The Front Royal Planning Commission panned the mayor’s request on Wednesday for an exception to a development rule in his company’s construction project.

Mayor Christopher W. Holloway, owner of Chris Holloway Construction, applied for a special exception for a new, non-dedicated private street into a site under development.

Chairman Douglas Jones, Vice Chairwoman Connie Marshner and commissioners William Gordon, Joshua Ingram and Darryl Merchant voted in favor of the motion to recommend that the Town Council deny the request over concerns about the proposed width and naming of the private street.

The Town Council now must hold its own public hearing on the request.

Front Royal allows subdivisions on new, private streets not dedicated to the town with an approved special exception, which the applicant needs in order to provide access to several parcels. The private street is required because Carter Street was vacated and the applicant seeks to name the proposed, private street Ryder Benson Lane or Court. Front Royal regulations require that the Town Council approve the street name and that new streets must bear the name of the existing street that aligns with it. 

Merchant voiced concerns about the requirements for private versus public streets. Town streets are 50-feet of public right-of-way with 36 feet of pavement, Merchant noted. Property owners can petition the town to bring their private street into the public road system. However, Merchant said that the ordinance does not say the town should change its standards for public streets.

Merchant also said he opposed the naming of the street, as an extension of Carter Street, to Ryder Benson Lane or Court. Merchant noted that the town ordinance requires that such an extension bear the name of the existing street. Holloway told the commission that Ryder Benson is the name of his grandson.

Karen Tinkham spoke at the public hearing and said she and some neighbors who live on Steele Avenue downhill from the site worry about water runoff possibly caused by the proposed road. She said her property floods when it rains. Holloway acknowledged that heavy rains caused runoff and some flooding but his crews have taken steps to try to prevent the runoff.

Later in the meeting, during the commissioners comments, Merchant raised more concerns about the Holloway project.

“Allowing a subdivision of six townhouse lots on a 20-foot-wide private street without following the town code for special exceptions is a breach of policy and of concern to me,” Merchant said, reading from a written statement. “To me, it’s imperative that the public has confidence in the zoning and subdivision review process and that said regulations are applied equally and fairly to all applicants.

“Mistakes in the application approval process can happen,” Merchant said. “We all make mistakes at some time or another in our lives and I don’t wish to hammer anyone if a mistake was made, but I have so much conflicting information that I really think is something that we need to look at, and by look at I mean I want to question how did the application process fail?”

Merchant went on to question the approval and then vacation of a plat drawn up for the property; did town staff tell the applicant that a 20-foot street was allowed; was a pre-application meeting held; why was the application incomplete and did not include a justification for a street that would fall below the standard width. Merchant also questioned why other departments did not review the request.

“I can’t believe that Public Works or somebody didn’t look at the plan to determine the street, at least how it ties in to Scott Street and Carter Street,” Merchant said. “Was the existing review process followed? Is the system broken?”

Merchant asked if the signatories to the plat - the interim planning director, town manager and finance director - knew about the circumvention of the subdivision ordinance.

“Was it intentional?” Merchant said. “Is it because our staff, our people are not properly trained?”

Merchant then recommended that Planning Director Lauren Kopishke investigate the matter.

“I mean, it may be very simple, that it was just a simple mistake that has a lot of implications here and that maybe all we need to do is just retrain staff on proper procedures for a minor subdivision for a private street ‘cause, to be honest with you, in my 13 years on the Planning Commission, this is the first time we’ve had an application for a subdivision in this manner on a new, private street,” Merchant said.

Marshner said she supported Merchant’s suggestion that the department create a checklist of steps necessary for the application process.

Planning and Zoning Department staff have already started to review and, if needed, edit applications as well as make a checklist to prevent a similar situation from happening again, Kopishke said.

Merchant made a formal motion that the commission ask Kopishke to investigate the circumstances specific to the Holloway application. The motion also calls for Kopishke to provide a written report to the commission, which may include recommendations for preventing similar criticisms from arising again with other applications. All members voted in favor of the motion.

Also at the meeting, commissioners voted 5-0 in favor of a motion to recommend that the Town Council approve a special exception requested by Poe’s River Edge LLC for a new, private, non-dedicated street. The street would serve industrial-zoned property at the western end of Kendrick Lane, beyond a railroad trestle, and between the South Fork of the Shenandoah River to the west and Norfolk Southern Railroad to the east.

Poe’s River Edge owns roughly 74 acres of industrial-zoned property on the west side of town, north of the former Avtex Fibers site. Rural Rustic Furniture owns 4.5 acres adjacent to Poe’s River Edge and to the west of the Old Virginia Industrial Park. Joseph Brogan Jr., of Brogan Land Surveying, and local developer Donnie Poe, are listed on the application.

The applicant intends to subdivide the property into separate lots, one of which would be landlocked without a street. The applicant must first receive an exception to the town’s requirement that lots must abut streets dedicated to Front Royal. ‘

The Department of Planning and Community Development recommended that the commission endorse the request provided that the width of the right-of-way is increased from 40 feet to 55 feet and extended along the eastern property line.

During the public hearing, William Biggs expressed concerns about a problematic storm drain leading to the property. William Barnett said the street is needed to access the long-vacant property. Commissioners voted in favor of a motion to forward to the Town Council that they conditionally approve the exception provided that the width of the right-of-way be increased from 45 feet to 55 feet and extended along the property line of the parcel, and that a turnaround be provided for emergency response vehicles. Marshner added to her motion that council pay attention to concerns about drainage.

The commission also voted 5-0 in favor of a motion to recommend that Town Council approve a special-use permit requested by Allen Walters to build a new, single-family dwelling on a nonconforming lot zoned residential. The lot fronts Warren Avenue but the width is less than 80% of the required minimum. Department staff recommended that the town approve the permit request on the condition that the house plan may be modified, but  the finished floor area not be reduced to less than 1,234 square feet; and that the facade and main entrance face Warren Avenue.

Several people spoke against the request during the public hearing and voiced concerns that the proposed use does not fit with the neighborhood.

– Contact Alex Bridges at abridges@nvdaily.com