Front Royal kicked off the work to update the town’s Comprehensive Plan on Tuesday.

Town officials, members of the Planning Commission and representatives with the contracted consultant Summit Design & Engineering Services provided information and answered questions at the event in two sessions — morning and evening — in the downtown pavilion.

Residents, business and property owners and other stakeholders can provide input by completing an online survey that Summit and town staff plan to use in the updating process. Once Summit takes down the survey next month and collects the responses, stakeholders still have more than a year to provide input and participate.

Officials estimate the update to take about 18 months to complete. Town staff and Summit intend to hold work sessions open to the public. The town also must hold public hearings before the Town Council can take action to adopt the updated plan.

It remains uncertain how much of the input collected during the update process Town Council would incorporate into the final, approved plan. How much influence council members and other town officials have on the Planning Commission during the update work also remains to be seen.

Director of Planning Lauren Kopishke said about 20 people came to the early session. A handful of people showed up in the evening as the temperature fell.

Summit planner Anne Darby spoke about the turnout and the survey responses.

“We’ve had some really good feedback,” Darby said. “We get about probably 20 to 25 responses every 24 hours which, for a comp plan, is amazing.

“People are very engaged,” Darby added. “I think people care about the town, honestly.”

A couple of people talked with Darby about what they feel the town needs for the future. Lisa Jenkins runs a bed-and-breakfast with her husband, Scott Jenkins, south of Front Royal in Warren County. Scott Jenkins also serves as a member of the board of directors for the Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority.

Front Royal needs to improve the town entrances and encourage more property owners to fix the appearances of their house and building, Lisa Jenkins said.

“We’re right on the Appalachian Trail so we have a lot of hikers stay with us ... and I would see we depend heavily on the tourism,” Lisa Jenkins said to Darby. “We need to make sure the town looks welcoming.”

Lisa Jenkins said she joined the local Anti-Litter Council because she didn’t like seeking trash strewn about town. The problem has improved, she said.

Justin Proctor works at the National Zoo’s Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute south of town in Warren County. Proctor pointed out that some of the main roads in and around the community are narrow and lack shoulders for pedestrians and bicyclists. Proctor also said the community needs to improve its “walkability” and provide more ways for pedestrians to get from the town to area parks and nearby waterways such as the Shenandoah River.

Darby asked Proctor and Lisa Jenkins to talk more about river access. The town has few access points to the river, Proctor said. Eastham Park provides a trail and a dog park, Proctor noted. The Jenkinses usually refer patrons interested in kayaking, tubing or canoeing to a local outdoors business for information about river access.

The town posted a link to the online survey on its website. Once the town removes the survey after about a month, Summit can collect the responses and filter them by categories such as if a person lives, works, owns property or a business in the town or Warren County. People can view the survey responses as they appear on the website.

Summit plans to post the results of the survey once they collect the responses, Darby said. Then Summit plans to post an interactive map on the town’s website asking for geographically based feedback, Darby said. Summit then will post an existing-conditions report containing data and provide time for comment on that information, she said.

Summit and town staff also plan to start work on updating Front Royal’s zoning and subdivision ordinances before they complete the Comprehensive Plan. The town also must hold public hearings before adopting the updated ordinances.

The process remains open for public engagement.

“There’s ample opportunity for public participation, so I think that’s the important point to get across,” Kopishke said. “We are requesting public input; we’re not trying to hide it.”

Darby concurred.

“I mean the fact is, as you talk to people, the more people that are involved, the more voices that we hear, absolutely the better the plan will be,” Darby said. “The goal is to get ... as many sectors of the population, as many stakeholders, as many different voices.”

Virginia requires Front Royal and other localities to review their comprehensive plans at least every five years, Kopishke said. Front Royal has not updated its entire plan since 1998. Work began on an update a few years ago and the Planning Commission wrote a new plan with Summit as its consultant. The work stopped when the town cut several employees, including then-Director of Planning and Zoning Jeremy Camp.

Then, earlier this year, Town Council restarted the Comprehensive Plan update process, rehired Summit and directed the Planning Commission to begin its work anew.

Front Royal must update at least the Comprehensive Plan chapters on transportation, affordable housing and broadband internet. The town intends to update the entire plan.

– Contact Alex Bridges at abridges@nvdaily.com