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As 2nd Amendment ‘Sanctuary’ drive comes to Warren County, State Democrats have an opportunity to show they do listen – but will they?

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The alarm of Second Amendment guns rights advocates to the content of at least one of, if not all eight Virginia State House and Senate Bills on gun control proposed for consideration in the first General Assembly session since Democrats seized majorities in both houses for the first time since 1994 is coming to Warren County this Tuesday evening, December 10.

In the wake of around one thousand people showing up for the Shenandoah County Board Public Hearing on a Resolution of Support for a municipal declaration as a 2nd Amendment Sanctuary Community, the Warren County Board of Supervisors’ Public Hearing has been moved to a Special Meeting scheduled for 7 p.m. Tuesday at Warren County High School’s auditorium. The board’s regular meeting will be held at 9 a.m. Tuesday morning at the Warren County Government Center.

A rally in support of the initiative endorsed by the Warren County Republican Committee will be held in the Front Royal Village Commons/Gazebo area at 7 p.m. Monday, December 9. There were also four sites where supporting petitions were set up for signing on Saturday, December 7 in Front Royal.

The 2nd Amendment Sanctuary City initiative has been circulated to municipalities around the Commonwealth of Virginia. Two people speaking at the end of the November 19 Warren County Board of Supervisors meeting introduced the initiative here. Those speakers were Bonlyn Hawley and Ross McVey. You may see their comments in their entirety in the linked Royal Examiner video.

At issue for these gun rights advocates are House Bills 2 and 9 introduced respectively by Kenneth R. Plum and Jeffrey M. Bourne (uh oh, a Bourne Initiative – oh wait, that was Jason); and Senate Bills 12, 13, 14, 15, 16 and 18.

SB 12, 14, 16 and 18 were proposed by incoming Senate Majority Leader Richard L. Saslaw, D-Fairfax, with SB 13 and 15 from the desk of Adam P. Ebbin. All of the gun control bill sponsors are Democrats.

After hearing the extreme degree of alarm expressed by Hawley and McVey to the County Supervisors on November 19, one gun owner in the room decided to explore what was at the source of that alarm which indicated a belief that local law enforcement agencies would soon be recruited by the new State General Assembly Democratic majority to go door to door gathering up everyone’s firearms.

The refrain from an earlier round of 2nd Amendment alarmism, “They’ll have to pry this gun from my cold, dead hands,” resurrected during the Obama presidency I believe, came back to me. Actually, my hands did get dead cold during the Obama years, but it wasn’t because anyone was trying to pry my firearm from them. Actually, we all survived Obama’s eight years, firearms intact and unseized.

So, is it “here we go again” partisan paranoia or is there more substance at the root of this call for municipal boards to declare “sanctuary” from any higher effort to enact truly oppressive gun control legislation?

I will explore each of the proposed Democrat-sponsored gun control bills in detail below. Several revolve around making background checks mandatory; one makes reporting a stolen or lost gun mandatory; two make it illegal to carry weapons into either the State “Capitol Square” complex in Richmond or any building “owned or leased by the Commonwealth”; one bans devices like bump stocks that convert legal semi-automatic weapons into machine-gun burst firing weapons; and another raises the age at which young people can buy a gun, or use one without adult supervision. However, none of these appear to rise to the level of requiring sanctuary from a fear your guns are going to be seized at the order of the new Democratic General Assembly majority.

But let’s cut to the chase – are there any of these proposed House or Senate Bills that raise legitimate alarm bells about weapons seizures or substantive 2nd Amendment Rights violations?

Which brings us to SB 16.

SB 16 “Expands the definition of ‘assault firearm’ and prohibits any person from importing, selling, transferring, manufacturing, purchasing, possessing, or transporting an assault firearm” and “prohibits a dealer from selling, renting, trading, or transferring from his inventory an assault firearm to any person.” Violations are Class 6 felonies.

SB 16 also prohibits “carrying a shotgun with a magazine that will hold more than seven rounds of the longest ammunition for which it is chambered in a public place”. It is noted that under current state law such a prohibition “applies only in certain localities”.

And SB 16 “makes it a Class 1 misdemeanor to import, sell, barter, or transfer any firearm magazine designed to hold more than 10 rounds of ammunition.”

2nd Amendment Alarm bells

And here is where the 2nd Amendment red flags – wait, is “red flag” a bad term to use here? – begin waving.

After some extensive online searching we found a specific reference on exactly what that “expanded definition” of “assault firearm” entails in an article on the topic in the Free Lance Star of Fredericksburg. That Ken Perrotte article stated that, “Modern, semi-automatic (one trigger pull, one shot, multiple-round magazine) sporting rifles or even small semi-automatic rimfires and shotguns with features like thumbhole stocks or pistol grips–features that, ironically, make the firearm safer to handle – would become illegal.”

So, if SB 16 proposes to put a blanket prohibition on, not only the future selling of currently legal semi-automatic weapons, but possession of ones currently owned legally simply if they carry multiple-round clips and/or have certain safety features attached, there you have a 2nd Amendment issue worthy of serious legislative pushback and debate.

But rather than focus on lobbying every municipality in Virginia to essentially declare itself a “sanctuary” community from a proposed State Code change that would appear to go too far in trying to stem the tide of mass shooting gun violence in America, why not engage those local municipal officials to in turn engage their state representatives to participate in that legislative debate before SB 16 reaches the Senate floor for a vote?

This reporter has rarely been accused of being a political conservative – and as my conservative friends know, don’t you dare call me a liberal. That said, I would write Royal Examiner editorials in support of removal of the oppressive aspects of SB 16 as they apply to currently legally-owned semi-automatic weapons.

Another aspect of SB 16, the maximum clip or magazine size, is another legitimate topic for legislative debate. Should the general public have access to military-sized clips carrying 30 or more rounds? Is a 10-round clip limit too small or too large for recreational shooting use? Is there justification for public access to larger clip sizes, and if so, how large? Correct me if I’m wrong hunters, but to my knowledge semi-automatic assault-style rifles and their large clips are not legal for hunting, and certainly wouldn’t be very sporting if they were.

Compromise is a key element of any democratically-based system of government. Withdrawal from the legislative debate, in favor of declaring “sanctuary” from something that does not yet legally exist would not appear to be the optimum course of political action.

Why not head that lone proposed substantial threat to your 2nd Amendment rights off at the pass?

Why not approach SB 16 sponsor Richard L. Saslaw and say, “Look you give on SB 16 and we’ll give on mandatory background checks, bump stock prohibitions, the age our kids can hunt on their own, and even stewing in the General Assembly Halls with our still legal handguns, Bowie Knives and Ninja throwing stars”?

Who knows what such a logical path of legislative discourse might achieve?

And I hope this isn’t a stretch because if the above-cited expanded definition is accurate, what is left to be defined as a legal “assault firearm” – plastic toy ones firing puff balls? So I am hoping that something I noticed about two of SB 16’s companion bills, SB 18 and SB 14, leave room to maneuver on SB 16.

First, HB 18 actually contains a passage that “raises the age from 18 to 21 for any person to knowingly and intentionally possess or transport a handgun or assault firearm anywhere in the Commonwealth.”

If the Democrats and their new Senate majority leader collectively believe they can make “assault firearms” essentially illegal in Virginia with passage of SB 16, why bother to raise the age to be able to legally transport them in the Commonwealth in SB 18?

And Saslaw is sponsor of both SB 16 and SB 18, as he is sponsor of SB 14 which prohibits bump stocks and other devices that convert semi-automatic weapons into machine gun burst firearms. So, it appears that two Saslaw-sponsored bills anticipate the continued legality of semi-automatic “assault firearms” of some kind.

What is crucial to this discussion is exactly what is left once that expanded definition of “assault firearm” is applied and will Saslaw and his colleagues be willing to listen to legitimate criticism of SB 16 as counterproductive on firearm safety and too obtrusive in its proposed redefinition and banning of assault firearms?

Legislative debate with an open mind is always a good thing from either side of the legislative aisle – or is it too late in our political evolution to ask for anything beyond partisan intransigence from either political party?

It would be a show of good faith for the newly-empowered Virginia Democrats to be able to admit a potential legislative overreach, and say to all Virginia’s citizens, “Yes, perhaps we have gone too far here and we ARE willing to listen and act to correct our mistake based on well-founded opposition arguments.

Such a move might not only play well across Virginia, but across the Potomac River where U.S. House Democrats are accusing their Republican counterparts of a collective unwillingness to acknowledge factual evidence and testimony regarding another fundamental Constitutional issue, presidential accountability.

The rest of the package

Now, lets go in detail to the two House Bills and five other Senate Bills on the table for the upcoming General Assembly session.

HB 2 “Requires a background check for any firearm transfer and directs the Department of State Police (the Department) to establish a process for transferors to obtain such a check from licensed firearms dealers.”

Such checks would become mandatory, rather than voluntary. Selling without the required background check would be declared a Class 6 felony; receipt of a firearm without the required background check would be classified a Class 1 misdemeanor.

Okay, I can live with background checks. In fact, in the face of the rising tide of mass shooting violence in America I believe a majority of Americans, perhaps even a majority of gun owners, support them.

HB 9 “Requires that, if a firearm is lost or stolen from a person who lawfully possessed it, such person shall report the loss or theft of the firearm to any local law-enforcement agency or the Department of State Police within 24 hours after such person discovers the loss or theft or is informed by a person with personal knowledge of the loss or theft.”

Reporting the loss or theft of a firearm “in good faith” provides immunity for that person “from criminal or civil liability for acts resulting from” the loss or theft of their gun. That immunity “does not apply to a person who knowingly gives a false report” and HB 9 “does not apply to the loss or theft of an antique firearm.”

Okay, this one actually protects a gun owner from liability for subsequent actions committed with their stolen or lost weapon – good to go so far.

Okay, let’s see what else is up with the State Senate Democrats.

SB 12 “Requires a background check for any firearm transfer and requires the Department of State Police to establish a process for transferors of firearms to obtain such a check from licensed firearms dealers. A transferor who fails to obtain a required background check and sells the firearm to another person is guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor.”

Okay, this appears to be the Senate mirror of House Bill 2 making such checks mandatory; and with the same exemptions: “The bill exempts transfers (i) between immediate family members; (ii) that occur by operation of law; (iii) by the executor or administrator of an estate or by the trustee of a testamentary trust; (iv) at firearms shows in accordance with law; (v) that are part of a buyback or give-back program; (vi) of antique firearms; (vii) that occur at a shooting range, shooting gallery, or any other area designed for the purpose of target shooting or for use during target practice, a firearms safety or training course or class, a shooting competition, or any similar lawful activity; or (viii) that are temporary transfers that (a) occur within the continuous presence of the owner of the firearm or (b) are necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm.”

SB 13 makes it a Class 1 misdemeanor to bring, not just guns, but a variety of dangerous or lethal weapons on to “Capitol Square” in Richmond where the State Legislature meets. Capitol Square is defined to include “the state-owned buildings that border its boundary streets.”

Weapons banned from these state government buildings, which must have the prohibition prominently displayed for those entering, include “a bowie knife, switchblade knife, ballistic knife, machete, razor, slingshot, spring stick, fighting chain, throwing star, and oriental dart or any weapon of like kind” as well as firearm accessories, including “frame, receiver, muffler, silencer, missile, projectile, or ammunition designed for use with a dangerous weapon”.

“The bill provides exceptions for law-enforcement officers, conservators of the peace, magistrates, court officers, judges, county or city treasurers, commissioners or deputy commissioners of the Virginia Workers’ Compensation Commission, authorized security personnel, and active military personnel while in the conduct of such individuals’ official duties.”

Any such weapon or accessory seized is subject to seizure and “forfeiture to the Commonwealth.”

Okay, sort of annoying if you forgot you had your Bowie Knife or handgun on your belt as you entered the State Capitol complex, but hey, it’s a misdemeanor offense.

Don’t understand why State General Assemblymen would be so paranoid as not to allow a heavily armed audience in to listen to their legislative debates in this day and age.

SB 14 makes it a Class 6 felony to manufacture, import, sell, possess, transfer or transport devices that convert semi-automatic guns into automatic, essentially machine gun-style weapons, even for “two or more shots in a burst”.

Okay, machine guns are illegal to possess by current law and with mass shootings so popular as a means of lashing out at things you don’t like, this one’s probably not such a bad idea.

SB 15 essentially is an expansion of SB 13, making it illegal to carry a variety of lethal weapons or accessories into any building “owned or leased by the Commonwealth”. It carries the same exceptions for law enforcement, security and military personnel in the conduct of their jobs.

And finally there is SB 18, which “Provides that a person must be at least 21 years old, or must be at least 18 years old by the effective date of the bill, to purchase a firearm.” The bill also contains the mandatory background check provision and additional prohibitions designed to protect children, and perhaps to protect children from themselves.

SB 18 makes it a Class 6 felony for an adult to “recklessly leave a loaded, unsecured firearm in such a manner as to endanger the life or limb of any person under the age of 18”. It adds Class 1 misdemeanor status to any person who “knowingly” allows a child under 18 “to use a firearm except when the person is under the supervision of an adult.”

The bill notes that current law applies Class 3 misdemeanor status to adults who leave unsecured firearms in a reckless manner around children under 14; and Class 1 misdemeanor status to any adult who allows a child under 12 to use a firearm without adult supervision.

Perhaps with an eye toward student-generated school shootings, SB 18 “also raises the age from 18 to 21 for any person to knowingly and intentionally possess or transport a handgun or assault firearm anywhere in the Commonwealth.”

Can there be debate on the maturity level of teens at various ages, sure. But in the case of lethal weapons and childhood why not err on the side of caution?

And that’s a wrap – so what’s the verdict in your mind?

Do we need to declare “sanctuary” against a new partisan majority determined to violate all of our 2nd Amendment rights, or do we simply need to engage the State Democrats in a rational debate about how to best stem the tide of mass shootings and general gun violence in Virginia and America without violating anyone’s 2nd Amendment right to possess or bear reasonable and safe firearms legally?

Maybe we should try the latter first and have the former in the legislative “oven” just in case.

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Warren County budget process continues with requests from County Departments and Constitutional Officers: Administration, General Services, Planning

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The Warren County Board of Supervisors held their second budget work session regarding the FY 2020-2021 budget on Tuesday, February 11, 2020. In this meeting, the Board of Supervisors heard from County Departments and Constitutional Offices. All members of the Board of Supervisors were present for this second meeting. County Administrator Doug Stanley and Assistant County Administrator Bob Childress also attended this second meeting.

In part 6, Stanley gave a brief overview before the first request from Northwest Community Services presented their budget request, followed by the Warren County Sheriff’s Office.

In part 7, the Building Inspections/Permits, the 26th District Circuit Court and the Commissioner of the Revenue presented their budget requests to the Board of Supervisors.

Planning Director Taryn Logan presents her budget to the Board of Supervisors. Photo and video by Mark Williams, Royal Examiner.

In part 8, the Voter Registrar, County Treasurer, and Parks and Recreation presented their budget requests to the Board of Supervisors.

In part 9, the Clerk of the Court, Commonwealth’s Attorney and the Virginia Cooperative Extension presented their budget requests to the Board of Supervisors.

In part 10, Social Services and Fire and Rescue presented their budget requests to the Board of Supervisors.

Now, in part 11, we’ll hear from County Administration, General Services and the Planning Department in this exclusive Royal Examiner video.


County Administration

The Warren County Administrator’s Office directs the daily operations of the County government and engages in the long-range planning of governmental operations.

The County Administrator’s Office has responsibilities to the Board of Supervisors, to other County departments and personnel, and to the general public. Provides general information to the staff, boards and commissions and the public in general and coordinates volunteer program and community service programs

General Services

Warren County’s General Services Department was established during the fiscal year 2017-2018.  The Department manages the operations of Warren County Building and Grounds, maintaining all of the County’s facilities with the goal of keeping them neat, attractive, safe and hazard-free while providing a comfortable work environment for employees and an effective place for citizens to conduct County business.  The Department’s responsibilities include the general maintenance and janitorial services needed to ensure the proper upkeep of the County’s facilities.

In addition to Buildings and Grounds maintenance, the Department plays an active role in the implementation of the County’s Capital Improvement Plan, providing project management and staff support for many projects during construction.

Planning Department

The mission of the Office of Planning is to assist the community in developing the County to its best potential. Our staff evaluates and implements policies to support the goals of the community as it prospers and matures. The office is responsible for the review of development applications such as rezonings, special use permits, comprehensive plan amendments, zoning approvals, and zoning appeals and variances. Zoning approval is required prior to the construction of any new structure and any new business in an existing building.

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Warren County budget process continues with requests from County Departments and Constitutional Officers: Social Services, Fire & Rescue

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The Warren County Board of Supervisors held their second budget work session regarding the FY 2020-2021 budget on Tuesday, February 11, 2020. In this meeting, the Board of Supervisors heard from County Departments and Constitutional Offices. All members of the Board of Supervisors were present for this second meeting. County Administrator Doug Stanley and Assistant County Administrator Bob Childress also attended this second meeting.

In part 6, Stanley gave a brief overview before the first request from Northwest Community Services presented their budget request, followed by the Warren County Sheriff’s Office.

In part 7, the Building Inspections/Permits, the 26th District Circuit Court and the Commissioner of the Revenue presented their budget requests to the Board of Supervisors.

Fire Chief Richard E. Mabie presents his budget request to the Board of Supervisors.

In part 8, the Voter Registrar, County Treasurer, and Parks and Recreation presented their budget requests to the Board of Supervisors.

In part 9, the Clerk of the Court, Commonwealth’s Attorney and the Virginia Cooperative Extension presented their budget requests to the Board of Supervisors.

Now in part 10, we’ll hear from Social Services and Fire and Rescue in this exclusive Royal Examiner video.


Social Services

Warren County Department of Social Services is a high performing agency committed to strengthening, supporting, and empowering families so that they can achieve their highest goals as part of the Warren County community.

Fire and Rescue Services

The Warren County Department of Fire and Rescue Services provide Fire and EMS response to the 38,387 citizens across the 216 square miles of Front Royal/Warren County, Virginia.  Utilizing the combination approach of career and volunteer Fire, EMS and Support personnel, we staff 8 individual volunteer Fire and EMS combination stations with 33 uniformed full-time career personnel, 20 part-time career personnel and approximately 70 volunteer response personnel. 

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Opinions and statistics from INSIDE the local tourism community contradict Town rationale for change

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Following lead-off batter Gary Kushner in a nearly 90-minute first-inning that saw 27 people step to the plate, 22 of 24 addressing the Front Royal Town Council and interim town manager’s fastball approach to downsizing and outsourcing several governmental functions, a number of pointed statements, questions and inquiries were made (sorry for the baseball analogy, the Astro’s World Series cheating scandal has my attention).

Second speaker Marie McDaniel introduced herself as a new resident of a year, who has fallen in love with the community and its people. She noted she had volunteered at the Town Visitors Center to learn more about her new community, observing, “That special place and the people who work there and volunteer are amazing. They all have a passion for promoting Front Royal, even with threats of unemployment hanging over their heads.”

The first of two Visitors Center volunteers, Marie McDaniel weighs in on what the Center and its staff mean to this community’s tourism marketing. Photo by Mark Williams, Royal Examiner.

Citing already fired Community Development Director Felicia Hart, Tourism Director Tim Smith and staff, she added, “They make the (Visitors) Center the heart and soul of this town … Don’t lose it the way we seem to lose dogs, cats, goats …” drawing applause as she concluded.

Joanne Kearney, a second Visitors Center volunteer followed, noting she had not been solicited by anyone to speak on their or the Visitors Center’s behalf. Pointing to a previous effort to outsource tourism promotion that did not work out, Kearney cited the negative impact of lost control of a key marketing tool from outsourcing.

“The town is our product, and our mission at the (Visitors) Center is to support the success of every business and attraction. New management may have a different mission … How will the town’s interests be protected and what oversight will there be on how your money is being spent? … Mr. Tederick reportedly said the government is not agile and creative enough to manage tourism, but the department staff HAS displayed creativity and agility in new outreach and initiatives … Tourism is this town’s lifeblood. The council should be INCREASING support for the department, not handing it off to an unknown quantity.”

Second Visitors Center volunteer Joanne Kearney concurred and elaborated on reasons she believes the Center and staff should remain an in-house function of the town government. Photo by Mark Williams, Royal Examiner.

Kearney pointed to the experience of other communities, as well as Front Royal’s, in unsuccessful efforts to outsource the tourism function in concluding, “This outsourcing stands to do more harm than good and could cost much more than it hopes to save, as many other municipalities have learned. Why repeat a course that has already been found unsuccessful … Consider the long-term ramifications and potential losses. Please reject the outsourcing plan and keep the staff and operations of tourism with the town, for the sake of the town,” again drawing wide applause at her conclusion.

Not ‘agile’ enough?

Front Royal/Warren County Appalachian Trail Community Committee Co-Chair Susan Tschirhart repeated concerns expressed in a committee co-chair letter to the mayor and town council, that as she noted was also printed in the “Opinion” section of the Royal Examiner website, in the immediate aftermath of the announced terminations and plans to outsource the Town’s tourism function.

AT Trail Community Committee Co-Chair Susan Tschirhart presents financial and AT Trail Community statistics to uphold the argument the Town Tourism function has, indeed, been agile and effective in promoting tourism in this community. Photo by Mark Williams, Royal Examiner.

But on February 10 she elaborated on those concerns to the council’s and its staff’s face. In that eyeball to eyeball meeting, she also presented numbers that appeared to contradict Interim Town Manager Tederick’s stated “not agile enough” rationale for sweeping changes like outsourcing, immediate terminations, and potential future firings related to the Town’s tourism function. In opening, Tschirhart pointed to momentum the community has developed related to its “AT Community” designation and the importance of the Town and County’s interrelationship in tourism marketing – an effort illustrated by the Joint Town-County Tourism Advisory Board which also met last week, though apparently also without any foreknowledge or information about the Town’s planned and partially implemented course of action on tourism.

“Our town and county were jointly designated an official AT Community by the Appalachian Trail Conservancy in 2012. Our committee of volunteers raises awareness of and support for trail-friendly local business, land-use policies that protect the trail and its views, and hiking as a healthy outdoor activity. AT Community designation has directly resulted in five new businesses, including three on Main Street, all of which are thriving. At this time, we are proud to partner with 22 businesses and organizations that have sought and earned AT Community Supporter certification …

“Not only did tourism attract $151 million in visitor expenditures to Warren County in 2018, a 4.9% increase over 2017, but, according to the Virginia Tourism Corporation, it supported 1700 jobs, a combined payroll of $23 million, and contributed $3 million to local tax coffers … Last week, based on 210 reviews, our Visitor Center was ranked second only to Skyline Caverns as top attractions in Front Royal. Do you know how unusual it is for a visitor center to rank as an attraction?” Tschirhart asked, adding pointedly, “And we’re about to fire that entire staff and change a recipe that has been steadily generating increased revenue for each of the past five years.”

The Front Royal Visitors Center is ranked as Front Royal’s second ‘attraction’ after the Skyline Caverns – an unusual designation for a Visitors Center, Tschirhart points out. Photo by Roger Bianchini.

And of that Town tourism budget already appropriated for the current fiscal year that runs to June 30, well into the hiking and tourist season, Tschirhart observed, “We were also puzzled to learn that the tourism budget for marketing and advertising has been frozen. This is money already allocated to the current fiscal year and critical to generating business for 170 tourism-dependent businesses in the county who count on the Visitor Center and its marketing materials and services to generate income. Eighty-five percent of Front Royal’s tourism budget is covered by lodging fees, all collected from visitors to our area. The remaining 15% comes from Front Royal promotional merchandise sold at the Visitor Center. None of our tourism department’s salaries or expenses come out of our own taxpayer dollars. Why are we cutting the tourism budget just as the tourism season is about to begin?” Tschirhart asked.

She also suggested that council and the interim town manager’s course of action flies in the face of, not only the Town’s own past experience with outsourcing tourism, but other Valley communities who have learned their lessons and are moving in exactly the opposite direction from the one five elected and two appointed town citizens have chosen to move this Appalachian Trail Community in.

“Berryville and Round Hill were designated AT Communities last year. Luray, designated just after Front Royal is now working toward moving its under-performing tourism department out from under its Chamber (of Commerce). In all of the other counties, tourism is handled by town/county government, and none are privatized,” Tschirhart told the town’s elected and appointed officials.

AT Trail Community Co-Chair Scott Jenkins, owner of Mountain Home B&B near the AT, adds to his co-chair’s call for the council to slow its and its staff’s rush to judgment on radical changes to tourism marketing. Photo by Roger Bianchini.

“Virginia’s recreation economy is booming. Roanoke is now positioning itself to compete with Asheville, North Carolina as a site for outdoor manufacturing. Damascus just broke ground for the Trail’s newest trail center. Situated between Damascus and AT headquarters in Harper’s Ferry, Warren County hosts one of the most popular section hikes along the trail’s 500-mile stretch in Virginia … The average thru-hiker along the AT will spend $5500 during the course of their hike, and another $4000 on gear. According to a 2010 survey, they’ll spend an average of $153 per town visit, a figure that has no doubt increased over the last 10 years.

“So, why all this effort to engage the outdoor industry?” Tschirhart asked rhetorically, answering her own question by noting, “Because it’s a $362 billion dollar industry driven largely by hiking, camping, and rock climbing, all of which can be found in abundance here … Nationally, revenue generated by the outdoor industry exceeds even oil and gas.

“To mix metaphors, Front Royal should be riding that wave, not starving the golden goose,” Tschirhart said in closing.

Another council gamble?

According to one councilman, Gary Gillespie’s, remarks delivered later as a justification of council actions on a number of fronts, including legally with the EDA and budgetary from year to year, “We work for the taxpayers of Front Royal first and foremost. Again, it’s our job to fight and protect your money.”

The unanswered question remains – will reducing operational costs so they can say they made capital improvements, often long-delayed ones, without raising taxes in the coming fiscal year REALLY save this community money in the long term OR simply set the stage for a huge corresponding loss of revenue from a tourism industry crucial to both the Town and County’s economic futures?

It appears this Front Royal Town Council majority continues its propensity for gambling:

1 – on “promises” of lower interest rates versus facts regarding the availability of those rates on its police headquarters construction project;

2 – on soaring taxpayer-funded legal costs to fight over whether those broken verbal “promises” from a now-indicted former EDA official hold any legal weight in the conduct of municipal and economic development business;

3 – and now, on whether reducing the town government’s operational tax revenue needs is really a money saver for the Town and the community in the long term.

Roll the dice …

Kushner outlined Town downsizing plan’s critique, if not tone as questions mount for elected officials

Town-County Tourism Advisory Board moves forward in a vacuum of information on Town plans

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Warren County budget process continues with requests from County Departments and Constitutional Officers: Clerk of the Court, Commonwealth’s Attorney, Cooperative Extension

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Angie Moore, Clerk of the Court, presents her budget request to the Board of Supervisors. Photo and video by Mark Williams, Royal Examiner.

The Warren County Board of Supervisors held their second budget work session regarding the FY 2020-2021 budget on Tuesday, February 11, 2020. In this meeting, the Board of Supervisors heard from County Departments and Constitutional Offices. All members of the Board of Supervisors were present for this second meeting. County Administrator Doug Stanley and Assistant County Administrator Bob Childress also attended this second meeting.

In part 6, Stanley gave a brief overview before the first request from Northwest Community Services presented their budget request, followed by the Warren County Sheriff’s Office.

In part 7, the Building Inspections/Permits, the 26th District Circuit Court and the Commissioner of the Revenue presented their budget requests to the Board of Supervisors.

In part 8, the Voter Registrar, County Treasurer, and Parks and Recreation presented their budget requests to the Board of Supervisors.

Now, in part 9, we’ll hear from the Clerk of the Court, Commonwealth’s Attorney and the Virginia Cooperative Extension as they present their budget requests to the Board of Supervisors.


Clerk of the Court

The circuit court is the trial court of general jurisdiction in Virginia, and the court has the authority to try a full range of both civil and criminal cases.  Civil cases involve disputes essentially private in nature between two or more parties; criminal cases are controversies between the Commonwealth and persons accused of a crime.  Only in a circuit court is a jury provided for the trail of many of these disputes and controversies.

Commonwealth’s Attorney

The Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office works daily with Federal, State, and local law enforcement to fight criminal activity in Warren County and other jurisdictions.  By statute, the Commonwealth’s Attorney is the chief law enforcement officer of the jurisdiction in which he or she serves.

Virginia Cooperative Extension

The Warren County office of Virginia Cooperative Extension is your local connection to Virginia’s land-grant universities, Virginia Tech and Virginia State University. Through educational programs based on research and developed with input from local stakeholders, we help the people of Warren County improve their lives. We provide education through programs in Agriculture and Natural Resources, Family and Consumer Sciences, 4-H Youth Development, and Community Viability.

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New Planning Commissioners assume their seats, expect a busy year

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The now-fully manned Warren County Planning Commission met February 12 and after Chairman Robert Myers (Happy Creek district) opened the meeting, disposing of the agenda and prior meeting minutes, there were no citizen presentations, allowing the commission to move right into public hearings for commission action. Attending for the first time were Commissioners Crystal Beall (South River), and Scott Jersjes (North River).

A public hearing was held regarding a Conditional Use Permit requested by Asa and Andrea Foss for a short term tourist rental at 653 Whitney Lane, Bentonville, in the South River Magisterial District. Planning Director Taryn Logan provided the commission with a briefing on the request. The applicants purchased the property as a weekend getaway for family and friends, and seek to offset the cost of taxes and maintenance of the property by also using it as a tourist rental. The health department had approved the property for an occupancy of up to 8 persons. Ms. Logan indicated that all permit-related notifications had been completed and that the staffing process was delayed to allow the subdivision homeowners association to have a meeting to consider the proposal. The planning director then listed the necessary conditions for the department to recommend approval to the commission:

1. The applicant complies with all Warren County Health Department requirements, with the maximum number of occupants not to exceed 8

2. Annual well water testing

Suzanne Savage speaks to the Planning Commission to oppose the proposed use. Photos and video by Mark Williams, Royal Examiner.

Ms. Logan then briefed the commission that the department had received two letters from other property owners in the Timberland Manor Estates subdivision. The Chairman then opened the floor for public comments. Four community members, Ann Tompkins, Deborah Haynes, Roy Lee, and Suzanne Savage, addressed the commission to oppose the proposed use. Common concerns included the loss of the “flavor of the neighborhood”, security of the subdivision, increased traffic, potential loss of privacy, and “miscommunication or misunderstanding” regarding the number of days the applicant’s property could be occupied by short-term guests. Mr. Lee told the commission that a land survey he had commissioned revealed that the applicant’s driveway was partly on Mr. Lee’s land, and he was not bothered by it until this new change was proposed. He indicated that the driveway would now have to be moved and a fence constructed. He indicated that he currently uses his property on weekends, but hoped eventually to retire there and is concerned about people being there that should not be. Ms. Savage, another near neighbor to the subject property, spoke to express her adamant opposition to the proposed change. She made the distinction between a Bed & Breakfast, which would typically have a host on-site, and an AirB&B which often does not.

She cited the result of a vote taken by the owners association as 12 opposed, and 7 in favor. Ms. Savage indicated that it would take 17 property owners to change the association covenants, which was not likely. She alleged that the manager identified by the applicants was not ”on-site” and would not be able to easily respond in case of an issue. She did not want strangers in the neighborhood that she did not know. She was also concerned about tenants with dogs.

Mr. Foss indicated that he strove to live by the golden rule with “no exceptions” and listed several provisions in the terms and conditions that were responsive to the concerns of the neighborhood, including banning ATVs, fireworks, and loud music.

The final speaker was the property owner, Asa Foss. He indicated that he and his wife enjoyed hosting friends and family at their property and only wished to fund improvements to the property by occasionally renting it out. He pointed out that his property is the first one as you enter the neighborhood. The nearest house is only occupied a few weeks a year. Mr. Foss indicated that he strove to live by the golden rule with “no exceptions” and listed several provisions in the terms and conditions that were responsive to the concerns of the neighborhood, including banning ATVs, fireworks, and loud music. He indicated they had delayed the application process to allow the neighborhood association time to discuss the proposal at a formal meeting.

After the public hearing, Commissioner Crystal Beall (South River) asked about the management for the property. The Applicant responded that he was local and very responsible. I had maintained the property for the previous owner and was highly regarded. The second new commissioner, Scott Jersjes (North River), asked how far away in miles the manager lived. Mr. Foss indicated “two or three”.

Once the applicant had answered commissioner’s questions, Vice-Chairman Hugh Henry (Fork District) commented that each permit of this type was unique, but that short term rentals had generally improved properties when contrasted with long-term rentals, due to more regular maintenance, the existence of property management plans, and the need to preserve the marketability of the product. He supported the general idea that a person ought, within reason, to be able to do what he wants with his property. He observed that the pluses with this proposal are that the property is in the front of the subdivision and not the back, and there is a very good setback from the neighbors. Mr. Henry acknowledged the issue with the driveway easement as a real issue, but separate from the permit issue, and one that would have to be settled between the two property owners affected.

Chairman Myers reminded the applicant that this is a conditional use permit, and that if the conditions are violated, the permit can be taken away, and that the planning department can perform checks to determine compliance. On a motion by Commissioner Henry, seconded by Commissioner Joe Longo, the commission unanimously voted to forward the package to the Warren County Board of Supervisors with a recommendation for approval.

The second public hearing was opened by the chairman to consider a Conditional Use Permit for a short term tourist rental requested by Sean O’Reilly for his property at 317 Old Barn Lane, in the south river magisterial district. Planner Matt Wendling provided a briefing for the Commission and indicated that the applicant had been involved in short-term tourist rentals for approximately 10 years. The dwelling was built in 2019 as a short-term tourist rental business to support local businesses and showcase the area’s natural resources. The subdivision in which the property is located does have an HOA, and the planning received an E-Mail from the HOA indicating that short-term rental is specifically allowed by the HOA covenants and that the HOA had no objection to the proposed use. Mr. Wendling further specified the conditions for the permit:

1. Compliance with all Warren County Health Department regulations, and occupancy not to exceed 8 persons

2. Annual well water testing

Sean O’Reilly explains to the Planning Commission his experience with short-term rental property.

Mr. Wendling indicated that all permit-related notifications had been completed. There were no questions from the commissioners, so the public hearing was opened. The only speaker was the applicant, Mr. O’Reilly. His remarks touched on his experience with short-term rentals and acknowledged that there is often fear of the effects of having new people in town, but he has found it to be a great experience to get away and relax, end everyone has an interest in preserving peace and quiet, both tenants and neighbors. He added that the booking systems such as AirB&B and HomeAway have added review processes for both the homeowners and the guests. This allows the homeowner to “vet out” the partiers and problem guests. The system can then reduce the risk of a bad tenant experience. There were no questions from the commissioners. Commissioner Jersjes introduced a motion to recommend approval, and Vice Chairman Henry seconded. The motion was unanimously approved, and the permit request will now go to the Board of Supervisors for approval.

The commission then turned to requests for authorization to advertise, the preliminary step before public hearings for requested changes of use.

Joseph Coleman has requested a conditional use permit for a short-term tourist rental for his agriculturally zoned property at 37 Wellspring Road in the South River magisterial district. Ms. Logan indicated that a management plan will be required to be submitted for planning department review before a public hearing. The property is not located in an area with a homeowners association and the property would meet the county’s setback requirements. The building is a converted church. Motion to approve the authorization to advertise was introduced by Vice-Chairman Henry, seconded by Commissioner Longo. The Commission voted unanimously to approve.

Jody T. Lee has requested a conditional use permit for private camping on his residentially-zoned property in the Man-Da-Lay subdivision on Burma Road in the North River Magisterial District. Mr. Wendling told the commission that the applicant purchased the property in 2016 and did not know that a conditional use permit was required for camping until told by the Planning department. He seeks to bring the property into compliance. He seeks to use the property for seasonal camping and have access to the North Fork of the Shenandoah River. There have not been any conditional use permits issued for this property although other properties in that subdivision have been issued similar permits for recreational use. There would be a requirement for an RV to be on the site for 180 consecutive calendar days, and the site would be subject to inspection to ensure compliance. The property is located in a special flood zone, so an emergency plan would be required to provide for evacuation in case of a flood event. Commissioner Jersjes asked if there would be a limitation on the number of RVs on the site. Mr. Wendling indicated that 2 RVs would be the maximum per parcel or contiguous parcels. Vice-Chairman Henry moved to approve the authorization to advertise. Commissioner Longo seconded and the Commission voted unanimously to approve.

Tony and Shasta Haun have requested a conditional use permit for private camping on their residentially-zoned property in the Man-Da-Lay subdivision on Burma Road in the North River Magisterial District. Chairman Myers pointed out that this was an adjoining property to the one previously considered. This property is also located in a special flood zone, so a flood emergency evacuation plan would be required. There would also be a requirement for an RV to be on the site for 180 consecutive calendar days, and the site would be subject to inspection to ensure compliance. Mr. Wendling indicated that the property owners were notified at the same time as Mr. Lee of the requirement for a permit. It has not been the subject of any previous conditional use permits. Vice-Chairman Henry moved to approve the authorization to advertise. Commissioner Longo seconded and the Commission voted unanimously to approve.

Planning Director Logan then introduced the 2019 Planning Department Annual report and provided the commission with some highlights before submission to the Board of Supervisors. The July 1, 2019 population of Warren County including the Town of Front Royal was 39,936. 150 new housing permits were issued during 2019, which equates to a .88% growth rate, well within the comprehensive plan goal to not exceed 2% annual growth. The Planning commission completed and adopted a Strategic Vision for the County in 2019. The commission approved 20 Conditional Use Permits last year, of which 9 were for short-term tourist rentals, and five for private camping. 2019 Commission projects included the review of a request for a new training facility for the Warren County Fire & Rescue, a zoning ordinance change and conditional use permit for expansion of a facility for the Backroom Brewery, and review of a rezoning request for a 20-acre site just north of the jail for Equus Capital Partners to create an industrial site and 324,000 SF warehousing facility. The commission also spent a lot of time in 2019 on the Crooked Run West proposal for rezoning and development, which was eventually withdrawn. Work is ongoing surrounding the redevelopment of the former Capital One bank site for a multitenant building that will contain Five Guys, Chipotle, and one additional unspecified business. Finally, the commission reviewed the development of a new Chapel at Christendom College, currently under construction.

The planning Director welcomed all the new commissioners and assured them that this will be a busy year. Vice-Chairman Henry moved that the commission accept the Annual report and forward it to the Board of supervisors. Commissioner Jersjes seconded, and the commission voted unanimously in favor.

Chairman Myers and Vice Chairman Henry welcomed all the new Commissioners, as did Kaitlin Jordan, Assistant County Attorney. Mr. Wendling assured the commissioners that the Planning Department staff looks forward to serving them. Mr. Petty, the Zoning Administrator, indicated that he intends to bring some County Code text amendments to them, and is working with the County Attorney’s office to ensure they are in harmony with State and Federal codes.

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Local Government

Criteria for future downtown events, festivals, street and parking lot closures established

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Downtown business owners gathered for a third and final time Thursday evening, February 13, with Town staff and Envision Meeting Facilitator Chips Lickson to finalize recommendations on future guidelines for downtown events requiring the closing of portions of, or the entirety of, the East Main Street business corridor and Village Commons area. Majority consensuses had been established on preferred criteria at the previous meeting.

So, early Thursday evening at the Villa Avenue Community Center, as County Fire Fighters responded to a call at the Villa Avenue apartments across the street, Interim Town Manager Matt Tederick led the 15 businessmen and women present through a review of those preferred criteria established January 30. Also present were Mayor Gene Tewalt and wife Juanita, Vice-Mayor Bill Sealock, Town Administrative Assistant Tina Presley, Town Police Chief Kahle Magalis, and toward the meeting’s end as her public-school event in an adjacent meeting room ended, Councilwoman Lori A. Cockrell.

There was an emergency in the neighborhood, but unlike Monday’s council meeting it wasn’t inside the respective meeting room on Thursday night. Royal Examiner Photos by Roger Bianchini. Video by Mark Williams, Royal Examiner.

Tederick found himself on the less contentious ground than three days earlier when 20 citizens heaped criticism and sometimes personally-pointed questions his and council’s way regarding the town government downsizing plan emanated from his office as part of the Town’s FY 2021 Budget process. But perhaps that’s what happens when you invite impacted citizens to participate in the process prior to its implementation, rather than simply spring sweeping changes their way unannounced and un-publicly commented on prior to the dropping of the municipal administrative hammer.

Other than several clarifications regarding the length of events related to partial area closings to vehicular traffic; methods of accessing crowd sizes and adjusting to unexpected influxes of people; funding splits related to Town-sponsored or co-sponsored events, those previously established criteria were verified without much discussion. It was established that during major festivals and events access to Main Street and its business community remained open to the public without charge; that tickets were purchased, for example, to facilitate the ability to participate in wine or beer purchases during the Wine & Crafts Festival or other events where alcohol was being served.

However, ticket distribution at entrance points was discussed as a way to establish accurate event headcounts of the crowd size.

Among the recommended criteria on the front end, or the “Application” process were:

1 – a 50/50 split in operational costs between the Town and the event organizer;

2 – provision of actual financial results compared to event budget projections and actual attendance versus what had been projected for the event;

3 – no restrictions on the closing of the Village Commons parking lot for necessary event space;

4 – no limit on the number of events a specific organization can have in a given year;

5 – applications may be submitted to the Town at any time during the year, and first-time events must give a substantive attendance estimate.

Matt Tederick fields a question from Royal Cinema owner Rick Novak. Novak noted that he had missed the Jan. 30 meeting, but with a nod to cameraman Mark Williams, he was able to catch up with all that occurred on the Royal Examiner/National Media video.

Responding to a question, Tederick appeared to agree that in the case of Town-sponsored events, the Town would be responsible for 100% of event costs. During the discussion of costs, it was established that the Warren Heritage Society, not the Town, was the sponsor of the Festival of the Leaves, and carried its own insurance for the event.

Attendance criteria for Main Street or Village Commons parking area closings, agreed upon by an “overwhelming majority” and the police chief on January 30:

1 – less than 750 people, Main Street and the parking lot stay open;

2 -750 to 1500 people, the full parking lot should be closed; and “between 1500 and 5000” people, Main Street can be closed.

There was additional discussion on how much of East Main Street might be closed for different sized events and how vendor booth placements should be regulated along Main Street so that certain businesses are not always the ones being blocked from view. It was also agreed that vendors should not be allowed to set up or store goods so that the sidewalk would be blocked. And it was agreed that the organizer should be responsible for vendor compliance with that condition.

This is the plan – just kidding, on Thursday there were no additional creative art whiteboard drawings of UFO landings at the Front Royal Visitors Center, as there had been on Jan. 30, as illustrated here.

As for the criteria for “Closures” once application and attendance criteria are met:

1 – Main Street may be closed all day providing all other criteria are met;

2 – 5000 was the “magic” attendance number to close Main Street all day;

3 – both Main Street events and full closure of the Village Commons parking lot is limited to twice a month;

4 – but there is no limit to the Town permitting partial closure of the Village Commons parking lot.

Another topic raised was how to balance date priority between regular events with what was termed “once a decade” or “once in a lifetime” events such as a bike race or other special events that might include a run through downtown Front Royal. It was observed that such special events were likely not to be last-minute applications, so there should be sufficient time to figure a way to accommodate conflicting events of that nature were they to occur. The likely outcome appearing to be which event could more easily accommodate a date change.

The Apple House’s George McIntyre speaks as, from left in his row, Rick Novak, William and Nina Huck listen.

In response to a discussion of unexpected situations, like a larger than anticipated crowd developing or other situations impacting public safety, Tederick observed that the town manager “or his designee” should have “a certain amount of discretion” to deal with evolving situations.

Tederick said final copies of the Envision Report established from the three meetings would be available to the public through his office.

See the discussion of the recommendations that will be made through the town manager’s office to council regarding the application and operational criteria by which future downtown events and festivals will be judged and implemented, and any necessary town code changes guided, in this exclusive Royal Examiner video:

Downtown business, property owners offer Main Street wish list

Lively discussion of future downtown event permitting and street closures

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Upcoming Events

Feb
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8:45 am Reaching Out Now Career Day @ Skyline Middle School
Reaching Out Now Career Day @ Skyline Middle School
Feb 19 @ 8:45 am – 2:30 pm
Reaching Out Now Career Day @ Skyline Middle School
Reaching Out Now (RON) together with Skyline Middle School to host its 1st annual Career Day, “Passport to Success.” Joining with area business leaders, Warren County Public School, as we come together to empower our[...]
10:15 am Toddler and Preschool Story Time @ Samuels Public Library
Toddler and Preschool Story Time @ Samuels Public Library
Feb 19 @ 10:15 am – 12:00 pm
Toddler and Preschool Story Time @ Samuels Public Library
10:15 Toddler story time | 11:00 Preschool story time Wednesday, January 29 and Thursday, January 30: Puppies are cuddly! Puppies are cute! Our stories, songs, and craft will be about our friends, the puppies! Siblings[...]
2:00 pm Rotary Club Blood Drive @ Front Royal United Methodist Church
Rotary Club Blood Drive @ Front Royal United Methodist Church
Feb 19 @ 2:00 pm – 7:00 pm
Rotary Club Blood Drive @ Front Royal United Methodist Church
All are invited to the Rotary Club of the Shenandoah Valley (The Area ONE|ders) blood drive on Wednesday, February 19th, from 2pm-7pm, at the Front Royal United Methodist Church (1 W. Main St. Front Royal)[...]
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20
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10:15 am Toddler and Preschool Story Time @ Samuels Public Library
Toddler and Preschool Story Time @ Samuels Public Library
Feb 20 @ 10:15 am – 12:00 pm
Toddler and Preschool Story Time @ Samuels Public Library
10:15 Toddler story time | 11:00 Preschool story time Wednesday, January 29 and Thursday, January 30: Puppies are cuddly! Puppies are cute! Our stories, songs, and craft will be about our friends, the puppies! Siblings[...]
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9:00 am Entrepreneurship Workshop @ Luray-Page County Center
Entrepreneurship Workshop @ Luray-Page County Center
Feb 21 @ 9:00 am – 3:00 pm
Entrepreneurship Workshop @ Luray-Page County Center
Are you considering independent, corporate, or social entrepreneurship, or being groomed to take over a family business? Then, this workshop is for you! Topics to be covered: Characteristics of a Successful Entrepreneur The Importance of[...]
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10:00 am Beginner Crochet: Dishcloths @ Strokes of Creativity
Beginner Crochet: Dishcloths @ Strokes of Creativity
Feb 22 @ 10:00 am – 12:00 pm
Beginner Crochet: Dishcloths @ Strokes of Creativity
Beginner Crochet: Dishcloths In this beginner level class, you will learn some basic crochet stitches and pattern reading to make pretty dishcloths for your home. Instruction will be for right-handed crochet. Please pre-register!
11:00 am Art Stars @ Samuels Public Library
Art Stars @ Samuels Public Library
Feb 22 @ 11:00 am – 12:00 pm
Art Stars @ Samuels Public Library
Art Stars is a special needs art discovery program. This program is for ages 8 and up. Registration begins January 22. Participants should have a caregiver or attendant present in the program.
12:30 pm Crochet Workshop @ Strokes of Creativity
Crochet Workshop @ Strokes of Creativity
Feb 22 @ 12:30 pm – 2:30 pm
Crochet Workshop @ Strokes of Creativity
Crochet Workshop Do you have a crochet project you need a little help with? Already bought the supplies, but need help reading the pattern? All skill levels are invited to this Bring Your Own Project[...]
1:00 pm Discover love, adopt at Petco @ Petco
Discover love, adopt at Petco @ Petco
Feb 22 @ 1:00 pm – 4:00 pm
Discover love, adopt at Petco @ Petco
Stop by Petco located at 2580 S Pleasant Valley Rd. on Saturday, February 22, between 1 and 4 PM. Meet the amazing Petco adoption team from the SPCA of Winchester, Frederick, and Clarke, learn more about[...]
1:00 pm Moving Mindfully: Finding and ke... @ Ruby Yoga
Moving Mindfully: Finding and ke... @ Ruby Yoga
Feb 22 @ 1:00 pm – 3:00 pm
Moving Mindfully: Finding and keeping your footing @ Ruby Yoga
Join Ruby Yoga and Deborah Romero of Optimal Posture LLC for a series of workshops on moving more mindfully through life using the principles of yoga and the Alexander Technique. Slated for Saturday, Jan. 25,[...]