Board tours Afton Inn, airs concerns

Jim Burton, of Carter and Burton Architecture, describes the deteriorating parts of the former Afton Inn during a tour Tuesday for the Architectural Review Board. Alex Bridges/Daily

FRONT ROYAL – Members of the Architectural Review Board toured the crumbling husk of the Afton Inn this week before discussing the historic building’s fate.

The board plans to consider a request by MODE Partners Inc. and the Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority to demolish the structure at Royal Avenue and Main Street. The request comes up for a public hearing Tuesday, though the board might not take action until its next meeting, Chairwoman Angela Toler said Tuesday.

Board members voiced concern that demolition approval does not necessarily guarantee the developers would begin building a replacement structure. The chairwoman reminded the board that any consideration for the structure that might take the Afton Inn’s place would not come at this time. Vice Chairwoman Joan Harding said that the early draft rendering did not appear to keep much of the original structure’s design in place.

EDA Executive Director Jennifer McDonald and Jim Burton, with Carter and Barton Architecture and Mode Partners who led the tour of the property, answered questions during the board’s work session – the second held on the Afton Inn demolition request.

Some board members criticized the EDA for appearing to not do enough to market the property to developers who would try to keep the structure mostly intact rather than pursue demolition.

Jim Burton, of Carter and Burton Architecture, walks past the the former Afton Inn. Alex Bridges/Daily

The EDA had four active inquiries looking into renovating the property.

“Every time we got to the finish line, it always came to the point where they didn’t have enough money to do the renovations,” McDonald said.

The EDA applied twice for industrial revitalization funds but were denied based on Front Royal’s failure to meet certain qualifications, McDonald explained. Each of the developers hoping the EDA would receive those grants pulled out. Mode came on board and indicated it could renovate the building but ultimately decided that it didn’t make economic sense to renovate, McDonald said. The EDA and MODE then applied for a certificate of appropriateness to demolish the structure.

“We have a real live prospect for this property that has the means to complete the project,” McDonald said of Mode and Carton and Burton.

McDonald noted that she was unfamiliar with the process of seeking demolition approval.

Toler said she felt like the application left the board “hanging” because it doesn’t specify what the developers would put in Afton Inn’s place.

“Personally, I am struggling with if I approve demolition, what’s going in its place, because we’ve had other applicants come before us not with a demolition permit but with a building permit ready to go – funds, plans, a vision, an architect, finishes – and by essentially approving a building permit, that approved the demolition that was required to … to do the project,” Toler said. “I don’t want to say ‘here’s your demolition permit’ and then just wait and see because I’m assuming it’s right in the middle of the historic district, anything that’s rebuilt in its place will be right back here before us.”

Harding echoed Toler’s sentiment.

“We really just don’t know what is in the can of worms you will be opening,” Harding said.

McDonald provided an early draft of a design for the Afton Inn site that some BAR members said did not look like planning documents. McDonald said that the EDA and the architects understand they might need to make changes to the plans as required by the board or the Town Council.