In an email response to Royal Examiner’s July 19 inquiry on what he considers the emergency nature of his ordinance proposal to prevent private-sector employers, among others, from reassigning or terminating employees who refuse the COVID-19 Coronavirus vaccine, Front Royal Town Councilman Scott Lloyd referenced Valley Health’s July 19 announcement of a vaccine mandate for all its employees and health care workers. Valley Health’s public relations department has been contacted for a response to Lloyd’s assertions and claim that he has been contacted by a significant number of their employees, including medical professionals, about concerns about being mandated to receive the vaccine. We will publish their response when received.
Lloyd also compared being mandated to receive the vaccine outside traditional, non-emergency drug approval standards to past abusive governmental medical practices, including “Tuskegee experiments” and “forced involuntary sterilization of the ‘unfit’.
“The emergency: The code defines emergency measure as ‘an ordinance or resolution to provide for immediate preservation of the public peace, property, health or safety’,” Lloyd began, adding, “In Tuskegee experiments and programs of forced involuntary sterilization of the ‘unfit,’ (even, or perhaps especially, here in Virginia), the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services convened Commission to study the conditions under which testing might occur on human subjects,” Lloyd wrote, referencing a resultant “Belmont Report”.*
In addition to worrying over the speed with which COVID vaccines have been approved for “emergency” mass distribution without traditional approval processes, Lloyd’s references to testing, Tuskegee and forced sterilizations are telling in his perception of urgency in bringing his self-termed “Medical Freedom” or “Anti-Coercion” ordinance against mandated Coronavirus vaccinations forward on July 26, rather than August 2. More on that urgency below, but first some historical background on the councilman’s federal sterilization and Tuskegee program references leading to the Belmont Report. The writer apologizes for the length of this article, but believes context and detail are crucial to approaching council’s scheduled July 26 action on Councilman Lloyd’s “Medical Freedom” ordinance proposal. – So, get the popcorn kids.
Learning from the past?
According to an ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) link provided by Lloyd in his email: “One of the less well-known episodes in Virginia history is its practice of forced sterilization begun during the heyday of the eugenics movement in the early 20th century – a Virginia-based movement that sought to protect the ‘purity of the American Race’. Virginia’s legal sterilization program was enacted into law in 1924 – the same year the legislature adopted the Racial Integrity Act that prohibited interracial marriages.
“Virginia’s Eugenical Sterilization Act of 1924 became the model for the nation after it survived constitutional review by the U.S. Supreme Court in Buck v. Bell (1927). The high court ruled that the state’s law allowing forced sterilization of ‘any patient afflicted with hereditary forms of insanity, imbecility …’ for the greater welfare of society did not violate the Fourteenth Amendment’s guarantees of due process and equal protection under the law … Tragically, it is estimated that between 7,200 and 8,300 people were sterilized in Virginia from 1927-1979 because they were deemed by society at the time to be unworthy or unfit to procreate. In most cases, the individuals were ‘patients’ at state mental institutions …”
WOW, but that’s not all.
A little online research revealed that the “Tuskegee Experiment” was a 40-year study (1932-1972) of “syphilis-infected Negro males” overseen by the U.S. Public Health Service and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It is considered a U.S. governmental study unethical in nature in that it essentially used its subjects as lab rats, who were lied to about the nature of the study and from whom effective treatment of the disease with penicillin when it was discovered in the mid-1940s to be a cure, was withheld.
The study ended in 1972 after being outed by a report on it by the Associated Press.
Wikipedia observes: “The purpose of this study was to observe the natural history of untreated syphilis. Although the African-American men who participated in the study were told that they were receiving free health care from the federal government of the United States, they were not.”
In 2021, the CDC website traces the study, its timeline, and its consequences:
“The study initially involved 600 Black men – 399 with syphilis, 201 who did not have the disease. Participants’ informed consent was not collected. Researchers told the men they were being treated for ‘bad blood,’ a local term used to describe several ailments, including syphilis, anemia, and fatigue. In exchange for taking part in the study, the men received free medical exams, free meals, and burial insurance.
“In 1972, an Associated Press story about the study was published. As a result, the Assistant Secretary for Health and Scientific Affairs appointed an Ad Hoc Advisory Panel to review the study. The advisory panel concluded that the study was “ethically unjustified”; that is, the “results [were] disproportionately meager compared with known risks to human subjects involved,” the CDC summary continues, adding, “In October 1972, the panel advised stopping the study. A month later, the Assistant Secretary for Health and Scientific Affairs announced the end of the study. In March 1973, the panel also advised the Secretary of the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare (HEW) (now known as the Department of Health and Human Services) to instruct the USPHS to provide all necessary medical care for the survivors of the study. The Tuskegee Health Benefit Program (THBP) was established to provide these services. In 1975, participants’ wives, widows and children were added to the program. In 1995, the program was expanded to include health, as well as medical, benefits. The last study participant died in January 2004. The last widow receiving THBP benefits died in January 2009. Participants’ children (10 at present) continue to receive medical and health benefits.”
In 1973, a class-action lawsuit was filed on behalf of the study participants and their families, resulting in a $10 million, out-of-court settlement in 1974.
On May 16, 1997, President Bill Clinton issued a formal Presidential Apology for the study. With a number of aging survivors and their family members present at the White House, President Clinton apologized for their experience of the Tuskegee Experiment:
“The people who ran the study at Tuskegee diminished the stature of man by abandoning the most basic ethical precepts. They forgot their pledge to heal and repair. They had the power to heal the survivors and all the others and they did not. Today, all we can do is apologize.”
Back to the Present
Back in Front Royal, Virginia, in July 2021, Councilman Lloyd believes the above histories have lessons for today. Of the Belmont Report grown out of the Tuskegee Experiment experience, Lloyd wrote Royal Examiner: “The Belmont Report states: ‘An agreement to participate in research constitutes a valid consent only if voluntarily given. This element of informed consent requires conditions free of coercion or undue influence’ …
“What Valley Health is doing clearly fits the definition of ‘coercion’, above,” Lloyd’s email of July 20 states, continuing, “Some people who would not take this vaccine are deciding to take it not because they want it, but because they are afraid of losing their job. Every one of these cases is an emergency, as is the fact that the major health provider in our town is engaged in a systemwide campaign of coercion and undue influence with regard to its employees.
“Like I said, I have heard directly from dozens (two dozen just today) of Valley Health employees who feel they are being put in the impossible situation of having to choose between their livelihood (some of them have been health professionals for decades) and a vaccine they do not want. The widespread distress that this causes in our community is an emergency,” Lloyd asserts. “The people I am talking to will experience real harm without protection, and that economic distress will cause real pain in our community. Some of the people I am talking to are pregnant or have newborn children, some are carrying the insurance for their family, for some, Valley Health is the household’s only source of income. Many, I believe most, of these will be ‘subject to suspension or termination’ before our next regular meeting in August, so emergency action is necessary in July.”
We contacted Lloyd by email for elaboration on his apparent assertion that distribution of COVID-19 vaccinations might qualify as “medical experimentation” as opposed to distribution of adequately, if more speedily tested vaccines for a pandemic credited with taking nearly 4.1-million lives worldwide, over 611,000 nationally, including 61 in Warren County in about 18 months. It is a public health emergency considered to still be in progress, with a Fourth Wave surge being reported in many areas, particularly among unvaccinated populations.
The FDA perspective
Prior to receiving Lloyd’s Tuesday afternoon emailed response to our questions, we went to the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) website to see that federal approval agency’s take on the COVID-19 vaccination distribution under a public health “emergency” declaration. The site asserts:
“The FDA has regulatory processes in place to facilitate the development of COVID-19 vaccines that meet the FDA’s rigorous scientific standards,” the FDA states. They elaborate that “The HHS (Health and Human Services) Secretary declared that circumstances exist justifying the authorization of emergency use of drugs and biological products during the COVID-19 pandemic, pursuant to section 564 of the FD&C Act, effective March 27, 2020.”
Of the necessity of speeding up the testing and distribution process for what is considered by medical professionals around the world to be a public health emergency and worldwide viral pandemic, the FDA site adds: “FDA recognizes the gravity of the current public health emergency and the importance of facilitating availability, as soon as possible, of vaccines to prevent COVID-19 – vaccines that the public will trust and have confidence in receiving.”
Of course, if you believe the same, or same type, of people are running FDA, HHS, CDC or other federal agencies cited in medically obtrusive and immoral activities, some racist in nature, conducted in the early to mid-late 20th century, such assurances may sound hollow.
Of his perspective on the testing and approval status of COVID-19 vaccinations, Lloyd wrote Royal Examiner later Tuesday afternoon:
“I think that formally we remain in the trial phase for all available vaccines so I think the Belmont Report speaks directly to this situation. I think I would describe it as the ‘research’ or ‘trial’ phase; I doubt I would use the term ‘experimentation.’ I would probably describe the mRNA vaccines as ‘experimental,’ as they’ve never been tried in humans and it is not possible to know if there are any long-term effects from using them, which would be the type of potential harm that concerns me the most with that particular category.”
According to the CDC and other medical and news source websites, mRNA (messenger RNA) vaccines were among the first authorized for use against COVID-19 in the U.S., including the Moderna and Pfizer, the latter of which this reporter received his second dose of from Valley Health on February 3, fortunately with no side effects from either dose to this point. According to the CDC website, the mRNA vaccines “do not interact with human DNA in any way” and “do not introduce the live COVID virus” into the recipient’s body or cell nucleus. They have been researched for decades in the treatment of various health ailments including rabies, the flu and ZIKA, among other infectious diseases, the CDC notes.
Of the process by which they do work, the CDC writes of mRNA: “To trigger an immune response, many vaccines put a weakened or inactivated germ into our bodies. NOT (emphasis added) mRNA vaccines. Instead, they teach our cells how to make a protein – or even just a piece of a protein – that triggers an immune response inside our bodies. That immune response, which produces antibodies, is what protects us from getting infected if the real virus enters our bodies.”
It would seem that this process, avoiding some more cellularly intrusive methods of many traditional vaccines and with several decades of infectious disease research behind it, is why mRNA vaccines were among the first to be approved for use under public health “emergency” standards. But is that enough to allay the fears of some vaccine skeptics?
“The attitude of some is that, because of the large number of people who have received it, it is almost like they are not in trials anymore, (I have heard some doctors make this argument),” Lloyd wrote the Examiner, continuing, “I think these sorts of formalities matter, especially when dealing with a new drug.
“That said, I think that the Belmont Report* is a touchstone for matters of informed consent outside of clinical trials and ‘human research’ because it defines what is impermissibly coercive in the context of informed consent. In other words, when the trials end, I do not think that the behavior that falls under ‘coercion’ as defined in the report becomes ‘not-coercion’ because there is no more trial.”
Information or Opinion?
Perhaps the operative word in Lloyd’s analysis is “informed”.
First, one would ask: Is the federal public health apparatus and medical establishment “informed” enough to make an “emergency” judgement the vaccines distributed are safe for general human use?
And on the other side, the question is: Are those fearful of taking those “emergency” authorized vaccines “informed” enough on what methods the vaccines utilize in offering immunity against the COVID-19 Coronavirus, and what testing as been done to assure that the human health risk is minimal, and that, that risk is concentrated on those with specific pre-existing medical conditions?
For in the space between the answer to those two questions would seem to lie the legal justification for either a public or private-sector mandate that employees or members who have contact with other employees, members or customers must be vaccinated; versus as Councilman Lloyd and the constituent base he seeks to represent believe, such a mandate presents an immediate and dangerous health risk to them that municipal governments should legislate against, regardless of previous state or federal legal precedents concerning public health emergencies.
On the topic of “informed consent”, Councilman Lloyd wrote: “I have looked into AMA (American Medical Association) and other definitions of ‘informed consent’ and they mention freedom from coercion without defining ‘coercion’. I think the definition in the Belmont Report rings true and I would be surprised to find a definition anywhere that deviates widely from it.”
As to the question of the “informed” basis for his concerns, based on the health concerns of those he has heard from reluctant to be vaccinated, Lloyd claims a largely informed constituency:
“You asked about the validity of the medical objections, which I think I can answer quickly: I have not been looking very closely at the research at all. I see things mentioned here and there and some of them seem concerning, but my interest is not whether it is right. If a person does not want a vaccine because he thinks there are aliens in it; I would think he is wrong and I would also defend his right to decline the vaccine. I will say, though, that these are medical professionals: nurses, nurse practitioners, and doctors who are contacting me. I am not a medical professional; I would say they are in a better position to evaluate the various medical claims, and their perspectives are highly sophisticated, backed up with real stories of what is occurring ‘on the ground’ as they say.”
So, remaining and fundamental questions facing town council July 26, appear to be: Are Lloyd and those he is hearing from operating from documentable facts concerning alleged medical dangers from receiving COVID-19 vaccines okayed for circulation by the FDA of 2020-21, or are their fears a result of susceptibility to alarmist conspiracy theories in wide circulation in an “alternate fact” social media universe?
As noted, Lloyd asserts many who have contacted him are medical professionals and Valley Health employees in a position to know “what’s going on, on the ground” regarding COVID vaccinations, or at least they claim to be. Perhaps some will show up July 26, to identify themselves, their credentials, and state the basis for their concerns about being vaccinated – perhaps.
Otherwise, Lloyd’s colleagues on the Front Royal Town Council will be asked to accept on faith that there is a pending employment emergency based on a legitimate and grounded-in-fact medical concern about the safety of the available COVID-19 vaccinations that somehow Valley Health and other involved agencies have failed to identify, or perhaps can’t be trusted to tell us the truth about if you accept a corrupt federal and medical agency lineage dating to 1924 to 1972. And if jumping that hurdle, council will then face a vote on a perhaps legally unsupportable ordinance proposal based on an assertion made by an anonymous group of alleged medical professionals, and their council sponsor who admits he has “not been looking very closely at the research at all”.
Lloyd did include in his communications with Royal Examiner that he will support public comments on his ordinance initiative during the general Public Concerns portion of council’s July 26 meeting. That sounds like an invitation to his concerned constituents to stand up and be heard, along with those who disagree that the Town has reason or jurisdiction to swim into murky factual and legal waters.
(*Writer’s note: The lengthy Belmont Report developed over 4 years in the wake of the public revelation of Tuskegee Experiment can be found online, one link leading to summaries and the full report is: The Belmont Report | HHS.gov)
Council ponders where to find money for police budget and other projects
Money and spending priorities were on the mind of the Front Royal Town Council Thursday evening, January 20, at a Special Work Session called, if not specifically for budget matters, for a number of things with cost analysis and price tags of some significance. Among those were a Water Plant Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) System Procurement to replace the 15-year-old system now in place; “Council Initiatives” including some Capital Improvement Projects (CIP) for the coming fiscal year (July 1, 2022, thru June 30, 2023); and an outside contract with an “Executive Search Services” company in the hiring of a new lead town attorney.
Other agenda topics at what was a four-hour-plus work session chaired by Vice-Mayor Lori Cockrell in Mayor Holloway’s absence, were a Comp Plan Update/Existing Conditions Report; and proposed text amendments to Chapter 148 (Subdivision and Land Development), both presented by Planning Director Lauren Kopishke; and “Open Discussion” including a pending council resolution establishing the Town of Front Royal as a “Destination Marketing Organization” with the town manager as “Chief Liaison” on the DMO tourism promotional effort.
Vice Mayor Lori Cockrell chaired the work session in the absence of Mayor Holloway. Council member Amber Morris attended by remote phone connection to give council full attendance.
The open portion of the work session followed a Closed Session at the meeting’s 6 p.m. outset for interviews for positions on the Board of Zoning Appeals, the Town Local Building Code of Appeals, and Joint Tourism Committee.
And there was one “Budget Overview” specific to the Fiscal Year 2022-23 budget process of particular interest to elected officials and their constituents. That was a presentation on factors and budget needs within the Front Royal Police Department (FRPD) by Chief Kahle Magalis. In introducing the police chief, Town Manager Steven Hicks noted that at its recent “Retreat” council had expressed an interest in hearing directly from the chief about the proposed police budget. That introduction, presentation, and discussion begins at the 1:35:05 mark of the Town video.
FRPD needs and costs
And with “public safety” generally seen as one of the priority functions of government at every level from both sides of the political aisle, FRPD funding needs and how to achieve them were a major concern. However, apparently following what he believes to be council’s lead on balancing the FY-2022-23 budget, Town Manager Hicks pointed out that “my recommendation will not be for a tax increase”. Rather, budget cuts, push back of some projects to future budget cycles, or the use of contingency or reserve funds to fill revenue gaps seemed the favored strategy. That message followed Hicks’ summary of variables in presenting a staff-recommended budget to council for approval:
“Once I do my budget recommendation, the process is in your all’s hands and you have all means to tweak it … Also, I may come back with financing, looking at how we may be able to (access) potential other funding sources. But everything is on the table, our reserves, our debt services, and other options because I may need that” at which point his above observation “Other than that my recommendation will not be for a tax increase …” was made.
However, Councilman Gary Gillespie appeared to leave the tax increase door open should a need become apparent. “I’m just saying if we’re needing one, give us a recommendation on how much maybe. Because the other stuff is important too, Steven,” Gillespie said of the myriad “Council Initiatives” and other Capital Improvement needs – like a new or majorly renovated “Fleet Maintenance building” projected at initial costs in the coming budget year cited as $170,000 with an eventual total cost of $1.7 million – presented to council before Chief Magalis reached the meeting podium.
The agenda cover page of the “FY23 Police Department Overview” noted a current FY-2021/22 Budget of $5,227,200, with a Town staff-recommended $5,300,000 FY-2022/23 versus a department requested $5,733,960. That means the administrative staff recommendation leaves the police department with a $433,960 funding deficit for projected needs in the coming fiscal year.
Of that deficit, just under $104,000 are cuts to requested “Merit Increases” to departmental staff. Another $200,000 appeared to be in “Fleet Replacement” vehicle costs in which the “Town Manager’s Review” cited no allocation, as it did not in the “Narcotics K-9” ($15,000) and “Taser Replacement ($47,500) categories. Merit increases are now seen as essential in maintaining qualified, experienced staff in an increasingly competitive municipal staffing environment. The chief also noted the department would be hit by four pending retirements mid-year, including Captain Kevin Nicewarner.
The FRPD budget is in support of 38 certified police officers (Magalis corrected from 39 in the agenda summary) and “14 full-time and 3 part-time civilian employees” (55 total), in addition to “2 police canines” though one will be retired due to obsolete drug training due to the legalization of marijuana, it was explained; working in three divisions – Patrol, Investigations, and Communications – in addition to the department’s administrative staff. Average police departmental funding over the past 5 years has been $5,109,808 the staff summary noted. And while his and the chief’s budget recommendations were over $400,000 apart, the town manager did laud Magalis in recent budget cycles – “The chief has done a lot with a little,” Hicks told council.
Related to the need to replace one drug-sniffing canine due to changed drug laws forcing dogs trained in marijuana sniffing into retirement, it was suggested to seek funding help from the state legislature on that $15,000 expense since it was created by legalization legislation at the state level.
When council discussion turned to the possibility of writing of more traffic tickets as a revenue-producing source, perhaps with changes in state driving laws contributing to such an effort, Chief Magalis pointed out: “We don’t write tickets for revenue. We write tickets for public safety. And we’ve always had that, we’ve never had quotas for officers or anything like that …”
The chief’s point for council to consider is that unlike some Enterprise Fund departments like public utilities where user fees can support operations, law enforcement is not constructed as a self-supporting, revenue-generating department. Rather, it is a public service department created to ensure the public safety and at the local level the Constitutional assurance of a “General Welfare” of a government’s citizens. Due to these variables it is a service often supported to a large extent by tax revenue paid by the citizens of the enabling government.
Regarding another change at the state level disallowing the suspension of driver’s licenses as a punishment for certain offenses, Gillespie lamented that change and any corresponding fine-generated revenue loss. “Something I disagree with is taking the leverage away from the fines. Because guys, let me tell you something, there’s nothing in our Constitution that says you have a right to drive – nothing!”
However, the councilman did not address the fact that when the Constitution was written circa the early 1790’s, motor vehicles themselves and the need to drive them over increasing distances to maintain basic necessities like employment and access to basic essentials, did not yet exist. In fact, one might argue that the Ninth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution: “The enumeration in the Constitution of certain rights shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people” could be applied to the right of American citizens to drive in a modern world never envisioned by the nation’s “Founding Fathers” some 230 years ago.
Perhaps related, if not anticipated to be connected to a Constitutional rights discussion related to law enforcement funding, were improvements to the Town Trolley transit system. Those included establishment of covered route stops and a broader time schedule and more easily available information on scheduled stopping times at various locations throughout the town limits.
Front Royal’s Economic Development Authority has inaugural meeting
The newly formed Front Royal Economic Development Authority (FREDA) met for the first time, at 11 a.m. Thursday morning, January 20, 2022, in the second-floor Town Hall meeting room. Royal Examiner was notified that what was primarily an orientation meeting and the first gathering meet and greet of the town council-appointed FREDA Board of Directors would not be livestreamed or videotaped by the Town, leading to the presence of the Royal Examiner camera to visually document the occasion.
The meeting was chaired by Town Manager Steven Hicks, who has been tasked by the Town Council to also serve as FREDA’s executive director. The meeting began two of seven board members short, with Nick Bass and Rick Novak both arriving a few minutes after the 11 a.m. starting time. Final arrivee, Royal Cinemas owner Novak, explained a concession stand equipment malfunction had delayed his arrival.
The now fully manned board took on a four action-item agenda, including presentation of draft bylaws for review; setting dates for a FREDA retreat (March 8), as well as its next meeting (Feb. 17, indicating a third Thursday rotation of regular monthly meetings); and Virginia Economic Development Partnership (VEDP) General Counsel Sandy McNish’s remotely presented PowerPoint overview of EDA functions and state legal parameters for EDA operations, including financial lending utilizing public funds to stimulate economic development for a public good.
McNish noted Virginia as a Dillon Rule state in which localities and political subdivisions like EDA’s cannot exceed authorities “expressly granted by the General Assembly”. She also noted that municipally created EDA’s are independent entities from the municipalities that create them and utilize their services in economic development initiatives and assistance in financing economic development projects.
In prefacing the FREDA board for the VDEP presentation, Town Manager/FREDA Executive Director Hicks said, “Today is obviously our first overall meeting. We’ve got a pretty decent agenda, more of just an intro of what we’re going to do. We’re going to talk about EDA 101 … and also I would kind of like to go around the table and have everyone introduce (themselves) with a brief bio of who you are, as well. And then I’m going to introduce the staff that will be supporting the EDA as we go forward.”
Those FREDA Board of Director introductions included (in the order listed in the agenda packet summary of their backgrounds):
Isaac Rushing (1-year term), owner of Honey and Hops Brew Works at 212 E. Main St., also cited as “a former supervisor with the Town of Front Royal” though no department was included in his profile;
David Gedney (1-year term), owner of Element Restaurant (317 E. Main St.), also a current member of the Town Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA), who has past experience “in planning/growing a recycling effort for VCU” (Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond);
Mark Tapsak (2-year term), owner of Mountain Music (217 E. Main St.), also cited as “a medical device research scientist and consultant with Diabetic Health Inc., as well as a university (unspecified) teacher of biochemistry and chemistry courses.”
Rick Novak (2-year term), as previously noted owner of Royal Cinemas (117 E. Main St.) and Royal Family Bowling Center (430 Remount Rd.), also cited as a former owner of the Blue Ridge Motel and Royal Family Amusement Arcade;
Frank Stankiewicz (3-year term), owner/manager of Green to Ground Electrical LLC (316 Warren Ave.), also cited as “President of local (unspecified) networking organization”;
James Crowell (3-year term), owner of Quecon, Inc. IT Engineering Co. (134 Peyton St.) “that specializes in cybersecurity, software engineering and telecommunications” who is also cited as “Graduated from Goldman Sachs 10,000 small business program (10KSB), Veteran’s Institute of Procurement (VIP), VA Scaling for Growth (S4G), Small Business Administration (SBA) business development.”
Nick Bass (4-year term), cited as “Geotechnical and construction consultant; experience reviewing construction contracts and subcontractor agreements to identify risky language; marketing experience and communications skills.”
In her presentation to the newly created FREDA Board of Directors, VEDP General Counsel McNish, who noted a 14-plus year tenure at VEDP, said, “So, what’s an EDA? You’re enabling legislation is the Industrial Development and Revenue Bond Act. You’re a political subdivision of the Commonwealth, much as the VEDP is; you are a separate legal entity, as the VEDP is. You’re not the town that created you, the town that created you is not you. You have a separate subdivision, you are a different thing.”
She continued to note that EDAs “are usually created by one locality but they can … be created by two or more, as you know. And authorities, even if they’re from separate localities, can, indeed, work together in a cooperative way on projects.”
One might hope that as an evolving independent subdivision of the Town of Front Royal, that type of inter-EDA cooperation will develop, as has been offered by the WC EDA Board, despite the total cut off of all communications, other than civil litigation, example that has been set in recent months by the Front Royal Town Council and its town management staff.
“You have very broad powers under the Industrial Development and Revenue Bond Act. And you can do most anything, so long as you do it under your animating purpose, which is to promote industry and develop trade by inducing manufacturing, industrial, governmental, etc. facilities to locate in or remain in the Commonwealth.
“Now if you’re providing a branch or something to somebody or helping with a developmental plan, that’s certainly going to benefit a private company. But that’s okay because that’s not why you are doing it. You’re doing it for a public purpose,” McNish pointed out of attracting business or industry to an area as a general economic benefit to the community in which the EDA operates.
Town Planning Commission considers short term rental ordinance and update on Town’s Comprehensive Plan process
The Front Royal Planning Commission entered the new year with a quiet and businesslike first meeting on January 19th with all commissioners in attendance to consider a topic that has taken up a good deal of its attention (no, not the fiery allegations of the last meeting) – rather, the proposed ordinance change to address short-term rentals. In November the Town Council requested the planning commission to develop a proposed ordinance that would assure a uniform process for approval of conditional use permits for this use, as distinguished from hotels, motels, and bed & breakfast establishments. The planning staff adapted a proposed ordinance from that used by the County to establish standards and conditions for short-term rentals, and Planning Director Lauren Kopishke submitted it to council earlier to get feedback.
Since the topic of this ordinance amendment was postponed at the December Planning Commission meeting, Commissioner Darryl Merchant asked Planning Director Kopishke for an update on the proposed text. The Planning Director referred the commissioners to a version in their packages that had been sent to Town Council for their January 10 meeting. Council’s only change was a request to remove the prohibition on street parking in the draft version. There followed some discussion about what the Town Council’s intent was – the original draft prohibited parking for short-term rentals in yards or along public right-of-ways, which would effectively bar a guest from parking along a street even if a marked parking place. Many properties in town have no other parking than on the street.
Commissioner Merchant observed that conditions in town are different than those in the county, and that it could be worthwhile to consider whether different zones in the town are not appropriate for this use. Permitting short-term rentals in all zones may not be appropriate, he reasoned. Vice-Chairman Connie Marshner said that several citizens have approached her with doubts about whether short-term rentals should be allowed.
Commissioners Josh Ingram and William Gordon also commented that the ordinance established a standard for a special use permit. Consequently, each permit must be reviewed by the commission for a recommendation to the town council for approval. So, decisions of appropriateness are made on each application on a case-by-case basis and an ordinance is not a blanket permission for property owners to start offering short-term rentals by right.
At length, rather than voting to recommend approval of the ordinance, Commissioner Merchant offered a motion to postpone action and refer the subject to a Planning Commission work session on February 4, so that it could be discussed and alternatives identified prior to a final vote. The commission unanimously approved that motion.
The commission then turned its attention to a presentation by the Assistant Town Manager, Kathleen Leidich, on the Fiscal Year 2023-27 Capital Improvement Plan. The Plan is a forward look at capital projects the Town foresees in the upcoming five years. The $2.5 million plan for streets in FY 2023 incorporates primary and secondary street repaving, new sidewalk construction, replacement of the 8th St. bridge, and rehabilitation of the Fleet Maintenance building. The plan also identifies projects that are further into the future, such as a Leach Run flyover, an east-west connector, further improvements to Happy Creek Road, and various trails and road extensions.
$1.5 million in planned improvements to the Town’s water system in the upcoming fiscal year include replacement of undersized water lines between Colonial Drive and Leach Run Parkway, and waterline replacement throughout the town in conjunction with the town’s paving plans.
The Electric Department projects $1.1 million for its improvements in this fiscal year to expand the Happy Creek substation, replacement of transformers that have reached or exceeded their service life, and further funding for the Automated Metering Infrastructure, (AMI) which allows remote meter reading and service connects and disconnects. It will eventually mean all meters throughout the town will be replaced.
After being briefed on the plan, the commission discussed its own role in the process as it provides feedback to the town staff and then makes recommendations to the town council as part of the budgeting process. Commissioner Gordon wondered what the ultimate role of the commission was in the CIP process, and how the commission could be of help to the Town in establishing priorities and identifying needs. “It seems like we’re being asked to rubberstamp a budgeting process that’s already been done,” he observed.
Assistant Town Manager Leidich responded, “In general, town staff brings the CIP to planning to get feedback. Ultimately it is the town council that approves the CIP.”
The emerging consensus from the Commission was that earlier involvement will mean better knowledge of the proposed priorities, and that for this cycle, it was better for the commission to recommend approval and then work with town staff in a more collaborative process for the next budget cycle.
The Commission ultimately voted unanimously to recommend approval of the CIP.
The final order of business was an update on the Comprehensive Plan rewrite process by Planning Director Kopishke. The staff and its support contractor have produced an Existing Conditions Report.
The report packs a lot of information into its 35 pages. It outlines statistics such as population, business, income, employment, and education, as well as useful information about infrastructure and services. The Commission and the planning department are continuing work on the plan. You can find the report, as well as links for your input, here.
The meeting was adjourned at 8:30 p.m.
After work session discussion of Town building permit function, supervisors approve 3 CUP requests, 2 for short-term tourist rentals
The Warren County Board of Supervisors agenda of Tuesday, January 18, began with a no cameras, caucus room work session highlighted by a presentation by County Building Official David Beahm on implications of the Town of Front Royal taking over the building and maintenance inspection function within town limits. It is a long-discussed on the Town side shift, that began in the first decade of the 21st century if memory serves. But after hearing about constantly shifting variables on interpretation and enforcement of stormwater management and erosion and sediment control aspects at the state level, one might wonder if the Town might want to reconsider its decision to finally move into the in-town inspection world.
“That’s ridiculous,” North River Supervisor Delores Oates chimed in with a colorful declaration after hearing Beahm’s description of ongoing shifts in State interpretations of its own rules on parameters of municipal enforcement of state rules on these aspects of building variables. Responding to questions, Town Planning Director Lauren Kopishke estimated full town inspection department enforcement, including stormwater and erosion and sediment control by June. The Town department was officially enacted on January 3rd. Dynamics of in-town inspection records being shifted to Town control from the County system was discussed, as was alerting in-town property owners to seek those records from the Town when they were transferred.
County Finance Director Matt Robertson also presented a look at new online links to a budget development site for easier member and staff access during the budget cycle.
Following those two presentations the supervisor adjourned to closed session for discussion of advisory board appointments and real estate transactions outside the town limits.
Then it was on to a rather straightforward regular meeting agenda featuring three public hearings on Conditional Use Permit (CUP) requests, one for a guesthouse off Buck Mountain Road in the South River District’s Stone Subdivision by Joshua Branson, and two for short-term tourist rentals on Riverview Shores Drive in the Shenandoah Shores Subdivision.
The first of those latter two was submitted by experienced and multi-county short-term, Air B&B style rental operators Gillian Greenfield and Richard Butcher; the second by a property neighbor of Greenfield and Butcher, Terry Hartson. Hartson told the board that he had taken his business management plan lead from his more experienced neighbors. Hartson spoke in support of his neighbors’ request, as they did in support of his. With acknowledgment the Branson guesthouse would not be used as a commercial endeavor, and detailed management plans for the two short-term rental requests in place, all three were approved by unanimous consent with little or no opposition submitted to the board prior to the public hearing.
About five minutes into the meeting during Public Comments the Town’s recent “interim man” returned to the dais to play word games to repeat still-unsubstantiated accusations against County and Town officials, as well as gripes about the Royal Examiner and its reporters not covering “news” as he desires it to be covered – apparently unsubstantiated, without first-hand verification, and without an objectively critical eye toward the documented actions of public officials, particularly within Town Hall.
See the above discussions, public comments, as well as board member reports, and approval of a four-item Consent Agenda, including more coyote bounty awards, and discussion of a removed consent agenda staffing search item, and two late agenda additions in this County video:
‘Grandfathering’ or not? County Planning Commission foresees the need to address Non-Conforming Properties
At its regular meeting on January 12, the Warren County Planning Commission confronted a nagging issue that members expect will increasingly come up in the future, that of property owners in older subdivisions whose dwellings were built long before there were local zoning ordinances or even building inspections. Even though building codes date back to the Babylonian King Hammurabi, and rudimentary standards in the late 18th century, most large American cities didn’t begin enacting or enforcing them until 1900 or so, and in most smaller localities they were not widely enacted until the 1970’s, and even after that not uniformly enforced. In Warren County, for example, many small “summer cabins” were built near or on the river in the 1940’s or before, when that requirement did not exist. They weren’t originally intended to be permanent homes, but rather vacation places. In modern times, local zoning ordinances would preclude many of these from being built at all, or certainly sited where they are.
The continuing challenge for the County is to strike a balance between a property owner’s investment in his property, the need for uniform enforcement of the building code, and common sense. More and more requests for Conditional Use Permits (CUPs) for short-term tourist rentals, for example, show that property owners, sometimes with “nonconforming lots”, still want to rent their cabins out to tourists. But the standards of the County’s short-term tourist rental ordinance require things like 100-foot distance between dwellings. So, the commissioners spent some time discussing what the right approach to that challenge is. Zoning law is where the term “grandfathering” is often found – provisions that allow some deviations from standards where the original construction predated the standard. It’s certain that the commission and the county board will have to eventually develop a solution that can be applied fairly and uniformly.
An example case will likely be considered at next months meeting, when the commissioners will be looking at a request from Alvand Khoshgavar for a CUP for a short-term tourist rental for his residentially zoned property at 668 Old Dam Road in the Shenandoah District. His property doesn’t meet the 100-foot setback requirement, so that requirement would have to be waived for a permit to be issued. The request was approved for advertising the public hearing, but the commissioners agreed that the topic of these properties will need to have a better solution. The County can waive provisions of an ordinance, but every waiver creates a precedent.
Meanwhile, this month, John LaVoie is requesting a CUP for his residentially zoned property at 1196 Old Oak Lane in the Shenandoah District. Deputy Planning Director Matt Wendling briefed the commission on the details of the application. The proposal meets the County short-term rental supplementary regulations, and comments were received from the County Building Official and the Department of Health. There were no citizen comments during the public hearing, and no comments or objections were received from neighboring property owners by the County Planning Department.
With no other comments by commission members, the vote to recommend approval was unanimous. The permit request will now go to the County Board of Supervisors for final approval.
The consent agenda for the meeting consisted of authorization to advertise public hearings for seven Conditional Use Permit requests and one zoning ordinance change. Those items will be on the agenda for next month’s meeting on February 9th.
Chairman Myers adjourned the meeting at 7:45 p.m.
Town of Front Royal prepares for its 2nd, oh wait – 3rd winter storm of season
On January 14, 2022, the operations team that includes Public Works, Energy, Fleet Management, Finance, and the Police Department met to discuss the upcoming snowstorm forecast to drop from 6 inches to a foot or more of snow here. Public Works crews are treating primary roads now in preparation for the winter storm now predicted to begin around 1 p.m. on Sunday. Road crews and Fleet will begin working 12-hour shifts over the weekend to continue treating streets and plowing snow as needed.
The Police Department is asking citizens to stay off the roads during the storm if possible. Road crews are better able to cover streets with less traffic. The Town is asking residents to use off-street parking this weekend if available.
Town Energy Services crews are prepared and will be working this weekend to cover possible power outages. Power outages after work hours should be reported to Front Royal Police at (540) 635-2111. If you have internet connectivity during working hours, please report outages at frontroyalva.com/FormCenter.
As always in an emergency call 911.
Public Works and Energy Services also have contractors on standby if additional crews are needed.
The Virginia Department of Transportation Staunton District is preparing for forecasted snow and some sleet to occur during the daytime on Sunday, January 16, and into overnight hours, ending by early Monday, January 17. VDOT crews began brine operations at 8 a.m. on Friday, January 14 and will conclude this work later in the day.
In the Staunton District, around 900 – 920 pieces of equipment will be deployed for snow removal operations. VDOT crews will be out to plow and treat roads as the winter weather begins. Wreckers will be pre-staged to assist with vehicle removal at traffic crash locations along interstate roads. Tree crews are ready to assist as needed during and after the storm.
Travel during the storm should be avoided and local forecasts should be monitored. Winter weather with wind and snow rates can change quickly, causing dangerous driving conditions and possible white-out situations.
Travelers should be prepared for emergencies. Travel emergency kits can include flashlights and batteries, ice scraper, cell phone and charger, jumper cables, blankets or quilts, first aid kit, bottled water, non-perishable food, abrasive material for traction, and a shovel.
(The Front Royal Public Information Office updated its release on the above preparations to acknowledge this will be the third, rather than second snow of the season to hit the town.)