EDA attorney steps aside on housing project

Warren County’s attorney recently backed away from a housing project now under scrutiny by local leaders.

County Attorney Dan Whitten has stepped aside as the Front Royal Warren County Economic Development Authority’s legal counsel on the agency’s workforce housing project.

“I didn’t resign,” Whitten said Friday. “I basically conflicted myself out.”

The Board of Supervisors plans to discuss the workforce housing project at its Tuesday meeting with EDA Executive Director Jennifer McDonald.

“I said basically that there was a conflict between representing the bodies on this particular issue,” Whitten added.

The Board of Supervisors raised questions about the project and the EDA involvement. However, the board remains Whitten’s primary client, the attorney said. Whitten said he didn’t feel it would be appropriate to represent both bodies. Whitten said he told supervisors first that he had a conflict then informed the EDA board.

Whitten advised the EDA at its May 26 meeting he had a conflict and would step aside as their legal counsel only on the project. Whitten had told the EDA board about the conflict during a closed session and about his decision to step aside. EDA board members made no mention of Whitten’s decision. The board didn’t need to take action on the decision because he advised members about the conflict, the attorney said Friday.

“I still represent (the EDA) on other projects and they, at this point, don’t see like there’s a need for outside counsel, so it’s not like they need to make a motion to hire outside counsel,” Whitten said. “The EDA already owns the property.”

The EDA intends to build an apartment complex on Royal Lane in town geared toward employees who work in the area that neither qualify for low-income housing nor can afford other options. The project has come under fire by a Town Council member who questioned why the EDA had to buy the previously gifted property after failing to meet an undisclosed deadline.

Whitten’s decision came after Supervisor Thomas Sayre asked the attorney at a board meeting last month what he knew about a deadline the EDA faced in moving forward with the project. At that time, Whitten said he couldn’t talk about the project because the EDA had not authorized him to waive attorney-client privilege.