Connect with us

Local Government

Holloway says too early to discuss Beer Museum legal challenge

Published

on

The Front Royal Town Council hurried through a brief open-meeting agenda – then there were those ongoing closed session EDA debt service issues. Photos by Roger Bianchini, Video by Mark Williams, Royal Examiner.

A perhaps record-setting for brevity 10-minute long regular meeting of the Front Royal Town Council on Monday, February 11, saw an approval, an appointment and adjournment to closed session – a closed session that went on over an hour.

The closed session discussion was of two items requiring private legal counsel regarding “legal mechanisms related to handling potential debt service related to prior and current budget years with respect to the Economic Development Authority”.

During the regular meeting, appointed unanimously to the Urban Forestry Advisory Committee was Jason Lamb; and approved unanimously was a requested revision of proffers by BMW Real Estate LLC for development of a vacant property across John Marshall Highway from Royal Lane at the southeastern entrance into town.

No announcement was forthcoming following the closed session, which included EDA Interim Executive Director John Anzivino and EDA Attorney Dan Whitten, as well as 2 East Main Street LLC architect Jim Burton. The second closed session agenda item involved the Afton Inn property which the 2 East Main Street group is redeveloping.

However, of particular interest was one item that did not make the agenda. Newly-installed Councilman Chris Holloway, a former councilman and vice mayor, cast a lone vote not to add a third closed session item – discussion with legal counsel of David Downes’ Friday filing of a court petition seeking a legal reversal of council’s 4-2 vote denying his request for an off-street parking exemption for his Virginia Beer Museum.

Eugene Tewalt made the motion to add the third closed session item, which as a last-minute addition required a unanimous vote of approval. Queried about his vote keeping the item from being added to the closed session agenda, which drew a surprised glance from Mayor Hollis Tharpe, Holloway said he didn’t believe the discussion was necessary at this point. He noted council had just received information on the filing and observed that as of Monday evening the Town had yet to be served with Downes’ court petition.

Chris Holloway was in no mood to discuss a legal challenge of one of his first majority votes back on council.

As previously reported by Royal Examiner, Downes filing claims the January 14, 4-2 negative vote reversing a December 10, 4-3 vote of approval of the parking exemption request singled Downes out unconstitutionally as “a class of one without any rational basis for treating similarly situated property owners differently that own (a) other art galleries and museums in Town; (b) other properties on the west side of Chester Street between East Main Street and Peyton Street, and (c) other properties on Main Street and Jackson Street that are in the same revitalization area of downtown Front Royal.”

Virginia Beer Museum owner petitions court to overturn parking exemption denial

On January 14 Holloway joined Eugene Tewalt, Gary Gillespie and Bill Sealock in forming that 4-2 majority vote denying Downes’ parking exemption request (Meza and Letasha Thompson voted for approval). That vote reversed a December 10, 4-3 vote approving the request – Sealock, Meza, Morrison, Tharpe for, Tewalt, Connolly, Gillespie opposed.

Asked by the media whether he would consider changing his negative vote as the meeting adjourned to closed session, Holloway said, “I can’t be bullied into changing my vote.”

See all 10 minutes of this believed-to-be historically short regular meeting in this Royal Examiner video:

Local Government

April 15: A heavy and potentially costly town work session agenda

Published

on

Vice-Mayor William Sealock chairs his first meeting following Mayor Tharpe’s self-imposed administrative leave. Royal Examiner Photos/Roger Bianchini

On Monday evening the Front Royal Town Council gathered for the first time without Mayor Hollis Tharpe present in the wake of his self-imposed administrative leave pending resolution of a misdemeanor solicitation of sexual contact charge. See Related Story:

As press releases fly, plot thickens in Tharpe sex solicitation case

Vice-Mayor William Sealock did an admirable job in keeping a multi-faceted work session with a variety of crucial topics to be discussed moving toward council consensuses on courses of action.

Among those topics crucial to the Town’s economic, utility and infrastructure future were:

1 – a controversial Crooked Run West request for the extension of Town central water-sewer service to an altered North Corridor mixed residential-commercial development planned outside the town limits;  a 5-1 consensus, Meza dissenting, against extension of Town water-sewer service to the planned Crooked Run West project, particularly considering the developer wants in-town service rates for as many as 1,025 residential units and the Town is committed to providing water-sewer service to over one thousand planned homes inside the town limits. While acknowledging that the county board of supervisors has yet to weigh in, it was noted that the county planning commission has just recommended denial of the necessary rezoning to facilitate the Crooked Run West project which would require alterations to both county and town comprehensive plans.

2 – funding variables that could see the Town lose as much as $800,000 in VDOT grant ($650,000) and ITFederal-committed money ($150,000) to Phase One of the West Main Street Extended project (OUCH!); with dramatic reductions – one 10,000 square-foot building to be marketed as rental space resulting in perhaps as few as 10 jobs – from what was announced by then Sixth-District U.S. Congressman Robert Goodlatte in 2015 as Truc “Curt” Tran and ITFederal’s $40-million investment creating 600 or more, high-paying tech jobs by which a VDOT Economic Development Access Grant of $650,000 was qualified for; and Tran’s decision not to relocate ITFederal to the town site perhaps negating his $150,000 commitment to the project, the Town’s anticipated costs of about $300,000 for Phase One of the western connector road could climb to the full price of over a million dollars;

3 – continued discussion of how long a bond issue, 20 or 30 years, and consequent annual debt service – estimated at $691,548 at 20 years and $563,822 for 30 years – to take on to pay off construction of the new Front Royal Police Department headquarters now planned for occupancy by May; while a consensus favored the shorter 20-year bond term that would save significant money in the long term, the immediate reality of almost $130,000 of additional annual debt service to achieve those savings was decisive in achieving a staff and council consensus for the 30-year bond issue;

4 – final details and conditions of the Special Use Permit for United Parcel Service’s expanded overflow parking lot at its town distribution center; the UPS overflow parking lot permit will be forwarded for approval with the nine conditions recommended by the planning commission, including limits on the hours when the lot can be used for truck loading and unloading and parking of the larger trucks in proximity to nearby residences among other restrictions the applicant agreed to;

UPS want to expand parking – needs special use permit

5 – Councilman Jacob Meza’s suggestion the Town hire outside legal counsel to represent it regarding council’s FOIA request for EDA forensic audit materials and any consequent litigation that might become necessary; by a 5-1 consensus, Meza again the odd man out, the Town will not take on the additional expense of outside counsel regarding the EDA audit FOIA and the Town’s financial position regarding the EDA, including the finance director’s discovery of nearly a decade of debt service overpayments of more than $291,000 to the EDA. Asked if he needed legal assistance at this point in the process, Town Attorney Doug Napier replied, “No.”

6 – and direction for administrative staff on how hard a line to draw against Comcast’s plan to close its Front Royal Customer Service Center on North Royal Avenue on June 1st while seeking a new franchise agreement for cable service and utility pole use in town. The existing agreement expired on May 13, 2018. Council concurred with Town Manager Joe Waltz that a hard line should be taken to prevent Comcast from closing what was described as a heavily-used customer service center. Waltz told council Comcast officials said the town closing is part of a business model change in which five or six such local customer service centers are planned for closing.

Meza again bucked the consensus, saying, “I don’t want to lose Comcast – they’re restructuring; it’s a change in their business model.” While Waltz agreed with the business model observation, he again pointed to the heavy local use of the center, noting many town citizens use cash to pay bills that way. The town manager said a new RFP could be issued to put the cable franchise up to bid; but suggested that Comcast might have “too much inventory here” to just pack up and leave.

While Waltz said Comcast has taken the stance that the closing is non-negotiable, he believes maintaining the Front Royal service center should be a key point in the franchise agreement  negotiation.“Tell them to take their lines and cable and move on,” Councilman Tewalt suggested if the non-negotiable stance was maintained.

Stay tuned to your favorite local cable access station for further updates; – and watch the Royal Examiner videos for each topic discussion from the April 15 town council work session.

Gene Tewalt, left, suggests colleague Jacob Meza, right, hold up on suggesting added infrastructure and personnel costs without an identified need or revenue stream to cover long-term expenses

Councilwoman Letasha Thompson and Meza spar over immediate and long-term cost priorities.

Continue Reading

Local Government

Board of Supervisors: Public presentations, reports from board members, administrator & attorney

Published

on

Chairman Dan Murray askes for patience and prayers. Photo and video by Mark Williams, Royal Examiner.

The April 16th meeting of the Warren County Board of Supervisors started with comments from the public and then moved to reports from the Board, County Administrator and County Attorney.

Supervisor Tom Sayre said, “Today is a good day for those that seek the truth. That’s all. Mr. Chair.” Supervisor Archie Fox said, “The scandal at the EDA is enormous and it’s going to take a long time for the investigations, lawsuits and criminal prosecutions to finish before we know the full magnitude of the wrongs done.” Fox also provided some suggestions for oversite of the EDA. He went on to say, “Honest government requires transparency and that can’t happen if everything is confidential and not yet available for scrutiny. There are sound reasons for some closed board deliberations but that should be an exception, not the rule.”

Chairman Dan Murry expressed concerns for our community and said, “Nothing would make me happier than see somebody in handcuffs going in the RSW Jail.” He also asked for patience and prayers. County Administrator Doug Stanley issued an apology. He said, “I do want to offer my apologies to the community, this board and staff for the excerpts of a 2014 email chain that was released last week. The email included what was intended to be a funny reference to a movie line but included some very insensitive, vulgar language. I went entirely too far for what I intended to be a joke. I reached out to the persons referring to in my comments and offered my serious apologies.” He went on with his report and mentioned several new businesses looking to located in our community.

Royal Examiner’s camera was there. Watch and see the complete remarks and reports:

Continue Reading

EDA in Focus

Busy week for EDA: Appointments, Town FOIA, director hunt, bond issue

Published

on

Monday’s special meeting quorum and two surviving staff members – Royal Examiner Photos/Roger Bianchini

On Monday morning, April 15, at the first of two special meetings of the Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority Board of Directors called this week secretary and assistant secretary appointments were made. A three-member quorum – only five of the seven board seats are currently occupied – voted to appoint Ed Daley, in his absence, as secretary; and Vice-Chairman Bruce Drummond took on the duty of assistant secretary. Present were Chairman Gray Blanton, Drummond and Treasurer Tom Patteson, along with Interim Executive Director John Anzivino and Attorney Dan Whitten.

As literally everyone in Warren County not in a coma now knows, the FBI and State Police swooped in Tuesday to search the EDA headquarters and remove some items related to criminal investigations stemming from the EDA forensic audit and consequent civil litigation seeking the return of over $17 million in allegedly embezzled or misappropriated EDA assets.

A coordinated – well, as coordinated as possible – April 17 press perusal of the front portion of the EDA office during Wednesday’s closed session indicated that the computer hard drive and a cell phone previously seen in former Executive Director Jennifer McDonald’s still-locked down office were no longer on her desk. EDA officials would not confirm whether any of the office printers had been removed by law enforcement the previous day.

Above, EDA Attorney Dan Whitten and Board member Greg Drescher oversee a school staff tech person locking down outside access to the executive director’s computer upon announcement of her resignation on Dec. 20, 2018. Below, a somewhat emptier desk in the still locked-down office the day after FBI-VSP search of EDA headquarters.

Wednesday’s special meeting closed session was called to discuss candidates in the running to succeed Interim Executive Director John Anzivino on a permanent basis, or at least as permanent as such things may be. Returning to open session the board quorum of four – up by one from Monday with the addition of Mark Baker – resolved to continue the process of selecting its new executive director.

During a brief discussion with media following adjournment Anzivino declined to speculate on when an appointment might be announced. Previous EDA board discussion indicated a desire to have a permanent director in place in May. Anzivino indicated the field had been narrowed to three from which to choose.

While declining to give any detail on the previous day’s search by federal and state law enforcement, Anzivino reiterated that the EDA will continue to cooperate in the criminal investigation related to information uncovered by the forensic audit of EDA finances underway since mid-September 2018.

Anzivino also said that from personal observation work appears to be continuing on the building on the ITFederal site. ITFederal and its principal Truc “Curt” Tran are among the nine defendants named in the EDA civil litigation seeking recovery of allegedly misappropriated EDA assets. While stating he no longer plans to relocate ITFederal to the 30-acre parcel at the Royal Phoenix Business Park sold to him for one dollar, he has indicated a plan to rent space in the building under construction out.

A road to where? – Phase One of the West Main St. connector was authorized with a three-building ITFederal complex generating 600 high-paying tech jobs promised by Congressman Bob Goodlatte on 30 acres gifted by the EDA for one dollar to get the re-development ball rolling at the former Superfund site. Recent FIOA information indicates Goodlatte asked for the $10-million EDA loan to Tran and ITFederal.

Positive PR

During the open portion of Monday’s special meeting Board Chairman Gray Blanton broached the idea of getting an accounting of current business the EDA is engaged in as a positive counterpoint to the heavily-publicized scandal revolving around the alleged embezzlement of EDA assets discovered by a lengthy, six months and counting and $760,000 and climbing forensic audit of EDA finances.

Anzivino said he would prepare a press release summarizing property maintenance, project development, and tenant recruitment, including the U.S. Census Bureau for a training center.

Town FOIA request

Also on Monday Vice-Chairman Drummond asked if the town government was going to get its formally requested copy of the forensic audit that has thus far resulted in the filing of civil litigation seeking recovery of that minimum $17.6 million in EDA assets said to have been moved for personal benefit during Jennifer McDonald’s directorship and oversight of EDA finances.

Chairman Blanton responded that he saw no reason the Town shouldn’t get a copy.

However, EDA Attorney Dan Whitten cited a semantical issue with the Town request, which had initially been stated as for the “final report” which Whitten pointed out does not yet exist. The forensic audit continues to develop, so no “final” version is available.

As previously reported, it has been noted that thus far only the EDA Board of Directors has seen the written updates of the forensic audit and Anzivino confirmed that once those drafts of the Mueller Report, I mean the Cherry Bekaert Report have been reviewed by the EDA board they have been shredded.

Following Wednesday special meeting Anzivino said he thought his Tuesday meeting with Town Attorney Doug Napier and Town Finance Director B. J. Wilson went well, and that the semantical issues would be worked through to try and accommodate the Town’s request to be kept abreast of the information thus far available from the forensic audit.

And a bond issue

Following adjournment of the approximately 15-minute Monday meeting, the board broke before reassembling at 11 a.m. for a joint signing of the approximately $11 million bond issue on three capital improvement projects. Those projects are renovations at Ressie Jeffries Elementary School and on county and school space at the Health and Human Services complex in the old middle school building on 15th Street; and construction of the new Rivermont Fire Station.

County Board Chairman Dan Murray joined Blanton and Drummond in signing the documents, with county and school administration staff present, as well as Sands-Anderson bond counsel Dan Siegel.

From left above, Dan Murray for the County and Gray Blanton and Bruce Drummond for the EDA sign off on bond issue for three capital improvement projects as Tom Patteson and Greg Drescher chat in background. Below from left, Drescher, bond counsel Dan Siegel and Doug Stanley chat as Bruce Drummond seated, peruses the paperwork.

Continue Reading

Local Government

UPS want to expand parking – needs special use permit

Published

on

At the Front Royal Town Council Work Session on April 15, 2019, Vice Mayor Bill Sealock started the meeting with the announcement the Mayor Hollis Tharpe has taken a “leave of absence” while he deals with legal issues. He will not receive pay while on voluntary leave.

Also Town Manager Joe Waltz announces the “almost” completion of the new Police Department building. Moving operations to the new building will start the week of April 27th.

The first item on the agenda is the application from UPS to establish a commercial parking lot for overflow parking for the UPS Distribution Center at 912 John Marshall Highway. The area is located in the rear parking area of 470 S. Commerce Ave, situated to the northwest of the existing UPS Distribution Center, behind the existing business park, and to the west of the end of Portsmouth Road.

This application is a request to obtain approval for a commercial parking lot for use by the UPS Distribution Center as an overflow parking lot. Commercial parking lots require a Special Use Permit (SUP) in the C-1 Zoning District. Note: A use is a commercial parking lot when the parking is a stand-alone use, in comparison to accessory parking for permitted uses on the same lot.

UPS leases the property from the property owner, Puja Properties LLC, and has been doing so for a long time – allegedly since the late 1980s. This application is a response of Town Staff notifying UPS that they were in violation of the Town Code by using the property for truck parking because they have no prior approval and the Town Code requires a Special Use Permit for both commercial parking lots and distribution centers in the C-1 Zoning District. A use can not be grandfathered unless it was originally legal when established.

The Town is authorized to require a special use permit for certain uses within any zoning district under Virginia Code §15.2-2286. Some specific uses are granted protection from regulation from localities by the Virginia Code, including agriculture uses, small scale conversion of biomass to alternative fuel, certain residential uses, private tents, farm wineries, assisted living facilities, and group homes. These exempted uses are not applicable with this application.

The Planning Commission originally reviewed the UPS SUP during their November 28, 2019 Planning Commission meeting, but action was postponed at the request of the applicant. UPS revised their proposal to include a residential style fence as a buffer between the tractor trailer parking area and the residential subdivision to the north and east. During their January 19, 2019 meeting, the Planning Commission voted to NOT recommend approval of this Special Use Permit Application. This decision was reached after consideration of input from the public and the revised plan submitted by UPS. While other concerns were noted, the primary unresolved issue was related to noise, and particularly noise during late night hours.

On February 13, 2019, prior to the Town Council Work Session following the Planning Commission’s hearing, UPS met with Town Staff and the Mayor and presented major changes to their application. The most significant proposed change included the removal of tractor trucks and trailers from the property.

During the February 19, 2019 Town Council Meeting, Town Council referred the application back to the Planning Commission to provide comments on the change. The Planning Commission held a public hearing on March 20, 2019. After receiving public input, the Planning Commission discussed the need for a fence after the change that restricts tractor trailers. The Planning Commission did not believe a fence was necessary with the restriction of tractor trucks and trailers. In response to public input, the Applicant offered to not park the delivery trucks adjacent to the residential subdivision, which was agreed upon by the Planning Commission. A motion was unanimously passed that recommended approval of the Special Use Permit with the following nine (9) conditions:

  1. This special use permit is only valid for the purpose of authorizing a commercial parking lot in the rear of 470 S Commerce Avenue.
  2. Town Council, or other designated representative, may inspect the property at any reasonable time to ensure compliance with local regulations, including, but not limited to, the conditions placed on this special use permit.
  3. Upon inspection of the property, if it is found that the property is not in compliance with local regulations, including but not limited to, the conditions of this special use permit, the Town may revoke this special use permit after notice to the applicant and public hearing.

NOTE: Conditions 1-3 are typical conditions used for most Special Use Permit Applications.

Council agreed to place on the agenda at the next Council meeting on April 22nd.

Royal Examiner’s camera was there at the work session. Watch the discussion:

Continue Reading

Local Government

Mayor Tharpe charged and released on recognizance, AG ordered investigation October 2018

Published

on

Front Royal Mayor Hollis L. Tharpe, 67, appeared in Warren County Circuit Court to face charges on Monday (April 15) upon being indicted by a Warren County grand jury on one misdemeanor count of solicitation of sexual conduct (18.2-346).

According to Virginia State Police spokesperson Corrine Geller, the charge stems from an investigation initiated in October 2018 by the Virginia State Police at the direction of the Office of Attorney General Mark R. Herring. The incident remains under investigation. Tharpe was released by a magistrate on his own recognizance.

Monday morning Tharpe placed himself on voluntary and temporary administrative leave from his mayoral duties for the Town while he deals with legal issues. He will not receive pay while on voluntary leave.

Court documents filed online Friday, April 12, 2019, indicated that Hollis Tharpe was poised to be indicted for “solicitation of prostitution” by a Warren County grand jury Monday afternoon (April 15).

The date of the alleged offense – case number CR19-000-290-00 – is May 31, 2018, and involves a visit to a local massage parlor.

Asked about the charge Saturday evening, April 13, Tharpe said, “It’s embarrassing – but it’s a baseless charge.”

Tharpe declined further comment pending conversations with an attorney. However, he said at the time he did not foresee the charge impacting his service as mayor of Front Royal in the immediate future – “I am an elected official,” he pointed out.

When queried about a criminal investigation aimed his way revealed when Warren County Commonwealth’s Attorney Brian Madden recused himself on August 30, 2018, from involvement in any potential prosecution of the Front Royal mayor, Tharpe expressed confusion.

“I can’t find anything out – no one has called; no one has threatened to take me to court. If someone would pick up the phone and call me, I could say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ – but I guess the system doesn’t work that way,” Tharpe lamented of the informational vacuum he was operating in.

The mayor asserts the charge is “baseless” and is a case of “being in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

Winchester Commonwealth’s Attorney Marc Abrams was appointed by the court to replace Madden on the prosecutorial side were charges filed from the investigation into Front Royal’s mayor.

Vice Mayor William Sealock will preside over council meetings in the mayor’s absence.

Continue Reading

Local Government

Warren County Planning Commission denies Crooked Run West LLC rezoning

Published

on

Photo and Video by Mark Williams, Royal Examiner.

At the Warren County Planning Commission meeting on April 10, 2019, the Crooked Run West LLC requested an amendment to the Future Land Map in the Warren County Comprehensive Plan to change their properties from “Commercial” to”Mixed Use Development. Also they requested  to amend the Warren County Zoning Map and rezone some Commercial and Agricultural acres to Suburban Residential. Their third request was for a conditional use permit for a planned residential development.

The public spoke and and Commission listened. With a 2 to 1 vote (two members not present) voted to deny all of the requests. This could go to the Board of Supervisors for final action. One consideration really not mentioned is water. In the current agreement the County has with the Town (who has the water) no residential uses are permitted. So will they make changes to the agreement? This may be brought up at the next Town Council meeting. Stay tuned.

Royal Examiner’s camera was there – watch the discussion:

Continue Reading

King Cartoons

Upcoming Events

Apr
20
Sat
10:00 am Humanity Day @ Main Street Gazebo
Humanity Day @ Main Street Gazebo
Apr 20 @ 10:00 am – 5:00 pm
Humanity Day @ Main Street Gazebo
This Saturday, April 20th, will be the 1st Annual Humanity Day sponsored by SONA Bank and the Habitat for Humanity. The event will take place at the Gazebo on Main Street in Front Royal from[...]
1:00 pm Dawn McCarty – Book Signing @ Royal Oak Bookshop
Dawn McCarty – Book Signing @ Royal Oak Bookshop
Apr 20 @ 1:00 pm – 4:00 pm
Dawn McCarty - Book Signing @ Royal Oak Bookshop
Thanks to the efforts of VGSR volunteers, Mickie was surrendered to the rescue and started a new adventure. Mickie was very special and it was not because of his feet. He was a fabulous companion[...]
1:00 pm Jeff Ryan – Book Signing @ Royal Oak Bookshop
Jeff Ryan – Book Signing @ Royal Oak Bookshop
Apr 20 @ 1:00 pm – 5:00 pm
Jeff Ryan - Book Signing @ Royal Oak Bookshop
Author, speaker, photographer and avid hiker Jeff Ryan was born and raised in Maine. His love of the outdoors was evident early in life. He was skiing at the age of three and spending at least[...]