Town panel backs workforce housing

FRONT ROYAL – A proposal to provide affordable housing to teachers, nurses and other professionals appears headed to Town Council.

The Planning Commission this week endorsed a request from the Front Royal Warren County Economic Development Authority for a special-use permit needed to build an apartment complex at the end of Royal Lane in town. The commission forwarded the request to Town Council recommending approval of the application.

EDA Executive Director Jennifer McDonald and Warren County Public Schools Superintendent Greg Drescher concur that a need exists for housing affordable to professionals such as teachers and nurses.

Pennoni Associates filed the request on the EDA’s behalf. The plans for Royal Lane Apartments call for the construction of three buildings with 12 apartments each. The EDA owns the 3 acres of property slated for the project. Plans also call for the creation of a park area on the property.

Planning and Zoning Director Jeremy Camp said Friday the commission recommended approval with nine conditions, two of which the panel added after neighbors voiced concerns about the project at the public hearing on the request. In addition to the seven conditions agreed upon earlier in the process, the commission recommended that none of the apartment units be used for subsidized housing. The panel also recommended that the permit require substantial conformity with the architectural drawings of the buildings as presented, Camp said.

A lack of housing for the school system’s workforce has remained a problem for some time, Drescher stated in an email Friday.

“From the school system perspective, last year 65 percent of the teachers we hired didn’t live in our community, often due to not being able to find affordable or suitable housing,” Drescher stated. “If we can get the educators we hire to actually live in our community, there is a much better chance they will stay. I am excited to see this project move forward and appreciate everyone’s efforts as we work together on this project.”

The EDA began working on the project about three years ago and the commission’s endorsement serves as an important step for the effort, McDonald said.

“Every year the schools, when they hired new teachers, 60 percent of them move to a different locality because they cannot find adequate and affordable housing here in Front Royal,” McDonald said Friday. “So it’s been an issue for years.

“The goal of the EDA was to be able to bring those employees back to Front Royal to live ’cause if they’re living here they’re shopping here,” McDonald added. “They get to spend time with their families here. You know it just makes for a better quality of life.”

The effort targeted teachers as well as nurses and law enforcement officers – anyone who fit in the category of earning the median income and didn’t make enough to buy a home or pay upward of $1,500 a month in rent, but also made too much to qualify for subsidized housing, McDonald said.

“So they were in that middle and we just did not have anything for them,” McDonald said.

The EDA can expect to break ground on the $3.5 million project once the agency receives the necessary approvals, McDonald said. The authority would likely need to wait until the spring if the approvals come by this winter, she noted. Construction could take roughly nine months to a year to complete. The apartments could be ready to rent in time for new teachers starting in the 2018-2019 school year, she said.

The EDA would vet prospective tenants through a typical application process, McDonald explained.

“We’re not gonna be denying anyone because they’re not a teacher,” she said. “The grant we received for this was for workforce housing … so we do have to make sure that, you know, they meet those guidelines and they’re within that income level.”

“This is not meant for subsidized housing,” McDonald added.

The EDA cannot set the rental rates until the apartments are constructed and the authority can use the median income level at that time, McDonald said.

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