STRASBURG — A divided Town Council will participate in the Northern Shenandoah Valley Regional Commission’s Public Transit Demonstration Grant Program, the result of a tie-breaking vote from Mayor Richard Orndorff Jr.
At a Wednesday night regular meeting, the council voted 4-4 to contribute $16,220 for the 18-month transportation study and bring bus service to Shenandoah County six days a week. Currently, the county has no public transportation service.
Council members Emily Reynolds, Barbara Plitt, Scott Terndrup and Taralyn Nicholson (who participated electronically from Charlottesville) approved the measure, while Jocelyn Vena, John Massoud, Kim Bishop and Ken Cherrix opposed it.
“This is a difficult decision,” Orndorff said following the vote. “However, I see a need to get some data, so I will vote in the affirmative.”
The council also approved $1,500 in match funding for a final year of the Staufferstadt Arts Mural Program in a 5-3 vote, with Bishop, Cherrix and Massoud voting in opposition. The Strasburg-based nonprofit can still apply for other grants to fund future murals in addition to the funds it receives through the Creative Community Parntership grant. Terndrup reiterated his interest in other artists following suit.
A vote to approve the Summit Crossing Preliminary Development Plan was rejected 5-3, with Vena, Terndrup and Reynolds approving the measure.
Asked what happens next, Town Manager Wyatt Pearson wasn’t immediately sure. He planned to consult with town attorney Nathan Miller, saying on Thursday that circumstances are complicated.
Though developer Pennoni Associates is protected until 2020 by a state decision to shelter projects that were under development when the housing market crashed in 2006, Pearson doesn’t expect the company to “revert to the old plans.”
Pennoni has been working with the town to craft site plans that consider council members’ interests, Pearson said.
In light of Wednesday’s vote, he said, “We don’t know the intricacies of what that would look like.”
Options could include Pennoni appealing the decision in Circuit Court, or the council holding another vote. Referencing Robert’s Rules of Order, he said a second application would need an amendment to address concerns and be advertised to the community. The side that prevailed would need to schedule the next vote.
“I wish I knew kind of why everyone voted the way that they did,” Pearson said.
The rezoning of the 80.89 acres at the intersection of Crystal Lane and Old Valley Pike was zoned mostly residential in 2006, with commercial zoning along Old Valley Pike (U.S. 11.) The development of the land was approved in December. The preliminary development plan, which seeks to bring 111 townhouses in its first phase to the property, would affect only the portion zoned residential.
The council’s objections largely revolved around concerns about stormwater management as well as fears of having to approve only the first part of a multi-phase plan.
Engineer David Frank assured council members that “the door is open” to future changes, but Nicholson and others weren’t convinced.
“I would have liked to have seen the entire project in front of me,” said Nicholson. “This is the last chunk of town that we have that’s gonna be developed. We have to do this right.”
Bishop, who said Virginia has offered three extensions for previous development plans, took issue with the commonwealth making decisions for Strasburg.
“I don’t know why Richmond thinks they know what’s better for Strasburg than Strasburg does,” she said.
Prepared to vote yes when attending a recent Planning Commission meeting, she said, “And then they came with only, in my opinion, one-third of the entire planning development to look at, and for me, that was not enough.”
Before voting, the council amended the motion of approval to say the money to pay for the project would be bonded following the construction plans of Phase 1.
Still, the motion failed, earning silence or sighs from many in the room and relief from town resident Luke Pfister, who owns land at 551 N. Massanutten St., downhill from the Summit Crossing property.
“I’m actually very excited about the results,” he said after the meeting. “I feel like there could be something different there, and it doesn’t have to be multiple homes ... We have plenty of options.”
Concerned about flooding, he said he’s already seen “substantial damage” from runoff to the north. Because the Town Run also starts on his property, he sees the potential for mudslides.
“There’s three tributaries there meeting all at once,” he said.
Attending the meeting were the mayor, vice mayor and six other council members, with Nicholson attending electronically following a unanimous council vote allowing him to do so. Council policy allows each member to attend electronically twice a year, with a majority vote from the council.