Council delays vote on developer’s request

FRONT ROYAL – Town Council postponed a developer’s request Monday for an exception that would allow narrower streets in a potential project.

Council voted 3-1 to table action on a special-exception application submitted by the Front Royal Limited Partnership and David Vazzana to permit a reduction from the minimum width for streets on 149 acres zoned for residential use. Councilmen Eugene Tewalt, John Connolly and Jacob Meza voted in favor of tabling the request to Sept. 12. Councilman Bret Hrbek voted against the motion.

Councilwoman Bébhinn Egger and Vice Mayor Hollis Tharpe did not attend the meeting.

Tewalt reiterated his concerns that the town only recently set the current standards for street widths, adding that 16 feet of travel space would not suffice for a school bus and a passenger vehicle. Tewalt said the town should stick to its subdivision ordinance or do away with the rules. He added that approving the exception would hurt future property owners and benefit the developers.

Connolly said he was “torn” on the issue. Connolly said Tewalt’s position makes sense but he felt the project remains important to the town. He added that council has yet to see a street plan for the project. Connolly said he doesn’t think council would have an appetite for more exceptions without a plan.

Meza echoed some of Connolly’s concerns. Meza then cited the Planning Commission’s recommendation that council approve the request. Planning and Zoning Director Jeremy Camp said the exception would provide flexibility for the developer. Camp said these are minimum standards and the town can require wider streets for school access.

Tewalt made a motion to try to bind the exception to the Front Royal Limited Partnership. Tewalt said the exception would apply to any plans the developer brings forward. Tewalt withdrew his amendment after Town Attorney Doug Napier said land-use decisions by council go with the property and not the developer.

Tewalt then made a motion to table to request until a time that all members are present.

David Means, of West 1st St., spoke during the public hearing on the request. Means said multi-family housing likely would increase the number of cars in the development. Streets that span 32-feet wide would not allow cars to park on both sides. He warned that drivers would likely drift closer to the middle of the road.

Bill Barnett, a consultant with Front Royal Limited Partnership, spoke at the hearing and noted that the developer sought a more environmentally friendly exception to the regulations. Barnett noted that the Virginia Department of Transportation allows streets as narrow as 29 feet. The developer wants flexibility when building on the site to limit the environmental impacts, Barnett said. The developer intends to build single-family dwellings, not multi-family housing, Barnett added.

Vazzana then spoke about the request, noting that the rezoning in 2009 came with a proposal for much narrower streets – 20 feet and 26 feet. More work sessions followed, Vazzana said. The developer, citing concerns that the town might set precedent by approving the request, pointed out that most of Front Royal’s streets built decades ago are narrow. Vazzana said narrower streets cost less to maintain and follow a Comprehensive Plan tenet of making roads walkable.

Specifically the application, if approved on second reading would allow the developer to design streets 4 feet narrower than required by the town. The property lies north of Happy Creek Road and Norfolk Southern Railroad and remains accessible via Marys Shady Lane.

The developer sought a reduction in the minimum width of the pavement, base course and sub-base of 4 feet for both local and collector streets. The exception would not apply to 604 acres the developer owns that the town recently annexed and remains zoned for agricultural use.

Town code requires a width of 36 feet for local streets and 40 feet for collector roads. Vazzana originally asked for an exception to allow 29-foot local streets and 36-feet collector roads. Vazzana amended the request May 20 to seek a pavement width of 32 feet for local streets and 36 feet for collector roads.

Also at the meeting, council:
• Approved a budget amendment in the amount of $3,500 for a Community Development Block Grant for Downtown Revitalization and approve the payment of the $3,500 to the Northern Shenandoah Valley Regional Commission to move towards a façade improvement program
• Approved a budget amendment in the amount of $61,034 from the Virginia Municipal League Insurance for tub grinder repairs. The tub grinder caught fire in early 2016 and needs repair.
• Reappointed Deborah Langfitt to the Planning Commission for a 4-year term to expire Aug. 31, 2020

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