW post uses an outdoor pavilion for events and has rented out its property to other groups over the years.

“It’s something we might not be able to do anymore; I don’t know,” Midkiff said.

The commander voiced concern that the town and the county might not let the chapter demolish or clear off the site to allow for new construction.

The Front Royal American Legion Post 53 has allowed the VFW to meet in its headquarters since the fire. The Warren County Department of Fire and Rescue Services has not released any more information about the incident, which is also being investigated by the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco Firearms and Explosives. Midkiff said investigators have not yet provided any new information to the VFW.

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