Council to consider narrower roads for development

FRONT ROYAL – Some town leaders raised concerns about a developer’s request for an exception to local development rules.

Front Royal Limited Partnership applied for a special exception for alternative standards to town code to allow narrower roads on the firm’s 149 acres in the corporate limits. The property in question lies north of Happy Creek Road and the Norfolk Southern Railroad and is accessible from Marys Shady Lane. The developer also owns 604 acres annexed recently into the town eyed for approximately 800 homes. The annexed property is not part of the developer’s request for an exception.

Planning and Zoning Director Jeremy Camp talked to Town Council about the request at a work session earlier this week. The applicant wants the exception in order to build local roads 32 feet wide rather than the required 36 feet and collector routes at 36 feet compared to 40 feet as mandated.

Council ultimately agreed to schedule the request for a public hearing.

The town’s subdivision ordinance allows applicants to receive an exception if they can demonstrate that alternate standards would achieve certain goals, Camp explained. The developer’s initial request included several modifications, and the discussions have centered on proposed changes to the street-width standards. The Virginia Department of Transportation requires a minimum of 29 feet for local roads, Camp said.

The Planning Commission held a hearing on June 15 after which the panel agreed to forward the request to Town Council, recommending approval of the application to allow alternative standards to the minimum required pavement, base course and sub-base widths for local and collector streets. The alternative standards reduce the widths by 4 feet. The Planning Commission included the caveat that the exception should not apply to the East-West Connector Road, the primary access route into the annexed property.

Councilman Eugene Tewalt pointed out that the town only recently adopted an updated subdivision ordinance that sets the standards for development. Offering an exception to one developer could open the town up to more requests, Tewalt added. The councilman pointed out that even 36-foot streets when lined with parked cars, makes travel difficult for buses and other large vehicles.

Mayor Timothy Darr asked why the town would consider an exception to the width requirement if the developer has not yet submitted a plan. The Planning Commission had voiced a similar concern, Camp said. The applicant submitted a preliminary plan but one he would not commit to, Camp added.

Councilwoman Bébhinn Egger said she supported narrower street widths as part of the subdivision ordinance update originally.

Councilman Bret Hrbek asked if the applicant had shown that the alternative standards as proposed would meet certain goals for the subdivision. The applicant had claimed that narrower streets would be safer thus qualifying under the traditional neighborhood design criteria, Camp said. Narrower streets also would qualify under the conservation and water quality criteria, Camp added.

Darr said he supports 32-foot streets but asked what the town gains by approving the exception now rather than when the developer submits a subdivision proposal. Camp said the applicant significantly modified the original proposal when it appeared the Planning Commission would not support the request.

Darr said he wanted information on why the Planning Commission changed its position on the request before scheduling a public hearing. However, Darr then said he would support moving forward with the hearing if council felt ready.

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