Council to take up appeal for Afton Inn razing

FRONT ROYAL – The Town Council could decide the fate of the Afton Inn next week.

The Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority applied to the town, on behalf of MODE Partnership, for a permit to demolish the former Afton Inn, 2 E. Main St. The Board of Architectural Review voted unanimously at its Sept. 12 meeting to deny the EDA’s request for a certificate of appropriateness to demolish the inn.

The Board of Architectural Review discussed the demolition permit at work sessions and toured the site before holding a public hearing on the EDA’s request. Board members questioned the need for the developer to tear down the structure. The board spent roughly an hour discussing the request at a work session prior to the regular meeting, at which point members voted on the certificate.

The council plans to take up the EDA’s appeal of the board’s denial of the permit at its Monday meeting. The council doesn’t need to hold a public hearing on the EDA’s application nor take the same steps as the Board of Architectural Review when it considered the potential demolition of the historic structure.

EDA Board of Directors Chairman L. Greg Drescher noted the authority’s appeal of the decision in a letter dated Friday to the Town Council and the Board of Architectural Review. Town code allows the EDA to appeal the Board of Architectural Review’s decision.

“The EDA on behalf of MODE Partnership LLC still feels the demolition to be the best way to turn the dilapidated property into a thriving economic engine for the Town of Front Royal and its citizens,” the letter states.

EDA Executive Director Jennifer McDonald and Dan Whitten, county attorney for Warren County and legal counsel for the authority, spoke briefly to the Town Council at a work session Monday.

“We still feel it’s the best way to go for MODE Developers,” McDonald said. “So we had sent this letter to you guys hoping that we can make this appeal to you to keep our application for demolishing the building in place so MODE Developers can continue with the project as presented.”

The EDA followed the procedures for filing the appeal, Whitten said.

“We feel the appeal is proper,” Whitten added, noting that no MODE representatives could attend the work session.

Mayor Hollis Tharpe said “that’s understandable.” Tharpe said he asked council members to review video footage recorded of the Board of Architectural Review discussing the application at its work sessions and meetings. Council members also have been sent minutes of those meetings, Tharpe said.

Vice Mayor Eugene Tewalt asked council members and town officials if they are “100-percent positive” they don’t need to hold a public hearing on the demolition permit. Council could take action on the demolition request at its regular meeting Monday and doesn’t need to hold a public hearing, Tharpe said.

Tewalt suggested that council put the matter on the agenda for its next meeting but noted that his motion didn’t mean he supports or opposes the demolition request. Councilmen William Sealock Jr. and Jacob Meza voiced support for putting the appeal on the meeting agenda.