Panel denies permit to raze Afton Inn

The 150-year-old Afton Inn is seen here at the corner of East Main Street and South Royal Avenue in Front Royal. The Board of Architectural Review voted unanimously Tuesday against approving a permit to demolish the building. Rich Cooley/Daily file

FRONT ROYAL – A town panel on Tuesday denied a developer’s request for a permit to demolish the former Afton Inn.

But, despite the Board of Architectural Review’s unanimous decision to protect the 150-year-old building, members acknowledged that the Town Council could go the opposite way as it has done in the past.

The board discussed the Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority’s application for a certificate of appropriateness to demolish the structure at 2 E. Main St. Members agreed that the EDA and  Carter and Burton Architecture still did not provide enough information about the proposal to raze and replace the structure.

Members answered questions about the building in demolition review guidelines designed to determine the appropriate action. A question in the guidelines asks if the building is identified as a contributing structure in the Front Royal Historic District. Members noted that the former hotel is listed as one of the main structures cited as a reason to create the historic district in the first place.

The fact that another firm recently submitted a proposal to the EDA seeking to renovate and restore – not demolish – the Afton Inn also raised more questions about the process and whether or not the authority did all it could to find a company that would keep the building intact.

Michael Grabowski, with Urban Development Partners LLC, detailed the firm’s proposal in a letter to EDA Executive Director Jennifer McDonald dated Sept. 8. The letter states they propose a bid for the restoration, rehabilitation and reuse of the Afton Inn. The firm would restore the building as close as possible to its original appearance. The proposal calls for the building to feature a restaurant or retail space on the first floor with eight to 10 studio lofts on the upper floors and in any added areas. The lofts would be intended as extended-stay rooms or executive hotel suites, which the firm contends would bring more revenue than traditional apartments. The firm would reserve the right to convert the rooms to apartments if the suites proved not successful.

Urban Development Partners proposes to split the project into two phases – historic restoration and construction of an addition.

Urban Development Partners also offers to buy the property for an amount “equal to the 2017 real estate taxes” and to pay transfer fees. The firm would file tax-credit documentation with the Virginia Department of Historic Resources within two weeks after the purchase is completed and would then begin to select areas for interior demolition and structural stabilization within 30 days of the sale. The proposal letter goes on to state what the firm intends to do and a timeline for filing applications, performing rehabilitation and other work on the structure. The firm proposes to complete construction activities no later June 2019.