Town inches toward property maintenance code

FRONT ROYAL – The Town Council is still considering a potential property maintenance code after years of discussion on the matter.

The council in February voted 4-0 against a maintenance code with councilman Christopher Morrison and Jacob Meza absent. This followed a January decision not to approve a property maintenance code that included a rental inspections zone.  

Mayor Hollis Tharpe said the council continued “crawling ahead” at its Monday work session.  He said town staff was directed to gather more information on potential options, which will be presented at a future work session. 

According to a work session agenda sheet, those options include adopting a code similar to Culpeper’s that would provide an “additional legal path for enforcing unsafe structures.” The agenda sheet lists enforcement that would not expand beyond structures already subject to the public nuisance code as a drawback to the Culpeper model.  Tharpe said councilmen Gary Gillispie and Eugene Tewalt favored this option.

Another option mirrors Strasburg’s property maintenance code, which would address all town structures. The agenda sheet states that a disadvantage would be legal costs from landlords who challenge rulings.

Tharpe said councilmen Meza and Morrison favored this option while councilman William Sealock remains undecided.

Tharpe added the code would likely not include a rental inspections zone due to associated costs. Still, he noted the code would not be free; a paid certified code enforcer would have to be hired.

He said the only way the matter can return to the table is if a councilman who has not voted against the program requests another vote. He said that would likely happen, as councilman John Connolly is the only councilman fully opposed.

Tharpe said the council is taking “baby steps” on another vote because the matter is still new to them. He noted that “government doesn’t work overnight” and there is no need for a rash decision. He added that a vote is imminent if the councilmen “can get their act together” and form a consensus. 

“We’ll keep treading along until we actually decide what direction we want to move. We want to implement it, but not go full force,” he said.