Council takes up workforce housing project

FRONT ROYAL – A proposed apartment complex in Front Royal for area teachers and other professionals sparked some concern among town leaders.

Town Council discussed this week a plan spurred by the Front Royal Warren County Economic Development Authority to build apartments at the end of Royal Lane. Council intends to hold a public hearing on a special-use permit filed by Pennoni Associates on the authority’s behalf.

Pennoni’s plans call for the construction of three buildings, each containing 12 apartments, along with a small park on three acres owned by the EDA. The Planning Commission recently endorsed the project and recommended that council approve the permit. The commission suggested the permit come with nine conditions such as a prohibition on using any apartment for subsidized housing.

Some council members echoed residents’ concerns about how the project might affect traffic on Royal Lane.

The EDA pushed the project as a way of supplying affordable housing options to professionals who earn too much to qualify for subsidized housing but cannot afford a house in or around town.

Planning and Zoning Director Jeremy Camp explained that the town’s commercial district allows for apartments with a special-use permit. The EDA also requests an exception to the limit on dead-end streets. The proposal calls for extending Royal Lane to 1,000 feet. The town limits dead-end streets to 800 feet. Town code allows council to grant the exception for projects related to affordable housing, Camp said. The EDA also is reserving a section of right-of-way near Royal Lane for the town in case Front Royal would seek to extend the street to Remount Road.

Councilman Eugene Tewalt asked what kind of traffic “overload” the apartment complex would put on the dead-end street. The town’s regulations pertain to the number of lots of which the project would cover only one, Camp said.

Councilwoman Bébhinn Egger echoed Tewalt’s concerns about the amount of traffic the apartments would generate on Royal Lane. Egger said the town likely is putting the cart before the horse by allowing 36 apartment units and then possibly extending Royal Lane. Councilman Bret Hrbek said he also is concerned with the location of the apartment complex but added that he has pushed for workforce housing for years so he doesn’t want to put up more roadblocks.

Hrbek pointed out that the EDA would own the property and, as such, would not pay real estate taxes. EDA Executive Director Jennifer McDonald said the authority can’t sell the property for three or five years. Camp noted that the condition prohibiting subsidized housing would remain if the EDA sells the property.

The EDA expects to break ground on the $3.5 million project once the authority receives the required permits and approvals. Construction could take nine months to a year. The EDA could make the apartments ready for rent in time for the 2018-2019 school year.

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

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