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Connolly not seeking re-election, citing life-stage time constraints

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John Connolly, center, cites time devoted to an expanding family and work schedule in announcing he will not seek re-election this year. Royal Examiner File Photo

At the Monday, May 14 meeting of the Front Royal Town Council incumbent John Connolly announced he will not seek re-election this November.

“The main reason is there are too many other calls on my time, the 32-year-old told Royal Examiner in echoing his meeting comments. Connolly explained that he has two more children and a different job than when he first ran for elective office in 2014. Then he had two children aged 4 and 2; now his children are 8, 6, 3 and 1, with the two oldest attending elementary school in town.

“I take the responsibility of politics very seriously,” the first term councilman added of a decision based at least in part on his own questioning of his future ability to devote as much time as he feels is necessary to give constituents what they deserve of their elected officials.

Connolly pointed to a survey of the Northern Valley’s elected municipal officials by a media outlet which found him to be, he believes, “by far the youngest”. And as a 32-year-old father of four having made a career move into full-time senior management for a company based in Middleburg, Virginia that trains librarians in software development, the time he now has to devote to municipal politics is not what it was over his first several years on council.

And he noted that during his initial campaign he knocked on an estimated 1,000 doors and maintained a presence at various local festivals to get his name and message out there. As for that message, Connolly also told Royal Examiner it has softened somewhat over his term on council.

“I was a hardcore libertarian when I came in, and serving on council has been an educational process. I wish everybody had the opportunity to serve on council for at least a few months to see the tremendous benefit, as well as what the limitations are and how the mechanism works. I think that would be a moderating force in our politics. Some people only attend (municipal meetings) when there is something they want or something they want to get loud about,” Connolly observed.

“I feel very grateful to have served – and I will still pay attention and stay engaged. I’d love to get back into it at some point,” he concluded. He thanked his colleagues and gave special nods to Town Manager Joe Waltz and Town Attorney Doug Napier for their assistance in grounding him in the work of a councilman.

Connolly’s four-year term will end when a successor is sworn in, in early 2019. He said his announcement nearly six months before the November election was made to give any citizen who might be considering throwing their hat in the ring adequate time to meet the mid-June deadline for filing for a spot on the ballot.

Who is?

Connolly’s notice of his intent to announce his decision sent us scurrying to the County Voter Registrar’s Office to see whose paperwork has been turned in so far to get on the town election ballot. According to Voter Registrar Carol Tobin five candidate Certificates of Qualification have thus far been filed with her office.

Those include Hollis Tharpe for mayor – no surprise there, Hollis has been sporting his campaign hat and has appeared to be in public campaign mode for several weeks now; and four candidates for council.

Filed as candidates for council are the other two incumbents up for election this year, Gary Gillispie and Chris Morrison; as well as former councilman Chris Holloway; and Letasha Thompson.

Local businessman and Warren–Page Branch NAACP Chairman Alford “A.D.” Carter also told us he planned on taking a second shot at a council seat this November, though his paperwork has yet to be filed

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Local Government

Warren County Board of Supervisors paves way for new fire and rescue training site

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Blaine Keller, local businessman and adjacent property owner shares his concerns with the Board of Supervisors.

FRONT ROYAL — The Warren County Board of Supervisors on June 18 ignored local citizens’ concerns about the location of a new fire and rescue training facility, voting unanimously to approve a conditional use permit to allow construction at the site located off ESA Lane in Front Royal, VA.

“I just want to reiterate that we did not take this project lightly,” Warren County Fire Marshall Gerry Maiatico told the board and attendees. “This is a vital project. We are going to strive to be good neighbors to the surrounding properties.”

The Warren County Department of Fire and Services now will establish a live fire and practical training support building at the site, which is largely surrounded by single-family homes and trees.

Some of the residents in those nearby homes reiterated their concerns about the facility during the board’s public hearing segment of its meeting prior to voting on the conditional use permit.
Blaine Keller said the parcel isn’t the proper location for such a facility, which will be a two-story building with almost 2,200-square-feet of floor space that will include two live fire burn cells, according to the Warren County Planning Commission’s staff report.

Keller said that while the fire marshal has made a good case for the location, “this isn’t the place to build it,” he said, citing the location’s agricultural zoning.

According to the Warren County Zoning Ordinance, however, public protection facilities related to fire, police and rescue departments are an allowed use by a conditional use permit in an agricultural district.

“My biggest concern is with live fires,” said resident Kathleen Wisniewski. “What’s the guarantee that a fire won’t get out of control? It’s a heavily wooded area up there.”

And what about the smoke that people might see, asked Supervisor Linda Glavis, who represents the South River District where the facility will be built.

Maiatico said the department must follow federal guidelines for training and will be limited to the specific fuels that may be used, as well as how many times the department may conduct live fire trainings and for how long.

“The nearby woodland will serve to mask the smoke and will help dissipate it,” he added.

Mary Jones, another nearby resident, said she was “upset” about the planned facility.

“This is a residential area,” Jones said. “We are people who might be impacted because of our location and nobody informed us. I know we’ll be affected by construction, but mostly I’m concerned about the traffic.”

Jones asked the supervisors to explain how many more people would be travelling the neighborhood road while Glavis also asked about current uses of ESA Lane.

Maiatico said the department would “encourage trainees to carpool in an effort to minimize the traffic, but also “mostly for comradery” among the personnel travelling to the future training facility. He said efforts to limit siren blowing also would be made “just to be courteous” to the nearby residents.

“Obviously the fire department needs a place to practice, but in this case you have to respect the citizens,” local Paul Gabbert told the supervisors. “They have to deal with the smoke and traffic … and they shouldn’t be put through something like this. You should find another place for them to do this.”

But that’s not the way the votes fell.

The supervisors agreed with Maiatico that it’s no longer feasible for the fire department, which must provide initial training and continuing education to volunteer and career first responders, to send members to a rented Shenandoah County location because it currently lacks the ability to provide live fire trainings locally.

The additional travel time to that facility for training has become problematic for the department, Maiatico said, and takes valuable personnel out of the area, decreasing the number of first responders available locally for an emergency.

Maiatico also said the location is attractive to the fire department because there’s a roadway and water and septic already in place, “which is a significant cost-savings for taxpayers.”

The fire department already utilizes three abandoned classroom trailer facilities on the site that once belonged to the former Warren County Public School Alternative Education Facility where it has offered dedicated classroom and support space for its Warren County Department of Fire and Rescue Service Training and Continuing Education Center since 2016.

During a roll call, the board members each said “aye” after Supervisor Tom Sayre, vice chairman of the board, moved to approve the conditional use permit and Glavis seconded the motion.

The Royal Examiner’s camera was there:

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Brown, Harold appointed to fill EDA Board of Director vacancies

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Greg Harold thanks the Warren County Board of Supervisors for the opportunity to play a role in the righting of the EDA ship by its board of directors. Royal Examiner Photos/Roger Bianchini

FRONT ROYAL – After nearly three months and 19 interviews, six conducted in closed session prior to Tuesday night’s meeting, the Warren County Board of Supervisors filled the EDA Board of Directors vacancies left by the resignations of former Chairman Greg Drescher and Ron Llewellyn, effective March 23.

Those unpaid volunteer seats were filled by Jeffrey Brown and Greg Harold by a unanimous vote on a motion by Tony Carter, seconded by Linda Glavis near the end of the June 18 meeting.

Harold was present and rose during the second public comments portion of the agenda at the meeting’s end.

“I want to thank the board and chairman for the nomination to the EDA Board of Directors. I look forward to the opportunity; I’m very excited about the opportunity but I’m not saying it’s going to be an easy road. I believe it will be a long road, I believe it will be tough,” Harold said of restoring the kind of operational order and public faith the community has had in the EDA in the past.

During a brief conversation with Royal Examiner during the closed session discussion of the EDA and other board or commission appointments, Harold said if appointed he would not be afraid to ask the hard questions he felt needed asking, of either his new EDA colleagues or the county board that appointed him.

According to his business card, Harold is a Class A contractor and OSHA 30 Project Manager. He said that his business is conducted out of the Warren County area, so he perceives no potential conflicts of interest between his professional and new local economic development role.

Following his appointment, Harold said he would be willing to sit down for a Royal Examiner video interview on his perceptions of the current EDA situation and his hopes for the EDA’s future as a part of its board of directors.

Brown did not appear to be present for the announcement of his appointment. Royal Examiner will seek out contact with Brown in order to allow him to share his professional background; perceptions on the state of the Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority and his hopes for its future, as well.

Despite the unanimity of the vote appointing Brown and Harold, it did not come without some preliminary drama. Prior to the vote appointing Brown and Harold, Board Vice-Chairman Tom Sayre made a motion to appoint Mark Egger to the EDA board. That nomination of the long-time EDA and County Board critic brought a murmur among spectators and one quick, somewhat suppressed clap of approval. Egger has picked up the baton of his daughter, former Front Royal Town Councilwoman Bébhinn Egger’s prescient 2016-17 criticism of EDA programs at the base of the current $21.1 million civil suit filed March 26 on the EDA’s behalf by the Richmond law firm of Sands-Anderson.

However, Sayre’s motion died without a second, as did Board Chairman Dan Murray’s subsequent nomination of attorney David Silek.

The Warren County Board of Supervisors, minus one – we know you’re over there on the far right somewhere, Tony – directionally that is …

Earlier in the day Board Clerk Emily Mounce explained that the County views resumes included in board appointment applications as personnel files not open to public disclosure. She is correct in that being a long-held County policy, though one that likely will stoke public criticism of a lack of transparency in County operational oversight of the EDA in the wake of the current financial scandal.

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Crime/Court

Trial date of Oct. 25 set in Tharpe solicitation case – prosecution seeks change of venue

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Attorneys for former Front Royal Mayor Hollis Tharpe say they will vigorously fight a change of venue request made by Special Prosecutor Heather Hovermale during a Monday hearing. Tharpe was in court with attorneys David Hensley and Beau Bassler on June 17 to set a trial date on his misdemeanor solicitation of prostitution charge related to a May 31, 2018, visit to a massage parlor on Biggs Drive.

In what was likely his last hearing on the case Judge Clifford L. Athey Jr. set a trial date of October 25, at 9 a.m., for the jury trial requested by Tharpe’s attorneys and July 15, at 2:30 p.m., for arguments on the prosecution’s change of venue request.

Bassler and Hensley called the special prosecutor’s request for a change of venue on a misdemeanor case “extraordinary” in their legal experience.

“Justice is supposed to be local to where a community is affected by crime unless there are unusual circumstances that would make a fair hearing of the case questionable,” Tharpe’s legal team observed. Obviously they do not believe Tharpe’s high profile in the community as a former mayor and councilman, not to mention long-time ice cream man, fits the “unusual circumstance” criteria, particularly in a misdemeanor case of this nature.

Hollis Tharpe at Town Hall meeting room chairing a council work session – Royal Examiner File Photos/Roger Bianchini

Tharpe’s high profile in the community was illustrated in the wake of Athey’s setting of the hearing and trial dates – “Well, someone will be here to see you but it won’t be me,” Athey said to Tharpe of the July 15 hearing date.

“You have a good time in Richmond,” Tharpe replied to another former Front Royal mayor, turned state delegate, turned judge who will be leaving for a seat on the Virginia Appeals Court this September.

When Athey asked Tharpe’s legal team if they wanted speedy trial statutes in play in the setting of a trial date, Hensley replied for his client, “He would like a speedy trial.”

The judge’s setting of a date four months away that fit all involved party’s schedules means a verdict will be rendered about two weeks before the likely November date of a special election to fill the mayor’s seat for the duration of Tharpe’s term, which expires at the end of 2020. That seat is currently occupied by long-time Republican activist and former county supervisor Matt Tederick, who was appointed interim mayor on May 28 by a 4-2 vote, Tewalt and Thompson dissenting. Tederick has said he does not plan to run for the mayor’s office in the special election.

While proclaiming his innocence following his indictment on April 15, Tharpe initially placed himself on administrative leave and then announced four days later on April 19 that he would resign as mayor effective May 2. Tharpe explained his decisions as not wanting the charge against him to distract town government from the conduct of its business pending a resolution of his case. The 67-year-old Tharpe has called the misdemeanor charge against him “embarrassing” and “baseless”.

On March 25, flanked by Vice-Mayor William Sealock and Councilwoman Letasha Thompson then-Mayor Tharpe listens to former Councilwoman Bébhinn Egger address town officials on lessons to be learned from the EDA financial scandal.

A Virginia State Police press release announcing Tharpe’s pending indictment in April indicated Tharpe’s charge stemmed from an investigation launched at the direction of the Virginia Attorney General’s Office.

That there was an investigation into Tharpe went public on August 30, 2018, when Warren County Commonwealth’s Attorney Brian Madden filed notice he would recuse himself from any possible prosecution relating to an “Investigation Concerning Hollis Tharpe”. Special Prosecutor Hovermale works out of the Winchester Commonwealth’s Attorney’s office of Marc Abrams, which was handed the case following Madden’s recusal announcement.

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Local Government

Crooked Run West presents their case to Board of Supervisors

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At the June 13th Warren County Board of Supervisors work session, principals of Crooked Run West, LLC  presented their case to rezone from commercial to a mixed used but primarily residential project.

The bottom line appears to be if the Town of Front Royal will supply the necessary water and sewer for their project. Crooked Run West LLC principal Ed Murphy seemed sure that the Town would do so. The Royal Examiner has obtained the agreements the Town has with the County on supplying water and sewer to this area and it appears that they will allow only commercial development. More on this next week.

The Royal Examiner’s camera was there and captured the full work session presentation, discussion and questions, as well as some of the post-work session discussion between the public and Crooked Run West officials.

After the meeting there was some discussions with the developers:

The Royal Examiner spoke with Melanie Salins as well:

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Don’t like the Crooked Run West residential plan – blame Amazon

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Ed Murphy, left, and attorney Joe Silek Jr. paint a pretty picture of their residential rezoning request for the Crooked Run West project. Royal Examiner Photos/Roger Bianchini

Facing approaching deadlines on the loss of as much as $10 million dollars in VDOT matching transportation funding for an altered north corridor developmental plan, principals of Crooked Run West, LLC made their case to the Warren County Board of Supervisors at a Thursday evening, June 13 work session.

The case they are attempting to make, for rezoning and various permitting from the County, and on another front for central water supplied by the Town, is to allow development of a mixed use but primarily residential project creating an estimated 1,025 new homes of various description on the bulk of 119 acres previously earmarked for the expansion of the Target-based Crooked Run Commercial Shopping Center. As local shoppers know, the Crooked Run Shopping Center is located at the northwest corner of the Route 340/522 and I-66 intersection north of the Front Royal Town limits.

And Crooked Run West LLC principals Ed Murphy and Tom Mercuro, with attorney Joe Silek Jr. were playing, not only to a county board holding the zoning and permitting reins to their request, but also to a tough public that has reacted negatively to the proposal. While only Murphy and Silek addressed the board during the work session, Mercuro helped field questions from the public following the 7:30 p.m. adjournment of the work session. That work session convened at 6 p.m., following a 5:15 closed session about – guess what (the EDA).

Ed Murphy, dark jacket, and Tom Mercuro, gray shirt, field post-work session questions from skeptical members of the public.

In explaining the requested change from a commercial to residential-dominated project, Murphy reiterated what Silek wrote to County Planning Director Taryn Logan on February 19 – that explanation is that the existing rezoning to commercial sought in 2009 after the establishment of phase one of the Crooked Run Commercial Center was made “in an environment where promising commercial development (particularly retail) was expected in the Route 340/522 Corridor.”

But a decade later in 2019, Silek cites a “substantial change” in the market place writing, “In 2019, shopping habits have shifted from the brick-and-mortar stores to online outlets such as Amazon. With this shift has come a significant drop in demand for commercial real estate. Moreover, the demand for office space and industrial space has likewise declined.”

So the Crooked Run West attorney asserted to the County Planning Director, “Thus, a rezoning of the Crooked Run properties from commercial to a development consisting of mixed housing types is a sensible response to these changes in overall trends in Warren County.”

Speaking of the EDA – we did briefly, didn’t we? – wonder if anyone has mentioned these changing commercial and retail trends to the EDA Board of Directors? But that’s another subject altogether.

During his work session presentation, Crooked Run Project Manager Murphy noted that for the bulk of its 11 years of existence Crooked Run Phase One has enjoyed 100% occupancy. However, that ended recently when a tenant in the mattress business declared bankruptcy and went out of business. The vacated 4,000 square foot space remains empty because no commercial tenant can be found to lease it,” Murphy told the supervisors.

Murphy reviewed the evolving proffer package that Crooked Run West is developing to address changing impacts on schools and other aspects of the community. During board questions Happy Creek Supervisor Tony Carter noted that he could not ask for specific proffers at this point in the process (because it is not legal).

Tony Carter questions, Royal Examiner films…

But one question he could and did ask was the status of the Crooked Run developers’ negotiations with the Town of Front Royal for the central water deemed pivotal to the proposed residential development.

“If the Town says ‘no’ is that the end of it?” Carter asked Murphy.

Noting that the original Crooked Run West commercial proposal had been earmarked for Town central water, Murphy indicated he did not believe the current town council would arbitrarily deny the request for water to the newly-proposed project if it is rezoned and permitted by the County.

Earlier Murphy had noted that the Town currently provides 2 million gallons of water daily and is permitted to draw 4 million gallons a day from the Shenandoah River, with a water plant capacity of 6 million gallons per day.

Murphy asserted that the proposed changes at full build out would result in the use of about 100,000 gallons of water daily. Murphy also noted that Crooked Run West had reduced its annual build out plans from 225 homes to 150 homes per year, adding that the actual number of yearly building permit requests would be market driven to the proffered limit.

The water discussion led Board Chairman Dan Murray to ask how the projected water/sewer demands submitted to the board estimated slightly less than 100,000 gallons of water used per day (97,250), but almost 122,000 gallons of corresponding sewer capacity projected. The question’s source is the Town’s calculation of its sewer charges based on water usage.

Murphy noted the water projection was based on average residential usage but wasn’t clear on the difference in the sewer projection.

This work session was one step in the Crooked Run West proposal’s march toward a public hearing before the supervisors as they make their dual-fronted presentation to County and Town officials who have differing, but as Carter pointed out, crucial roles in propelling the project forward. After the meeting Silek said a public hearing might not occur before September as details are ironed out between the development group and municipal officials.

See the full work session presentation, discussion and questions, as well as some of the post-work session discussion between the public and Crooked Run West officials in the Royal Examiner video to be posted tomorrow.

Warren County Planning Commission denies Crooked Run West LLC rezoning

Murphy and Mercuro continue to play to a tough crowd – ‘We don’t want new neighbors, we want new stores’ seemed to be one refrain presented to the Crooked Run West developers.

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Local Government

FRPD gets it newest officer – Chief Magalis ‘badges’ Orion Perry

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Orion Perry and his new FRPD ‘teammates’ during Monday night’s ceremony at the Warren County Government Center – Royal Examiner Photos/Roger Bianchini

In some welcome, non-EDA news, on Monday evening the Front Royal Town Council and Town Police Department made 8-year-old Orion Perry an honorary Front Royal Police Officer.

The Hilda J. Barbour second grader was “badged” by FRPD Chief Kahle Magalis and received some gifts from Mayor Matt Tederick to help celebrate his officer promotion.

Barbour second-grade teacher Rita Werner helped make Orion’s police officer dream come true in the wake of last week’s Relay for Life events.

See the celebration of FRPD’s newest officer in this Royal Examiner video:

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Upcoming Events

Jun
20
Thu
10:00 am Summer Art Week – Session 1 @ Art in the Valley
Summer Art Week – Session 1 @ Art in the Valley
Jun 20 @ 10:00 am – 12:30 pm
Summer Art Week - Session 1 @ Art in the Valley
Summer Art Week for children is designed for students who love art and want to go beyond what they have experienced in the school setting, while meeting the Virginia Standards of Art. Recommended ages for[...]
5:00 pm Annual Wine Pull @ Blue Wing Frog
Annual Wine Pull @ Blue Wing Frog
Jun 20 @ 5:00 pm – 7:00 pm
Annual Wine Pull @ Blue Wing Frog
5th Annual Wine Pull | Thursday June 20, 2019 | 5:00 – 7:00pm | Blue Wing Frog, 219 Chester Street. Tickets: $40.00 – Includes food, glass of wine, and a bottle of wine or wine[...]
Jun
21
Fri
10:00 am Summer Art Week – Session 1 @ Art in the Valley
Summer Art Week – Session 1 @ Art in the Valley
Jun 21 @ 10:00 am – 12:30 pm
Summer Art Week - Session 1 @ Art in the Valley
Summer Art Week for children is designed for students who love art and want to go beyond what they have experienced in the school setting, while meeting the Virginia Standards of Art. Recommended ages for[...]
Jun
22
Sat
9:30 am Acrylic Pour Workshop – Level 1 @ Art in the Valley
Acrylic Pour Workshop – Level 1 @ Art in the Valley
Jun 22 @ 9:30 am – 12:00 pm
Acrylic Pour Workshop - Level 1 @ Art in the Valley
Learn the process and art of acrylic pouring with artist and instructor Jan Settle. You’ll have a fun & exciting experience creating your own original masterpieces in this workshop! Learn how to manipulate paint &[...]
1:00 pm Meet the Author: NP Haley @ Royal Oak Bookshop
Meet the Author: NP Haley @ Royal Oak Bookshop
Jun 22 @ 1:00 pm – 5:00 pm
Meet the Author: NP Haley @ Royal Oak Bookshop
Lily and the Ghost of Michael Thorne By local author, NP Haley Feeling someone or something looking at her, Lily peered into the shrouded forest and buildings surrounding the alley. Blinking rapidly to make sure[...]
7:30 pm Middle School Pool Party @ Claude A. Stokes Community Swimming Pool
Middle School Pool Party @ Claude A. Stokes Community Swimming Pool
Jun 22 @ 7:30 pm – 9:30 pm
Middle School Pool Party @ Claude A. Stokes Community Swimming Pool
Middle School Pool Party! FREE to all Warren County students who will be in the 6th-8th grades for the 2019-2020 school year. Event will take place at Claude A. Stokes Community Swimming Pool on June[...]
Jun
23
Sun
all-day Reflections on Hubble Art Show @ Lake Frederick - Shenandoah Lodge
Reflections on Hubble Art Show @ Lake Frederick - Shenandoah Lodge
Jun 23 all-day
Reflections on Hubble Art Show @ Lake Frederick - Shenandoah Lodge
Reflections on Hubble Art Show June 4 – 23 at Lake Frederick June 4, 2019 – open to public June 12, 2019 – Meet the Artist Reception 4-6 p.m. June 23, 2019 – Final Day Seven Lake[...]
Jun
24
Mon
10:00 am Design a chair for the SPCA CHAI... @ SPCA of Winchester, Frederick, and Clarke Counties
Design a chair for the SPCA CHAI... @ SPCA of Winchester, Frederick, and Clarke Counties
Jun 24 @ 10:00 am – 5:00 pm
Design a chair for the SPCA CHAIR-ity Brunch @ SPCA of Winchester, Frederick, and Clarke Counties
Calling all artists!! Design a chair for the SPCA CHAIR-ity Brunch and save homeless animals. Pick up a chair from the SPCA Thrift Shop, build a chair, up-cycle a chair, paint a chair, or upholster[...]
Jun
27
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6:00 pm Sip & Glaze @ The Vine & Leaf
Sip & Glaze @ The Vine & Leaf
Jun 27 @ 6:00 pm – 7:30 pm
Sip & Glaze @ The Vine & Leaf
Sip & Glaze at The Vine & Leaf! Join us for an evening of good company while you glaze your own lunch set (bowl and plate).
Jun
29
Sat
1:00 pm Botanical Drawing Workshop – Sum... @ Art in the Valley
Botanical Drawing Workshop – Sum... @ Art in the Valley
Jun 29 @ 1:00 pm – 4:00 pm
Botanical Drawing Workshop - Summer 2019 @ Art in the Valley
Learn and practice the art of botanical drawing with local artist and instructor Elena Maza. This weekend workshop will focus on learning basic drawing skills as applied to botanicals: basic line drawings of leaves, flowers,[...]