FRONT ROYAL – If the Town Council's members stick to their expressed opinions, the proposed Crooked Run West housing development will not receive town water.
During a recent meeting, four council members - Chris Holloway, Eugene Tewalt, Letasha Thompson and Gary Gillispie - said they will vote against providing the development water. Council members Jake Meza and William Sealock did not clearly state how they would vote.
In February, the Crooked Run West developers explained to county officials that the rise of online shopping and decline of big box stores has resulted in the necessity of rezoning the land from commercial to residential. Before the county votes on rezoning, the town must approve a request to send water to the development.
Town Manager Joe Waltz said the county notified the town in March of the water request.
Gillispie said the process has been “handled poorly” and the matter should have come before the town first instead of the county to see if it was feasible.
“But it was not done that way and I have several opinions why that was but I’m going to hold them to myself right now,” he said.
Holloway said that land is zoned for commercial use and that it should remain that way.
Interim Mayor Matt Tederick noted the town’s job is to only decide whether water will be sent to the developer and everything else such as rezoning is a county issue.
Public Works Director Robert Boyer said Crooked Run West's plans claim the development will produce 120,000 gallons of sewage daily, which means the wastewater facility's capacity would be 108,000 gallons over its capacity. The town, he said, estimates the development will produce 230,000 gallons, which would result in the plant being 218,000 gallons over its capacity.
He added that the developer estimated Crooked Run West would use 90,000 gallons of water daily, which results in the water plant having a remaining 300,000 gallons of capacity. He said the town estimates it would use 230,000 gallons, which would result in a remaining capacity of 160,000.
Boyer's estimates took into consideration the estimated water usage of a potential 1,900 new homes in town limits, which Waltz said have been planned for about 10 years.
Waltz noted that the town is already under a consent order from the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality due to the amount of water flowing through its facilities. This, he said, resulted in the town being mandated to spend about $3 million this year to solve water inflow and infiltration issues.
Prior to Monday's Town Council meeting, about 15 citizens gathered in front of the Warren County Government Center with protest signs expressing their disapproval of the proposed development.
Fern Vazquez said during the protest that the community's "vision" has always been to keep high-density housing in the town and anyone who wants "elbow room and acreage" should "go to the county." She added that the development would result in increased town taxes because of necessary infrastructure updates.
"It feels like this has been the object of backroom deals and not done through the normal process," she said.
Ann Crim said she enjoys a small-town environment and hopefully there are enough "right minds in government" to prevent Warren County from becoming Winchester.
During the meeting’s public comments period, about 10 citizens shared their thoughts on the town’s water.
Fritz Schwartz noted that the Shenandoah River - the town’s water source - is already low and a predicted drought through December would likely result in mandatory water restrictions.
Waltz said that if it does not begin raining, a voluntary water restriction may be implemented within weeks. Tewalt noted that it is extremely difficult to obtain a permit from the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality allowing the town to draw more river water.
Schwartz added that the area around the sewage treatment plant “smells bad," which is "not poop but big volumes of algae" that "has gathered up" and is presenting a health issue.
Gary Kushner showed the council scrolls of paper containing signatures of 500-plus citizens opposed to the development. Issues he cited with the development included increased traffic, making an already hazardous driving area more so; stress on the wastewater treatment facility; and the opening of a “Pandora's box” for residential development outside of town.
Melanie Salins suggested that the council either vote against the water request or have the matter be the subject of a referendum vote.
Paul Gabbert said the developer already rezoned the land's use from agriculture to commercial and “now he’s using the crying game.” Gabbert added that the area around the proposed development has “been built up” and citing online shopping as a reason for rezoning is not a good argument.
David Means said continued residential development presents a conflict of interest for Tederick, Holloway and Meza. Means cited Holloway's employment as a contractor and Tederick’s having been a consultant for developers. Meza’s employment at Valley Health is a conflict, he said, because more houses mean more hospital patrons.
Meza said he resents the implication and saying he has any financial interest in the matter is "disingenuous." He added that he has “zero financial interest,” gets “zero kickbacks” and is not a principal owner of Valley Health. It is "frustrating," Meza added, that accusations are constantly thrown in his face that he is propelled by self-benefit and trying to help his employer while he is attempting to do what is best for the town he loves.
Tederick said he likes to treat people the way he likes to be treated and citizens or developers should be allowed to express opinions and make requests.
Crooked Run West majority owner Tom Mecurio said that he appreciates the sentiment of concerned citizens, that some facts have yet to be brought to the table, and the project is “very fluid.” He added that he wants to do what is best for the citizens and the river.