Town reaches deal over land by bridge

FRONT ROYAL – Town officials recently reached a deal with a local business to avoid taking land for a bridge project through eminent domain.

The Town Council planned to hold a public hearing Monday on a resolution to authorize condemnation proceedings for 1,710 square feet of property near the Criser Road Bridge. The town sought the land owned by Stephen C. Lockhart for temporary construction easements during the replacement of the bridge over Happy Creek at the intersection of Criser Road and Remount Road.

Town Attorney Doug Napier stated in an email Friday that the town had reached an agreement with Lockhart pertaining to the temporary construction easement.

Mayor Hollis Tharpe announced early in the meeting that the town reached the deal with Lockhart and the hearing was no longer needed. The council voted to remove the item from the meeting agenda. Tharpe said he was glad that the town wouldn’t need to proceed with condemnation. Napier told the council that the town and Lockhart came up with the amicable agreement.

Town officials agreed to pay Lockhart $10,000 for the temporary use of the land during the construction of the bridge, Napier stated. The Town Council does not have to take formal action to approve the agreement given the amount of compensation, Napier stated.

“This temporary construction easement has an impact on Mr. Lockhart’s construction business, Steve Lockhart Construction, and we are in the heart of Mr. Lockhart’s construction season,” the email states. “Where the temporary construction easement is situated, if not handled carefully by the bridge construction crew, could impact his Criser Road driveway, which is a critical means for him to get his heavy equipment in and out of his business. His is a valued Town business.”

The engineering firm hired by the town informed officials that crews would need a temporary construction easement for the project. Specifically, the town would need to obtain a 1,710-square-foot easement from Lockhart who runs a construction firm at 503 Remount Road.

Town officials offered Lockhart $6,000 in cash – the fair market value of the property. Lockhart turned down the offer and rejected the town’s estimate of the fair market value. The town agreed to Lockhart’s comparable value for the sale of the land and to pay the owner $10,000 to use the property for the easement and return the site to its original condition at the completion of the project. The town also offered to pay the owner $25,000 for permanent use of the property. Lockhart wouldn’t accept less than $100,000 for the property. The lack of a deal prompted the town to pursue condemnation of the land through eminent domain.

Also at the meeting, the council:

• Affirmed on its first reading an ordinance to amend town code to expand prohibited conduct to include a person intoxicated in public from intoxicants, in addition to alcohol, with a violation punishable as a class 4 misdemeanor. The change allows the town to charge and prosecute violators of this ordinance. No one spoke during the public hearing on the ordinance. Council must approve the ordinance on a second reading to make the change official.

• Failed to approve on its first reading a change to town code to allow flea markets to operate on Fridays with a special-use permit subject to standards and review and potentially to have a farmers market. The proposal also would have changed the license tax for flea markets from a per vendor tax of $10 per year or $1 per day to a flat license levy of $250 per calendar year paid by the proprietor of the flea market. Several people spoke during the public hearing. Elizabeth Shenk spoke about the family-run flea market on Commerce Avenue and in support of the change. Ann Orndorff spoke in support of the flea market but voiced concern that not all the town’s rules are followed. Orndorff said she also would like to see the farmers market stay downtown. Jason Neal said a flea market shouldn’t be allowed to sell new merchandise. Councilman John Connolly’s motion to affirm the changes on the first reading failed to receive a second. Tharpe asked that council revisit the matter at a future work session, saying that “there must be something missing here that no one knows about.”

• Approved a bid from Terex for the purchase of a digger-derrick for $313,189 for the Energy Services Department

• Approved the acceptance of the public infrastructure in Beau Ridge II subdivision and release the letter of credit for the project in the amount of $277,680 from United Bank as requested from Dodson Homes Inc.

• Referred to the Planning Commission a proposal to make East Main Street a one-way street