The Front Royal Planning Commission on Wednesday approved proposed changes to the rules governing downtown apartments.
The commission voted 5-0 on a motion recommending that city council approve changes to Front Royal’s zoning ordinance that change the regulations for using the downtown C-2 business district. The changes concern administrative approval of residential units and permits for special use of apartments by the city council.
President Douglas Jones, Vice President Connie Marshner and Commissioners Joshua Ingram, Darryl Merchant and William Gordon voted in favor of the motion.
But before the vote, Marshner raised a question about parking requirements for apartment buildings and structures converted to residential units downtown and specifically on Main Street. She said members had not seen the proposed wording in the parking ordinance prior to their meeting.
Planner Alfredo Gutierrez Velasquez admitted that the commission did not discuss the section during its working sessions. The proposed ordinance would exempt a downtown building converted to up to eight apartments from the requirement to include off-street parking. The ordinance would require buildings larger than eight units to have a special use permit and off-street parking.
The city council has asked the town planning commission to consider changes to the rules governing apartments, Merchant said. The ordinance requires a developer seeking to install apartments in a building to apply for a special use permit and show that the use is appropriate for that lot, Merchant said. The commission is not considering any request to install apartments in a specific downtown building, Merchant said. The panel looks more at the general area.
“Now that prescription may or may not be perfect,” Merchant said. “But it certainly gives us the opportunity to look at eight or more apartments in terms of the impact they would have.
“Now obviously the parking lot is the elephant in the room for anything we’re going to do on Main Street,” Merchant said. “So if by special use the parking situation creates a danger to public health, this could be a reason to deny a particular use in the special use permit.”
City council plans to hold its public hearing on the proposed changes at its meeting on Monday evening, Merchant said. He encouraged those who spoke at the commission hearing to do so at the council meeting. The commission gives a recommendation to city council, which has the final say on whether or not to adopt the proposed changes, Merchant said.
Marshner praised those who spoke for voicing concerns about the proposed changes.
“I want to commend the Citizen Speakers for being the remote early warning system and being aware early on what might happen… because I think what we’re talking about here really has the potential to create a change. irreversible in Front Royal, and I think we have to be very, very careful, ”Marshner said.
Prospect Street resident Margaret Ellen Aders and owner of the 23 Church Street building spoke during the commission’s public hearing on the proposal. Aders said the Planning Department is considering a developer’s request to transform a neighboring structure into a 30- to 60-unit, 300-square-foot apartment building. The property of Aders shares a parking lot with the building. But Aders said she was concerned that an apartment with so many units could make parking around her property worse.
Aders asked the commissioners to also take into consideration who would live in the apartments. She recalled the domestic unrest in the building loud enough for traders nearby to hear them. Police have responded to calls regarding incidents at the property, Aders said.
“My clients tell me ‘Ellen, what’s going on in the building behind you,’” Aders said. “All this to say that I know the intentions are good, but when you open rentals it’s really hard to discriminate and choose who you pick who goes.”
Commissioners should also take into account how much waste tenants might put in for collection, an already difficult process for garbage trucks entering and exiting the parking lot. Aders said she thought the building’s plan was “magnificent”.
“It’s something that would be beautiful in our downtown area,” Aders said. “My concern is what will happen in the future when this sells out.
“We don’t have a lot of control once we put it there and all these units are there and the next person moves in, maybe they don’t have such good intentions,” said Aders. “So is this really going to match what the merchants of Main Street and downtown Front Royal are trying to make happen in our area?” “
Local commercial and industrial real estate agent William Barnett spoke at the hearing and said he has sold 10 properties on Main Street in the past five years. Barnett said the property Aders mentioned was not on the committee’s meeting agenda. Barnett added that no application to develop the property as described by Aders has been submitted to the planning department.
“This ordinance addresses our enormous need for housing at Front Royal, particularly affordable housing at market price, not affordable subsidized housing, but affordable housing at market rate for our public and private workforce. local, for our young people who are starting out and need a place to live and for our seniors, ”Barnett said. “We are losing a lot of our seniors at Front Royal and Warren County because there is hardly any housing available, between a single family home they no longer want to care for and an assisted living facility.”
Elderly residents are moving from the city and county to Strasbourg, Stephens City and Frederick County, Barnett said. Keeping the younger workforce and the older population in the city and county is important as they contribute to the community, Barnett said.
Front Royal had more residential units downtown until the 1990s, when the city changed zoning rules with the intention of stopping growth, Barnett said.
William Huck, owner of C&C Frozen Treats, agreed the downtown area needs to be developed. Huck warned that a 30- to 60-unit apartment building would bring at least as many vehicles into the area around Main Street without additional parking.
“We also need housing that is more than a six out of nine jail cell for most people,” Huck said.
Huck admitted that more people living downtown would mean more business.
“I want to see all the buildings on Main Street come to life and I would like to see thousands of people visit Main Street every day,” Huck said. “So having 60 more people on Main Street would be 60 new potential customers, but at what cost? “
Marshner said the amount of rent charged for a 300 square foot apartment was not going to “attract the kind of high-end tenants that Main Street businesses need.” Marshner proposed that the commission change the minimum apartment size to 450 square feet. Marshner said she feels compassion for low-income residents and the city should meet their needs. But she worried about whether residents of hotel-sized apartments could have the income that would meet the needs of downtown businesses. Jones said he also supports the larger minimum area. Marshner said the uniform building code recommends 450 square feet for an apartment serving three occupants.
Marshner’s motion for the amendment was carried by 4-1.