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Local pro-militia group vows to support, protect

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A band of local 2nd Amendment advocates concerned about the Commonwealth’s proposed gun safety laws returned to state their cause during the Warren County Board of Supervisors (BOS) February 18 meeting.

“A few weeks ago, I actually delivered a resolution to you all,” said Sam Haun of Front Royal, Va., during the general public comment period of the BOS meeting. “I’m not going to beat a dead horse and ask you to pick it back up, however, there is a group locally that has been operating out of Warren County and we’re trying to maintain 100 percent transparency for everybody.”

In fact, Haun brought that proposed resolution — which seeks “Promoting the Order of Militia Within Warren County” — to BOS members during their January 7 meeting, saying it is a Constitutional right for Warren County citizens to have a militia. The BOS to date has not acted on the resolution.

Sam Haun said on Tuesday night that his group’s intention is to support local law enforcement and first responders in helping residents during any mass casualty events or natural disasters.

“We’ve even gone so far as to meet with the local sheriff’s department, the town police department and we’re making arrangements now with the local fire department and EMS for additional training for all the members,” said Haun.

At the same time, Haun told the supervisors that he wanted to keep them in the loop about what his group is doing as it progresses.

“The way that things are going, we don’t want to pick up a bad name, so every few weeks, once we’ve accomplished something, we’ll come back and let you know exactly what’s going on,” he said. “That way, you feel a little bit better because you know what we’re doing, and it keeps us in the public view.”

Paul Aldrich, a Front Royal resident who said he handles communications for the pro-militia group, also spoke during the general public comment period of the BOS meeting and presented an ordinance for their consideration.

Specifically, the proposed ordinance relates to State Senate Bill 35, which would grant local governments the authority to ban the possession of firearms in public spaces during events that require a permit, like protests. The Virginia Senate in December 2019 passed the bill, 21-19, along with a party-line vote and the measure is under consideration by the Virginia House of Delegates.

After traveling on February 17 to Richmond, Va., to hear debates on the proposed legislation and to speak with district representatives, Aldrich told the supervisors that he was putting forth what he called “a simple proposed ordinance” that would “handle Senate Bill 35.”

Aldrich said the ordinance states: “The County shall not exercise any ordinance pursuant to Virginia 15.2-915 Section E and Section F.”

“That literally eliminates [the] bill even being an issue here” in Warren County, he said.

Board Chairman Walter Mabe, who represents the Shenandoah District, asked that Aldrich provide them with a copy of the proposed ordinance, which Aldrich agreed to email.
“Our goal is to improve the community, bring the community together, and protect it at the same time,” Aldrich said about the pro-militia group.

For example, during recent flooding in Tazewell County, Va., Aldrich said guys from their group were dispatched to bring supplies — including water, blankets and food — to needy residents. A second group went down on February 17 with more supplies to help out, he said.

At that point during the comment period, Chairman Mabe said he had a question.

“The group that you’re trying to get together, I understand that, and I understand you working with the sheriff,” said Mabe. “Are you working with other groups that are within the area that are trying to do exactly what it is that you’re trying to do?”

Earlier in the day on Tuesday, Mabe said he had spoken with another group that said it had never heard of Haun’s and Aldrich’s group. “I believe there has to be an effort put forth so that everybody knows what everybody is doing,” he said.

Aldrich agreed.

Mabe continued: “If I would want a militia — and I don’t like the word militia, everybody knows that, because it denotes a bad connotation — again, I would like to know who’s in charge, who’s funding it, who’s vetting it, and the 2,800 other questions I have about this very thing.”

Mabe also said that if the County were to “put people out there, they’ve got to be safe and we’ve got to protect the people who, honestly, don’t want a militia. If we don’t do that, we’re behind the curve.”

Additionally, according to the BOS chairman, communications must be key.

“I can’t emphasize enough how much you have to be involved with everybody so that you’re not confusing everybody,” he said.

Aldrich agreed and said his group has proposed an April volunteer day to the Town in which “we’re going to bring the volunteer community together,” including law enforcement from both the County and Town, 4-H, Boy Scouts, the fire department, and search and rescue, among others, so that everyone can share what they do and for their pro-militia group to recruit potential participants.

Haun added that he’s contacted other groups and plans to bring them together for a February 28 meeting, though he didn’t provide details. And he said he’s spoken with the sheriff about possibly running background checks locally rather than having to send potential members down to Richmond for them.

“If we bring the community together, we’re better off across the board, in my opinion,” said Aldrich.

“I believe this county is doing better,” Mabe said, “and it’s because of the new board and I believe we’re doing the right things. We have a request from the people who come in front of us to do the right thing, as well.

“The connotation that you’re putting forward is a tough situation and we have to get past that,” he added. “I don’t want to approve anything that I’m going to have to pay for that’s going to scare people.”

“And we wouldn’t ask you to pay for something that’s going to scare people,” Haun responded.

Similar to the pro-militia group’s stated goal, Mabe said he also wants to help the community and he also wants to remain involved. “And I’m happy to talk with you anytime, anytime. Just let me know,” he told them.

Watch the general public comment period of the Warren County Board of Supervisors’ February 18 meeting at the end of the meeting on this Royal Examiner video.

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Public debate over council directions precedes move toward McKay Springs parcel sale

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Mayor Chris Holloway was absent from the January 25 Front Royal Town Council meeting, due to illness according to Vice-Mayor Lori Athey Cockrell, who chaired the Monday evening meeting in his place. So, Holloway was not present to hear first Public Concerns speaker Paul Gabbert’s scathing appraisal of media and social media reports of the content of former Council Clerk Jennifer Berry’s federal wrongful and retaliatory termination lawsuit filed under Chapter VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act as it applies to gender discrimination, against the Town.

As reported by Royal Examiner and others, then Councilman Holloway is cited in the litigation as a primary council player in trying to get Berry to withdraw her complaint against former Vice-Mayor Bill Sealock’s alleged sexually harassing and demeaning behavior.

Had he been present, part of what Mayor Holloway would have heard Gabbert describe of the allegations of sexual harassment and an attempted cover up of complaints about them was, “This is a truly sickening ordeal. Anyone who would allegedly commit these acts, or anyone who allegedly would cover up these acts, are sick criminals.” (the filing of the lawsuit is covered elsewhere on the Royal Examiner Front Page and Local News sections).

Paul Gabbert was scathing in his appraisal of both council’s alleged behavior in new federal lawsuit, and past documented behavior on a number of fronts, particularly Councilman Meza’s inconsistent recusal/voting record on issues regarding his employer Valley Health. Royal Examiner Virtual Meeting Photos by Roger Bianchini

But on to lighter things – well, not really – as a second speaker, Karen Patten, and third, Sean O’Reilly, addressed council priorities and street name-changing initiatives from varying perspectives. First, Patten followed Gabbert to the podium of the Warren County Government Center Meeting Room largely devoid of spectators due to Phase 3 COVID-19 pandemic surge guidelines instituted at the state level. Referencing Councilman Scott Lloyd’s January 19 work session initiative to re-name a town street after the former president, Donald Trump, and the January 22 press release quoting the mayor on the topic, Patten wondered at the newly elected council’ and mayor’s priorities.

“While I’m mourning the loss of more kids in our community, I see a press released from the town council about a road name, not about the deadly drugs floating about in our town, but over a road name,” Patten began, adding of the opioid drug crisis, “I find it disgusting to know what our priorities are. While you are worried over a road name and throwing each other under a bus, people are burying their kids.”

Karen Patten questioned council’s priorities as it squabbles over a political street naming while the opioid crisis continues to claim the community’s youth.

Patten continued to make an analogy between the local and national political scenes, telling council and the absent mayor they were reflecting the worst tendencies of the past year as to ignoring the very people they are elected to represent – likely a reference to the 400,000-plus dead now attributed to the COVID-19 pandemic nationally in one year as the Executive Branch of the federal government downplayed the Coronavirus danger, refusing to institute national emergency measures.

Patten’s remarks, as well as Gabbert’s earlier comments on Berry’s civil rights violation suit against the Town among other criticisms, brought responses from a number of council members. Longer-term members, including Gary Gillespie, denied that the Berry sexual harassment complaint wasn’t taken seriously by council. And both new and older members assured the public they take the opioid crisis seriously.

Letasha Thompson took the opportunity to suggest council move toward imposition of PILOT fees (Payment In Lieu Of Taxes) on tax-exempt non-profit regional medical provider Valley Health’s new hospital in town to help fund proactive drug prevention institutions in town. Valley Health employee and re-appointed Councilman Meza voting/not voting on Valley Health matters was another of Gabbert’s targets during his remarks.

But prior to those rebuttals of public criticism, a third member of the public desiring to address council during the Public Concerns portion of the meeting, approached council some 15 minutes after that agenda item was closed following Patten’s remarks.

Vice-Mayor Cockrell acknowledged that citizen’s desire to speak, pointing out council had moved past that agenda portion of the meeting and asked for the town attorney and council’s guidance. Councilman Meza said he observed the citizen’s arrival and asked council to concur to letting him speak. His colleagues agreed and Sean O’Reilly approached the podium.

‘Trump Ave.’ part of a greater ‘truth’

“What I want to say is something very simple … When I first heard that you guys were thinking about naming a street here after Donald Trump, I was delighted,” O’Reilly began. “And the reason is pretty simple – there are people here who are talking about drug problems, issues of basic morality and crime and everything else. And I think it’s really important to see that all these things are connected. There’s no such thing as truth that’s not all part of one piece … I think the issue about naming a street after Donald Trump is important for a very simple reason.

“It doesn’t matter what you think about Donald Trump. It doesn’t matter whether he was a b*stard; whether he was a good guy, it doesn’t matter – He was not treated well by the press; he was not treated well by a large number of Americans,” O’Reilly opined, continuing, “I think it’s extremely unfair and it’s also very dangerous for the rest of us – Extremely dangerous if this kind of behavior continues.

“So, I think all I’m going to say is that I think the idea of naming a street after Donald Trump is like a counterweight to some of this stuff. – That’s it,” he concluded, again thanking council for being allowed to address them later in the meeting.

Sean O’Reilly commended council for its Trump Ave. initiative, suggesting it makes up to some degree for the negative scrutiny he perceives the former president received from the media and a large swath of the American public.

Consent Agenda includes financial legal expenses

Council unanimously approved a five-item Consent Agenda, including an FY-21 budget transfer into the Street Contingency Fund; and a budget amendment for an insurance reimbursement; also altering stipends for some appointed town committees; authorization to sell “excess property” through a private sale; and awarding a contract not to exceed $31,000 to the legal firm of Estes Law and Consulting PLLC to cover completed service as bond counsel for the I&I Abatement bond issue estimated at $10.5 million ($12,500 cost); $13,500 for the Redundant Water Line bond of $11.3 million; and “a potential bond validation” ($5,000).

Move towards McKay Springs parcel sale

And as noted above, Council’s lone meeting action item other than the above Consent Agenda, was authorization to advertise for Public Hearing “Approval of a Letter of Intent” and “Approval of the Sales Process” for a 1.42-acre parcel of the jointly owned McKay Springs property in partnership with the County and EDA.

Total sales price would be $475,000, with the Town getting $124,402.50 (29.19%) and the County $350,598.50 (73.18%) minus any sales fees. The purchaser is Boddie-Noell Enterprises, Inc. It was noted in the agenda packet that a supermajority, five-member vote of the six-person council, to authorize the sale.

Council seen virtually in a nearly empty WCGC meeting room

Council unanimously approved moving toward the public hearing to enable the sale. Prior to the vote, Councilman Meza commented that it was “a great example” of the Town and County working together for a common good. Maybe positive movement here is an indicator council may be poised to reconsider its legally dubious ownership claims blocking the EDA’s sale of the Afton Inn for another common good. Tick, tick … – Time will tell as the EDA Board of Directors and would-be purchaser and redeveloper 2 East Main LLC recently re-extended the deadline on achieving the sales contract into mid-February.

Click here to watch Monday’s meeting.

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EDA in Focus

New Town Manager welcomed to EDA Closed Session discussion of Afton Inn, litigation

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The EDA Board of Directors met on Friday, January 22, 2021, for a regular monthly board meeting. New Front Royal Town Manager Steven Hicks joined Board of Supervisors Chair Cheryl Cullers, Supervisor Walt Mabe, and Interim County Administrator Ed Daley at the beginning of the meeting for a two-hour Closed session. Those present appreciated Mr. Hick’s participation and welcomed a frank discussion about topics of common importance to the Town, County, and EDA.

Of primary importance is working together to get the sale of the Afton Inn across the finish line. Developers Jim Burton and Alan Omar, of 2 East Main, LLC, are looking forward to closing by February 12th and getting the renovation project under way. This building is a featured property in the Town’s historic Community Development Block Grant award and promises to be a marquee of Main Street in Downtown Front Royal.

EDA Chair Jeff Browne reviewed the 2021 calendar dates for the remaining regular monthly board meetings and Director Jim Wolfe shared an update on the progress of the Strategic Plan development. Finance Chair Jorie Martin gave a budget update and noted that Brown Edwards is working to finish the FY 2018 and FY2019 audits and hope to have working drafts ready for review in February.

Executive Doug Parsons updated the Board on a variety of activities and projects, including the latest on the new EDA website and a Leach Run Parkway financial review. Lastly Mr. Parsons discussed a proposal by the economic development authorities in Clarke, Frederick, Page, and Shenandoah counties to participate in a regional workforce talent attraction website. The Board tabled the discussion until further information about goals and functions of the site could be reviewed.

The EDA Board of Directors will have their regular monthly board meeting via Zoom on Friday, February 26, 2021 at 8 a.m.

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Town-County Liaison Committee ponders increased trust, cooperation as EDA situation explained to council reps

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Neither Mayor Chris Holloway nor Vice-Mayor Lori Cockrell were available to attend and chair the Thursday, January 21st Liaison Committee meeting at Town Hall, Town Manager Steven Hicks noted at the meeting’s outset. The mayor and county board chair are constant committee members, with a second representative rotated on an alphabetical basis – which was later discussed for possible change.

So, Letasha Thompson and Chris Lloyd represented the Town, with Hicks taking the lead voice on the Town side, with Warren County Board Chair Cheryl Cullers leading the County contingent of herself, former chairman Walt Mabe and Interim County Administrator Ed Daley.

With it being his and Lloyd’s first Liaison Committee experience, Hicks suggested everyone introduce themselves around the table soon after the 6 p.m. start. Introductions in hand the committee traversed an agenda addressing areas of mutual County-Town interest, as well as the Liaison Committee’s rules and mission. Included in that agenda were County projects occurring within the town limits – at Ressie Jeffries Elementary School and the County’s Health and Human Services Complex at the old 15th Street middle school site; and upgrades to the County’s Building Inspection software designed to make it more user friendly.

The virtual view of Thursday’s Town-County Liaison Committee meeting. From the nearside head of table to the left, Cheryl Cullers back, Walt Mabe, Ed Daley, Steve Hicks at far end head of table, Letasha Thompson and Chris Lloyd. Royal Examiner Virtual Meeting Photo by Roger Bianchini

Five of the agenda’s seven topics were Town forwarded. They included proposed amendments to the Liaison Committee’s mission statement and process (no forwarding attribution); how County short-term rental ordinances related to the collection of lodging taxes and whether those ordinances could be amended to ease approval of “Air B&B” style short-term rentals within the town limits (McFadden); potential consolidation of permitting and tax payments that require visits to both Town Hall and the Warren County Government Center (Lloyd); and establishment of PILOT (Payment In Lieu Of Taxes) fees for non-profit status Valley Health’s new hospital in town (Thompson).

A fifth topic may have been the most significant long-term for both municipalities – developing a joint vision to the mutual benefit of county citizens on both sides of the town-county boundary line. “Beginning the conversation between the entities is a start to not only to help heal the community but ensure that the citizens are a priority now and into the future,” the agenda topic summary initiative attributed to Vice-Mayor Cockrell stated.

Thompson raised the potential of creation of a “visioning” steering committee with occasional full joint body meetings to try and keep the two municipal bodies on the same page and heading in the same direction. “I think that would be very beneficial and starting the healing process that we very much need,” Thompson said.

“I agree, … but I kind of feel like I would like to keep it casual, where it’s more like we’re breaking bread together and not sitting around a table like we are necessarily now, but more of just a coming together, break bread and then share ideas of what our combined effort is and the fact that we do need, in order to heal the community, we have to heal together,” County Board Chair Cullers added.

Mabe suggested initial monthly meetings on this joint visioning effort, “Then at some time in the future when things are working better than they were, or have, or are, we go to two months and then further down the road, every three months,” he envisioned.

Perhaps that first joint visioning session should be scheduled quickly as the Afton Inn sale for redevelopment is still being held up by Town challenges of the EDA’s right to make that sale and recover a portion of its expenses in maintaining and marketing the property over the past five-plus years.

In fact, the status of the half-century-plus old joint County-Town Economic Development Authority (EDA) was broached early in the meeting when budgets and available municipal dollars were being discussed.

EDA 101: you can’t just close your eyes and make it go away

“The County has this drain I’m going to call it, called the EDA lawsuits,” Daley, who did a stint as Chairman of the re-tooled, post-financial scandal EDA Board of Directors prior to taking over the county administrator’s seat following Doug Stanley’s ouster, began. “And I think until we are not putting money in there, I think we’re going to focus on that before we start any capital projects because that drains any money that would potentially be for … capitol (projects).” As has been widely reported, one of the EDA’s two lawsuits is the Town’s against it, claiming over $20-million-dollars in misdirected Town assets, a great percentage of the total claim in the EDA’s lawsuit against its former executive director Jennifer McDonald and a large number of co-defendants involving the alleged misdirection or fraudulent use of EDA, County and Town assets.

At this point Thompson joined the conversation, asking, “While we’re here and you’ve kind of brought the EDA situation into it, at what point do we stop throwing money at the EDA? They’ve requested about a million dollars and things like that, and take the money that is being dumped there, it seems to me – I’m outside looking in, you know – and put that towards something like our schools and where the kids need it or get drug court started. At what point do we draw a line in the sand and say, we just want this to stop and we want to start anew and afresh and spend our money elsewhere?”

The town council under the guidance of its past interim town manager, withdrew from its initial effort to help re-focus the EDA, into hostile litigation and plans to start a second, unilateral EDA, while technically still legally part of the joint Town-County EDA.

“The EDA must remain in existence until all of the industrial development bonds are paid. So, if we were going to decide to discontinue the EDA, then Valley Health is the number one right now (EDA facilitated loan for new hospital), but the other industrial companies out here would have to pay of their bonds before the court would permit it,” Daley explained. Thompson thanked him for the explanation, noting it helped her understand the EDA situation’s “nuances”, something that apparently has been lacking on the Town side with its decision to separate and litigate, rather than negotiate as former Mayor Eugene Tewalt had unsuccessfully urged council to do.

“It leaves the County kind of sitting in a corner there,” Daley continued of the Town’s withdrawal from the rehabilitation effort that has seen some promising recent recruitments and pending recruitments of new business to the community. Daley added that if the County, which is financially supporting the EDA at this point, didn’t pursue recovery of lost assets through real estate seizures and other court procedures “Then the County’s got to pay off the whole, entire bill.”

See these discussion and all the agenda topics covered in the Town website’s video of the Front Royal-Warren County Liaison Committee meeting.

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Mayor Chris Holloway rejects ‘Trump Avenue’ rename

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At the Tuesday, January 19th Town Council work session, Councilman Scott Lloyd, during the open discussion period, suggested renaming an unidentified street in Front Royal as Donald Trump Avenue.

Front Royal Mayor, Chris Holloway stated, The renaming of a street for President Donald Trump was not on the Town Council’s work session agenda.

It was brought up by Councilman Lloyd during the open discussion period. Councilman Lloyd is open to share his views; however, the majority of Council, especially me, do not support naming a street after President Trump. Nor do we consider bringing it up in the future. Town Code allows two Council members to add any item for a work session discussion topic. In this case, Councilmen McFadden and Lloyd have added this agenda item for the February 1st work session. While it may be on the upcoming work session, I, as well as my colleagues, will not support or vote for the renaming of a street for President Trump.

Mayor Chris Holloway. Royal Examiner Photos by Roger Bianchini

Mayor Holloway said, “All the leaders in our community are working day and night to move our community forward and overcome our challenging past. Front Royal is a wonderful place and will continue to be a place for people to live, work, visit, and play. As the newly elected Mayor, I am 100% committed to showing the world how wonderful our people, our wonderful our people, our businesses and are community are in these trying times. I’m proud to call Front Royal my home.”

(Press Release by Town of Front Royal, 4:56 p.m., Friday, Jan. 22)

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Resized Town Planning Commission considers Rezoning Requests and Site Plans, one near Happy Creek

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A 4-member Planning Commission met Wednesday, January 20th at the Warren County Government Center (WCGC). Joseph McFadden has resigned as a result of his election to the town council. The members quickly disposed of the minutes of the November 18 meeting before Chairman Douglas Jones asked if there were any citizen comments. The question to a virtually empty chamber yielded only silence.

In the public hearing portion of the meeting, Chairman Jones introduced a rezoning request by Aaron Hike and Douglas Ichiugi, operating as Rockledge Development Company LLC, to rezone a 2-acre parcel at the north end of Jefferson Avenue, and adjoining the Norfolk Southern railroad tracks and the South Fork of the Shenandoah River. The request is to change the zoning from R-1 (single family residential) to R-3 (multiple family residential), allowing the construction of duplex homes to accommodate two single-family units. The applicant stated in a letter to the Planning Department that their intent is to build “attractive modestly priced duplex homes that promote home ownership, particularly for workforce citizens that support our community and town.”  The tract is bordered by an undeveloped portion of Hillcrest Drive and another R-3 zoned parcel to the east.

No one had signed up to address the commission regarding this request, so the public hearing was closed.

After the briefing, Commissioner Darryl Merchant had some questions. He first asked if there was already a site plan for the tract. Planning and Community Development Director Timothy Wilson responded that there was not yet a detailed site plan, as the property zoning request would have to be settled before the applicant could invest in the more detailed site planning and development tasks. Merchant then asked why the applicant was asking for R-3 rather than R-2 (multiple family residential – duplex) zoning, since R-2 zoning allows for duplex housing.  Planning Director Wilson responded that the applicant was requesting the R-3 category due to there being no adjoining or nearby R-2 tracts. The applicant is also including a proffer in their request to limit any residential construction on the tract to single-family or duplex units.

Commissioner Merchant pointed out that the planning director can waive some requirements such as phase 1 and 2 environmental site assessments and traffic impact assessments and asked if that was the case here. Planning Director Wilson indicated it was.

Finally, Commissioner Merchant pointed out that this tract is steeply sloped and will present significant challenges for development, including sanitary sewer, water, and access, since that portion of Hillcrest Drive is not developed.  “There’s a reason this tract has remained undeveloped for decades,” Merchant observed.

The applicant responded that they were aware of the challenges.

Once all the questions had been asked and answered, the commission voted unanimously to recommend approval of the rezoning request.

The second Public Hearing item was a Major Site Plan Request from RealtyLink of Birmingham Alabama for redevelopment of a site at 440 South Street to create a retail auto parts store at the location currently holding a vacant drive-through branch bank. The 1.07-acre tract is zoned C-1 (Community Business District). The current building would be demolished to make way for a new 7,225-square foot building. The plan as presented to the commission included detailed site drawings, and according to the package, RealtyLink’s preliminary site plan was amended to respond to Town Staff review questions. Again, there were no public hearing participants.

Happy Creek drainage concerns

Commissioner William Gordon asked if this site plan was specific to the use as a parts store, or if other uses could be made if this development could not go forward.  Planning Director Wilson responded that any other use would require an updated plan to be submitted and processed.

Several comments were made regarding proximity to the floodway surrounding nearby Happy Creek, currently under scrutiny for a controversial Town flood control and stormwater drainage plan. Staff said the submitted plan addresses erosion control, site drainage, and flood control measures, together with soil analysis results. The Planning Department summary indicates that the plan is complete, and the proposed use is permitted as a by-right use in the C-1 district.

The commission voted unanimously to approve the final site plan.

Under Old Business, Assistant Town Attorney George Sonnett referred the Commission to a question raised during the November 18 Commission meeting regarding the life of a special use permit.  He provided a response based on a reading of Town Code 175-136 that indicates that “Special Use Permits are not transferable”, which could be interpreted that those permits run with a landowner, not with the land. He reiterated the general theory that permits do run with the land, and apply as long as the use continues, whoever the landowner may be.

The language of the ordinance may have been “inartful” but the principle is that any new landowner ought not to have to reapply for a permit for the same use. Commissioner Gordon asked if the process should be to ask the Town to initiate a text amendment to clarify the language. Planning Director Wilson indicated that the Commission itself can initiate such a request. Chairman Jones recommended that topic as a subject for the next commission work session.

Planning Director Tim Wilson and Assistant Town Attorney George Sonnett explain Special Use Permit language to the commission. Royal Examiner Photo by Stephen Sill

Under New Business, Planning Director Wilson indicated that the Town Comprehensive plan needed a rewrite. It was completed in 1997 and amended in 2004.  Such a rewrite is a major effort and may require funding and a 12–18-month process.  Conceivably it could be funded over two fiscal years. It also needs significant public input, not just a single Public hearing. Efforts so far have been stymied by COVID-19 restrictions on public meetings. The planning staff will also need Census Data from the 2020 census to inform the process. Commissioner Merchant recommended discussion of the Comprehensive Plan rewrite at the next work session.

The second item of new business concerned an amendment to the Town Code, Chapter 28, that was finalized by the Town Council at their meeting on January 11.  The changes Council approved include the reduction of planning commission membership from 7 to 5, the terms of office set at 4 years with staggered terms so no more than 2 of the 5 members terms shall expire in any year; the requirement that at least half the members appointed shall be owners of real property; and amending the rules for removal of members for malfeasance by the town council for three absences in a row, or 4 absences over the course of a year. The new language of the Town Code also requires each member of the Commission to become a certified planning commissioner as a condition of appointment.

Finally, during Commission member reports, Commissioner Gordon asked if it was possible to nominate a member for the vacant Vice Chairman seat. Chairman Jones indicated it would be better to wait for the regular election of officers at the February meeting.  He did remind the planning director that there is still a vacant commission seat, which the Town Council will need to fill.

The Meeting was adjourned at 7:48 p.m.

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Dozens urge Supervisors to adopt COVID restrictions ‘sanctuary’ resolution

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Several dozen mask-less speakers this week urged the Warren County Board of Supervisors to consider a proposed resolution that would declare the county a “Constitutional Sanctuary County” against COVID-19 Coronavirus pandemic social distancing restrictions implemented at the state level.

The speakers, angered by executive orders Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam has issued to minimize the spread of COVID-19 during the ongoing pandemic, voiced concerns that their rights under federal and state laws are being infringed upon by the governor’s actions.

In all, there were approximately 49 people who signed up to speak during the public comment period of the board’s Tuesday, January 19 meeting, and 32 people actually spoke – some about the resolution, some about a different topics, and some who were not signed up. Emily Ciarrocchi, Deputy Clerk of the Board, also read aloud several emails in support of the proposed “sanctuary” resolution.

For instance, some said they wanted to ensure the security of small businesses by reinforcing the freedoms that have already been allotted to Virginians under the State Constitution.

Others, like 20-year county resident Tom McFadden Jr., seek freedom for Warren County that would allow it “to be a sanctuary from the reign of terror that Gov. Northam has imposed upon the citizens of Virginia.”

“The stand against tyranny has to start at the local level,” wrote another in an email read by Board Clerk Ciarrocchi.

In December 2019, the county supervisors approved a “Second Amendment Sanctuary” citizen-propelled resolution against gun control laws proposed by the Democratic General Assembly majority. The Front Royal Town Council soon followed suit.

However, not all county citizens agreed with the initiative. One county resident urged the supervisors against adopting what he called an “absurd” resolution, writing that, “In the USA and in our Commonwealth, we cannot have individual counties take it upon ourselves to break away from the state and declare that lawful emergency health orders by our governor are to be ignored, overridden and unenforced.”

The Warren County resident went on to write in his email that he hoped members of the Board of Supervisors didn’t contract the coronavirus “from the selfish patriots who ignore and denigrate temporary social distancing in our County.”

There were 22 speakers who each read a paragraph of the resolution, which states that the governor of Virginia “is currently attempting to prohibit the gathering of more than 10 citizens at a single time (even in their own homes) and is attempting to do so through Executive Order rather than the legislative process.”

Among several provisions, the resolution also states that the governor has:

  1. Placed “undue strain on local businesses, while arbitrarily, illogically, and unequally restricting some businesses more than others;”
  2. Restricted free commerce and instituted excessive fines for businesses unable or unwilling to act as law enforcement for his “unlegislated orders upon customers;”
  3. Restricted the liberty of citizens by imposing lockdowns and curfews; and
  4. Alluded to possibly enacting more orders.

All of the governor’s orders are “clearly in violation” of both the Virginia Constitution and the U.S. Bill of Rights, according to the proposed resolution.

Based on that perspective, the resolution states that the Warren County Board of Supervisors “wishes to express its deep commitment to the freedoms enumerated in the U.S. and Virginia Constitutions, and the U.S. and Virginia Bill of Rights; including the rights of all citizens of Warren County to peaceably assemble and to engage in commerce for the financial support of themselves and their families.”

The resolution also calls on the supervisors to express opposition to any order or law that would unconstitutionally restrict the rights of Warren County residents, and to express the board’s intent “to stand as a Sanctuary County for the Bill of Rights and the Constitution; and to oppose … any efforts to unconstitutionally restrict such rights, and to use all such legal means at its disposal to protect the rights of the residents of Warren County.

“The means within the power of the Warren County Supervisors includes the power to initiate legal action, the power to petition for redress of grievances, the power to appropriate funding for the law enforcement of Warren County, and the power to direct the employees of Warren County to not enforce any unconstitutional law or purported order,” according to the proposed resolution.

Additionally, the resolution states that the Board of Supervisors would request that its sheriff “refrain from assisting any state law enforcement officer, state health agent or federal agent attempting to enforce unconstitutional order of the Governor,” and that County employees “may not assist in or promote the enforcement … of any executive order or regulations that might limit the free exercise of religion, peaceable assembly, commerce, or the movement of people.”

Following the reading of the resolution, numerous residents spoke in support of its adoption by the supervisors.

“We come before you today to respectfully ask for your help,” said Melanie Salins, who presented the proposed resolution to the board. “This last year has hurt citizens of Warren County. We have many businesses struggling to stay afloat. We are scared about what is to come.”

Salins said that resolution supporters want board members to “reassert” their dedication to upholding the Constitution “and our rights protected by it.”

Jane Elliott of Front Royal, Va., said the resolution is about asking that the supervisors simply follow the Constitution. She called social distancing “socialist distancing” and said America has essentially become the “land of the imprisoned and the home of the chickens” for following them.

Board Chairwoman Cheryl Cullers several times called for order during the public comments when citizens failed to follow protocols by clapping and yelling support for fellow speakers and when the crowd started singing the Star-Spangled Banner in the hallway outside the board meeting room. Their actions continued nonetheless throughout the comment period.

The local speakers also voiced disdain for the board’s one-in-and-one-out rule instituted to maintain low numbers required for meetings. The rule allowed one person to come in to speak as another one left the podium.

Another Front Royal resident, Christina Baker, said the governor’s mandates and the current political climate make her as terrified as she was when her husband was deployed to Afghanistan, and she said that the executive orders heap more duties upon an already stretched-thin law enforcement system.

“They don’t need more to do,” Baker said. “This initiative is important. Perhaps it’s not perfect. I’m not really sure this draft is perfect. It should be perfected to give all of our community and citizens the sense that they are self-governed after all. If it’s not perfect, can you please help make it perfect?” The speakers hope to gain more confidence in the Board of Supervisors, added Baker, who said they also plan to take the proposal to state legislators.

Rob Adanitsch of Front Royal told the supervisors that Gov. Northam’s restrictions “affect some of us more than others,” and he thinks that residents have “lost our individual freedom to choose for ourselves” while businesses have been forced to comply with mandates. “And that’s not right,” he said, asking them to support the proposed resolution.

Colleen Peters, who said she owns a small business in Front Royal, thinks it’s a shame that everyone is suffering. “Stop punishing healthy people,” she said. “If you’re afraid, stay home.”

That sentiment resonated with County resident Celia McGovern, a mother of three children under the age of five. “We don’t do the mask thing; I’m not sick and my children definitely don’t wear one,” she told the board. “I’m tired of getting harassed over the mask thing. People who are not sick should not be the ones that have to go through all these extra steps to go out in public.”

“Being a germophobe used to be a mental illness and now it’s a virtue,” said Alison Propps of Front Royal.

Public comments went on for almost an hour and a half before the board took a short recess and then reconvened for regular business.

Listen to all the citizens who spoke during the Tuesday night Board of Supervisors’ meeting online at: warrencountyva.new.swagit.com/videos

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