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Liaison Committee reports: Tourism, new corridor restaurants, and the Class of 2020’s graduation plight

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The Town of Front Royal-Warren County Liaison Committee shared updates on several topics of mutual interest at its meeting of Thursday, July 16. Present for the county government hosting the meeting at the Warren County Government Center caucus room were Board of Supervisors Vice-Chair Cheryl Cullers, filling in for Chairman Walt Mabe, and North River Supervisor Delores Oates. The two county supervisors were accompanied by outgoing County Administrator Doug Stanley, soon-to-be Interim County Administrator Ed Daley and Board Clerk Emily Ciarrocchi as recording clerk.

Representing the Town were Mayor Gene Tewalt and Vice-Mayor Bill Sealock, accompanied by Interim Town Manager Matt Tederick, and for the meeting-opening report on new public meeting video contractor Swagit Productions Systems LLC, IT Director Todd Jones.

The Town-County Liaison Committee gets down to business at 6 p.m. Thursday evening in the WCGC Caucus Room. Royal Examiner Photos/Roger Bianchini – Royal Examiner Video/Mark Williams

Other topics of discussion were the status of: Tourism Promotion as the Town leads the County into private-sector management of the community’s Tourism marketing strategies and operations; Happy Creek Road improvements;

And on the County side: a Development Review Committee report on various projects underway; ongoing tweaks to the Building Inspection Software allowing remote access on applications designed to streamline the process for contractors working in the County; and County projects inside the town limits.

Tourism and Marketing

On the Tourism side, Tederick noted the contracting of the Norfolk-based “Strategic Solutions by Tricia, LLC”, on a short-term, 90-day basis.

“They’re going to be assisting the Town on the business recovery efforts with a primary focus on tourism marketing. The idea was to kind of have them fill the gap before the Front Royal-Warren County Joint Tourism Advisory Committee is really up and running,” Tederick told his County counterparts.

The interim town manager said a second meeting phone conference with the company “to try and give them greater direction” was scheduled Friday, July 17.

“Kerry has some really good ideas that we’d like to see implemented in the next 90 days,” Tederick added of Joint Tourism Advisory Board Vice-Chairman Kerry Barnhart. Vibe Properties partner Barnhart has taken the lead for the Joint Advisory Committee in researching the “metrics” and interactive “synergies” surrounding tourism marketing options and strategies.

Matt Tederick, center right, explains the process of moving forward with Tourism development and marketing.

“We were assuming we were going to be the fiscal agent and have the money run through. If the County doesn’t like that idea, then I don’t think it matters from the town council’s perspective,” Tederick said of his reason for having Tourism on the Liaison Committee agenda. He suggested an MOU (Memorandum of Understanding) between the municipalities “so we know how and when we’re going to disburse funds for tourism”.

Questioned after the meeting about the new tourism management contractor’s impact on Visitors Center staff and operations, Tederick said the Visitors Center would remain open, but at a reduced staffing level he attributed to reduced visitation due to the COVID-19 pandemic emergency response impacts on travel and tourism.

“Last week there was hardly anybody who came to the Visitors Center,” Tederick observed, adding, “So, two part-time people are going to be laid off; we’re keeping two part-time and the Tourism Coordinator, Tim Smith.”

Doug Stanley led the committee through the County side of the agenda and thanked town officials, including the mayor and interim town manager for their support over his years in county government.

In his last weeks on the job after being “involuntarily” separated from the county administrator’s job he has held for two decades, Doug Stanley thanked town officials with whom he has worked over the years who were present for their support in what was likely his last face-to-face meeting with them. And he gave an update on progress on construction of Chipotles and Five Guys restaurants in the North Corridor Riverton Commons Shopping Center, among other projects including the new hospital off Leach Run Parkway and a Harbor Freight moving into the old Big Lots space vacated by the latter’s move into the old Food Lion building.

What about graduation?!?

And speaking of COVID-19 pandemic impacts – we were at the end of the Tourism update – an unscheduled discussion on on-again, off-again plans for a live graduation ceremony for the two high schools’ 2020 graduates broke out near the meeting’s end.

“I have issues, well I’m a parent. So, this is Delores the parent, not Delores the supervisor,” Oates began after Cullers broached the topic. “This is an accomplishment that only happens once in a lifetime. And to minimize it drives me crazy because we had a protest six weeks ago where a thousand people were in the street and went into Bing Crosby Stadium. So, what’s the difference between Bing Crosby Stadium and Skyline’s football stadium,” Oates asked of the potential for a properly social distanced, outdoor graduation event.

Delores Oates, the parent, bemoans Class of 2020 graduates seemingly lost collective experience of that graduation.

“You use your common sense – you do what you need to do, but you let the kids have the experience that they’re only going to have once in their lifetime,” Oates added, noting that she had expressed her unhappiness at the move to cancel graduation activities to the Warren County School Board.

“Many of those children will never graduate from anything else; go off to a trade or whatever. So, it’s a big accomplishment,” Tederick observed of high school graduation’s significance in all people’s lives as they transition from childhood to adulthood.

In a lighter moment, Vice-Mayor Sealock’s videotaped prowess on the dance floor at the joint Warren-Skyline High prom event at Shenandoah Valley Golf Club was also acknowledged.

And Vice-Mayor Sealock, masked man foreground, asserted that he CAN hold his end up on the dance floor!

“Oh, he was getting it,” Oates observed as laughter erupted following Stanley’s description of Sealock patrolling the prom dance floor.

“I can do it,” Sealock asserted of his abilities on the dance floor.

See these discussions, their light and serious moments, and all the Liaison Committee’s Town and County updates in this Royal Examiner video:

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COVID-19 pandemic resource links, timelines, school schedules and long-term care facility reports

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Below are November 30, 2020 updates on relevant information to the community, including online resource contact information; public and private school schedules into 2021; local long-term-care facility information; and mid-term (completion in the next 3-months) and long-term (over 3 months completion) schedules of county and town resources and relief funding distribution reporting:

MID-TERM (scheduled completion in the next 3-months)

  1. Thermal Shelter:
  1. The Thermal Shelter opened November 1stat 7:00 pm, and will remain open until March 31, 2021.  Operational hours are 7:00 pm to 7:00 am, seven days a week at the Health and Human Services Complex – 465 W. 15th St., Front Royal, VA 22630.  Phone is (540) 892-6108.
  1. CARES ACT of 2020 (Emergency Coordinator) 
  1. Overall project coordinator is Rick Farrall, Emergency Coordinator
    1. Warren County’s total (first and second) allocation is $7,008,308 (based on population)
    2. County to withhold $100,000 to fund Chamber of Commerce request and audit
    3. County to withhold $300,000 to fund WCPS for 900 distance learning devices
    4. Balance of $6,608,308 to be “equitably distributed” between County and Town
  1. Warren County
    a. Allocation is $4,130,192 or 62.5% (estimated population of 25,000)
  2. Town of Front Royal
    a. Allocation is $2,478,116 or 37.5% (estimated population of 15,000)
    v. All funds must be expended in accordance with section 601(d) of the Social Security Act outlined in the CARES ACT (and current CARES ACT guidance)
    vi. See above timeline regarding the “equitable distribution” (allocation) of CARES ACT funds
    vii. Applied for the Voter Registrar CARES ACT (COVID-19) funding $58,965 (6/30)
  1. Treasurer.  Confirm receipt of funds, date – complete (o/a 8/21).

A County EM2 vehicle parked outside the WCGC in March as first round of local responses began coordinating with state directives. Royal Examiner File Photos by Roger Bianchini

LONG-TERM (scheduled completion over 3-months)

  1. FEMA Emergency Protective Measures (Category B) Reimbursement (Planning Department)
  1. Warren County.  Main lead is Taryn Logan, Planning Director
    i. All departments/staff send monthly expense update to Taryn NLT the last working day of each month
    ii. Approximate County expenditure to date is $475,000 (11/17)
  2. Town of Front Royal.  Main lead is B.J. Wilson, Finance Director
    i. Approximate Town expenditure to date is $70,000 (10/14)
  1. Long Term Care Facility Information (Emergency Coordinator)
  1. As of November 24, 2020:  Addressing Census, COVID-19 cases, Other Issues, PPE, and Staffing:
    i. Commonwealth Senior Living – Nothing Significant To Report (NSTR).
  1. Regular facility-wide testing; one staff member recently tested positive.
    ii. Fox Trails – NSTR.
  2. PPS complete.  Staff is tested bi-weekly.  Residents tested monthly.
  3. Conducting limited indoor visitation.
    iii. Heritage Hall – VDH reports an “outbreak” at the facility, effective 9/17/2020.
  1. Weekly testing continues until the “outbreak” is over.  Test 11/16; all negative.  Latest test 11/23; awaiting results.
  2. Admissions resumed on 11/20.
  3. So far, 37 of 37 residents tested positive for COVID-19; 29 recovered, 9 attributed deaths. Eight staff tested positive; all recovered/returned to work.
  4. There are no unmet needs at the facility at this time.
    iv. Hidden Springs – NSTR.
  5. Testing residents as required with kits on hand.
  6. Mandatory flu shots for all staff this year.
    v. Lynn Care – VDH reports an “outbreak” at the facility, effective 9/17/2020.
  7. Weekly testing continues.  Last test was 11/16-17; all negative.
  8. Currently, all residents and staff have tested negative.
  9. Residents will only be tested (now) if symptomatic.
  10. Note – CMS/State COVID-19 Survey completed; PPS complete.
    vi. Woods Cove – as of 11/16, one staff member that worked in the facility last Friday (11/13) tested positive for COVID.
  11. All residents and staff tested 11/19; all negative.
  12. Note – COVID incubation period ended o/a 7/31; PPS complete.
    vii. Shenandoah Senior Living – NSTR.
  13. Testing continues for new hires and residents who leave/return to the facility.
  14. Point Prevalence Survey complete.  Reporting staff is at minimum required level; trying to hire additional staff.
    viii. RSW Jail – VDH reports an “outbreak” at the facility, effective 10/19/2020.
  15. As of 11/11:  Currently, the last inmate to test positive/symptomatic was on 11/11.  The unit the inmate is housed on is expected to clear on 12/9.
  16. Note – all inmates/staff recovered from the COVID facility outbreak Friday, June 12; PPS complete.
    ix. Warren County Public Schools – NSTR.
  17. Currently, 65 students absent with symptoms and 59 in self-quarantine.  Staff – 18 staff absent with symptoms; 15 self-quarantined.  To date, 3 students and 8 staff tested positive.
  1. Distribution of four gallons of hand sanitizer to each facility is complete (4/27)
  2. New PPE guidance to Assisted Living Facilities sent out (5/7)

Above, gone but not forgotten – the COVID-19 testing tent that was initially set up at Valley Health’s Outpatient facility in Front Royal off Commerce Avenue a block down from the WCGC. Testing has moved to Valley Health’s Outpatient unit outside of town in the Riverton Commons Shopping Center. Below, county numbers from Nov. 26 – 4 days later there were 71 additional cases and one death reported in Warren County.

LOCAL AND REGIONAL “PHASE THREE” TIMELINE:

  1. Local and Regional “Phase Three” Timeline/Updates –
  1. December 1:  County Finance.  Submit appropriations and transfers list to Deputy Clerk.
  2. December 4:County Finance.  CARES ACT – NLT schedule CRF audit for late February 2021.
  3. December 4 (T):  Courthouse.  Next scheduled jury trial; pending State Supreme Court approval.  Courthouse is currently fully operational.
  4. December 8:  Warren County BOS.  Approve appropriations and transfers as appropriate.
  5. December 11 (T):Fire and Rescue.  Tentative County staff occupation of the new Rivermont Fire Station 2.
  6. December 11:  Planning Director.  Submit FEMA-B Grant Proposal to FEMA for related expenses through September 15, 2020.
  7. December 18 (T):County Treasurer/Finance.  CARES ACT – NLT transfer CARES ACT funds to County and Town as appropriate (pending documentation as appropriate)
  8. December 23:  Warren County Public Schools.  Holiday schedule begins.
  9. December 30:County and Town Staff.  CARES ACT – end of qualifying expense period (began March 1, 2020)
  10. December 31:Human Resources.  End of the Family First Care Act time period.
  1. CALENDAR YEAR 2021:
  1. January 4:  Randolph Macon Academy.  Students return from winter break.
  2. January 4:  Warren County Public Schools.  Students return from holiday break.
  3. January 4 (T):  Town of Front Royal.  Submit CARES ACT expenses (by category) to County for the time period 10/1/2020 to 12/31/2020 (complete).
  4. January 5 (T):  Warren County.  Submit CARES ACT expenses (by category) to State Department of Accounting for the time period 10/1/2020 to 12/31/2020.
  5. January 18 (T):  Christendom College.  Students return to campus for Spring semester.
  6. February 18 (T):  LEPC.  The next scheduled meeting is at 3:00 pm at the Public Safety Building.
  7. February 28 (T):County Finance/Auditor.  CARES ACT – NLT for internally funded CARES ACT fund audit to be complete (to be updated).
  8. March 12:Commonwealth.  The waiver of 18.2-422 of the Virginia Code is scheduled to expire (face coverings in public)
  9. TBD: Parks and Recreation facilities fully reopen.

COVID-19 INTERNET RESOURCES:

  1. Impact Planning for Localities (COVID-19):
  1. The below site produces a pretty neat Warren County graphic, if you haven’t seen it already.  It displays local hospital bed counts, population and business data, poverty information, etc.  The data appears to be fairly accurate.  Check it out here:
  2. https://business.maps.arcgis.com/apps/
  3. Just select the county/state in the upper right hand corner of screen, scroll down to Warren County and it will build a County graphic.
  4. This is not an official government site, but provides local information for reference.
  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)(COVID-19):
  1. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/
  1. Virginia Department of Health (VDH)(COVID-19):
  1. http://www.vdh.virginia.gov/surveillance-and-investigation.
  1. Warren County (COVID-19):
  1. https://www.warrencountyva.net/coronavirus, and the County of Warren, VA Facebook page
  1. Town of Front Royal (COVID-19):
  1. https://www.frontroyalva.com.
  2. Local COVID-19 Helpline (non-emergency):  (540) 622-0555
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Prince Edward County not likely to pull Lynchburg ‘about face’ on Stanley hiring

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Former Warren County Administrator Doug Stanley has landed a job in Prince Edward County that is not likely to be withdrawn after a social media onslaught by past critics as his first effort at post-Warren County employment was in the City of Lynchburg.

According to an October 27th story in “The Farmville Herald”, the Prince Edward County Board of Supervisors hired Stanley as County Administrator after a thorough investigation of his professional background, including his involuntary separation from his 20-year position as Warren County Administrator; and subsequent separation from Lynchburg City prior to his scheduled start date as county administrator there due to a past e-mail language controversy believed brought to the Lynchburg board by a past Stanley and Warren County government critic or critics.

Contacted about the report, Stanley confirmed the hire and a start date in mid-November. Stanley also indicated he had fully briefed his new employers on the dynamics of his July 8 separation agreement with Warren County and his aborted employment in Lynchburg.

“I started on November 16th.  I was up front with the Board about my tenure and exit from Warren. I would say that the Board did their homework and research on their own.”

The writing was on the wall for Doug Stanley, above, at a July 8 Special Meeting called by Board of Supervisors to facilitate an as neutral ‘involuntary separation’ as possible from the county administrator’s perspective. Below, Stanley supporters on staff who were present were warned ‘no cheers or tears (or signs once meeting started)’ or face removal by sheriff’s deputies. Royal Examiner File Photos by Roger Bianchini

Saying he was happy to get back to work after the extended break – his final day here was July 31st, Stanley added, “I want to thank the Prince Edward County Board of Supervisors for selecting me to be the next County Administrator. I am honored that the Board has entrusted me with this responsibility to lead the staff in carrying out the Board’s goals and vision.

“Prince Edward has a rich and culturally diverse history and is a community with tremendous potential. I look forward to working with each of the Board members, staff, the Town of Farmville, Hampden-Sydney College, Longwood University, and other community leaders in the coming years to broaden the local tax base, create employment opportunities, and improve the quality of life for the entire community.”

Following issuance of a press release on Stanley’s hiring, Prince Edward Board Chairman Jerry Townsend told “The Farmville Herald” the October 22 decision to hire Stanley was made after a thorough investigation of his time in Warren County and the allegations regarding his performance there, including during an evolving Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority financial scandal that surfaced in late 2017-early 2018.

“Mr. Stanley was very transparent and discussed with the board, in detail, the charges that had been brought against him and subsequently dismissed. The board has complete confidence that Mr. Stanley had no connection with any of the events that transpired in Warren County,” Townsend told The Farmville Herald.

Stanley, along with County-EDA Attorney Dan Whitten, all the sitting county supervisors and EDA Board of Director members were indicted on “misfeasance” misdemeanor charges by a Special EDA Grand Jury related to the emerging EDA embezzlement investigation. Misfeasance is defined as an unintentional act, in this case a lack of oversight of former EDA Executive Director Jennifer McDonald’s alleged behavior in spearheading a believed misdirection of EDA, Town and County assets.

Those charges brought under the English Common Law basis of Virginia legal codes were later ruled by the court not to be criminal acts by Virginia law and dropped against all the defendants.

It seems Stanley’s track record and 25-year professional history, the past 20 as Warren County administrator outweighed what many staff inside the Warren County Government Center saw as a public scapegoating of the past year or so that appeared to play into a newly elected, post-EDA scandal Warren County Board of Supervisors majority’s decision to seek his termination. It was a termination that appeared unpopular with Stanley’s co-workers inside the WCGC, many including department heads who showed up at the July 8 Special Meeting called to approve his involuntary separation agreement to show their support of the only county administrator most of them, and Warren County, had known this century.

With one of his earliest hires, Planning Director Taryn Logan to his left, Doug Stanley chats with county staff shortly after the July 8 Special Board of Supervisors Meeting to facilitate his removal from his county administrator’s position had adjourned to closed session. Staff, including several department heads, remained silently to observe Stanley’s departure agreed upon after a lengthy closed session.

“The board recognized that Mr. Stanley’s experience and leadership serving for over 20 years as county administrator of Warren County, as well as his accomplishments during that time, made him the standout amidst a field of very qualified candidates. Mr. Stanley has been a public servant his entire career, working in local government for over 25 years. He earned the respect of his employees and the community during his time in Warren County,” Townsend told Farmville Herald reporter Titus Mohler for the October 27th story.

And now following a recent weekend “Strategic Planning” session the Warren County Board of Supervisors will be considering two December 1 work session agenda goals related to the county administration’s future – “Improve employee morale in order to enable staff stability” and “Need to provide key leaders in order to provide stability and guidance to staff”. Previously such guidance and stability had to a great extent come from the former county administrator, who had been instrumental in the hiring process of the bulk of county department heads over the past 20 years.

In fact, Board Chairman Walt Mabe’s statement on Stanley’s departure in the July 8 press release following approval of the “Involuntary Separation Agreement” didn’t sound all that different from Prince Edward County Board Chair Jerry Townsend’s in welcoming Stanley aboard:

“We appreciate Mr. Stanley’s service to the Warren County community over the past 25 years. He has many wonderful accomplishments that have helped make Warren County a great place to live, work, and visit. We wish him the best as he continues with the next step in his career,” Mabe said on July 8.

After a three-and-a-half month “vacation” it appears that next step has begun.

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End of November update on COVID-19 pandemic local, state and national impacts

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On Monday, November 30, County Emergency Management Deputy Director Rick Farrall released the latest COVID-19 novel Coronavirus pandemic statistics for Warren County, the Lord Fairfax Health District of which we are a part, as well as state and national numbers. Since our last published report of Friday, November 13, less than three weeks ago, Warren County had recorded 174 new cases (to 859 from 685) and one death (to 26 from 25) attributed to the COVID-19 Novel Coronavirus. The lone fatality over the 18-day period reduced the county’s percentage of deaths-to-cases to 3.03%, from 3.65% on November 13. But that remains higher than the statewide ratio of deaths to cases that has hovered between 1.7% and 1.9% over the past month, or the national ratio of 2% to 2.3% over the same period.

Below are the county, health district, state and national numbers – nationally over 13.1 million cases (up 2.8 million from 10.3 million) and 265,166 deaths (up 24,097 from 241,069) dating to November 13. The U.S. has consistently registered around 20% to 23% of the world’s COVID-19 reported cases and deaths with 4% of the world’s population.

Above, County Deputy Emergency Services Director Rick Farrall briefs county officials on the status of the county’s pandemic response in late summer. Below, a Nov. 26 map of reported COVID-19 cases in the U.S., Central America and a portion of Canada. Royal Examiner File Photos by Roger Bianchini

Warren County COVID-19 Update November 30, 2020:

  1. Lord Fairfax Health District:  As of today (per the VDH website), there are 6,357 confirmed COVID-19 cases (Clarke 208, Frederick 2,228, Page 593, Shenandoah 1,403, Warren 859 (61 are/were hospitalized, 26 deaths attributed to the County; deaths 3.03% total cases), Winchester 1,066); the current status of these patients is unknown (admitted to hospital, discharged to home isolation/quarantine, departed the District/County).
  2. Commonwealth:  3,326,327 total people tested (PCR only); 237,835 total cases [7.5% positive rate (PCR only)]; 14,619 total hospitalized; 4,062 total deaths (1.71%total cases).
  3. United States:  As of November 29, 2020 at 1:32 PM, there are 13,142,997 total cases and 265,166 total deaths (2.02%total cases) attributed to COVID-19.

Current VDH Social Gatherings, and Holiday COVID-19 Related Guidance:

  1. https://www.vdh.virginia.gov/coronavirus/

Congregate Living Conference Call:

  1. There are currently three (3) COVID-19 outbreaks at County congregate living facilities.
  2. Expect the NEXT Congregate Living (Long Term care facilities, RSW Jail, and WCPS) teleconference call to be Tuesday (3 p.m. to 3:30 p.m.), December 1, 2020; invites and “Zoom” call-in instructions are posted, agenda to follow on the invitation.

COVID-19 Information as of November 25, 2020, at 5 AM:

  1. Lord Fairfax Health District:  As of today (per the VDH website), there are 5,652 confirmed COVID-19 cases: Clarke 187, Frederick 1,885, Page 565, Shenandoah 1,318, Warren 782 (57 are/were hospitalized, 25 deaths attributed to the County; deaths 3.20% total cases), Winchester 915); the current status of these patients is unknown (admitted to hospital, discharged to home isolation/quarantine, departed the District/County).
  2. Commonwealth:  3,213,866 total people tested (PCR only); 226,300 total cases [7.5% positive rate (PCR only)]; 14,312 total hospitalized; 4,008 total deaths (1.77%total cases).
  3. United States:  As of November 24, 2020 at 12:16 PM, there are 12,333,452 total cases and 257,016 total deaths (2.08%total cases) attributed to COVID-19.

viii.   RSW Jail – VDH reports an “outbreak” at the facility, effective 10/19/2020.

  1. As of 11/11:  Currently, the last inmate to test positive/symptomatic was on 11/11.  The unit the inmate is housed on is expected to clear on 12/9.
  2. Note – all inmates/staff recovered from the COVID facility outbreak Friday, June 12; PPS complete.

ix.   Warren County Public Schools – NSTR.

  1. Currently, 65 students absent with symptoms and 59 in self-quarantine.  Staff – 18 staff absent with symptoms; 15 self-quarantined.  To date, 3 students and 8 staff tested positive.

Above, County Board and COVID Emergency Management Team Chairman Walt Mabe has consistently asked for observance of social distancing guidelines and neighborly concern for more vulnerable citizens throughout the pandemic. Below, late November chart of daily reported COVID-19 cases across the Commonwealth reflecting a Phase 3 spike of over 2,000 new cases per day through mid-late November.

COVID-19 Information, as of November 18, 2020, at 5:02 AM:

  1. Lord Fairfax Health District:  As of today (per the VDH website), there are 5,115 confirmed COVID-19 cases (Clarke 167, Frederick 1,646, Page 535, Shenandoah 1,225, Warren 724 (53 are/were hospitalized, 24 deaths attributed to the County; deaths 3.32% total cases), Winchester 818); the current status of these patients is unknown (admitted to hospital, discharged to home isolation/quarantine, departed the District/County).
  2. Commonwealth:  2,983,430 total people tested (PCR only); 208,833 total cases [7.1% positive rate (PCR only)]; 13,707 total hospitalized; 3,860 total deaths (1.85%total cases).
  3. United States:  As of November 18, 2020 at 1:07 PM, there are 11,300,635 total cases and 247,834 total deaths (2.19%total cases) attributed to COVID-19.

COVID-19 Information, as of November 13, 2020:

  1. Lord Fairfax Health District:  As of today (per the Va. Dpt. of Health website), there are 4,674 confirmed COVID-19 cases (Clarke 149, Frederick 1,427, Page 524, Shenandoah 1,144, Warren 685 (50 are/were hospitalized, 25 deaths attributed to the County; deaths 3.65% total cases), Winchester 745); the current status of these patients is unknown (admitted to hospital, discharged to home isolation/quarantine, departed the District/County). Royal Examiner Note: Since October 6 in Warren County that is an increase of 225 cases (from 460) and 12 deaths, up from 13 deaths over the first nine months of the pandemic, as what has been described as a “Third Wave” pandemic contamination progresses nationally.)
  2. Commonwealth:  2,864,009 total people tested (PCR only); 199,262 total cases (up 45,571 from 153,691 cases on Oct. 6); [6.5% positive rate compared to 4.8% positive rate Oct. 6 (PCR only)], 13,408 total hospitalized; 3,785 total deaths (up 482 since Oct. 6 – 1.90%of total cases).
  3. United States:  As of November 12, 2020 at 12:16 PM, there are 10,314,254 total cases and 241,069 total deaths (2.34% total cases) attributed to COVID-19. (Royal Examiner Note: That compares to 7,436,278 cases (up over 2.8 million) and 209,560 deaths (up 31,509) since October 6.
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Council reconsiders Happy Creek work and weekend walking mall extension

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The Front Royal Town Council policy rollercoaster indicated a change of direction on two major fronts after hearing from citizens during opening public hearing comments at its Monday evening meeting of November 23. Those directions were first, a compromise on Happy Creek work originally slated to remove all vegetation from its bankside and naturally formed riparian (natural vegetative growth) buffer flood shelf to be replaced by large so-called riprap rocks from South Street to Prospect Street; and second, a reversal of the recent decision to extend the weekend closure of East Main Street to vehicular traffic through the end of the calendar year.

The downtown weekend walking mall topic was added to a work session following the meeting after three of four downtown business owners addressing the issue criticized council’s recent reversal of a plan to reopen East Main to vehicular traffic early this month. And following a somewhat dizzying work session discussion it appeared that without any permitted events scheduled for East Main in the next two weeks, the reopening to cars would begin this Thanksgiving Day weekend.

Above, work session discussion of weekend E. Main St. traffic closings; below, Mayor Tewalt and Vice-Mayor Sealock may be thinking, ‘Maybe Letasha knows what they’re trying to say.’ Royal Examiner Photos by Roger Bianchini – Royal Examiner Video by Mark Williams

The openness to a change of direction along Happy Creek at a prominent stretch of the Shenandoah Greenway Trail off Commerce Avenue on the town’s southside came after 11 of 11 speakers, many with environmental and natural landscaping professional backgrounds, belabored the council-approved plan enacted under the leadership of Interim Town Manager Matt Tederick.

Personnel announcements

And speaking of the interim town manager, following a closed meeting to discuss personnel matters it was announced that as of this coming Pearl Harbor Day, December 7th, after over a year Tederick will be interim town manager no more. It was a development Tederick hinted at earlier when he observed this might be his last meeting as town manager. It was an observation that drew a smattering of cynical applause from some present. Tederick has served as interim town manager since November 9, 2019.

Matt Tederick eyes the crowd after hinting that Monday’s meeting might be his last as interim town manager.

The first announcement out of a 33-minute closed session was the hiring of Steven Hicks as town manager, effective December 7 when council’s next meeting, a special meeting/work session, is scheduled. A press release on Hicks hiring and credentials was read into the record by Councilwoman Letasha Thompson. That release in its entirety is available on the Royal Examiner website. It was observed that council interviewed 80 candidates, rejecting an entire first round of candidates, prior to its decision to hire Hicks.

The second personnel matter addressed out of closed session was by Front Royal Police Chief Kahle Magalis. Referencing a social media controversy around the Twitter postings of an FRPD officer, Magalis announced that after a thorough investigation of the officer’s posts “corrective and punitive action” had been taken. But citing the officer’s clean personnel record and absence of complaints of a prejudiced nature in the exercise of his law enforcement duties over a lengthy tenure on the force, he will be retained by FRPD, likely with a defunct Twitter account.

FRPD Chief Magalis addresses the resolution of the officer Twitter account investigation as a critic of the department’s handling of the matter Samuel Porter appears to be recording with his cell phone in row three. Despite FRPD’s published statement to this media outlet regarding the seriousness with which it undertook its personnel investigation of the matter, Porter berated council due to his perceived lack of public information on the matter. Informed of the FRPD release to the media following his remarks, the FR Unites(?) principal lashed out at this reporter, ‘Not in the paper, put it out in the public like I just said – you heard me!’

About Happy Creek

In Tederick’s farewell meeting appearance as interim town manager, following the negative public comments on the Happy Creek project he repeated his November 9th meeting defense of the creek work based on the credentials of the CHA Inflow and Infiltration (I&I) consulting firm. However, that defense appeared to fly in the face of factual information on the project application and aftermath presented by environmental and landscaping professionals. Tederick did repeat blaming a town contractor for the cutting of trees over four inches in diameter, a contractor he noted had been terminated.

However, as has been commented in at least one Royal Examiner letter to the editor, some feel the contractor is being scapegoated for following vague or miss-stated directives from town officials on the project’s parameters.

Vice-Mayor Bill Sealock, who attended the Saturday informational “Save Happy Creek Coalition” meeting-protest at the impacted stretch of the creek bank set the tone for council’s apparent willingness to reverse course on what was called a misguided, counterproductive effort to repair the creek bank and improve flood control and hard-surface stormwater distribution into the creek.

‘I think we need to listen to these people,’ Vice-Mayor Sealock, above, said directly to Interim Town Manager Tederick and Public Works Director Boyer, sandwiching Town Attorney Napier below.

“Somebody asked me why did you go down (to Saturday’s “Save Happy Creek Coalition” event)? Well, I wanted to find out for myself. So, Mr. Town Manager and Mr. Boyer (Public Works Director), I’ve got one concern. I think we need to listen to these people. I think if we need an extension (of Dec. 31 deadline for completion of the project) then we should take care of that – let’s listen,” Vice-Mayor Sealock told involved staff and his colleagues of environmental concerns over the direction of the project.

Councilwoman Lori Cockrell added the town attorney to the creek controversy mix, saying she thought he should have informed council of town codes requiring consultation with advisory groups like the Tree Stewards and Urban Forestry Advisory Commission on Town work targeting the Town’s Tree City-based environment.

Sealock’s colleagues, save the absent Jacob Meza, generally appeared to agree a revisiting of the project was in the Town, its citizens’, and the future of the community’s Appalachian Trail-related tourist industry’s best interest.

Of the general lack of environmental expertise on council toward the Happy Creek work, Cockrell noted, ‘Some people think it’s pretty; some don’t.’ Below, Tom Dombrowski obviously falls into that latter group. Dombrowski told council of his overseeing similar work in Prince William County, that he would be ‘tar and feathered’ for undertaking such work without a major public informational and feedback period preceding it.

Other meeting and work session business

In the meeting’s two agenda action items, council first approved by a 5-0 vote the second and final reading of an EDA rezoning request on 62.7 acres of land adjacent to the Happy Creek Technology Park at the end of Progress Drive from Residential-1 to Industrial-1. The request was made to improve the state tier ranking and marketability of the property.

Also, by a 5-0 vote, council approved a Fiscal Year 2021 Budget Amendment of $31,732.15 to receive funds from the Virginia Risk Sharing Association to reimburse the Town for expenses incurred due to a water break on the Route 522 North Corridor near Fairgrounds Road.

In the scheduled work session agenda item, following a presentation by conference call from Finance Director B. J. Wilson, council agreed to authorize staff to initiate the process to apply for a state exemption to the ban on utility disconnections due to financial hardships from the COVID-19 Coronavirus pandemic. Wilson explained that the Town meets the exemption of being able to show delinquent accounts receivable in excess of 1% of its utility’s annual operating revenues.

In order to make the application, council authorized the advertisement for a public comments period on the exemption request. Mayor Tewalt suggested the advertisement meet the seven-day advance public hearing standard, even though as a non-public hearing, public comments opportunity, staff indicated a three-day advance advertisement should suffice. That public comments period will be added to a Special Meeting added to the scheduled December 7th work session at the Town Hall second-floor meeting room.

See all the public comments, council and staff discussions at both the meeting and work session in these Royal Examiner videos:


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Local Government

Citizen involvement works: Town Planning Commission recommends denial of special use permit

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The Front Royal Planning Commission met Wednesday, Nov 18, 2020, in their regular monthly meeting. There was a larger than usual attendance at the meeting, at which Vice Chairman Joseph McFadden’s seat was empty. This may be due to his election to a seat on the Town Council, in the Nov 3 town Election.

The agenda and the minutes of the Commission’s Oct 21 Meeting were approved, and Chairman Douglas Jones opened the floor for citizen comments, an opportunity for anyone to surface a planning issue that is not on a regular meeting agenda. There were none.

Town Planning Commission, down a member. Photos: Stephen Sill

The Chairman then opened discussions on the only public hearing scheduled for this meeting, to consider a request by local contractor Richard Spiewak to combine two lots into one in the Huffman Heights Subdivision in the 300 Block of Grand Avenue. The Director of Community Development and Planning, Timothy Wilson, briefed the commission on this proposal. The builder obtained two nonconforming legal lots that were 25’ wide and 217 Ft deep and wanted them to be consolidated into one 50’ wide lot, on which he is proposing to build a home. Mr. Wilson detailed the work the planning department had done in researching the request, including the Town Ordinance covering development on legally nonconforming lots. The standard for Residential lots for single-family homes (R-1) is 75’ in width and a minimum of 10,000 SF of area. The consolidated lots would be only 50’ wide but 11,035 SF in area. Staff found that the consolidation would tend to make the property more compliant but still not completely compliant, and under the ordinance would require Town Council approval.

The department also performed a standard comparison of properties in the area under the ordinance and found that the proposed dwelling has a finished floor square footage of 1,852, which exceeds the minimum required comparative house size by 745 SF. It is larger than 5 of the 14 homes in the review area. The staff deemed that the proposed structure is also consistent with comparative homes in terms of building orientation, scale, proportion, and site layout.

Mr. Wilson explained the formula in some detail related to minimum sizes and the approvals required for use of legally nonconforming lots. He also told the commissioners that the staff had received 5 letters regarding this proposal, all opposed, as well as a petition. There were 11 signatures on the petition from citizens living in the Huffman Heights subdivision. He stated that all letters and the petition had been distributed to the commissioners for their review, and will become part of the official record of the application, to be forwarded to Town Council with the Commission’s recommendation. That also includes the supporting or opposing comments made at the commission meeting in the meeting minutes.

Derrick Green, a Grand Avenue resident, cites chapter and verse.

Chairman Jones then opened the floor for public input and a very well-prepared neighborhood set of spokespeople responded. Derrick R. Green, by day employed as a Project Manager, seemingly moonlighting as a very capable lawyer, also a resident of the nearest property to the proposed site, calmly detailed his concerns about the project – Apparent violations of the Town Zoning ordinance, the consolidation of two legally nonconforming lots into one still-nonconforming lot, and the loss of sun exposure for his own property next door. He also alleged that the prior owners of both the property he had purchased and the two lots in question had split them off and sold them separately, causing deterioration in the equity and value of his home. Several properties in that subdivision included buffer lots between the homes to preserve green space and improve privacy.

Following Mr. Green’s comments, his wife Karissa issued a heartfelt statement – “We are absolutely heartbroken that we have to stand before you today to ask you to deny this permit” – and raised the issue of drainage from their property into the two lots in question, and that building a home there could cut off that drainage. She indicated that the two lots had been sold off separately with no notice to them when they would have gladly purchased them as part of the property.

Next to speak was Ray Ruhling, a Salem Avenue resident in the same subdivision expressed his opposition to the project. The subdivision’s minimum lot width was 75 ft. His objection was not to the style or size of the proposed dwelling, but the fact that it did not belong on that lot.

Richard Spiewak, the applicant, and owner of the two lots in question spoke to the commission. Spiewak is a local Class A building contractor who has done new construction and remodels in Front Royal for more than 15 years. As a member of the community in which he works, he’s happy to see his customers when shopping around town and stands behind any work he does. He had no preknowledge regarding the lots, they had simply come up on the market and he felt they would be a good opportunity. He took account of the sizes and styles of the surrounding homes and selected a plan that he felt fit well. He reminded the commission that soil and grading would be part of any site plan, his construction would take careful account of property lines and the street, and he would make sure proper drainage would be installed. Mr. Spiewak indicated he would be happy to work with the community to resolve any issues.

Pattie McHugh next addressed the commission with her concerns about the proposed dwelling’s proximity to its neighboring home, and the potential for draining problem due to the slope of the neighboring property. She also questioned the placement of the dwelling, extending 10 feet in front of the neighboring dwelling at 327. She felt parking could be a problem for residents of the new dwelling.

Finally, Mary Wood, a lifelong Front Royal resident, observed that there was not a good reason to utilize the two lots for that purpose. Other lots below it on that street might then be built on if the precedent is set.

Once these speakers had stated their views, the chairman closed the public hearing so the commissioners could discuss the proposal.

Commissioner Darryl Merchant asked Mr. Wilson and Mr. Napier for their comments on this issue: Normally a subdivision is platted with 50 ft lots, for example, Royal Village or Warren Park. In this case, there are two issues: one is the performance standard, and the other is the consolidation of two lots into one. Is the intent here is to create a new lot? Mr. Wilson indicated that one lot was being enlarged to 50 ft width and the other eliminated. It does not create a new lot. Mr. Merchant then noted that the performance standards included grading, but there was no engineering plan in the package. Mr. Wilson responded first that the use of grading and fill is common to most lots in that area. Second, that the special use permit was necessary to move forward with a zoning permit, and the engineering plan would be part of that. The staff views this as a compatibility determination. It does not excuse the applicant from any other requirement of the zoning permit process.

Town Attorney Douglas Napier advanced a question to Mr. Wilson and the Commission: In the November 16th letter from Mr. & Mrs. Green, they point out Town Code section 175-136 states that special use permits are not transferrable to another party. He asked if Mr. Wilson knew of any zoning official opinions whether the owner of the property, who is also the owner of the special use permit, were it to be approved by the Town Council, be able to transfer it to a third party? Such a restriction could be a problem for a bank loan, as it would be a “cloud” on the title. Mr. Wilson responded that he had only recently become familiar with this part of the code and was unaware of any practice like that. The special use permit should run with the property, not the owner. Not to allow that would mean that each time a property subject to a special use permit changed hands, it would require a new application, and the town has not done that nor had he seen any other town governments require it. Each new owner is obviously subject to the terms of the special use permit originally approved.

Commissioner Merchant made a motion to recommend denial of the special use permit. Second, Commissioner Marshner.

Commissioner Gordon commented that the Town attorney had raised an interesting question, and suggested the motion could be tabled to allow the Planning Director and Town attorney to research further, Finally, he indicated he supported the applicant’s proposal so would vote against the motion.

The chairman then requested a roll call vote. Yes: Commissioner Marshner, Chairman Jones, Commissioner Merchant. No: Commissioner Gordon

A very brief applause from the room as the Chairman announced that the Commission was recommending to the Town Council that the proposed permit be denied. There was some noise while the audience cleared after the announcement and Chairman Jones waited while the room cleared.

Under New Business, Commissioner Merchant asked the status of a process for amendments to the Comprehensive plan, as well as suggesting that at the next planning commission, the commission could begin forging ahead with finalizing the Town’s Comprehensive Plan update. He also asked about the status of the new membership criteria for the 5-member Planning Commission. Mr. Wilson said the Town Council was planning to address the Planning Commission membership at its December meeting.

Commissioner Marshner asked about the application procedure for membership on the Commission. Mr. Wilson said that applications were available through the Clerk’s office.

Commissioner Gordon asked if the commission could request a legal opinion concerning the special use permit and its transferability. He could foresee potential problems with it in the future if the language of the ordinance is as it appears. Mr. Wilson agreed to work with the Town attorney to discuss and bring back a legal opinion to the Commission.

There being no Commission member reports, the Chairman called for a motion to adjourn. The vote was unanimous.

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Local Government

COVID-related salary issues, emergency communications upgrades and AG land use draw supervisors’ attention

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It was a three-pronged meeting of the Warren County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday evening, November 17, under re-implemented, more stringent state social distancing guidelines as Phase 3 of the COVID-19 pandemic continues. Those prongs were: 1/ COVID-related staff bonuses and salary adjustments; 2/ a partial upgrading of emergency services radios to facilitate cross-jurisdiction communications; and 3/ several, including one sometimes contentious, public hearings on commercial uses in more remote rural Agriculturally zoned neighborhoods.

Above, once again every other row in the public seating section of the WCGC meeting room was roped off to maintain renewed social distancing standards as pandemic Phase 3 takes the U.S. toward a quarter-million dead from the COVID-19 virus. Below, the supervisors also maintained their distance. Royal Examiner Photos by Roger Bianchini – Royal Examiner Video by Mark Williams

Following an update by Planning Director Taryn Logan on Coronavirus-related expenditures by the County, several staff compensation requests related to pandemic-impacted or delayed salary adjustments were heard by the supervisors.

Those included two public hearing presentations by Human Resources Director Jodi Saffelle seeking approval of “One-Time Acknowledgment Pay for Non-Hazardous Duty Employees”; and a similar “One-Time Bonus for Compensation Board-Funded Sheriff and Sheriff’s Deputies”; and a related item, a Resolution of support for a “One-Time Hazard Pay” bonus for employees of the Sheriff’s Office and Fire & Rescue who were not covered by the Compensation Board-sworn positions public hearing request, was included in the Consent Agenda.

The one-time bonuses in all three of the above requests were $1,000 for full-time employees and $500 for part-timers.

Human Resources Director Saffelle also presented a non-public hearing request that implementation of a Compensation Plan Cost of Living (COLA) increase delayed this past year out of revenue projection concerns related to mandated cutbacks on business operations related to COVID-19 pandemic public health precautions enacted statewide and locally.

All the requests were approved by the board by 4-0 votes, Tony Carter absent. Approval of delayed COLA increases as the evening’s last agenda item, drew some applause from county staff still present.

Happy Creek Supervisor Tony Carter had a very socially distanced seat but was even more socially distanced than that.

The increases dependent on the time of hiring are 1.5% or 2.5%, the latter number for employees hired prior to October 1, 2019. The Human Resources Department summary of the request noted that the current Fiscal Year-2021 budget has a total of $580,000 set aside for the implementation of phases of the Compensation Plan. While the initial implementation was estimated at $614,165.73, the staff summary noted that the annual figure moving forward would be fluid as longer-term employees retire and are replaced by people further down the compensation scale. Savings will also be realized this fiscal year with implementation not occurring until December 1, five months into the fiscal year.

Not related to salaries but emergency services, was the approval of a request for a partial upgrade of the Fire & Rescue Department’s radio communications system. The request was reviewed in detail at a November 10 work session. Chief Richard Mabie explained that a full system-wide upgrade has been estimated at a cost of a million dollars. So, as a short-term fix new all-band radios are just being requested for Companies with more frequent cross-county response calls. Those companies are Linden (Co. 4), Shenandoah Shores (Co. 5), Shenandoah Farms (Co. 6), and North Warren (Co. 10).

The total cost of the requested upgrades is $105,606.11. Mabie explained that if ordered prior to the end of the year the department would get a trade-in credit on the traded-in radios. While a relatively small trade-in at $5,600, the chief noted that covered about half the cost of the now obsolete radios when they were purchased 15 years ago.

Board Vice-Chair Cheryl Cullers worried that Front Royal Company One, which is often called to assist other departments’ calls including across county lines, wasn’t included in the request. But it was pointed out that Company One would be able to communicate with the originally called outlying Warren County company that was in communications with the out-of-county units, to be able to have necessary information relayed to it.

The board unanimously approved the requested all-band radio purchase from Motorola Solutions. The purchase price will come from the County General Fund, not from CARES Act funding, Interim County Administrator Ed Daley reminded Mabie and the board.

While the six-public hearing portion of the agenda started calmly enough with Human Resource Director Saffelle’s explanation of the COVID-staff bonuses requests and an eventually adjourned public hearing on a pending renewal of the county’s three Agricultural and Forestal Districts – Rockland, South River, and Limeton – things took a turn toward the contentious when a short-term tourist rental Conditional Use Permit (CUP) request on Panhandle Road in the Fork District was reached.

Short-term rental applicant Renee Roig explains the evolution of her D.C.-based group’s plan for the 4.8-acre home lot they purchased off Panhandle Road.

The applicants, two couples of young professionals from Washington, D.C., ran into almost universal opposition from neighbors in the larger parcel neighborhood, including the woman they bought the property from. That still-neighbor, Wendy Weir, told the board she felt the applicants had misled her into believing their intent was to buy the property as a second home for retreats out of the D.C. Metro area, and intermittent rentals solely to family or close friends. She was not happy at the short-term rental CUP application applied for “six weeks later” with no stipulation on who could or would be rented to.

Wendy Weir, who sold the home to the D.C. quartet explains why she doesn’t feel they were forthright with her about their plans for the property.

However, planning staff told the board that there were two nearby approved short-term rental approved properties, setting somewhat of a precedent for approvals within prescribed guidelines. At issue for neighbors were D.C. Metro area natives out for short-term getaways with no experience of the transportation, open fire, trespassing and hunting variables involved in such a country setting near George Washington Forest.

The applicants asserted that the purchase was as a second home, but that they hoped to create enough rental income to help defray their costs. Kevin Roig told the supervisors that they were there to stay long-term and hoped to be able to work with their neighbors to see the short-term rentals weren’t an issue or a threat to neighboring properties.

Kevin Roig takes to the podium to respond to some of the criticism he heard – we’re there for the long haul and want to be good neighbors regardless of what happens tonight, he told the supervisors.

See the debate leading to an eventual 4-0 vote of approval under prescribed conditions as recommended by the planning commission and tweaked by the supervisors, as well as two public hearings on the creation of a “rural events facility” for up to 300 people off Lee Burke Road, in this Royal Examiner video. While there were concerns expressed by neighbors of Shelley Cook’s CUP application for the rural events facility on 41.3 acres, overall it was much more well-received as a community addition than the Roig-Nobles request on a 4.8-acre parcel that preceded it.

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Front Royal Women’s Resource Center (FRWRC) Beginning on November 1, 2020, to accept Applications for 2021 DARE TO DREAM GRANTS (Take classes, start a business, purchase a computer, learn a new skill, train for a[...]
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Holiday House Tours @ Sky Meadows State Park
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Enjoy special tours of our Historic Mount Bleak house during this festive season. Visit each of the rooms in this stone manor and discover how the people who called Sky Meadows “home” celebrated the holidays[...]
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