FRONT ROYAL – After having its project rejected by the Warren County Planning Commission, Crooked Run West LLC requested a work session with the Board of Supervisors to go over recent revisions for the sprawling project.
Just west of the Crooked Run shopping center lies land that Crooked Run West LLC Manager Ed Murphy hopes to turn into a community flush with apartments, assisted living units, town homes and affordable workforce housing but the project has run into resistance from community members and local agencies.
The county furnished copies of emails and letters constituents sent to supervisors urging them to reject the project. Concerns about increased taxes, the scandal swirling around the Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority as well as traffic concerns were recurring themes residents brought up.
Another issue, some said, was the fact that Crooked Run West requested the land be rezoned for commercial use in 2009, and 10 years later, as the economy is rebounding from the worst crisis since the Great Depression, it is asking the county to change the land back to residential use.
Murphy said the current environment won’t support 90-plus acres of more commercial space. He pointed to the vacant Mattress Firm space in the Crooked Run Center that he hasn’t had any success in renting out since the company declared bankruptcy earlier this year.
“The notion that we could deliver commercial zoning on 97 acres as it currently exists today, we can’t do it,” Murphy said. “We can’t do it; we can deliver residential … times are changing. The ability to get commercial tax dollars out of this property right now is not gonna happen.”
While residents worry about taxes, county officials have expressed concerns about the pressure Crooked Run West’s development plan would put on growth. The county’s comprehensive plan caps residential growth at 3% per year. According to a county staff report, in 2018, the county experience 0.93% growth — well within its cap.
Original plans for this project included a phasing plan of building 225 homes a year until all 1,025 units were complete. Murphy told supervisors he acknowledged the county’s concerns and wanted to offer a revised plan of only issuing 150 building permits a year to leave room for growth in other areas of the county — though the total number of homes would remain the same.
Adjusted phasing plans were only the tip of the iceberg of the changes Murphy offered on Thursday evening.
In his roughly 90-minute conversation with supervisors, Murphy walked through the current proffer statement — cash offerings and agreements between the developer and county agreed upon before the deal is finished — and explained a new statement was nearly complete. He told Supervisors Board Chairman Daniel Murray the revised statement would be sent to the supervisors by Monday.
The biggest change, Murphy said, was a robust expansion of workforce housing. In order to make the new area attractive for all income levels, Murphy said a set percentage of the 600 apartments would be priced in relation to annual salaries.
“We are providing workforce housing at the ratio required by workforce housing models that work in other counties of the commonwealth,” Murphy said.
The revised workforce housing information is “lengthy,” Murphy said, and the revised proffer statement with information wasn’t available Thursday night.
During an April Planning Commission meeting, Murphy said on Thursday that there was a question about whether the project was going to provide money for county projects besides schools — the key enterprise Murphy and Crooked Run West have focused on supporting. While he said he is open to broadening funding, the cash can only be spread so thin, he said.
“Keep loading the wagon but if the axles break, we have to say stop,” he said. “The project is economically viable, and if we need to proffer dollars on every building permit for fire, public safety, we’ll find a way.”
Besides revising the proffer statement, Murphy is also working with the Virginia Department of Transportation on re-doing its traffic analysis, which received an F earlier this year. Murphy said he sat down with VDOT this week to discuss problems and will meet with them again on June 25 to re-scope the study.
Murray said he wanted to see more information about the traffic study and other potential changes so the supervisors could determine whether to send the project back to the Planning Commission and hold another public hearing.
Murray said after the meeting that if the changes were minor, he felt comfortable with the supervisors moving forward without another hearing. But, he said, if the project is overhauled, the supervisors owe it to residents to have another say.
Funding for the development includes $10 million in matching funds from VDOT, Murphy said. But if the project isn’t approved and funds are not put to use by Dec. 31, the money goes back to VDOT and the future of the project is thrown up in the air.