Afton Inn renovation designs approved – work to begin soon

FRONT ROYAL – Resuscitation of the long-vacant Afton Inn will soon be underway. 

The Board of Architectural Review at its Tuesday meeting unanimously approved a conceptual architectural design that includes a partial demolition and renovation. 

Jim Burton, of Carter + Architecture PLC., explained that the Afton Inn’s non-historic addition facing North Royal Avenue will be demolished and two additions will be added.

The board previously denied a proposed complete demolition, which was overturned by the Town Council. Planning Director Jeremy Camp said public opposition to the demolition of the historic building initiated a reconsideration of plans.

Those reconsidered plans call for two additions – one of which is three stories, the other one story. The three-story addition would face Crescent Street and include a ground-floor commercial space, four apartments and office space.

The other addition will face Royal Avenue and serve as a proposed meeting space, the exterior of which will have a “living wall” covered in plants to prevent car pollution damage and buffer noise. The ground floor of the original structure will include what Burton described as a cafe, accompanied by outdoor seating.

Burton said other preservation efforts include the main structure’s stairs and four walls, three of which will appear on the exterior and one in a hallway. Burton noted that his firm did an addition and renovation of the Barnes Rose Hill in Berryville “that was somewhat a similar scale.”

Burton said receiving approval from the Board of Architectural Review was important because stabilization work needs to begin.

“We’re ready to move; it’s just this is one of those steps to go. And the weather is dry and we would like to get the building propped up,” he said.

Burton explained that the project will be completely funded by the developer, 2 East Main Street LLC. He said tax credits were previously considered but fell through after the project faced major delay.

The town, which received the Afton Inn in a property swap for the former Town Hall, will maintain ownership of the building until construction is complete and then turned over to the developer. EDA officials have explained that this is the best way to prevent the building from remaining vacant. 

Burton explained that when the project is completed, Alan Omar, the principal owner of 2 East Main LLC, will run the ground floor businesses, which Burton summed up as a “cafe-market.”

“font-weight: 400;”> He explained Omar’s idea is to essentially have “a coffee shop that serves beer and wine along with food.” He said future plans call for electric car charging stations, which is “part of his market” and “more urban than regular gas stations.”

“And then it is sort of a Panera that would serve beer and wine and have some live music,” he said.

Angela Toler, Board of Architectural review chairwoman, said she likes the plans because the modern additions fit smoothly with the historic building.

Board member Mike Whitlow seconded and said he is a fan of the design because it incorporates the old with the new. He asked what the assurances are that the project would be completed.

To that, Burton responded, “I guess I’m here for architectural appropriateness…it’s more likely to happen if you approve it than have us start over again.”

Whitlow made a motion for the board to accept the conceptual plans with a caveat that “no administrative changes be made without it going in front of the BAR.” 

Burton said that that work will hopefully begin soon and that construction will consist of two phases – stabilization and renovation. He said the project likely would not be complete for about 14 months.

The final architectural plans will come back before the board before construction. Additionally, although the general facade was approved, he said minor details such as colors and signage will also be brought before the board.