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School Board approves anti-bullying resolution, wireless upgrades

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Warren County High School DECA Chapter members (L to R: Reina Garnette, Halea Hose, and Brianna Cochran) on Wednesday showed off their ‘Enough!’ t-shirts to School Board members, who unanimously adopted a resolution in support of their efforts to end domestic violence, child abuse and bullying. Photo by Kim Riley. Video by Mark Williams, Royal Examiner.

FRONT ROYAL — A high school anti-bullying initiative, along with almost $80,000 in wireless upgrades and additional cables for local elementary schools, received unanimous approvals by the Warren County School Board during its regular meeting on November 6.

School Board members voted 5-0 to adopt a resolution supporting Warren County High School’s (WCHS) DECA Chapter in its endeavors to promote a culture of zero tolerance for bullying behavior in school.

Every year the high school’s DECA chapter conducts a project and maps out several related activities for the fall. The team also submits its final project for competitions at the state and national levels, said Richard Gardner, WCHS business and marketing teacher and a DECA advisor.

This year, the 50-member WCHS DECA Chapter developed the Enough Project, an awareness campaign to end domestic violence, child abuse and bullying. As part of the project, DECA students have teamed up with The Phoenix Center, a local help center for victims of domestic violence, and joined in the AT&T Later Haters national campaign to promote online positivity and cyberbullying awareness, among other activities.

The awareness poster presented by DECA chapter members from WCHS during the Warren County School Meeting on November 6. Photo by Kim Riley

Three WCHS students are in charge of the Enough Project: Halea Hose, 17, a senior; Reina Garnette, 16, a junior; and Brianna Cochran, 15, a sophomore. They presented information about the project to School Board members on Wednesday and asked for their support.

“Teenagers who are witnessing violence in their families are 50 percent more likely to have an abusive relationship themselves,” Hose explained. “This was a very scary statistic to learn… and we decided we wanted to do something to help.”

The students first unveiled the Enough Project by setting up a stand at football games where they also handed out Phoenix Center resources and other related information, including a hotline number for victims.

As time went on, though, the students chose to expand the reach of the project by teaming up with the Prevent Child Abuse America organization, which in 2008 introduced the pinwheel as the new national symbol for child abuse prevention through Pinwheels for Prevention.

Cochran, who handed out purple pinwheels to each of the School Board members, reminded everyone that “what you say to your child means more than you will ever know.”

WCHS student and DECA chapter member Brianna Cochran on Wednesday handed out purple pinwheels to School Board members to help raise awareness about child abuse prevention. Photo by Kim Riley

Consequently, the students also decided to raise awareness about the significant role that social media plays in modern-day communications as part of their Enough Project.

“The sad truth is that social media opens up a gateway to cyberbullying,” Garnette said. “Cyberbullies use the internet to tear people down and spread hate without having to show their face or take responsibility for their actions.

“What they don’t know is that victims of cyberbullying can experience feelings such as loneliness, isolation, and extreme stress and anxiety,” added Garnette. “Our mission here is to spread awareness and educate our youth on the impact that one single text or snapchat can have on someone’s mental health and self-esteem.”

This year, the DECA team also held an event at Skyline Middle School to help raise awareness about bullying. They encouraged students to sign pledge cards that state: “I believe that everyone at Skyline Middle School has a right to be who he or she is without being bullied or made fun of. I promise to be respectful of others and their feelings. I promise that I will not BULLY or TEASE others. I promise to help others who are being bullied. If I see someone bullying another person, I will go and tell an adult.”

“Domestic abuse, child abuse and bullying all have one thing in common: mental health,” said Hose, who handed out a pledge card to each of the School Board members. “Everyone in this room knows what it’s like to feel alone and we want to make sure that no child has to go through that.”

Going forward, the Enough Project team plans to work with guidance counselors and other DECA chapter members to hold more activities for middle schoolers about healthy relationships.

“Board members, we need your help to say ‘Enough’ to domestic violence, ‘Enough’ to child abuse, and ‘Enough’ to bullying,” Hose said.

School Board members thanked the students for their efforts and adopted the “Resolution of the Warren County School Board Supporting the Warren County High School DECA Club Anti-Bullying Initiative.”

The resolution acknowledges the “pervasive problem” caused by bullying in schools and its negative consequences and states that School Board members support the DECA chapter “in helping to create a student-led culture of intolerance for bullying.”

In other action, members of the School Board voted on two separate, but related wireless items brought before them by Timothy Grant, director of technology for Warren County Public Schools (WCPS).

Grant explained that the district’s elementary schools need upgraded WIFI access since each school is currently outfitted with approximately one access point for every eight classrooms. The upgrade will increase the WIFI saturation to one access point per classroom, he said.

“The funding for this project is coming from E-Rate Program funds and the WCPS technology budget,” said Grant, who noted that federal E-rate funding will pay for 70 percent of the eligible products and services.

The entire cost of the project totals $137,322, Grant said, with WCPS only responsible for $40,181 of the project due to the E-rate discount and a technology trade-in program for the ineligible items.

The board voted 5-0 to approve the $40,181 purchase of wireless products and services for A.S. Rhodes, E. Wilson Morrison, Hilda J Barbour, Leslie Fox Keyser, and Ressie Jeffries elementary schools following a motion by board member Arnold Williams Jr., and a second by board member James Wells.

Grant then approached the board with a request for additional cabling that needs to be installed in each WCPS elementary school to support the upcoming wireless upgrade. This will be done in conjunction with the E-rate wireless project and is required for the new access points to be installed, he explained.

The cost of this project is $39,000, with services and equipment for this project quoted using the Town of Front Royal IT contract, according to Grant.

School Board members unanimously approved the request following a motion by School Board Vice Chairman C. Douglas Rosen and a second by School Board member Donna McEathron.

Watch the Royal Examiner video to see other reports and action by Warren County School Board members, including its approval of both the 2020-2021 school year calendar, as well as the members for the 2019-2020 Career and Technical Education Advisory Committee.

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A non-agenda topic dominates the supervisors’ attention – is it too late for compromise on Confederate statue?

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What appeared to be a fairly routine agenda of the Warren County Board of Supervisors meeting on Tuesday, October 20th ended up being anything but. The first sign that something might be up was a nearly full Warren County Government Center parking lot with perhaps 15 people talking and scattered about outside 15 minutes prior to the open meeting’s scheduled 7 p.m. start.

While there were six public hearings scheduled, none appeared to be of a contentious or controversial nature that might draw such a crowd. And a six o’clock closed session to discuss committee, board, and EDA personnel matters; personal property assessments; and even the Front Royal Golf Club management contract, wouldn’t likely be pulling such numbers in.

“Just waiting for the meeting to start,” was the response to a “what’s going on” query by this reporter. And about three minutes after that meeting start as the 60-minute opening public comments portion of the meeting began, it quickly became apparent what the crowd was there for – the courthouse grounds Confederate soldier statue debate.

Above, at issue is this 109-year-old statue commemorating county men who served in the Confederate army’s presence on the Warren County Courthouse lawn. FR Unites, under the leadership of Samuel Porter, seated below Tuesday night in center-right foreground with four supporters, has tied the statue’s presence there to the organization’s initial call for equal justice for all and an end to institutional racism marked by undue police violence against people of color in America. Royal Examiner Photos by Roger Bianchini – Royal Examiner Video by Mark Williams

To the caucus room front side of the meeting room, a four-person contingent was seated with Front Royal Unites principal Samuel Porter, who was a day or so off a social media spat with Front Royal Unites co-founding member and original organization president Stevi Hubbard’s 13-year-old daughter over her and her mother’s separation from the group.

Scattered throughout the public seating were some of those who had been outside, including at least one centrally located, colorful MAGA hat-sporting member, some familiar faces from recent Warren County Militia events including organizer Sam Haun, as well as two past public commenters in favor of leaving the statue in place, Richard Hoover and Gary Kushner.

Sixty-two minutes and 22 public speakers later, 17 of whom addressed the statue issue with a 13-4 split in favor of it remaining where it is, the meeting agenda moved past public comments to those six public hearing matters, before finishing up with board and staff reports, and approval of past meeting minutes, accounts, appropriations and fund transfers.

But it was the increasingly divisive expression of conflicting attitudes on the necessity or lack thereof for the removal of a memorial to the county’s citizens who went to war on the side of the Confederacy, some to die, all likely to be changed in some way forever, that put an imprint on the supervisors’ evening of October 20, 2020.

Above, perhaps anticipating a negative result in the non-binding November referendum on moving the statue, FR Unites supporter Kristin Iden tells the supervisors that ‘the majority opinion is not always the right thing to do’ drawing the ire of some opponents of moving the statue. Below, one of those opponents, eighteenth speaker Mike Mayer, made a loud and colorful approach to the podium telling companions to “hold my beer, baby”, then first focusing on his affection for Board Clerk Emily Ciarrocchi’s last name before re-focusing his attention on the ‘ill-informed, emotionally inept and asinine minority” on the statue issue.

For that conversation, sometimes reasoned, sometimes not; occasionally reaching toward communication and compromise, at other times expressing deafness to any opinion other than one’s own; and at times even ominously threatening as to unrealized “consequences” of demanding what certainly that evening was the minority opinion for removal, was a reflection of where we are as, not only a county but as a nation divided as Election Day 2020 approaches.

Perhaps the most reasoned thing said on the statue topic was by fifth speaker Richard Hoover’s suggestion that the statue remain with other war memorials on the courthouse grounds, but that a statue to the county’s black citizens who were enslaved be added to memorialize their sacrifice next to the county’s memorials to those who sacrificed by going to war on the right or wrong side of history.

Above, Richard Hoover voiced perhaps the best idea expressed during the evening just as his 3 minutes expired. That idea was to leave the statue where it stands, but add a statue commemorating the sacrifice of the county’s slave population on the courthouse grounds. Below, the dedication on the Confederate soldier statue in question.

But as Hoover reached his point of reasoned compromise following an exploration of the nuances of local and national history, the strictly enforced three-minute time limit bell went off, cutting his reasoned compromise idea off as it was leaving his mouth.

Another speaker who appeared to be with the leave the Confederate soldier statue where it is contingent, Craig Anderson, failed to mention the statue at the podium, targeting what he called the “COVID mask thing” as a political hoax or “political fear thing” orchestrated, apparently by Democrats. Anderson asserted that the CDC (Center for Disease Control) has “told us” that rather than the 220,000-plus deaths now attributed to the COVID-19 Coronavirus pandemic in the U.S., the actual number was only 10,000 fatalities that the virus has been responsible for nationally.

But the statue wasn’t the only topic of controversy addressed during public comments. Perhaps the most aggressively personal comments delivered the supervisors’ way came from Shenandoah Farms Sanitary District management critic Nancy Winn. Winn railed at the supervisors by first names for a lack of attention to her submissions and expenditure on a lawyer to assemble evidence of what she feels were misappropriations of Sanitary District funds by the Property Owners of Shenandoah Farms (POSF).

As the bell and Chairman Mabe noted her three minutes at the podium were expired, she continued to complain on what she sees as inaction by the board, again calling the chairman out by his first name as she returned to her front-row seat.

“Don’t tell me to shut up,” she said loudly, apparently directed her husband Dale Orlowske’s way before he approached the podium to support his wife’s assertions that Sanitary District money was spent in places it should not have been under POSF management.

Forget the statue – what about POSF management of the Shenandoah Farms Sanitary District, eighth speaker Nancy Winn wanted to know. Time up, Winn continued to belabor the board, its chairman, and her husband as she packed up to leave in a huff.

POSF official Ralph Rinaldi later rose to tell the board that he and the POSF were prepared to present their side of the story at a date of the supervisors choosing. Board Chairman Mabe informed Rinaldi that he had been sent information that day on a date for the POSF presentation in response to Winn and Orlowske’s allegations.

If POSF critic Winn is there, that should be MUST SEE Royal Examiner TV.

This writer could continue to quote from the above-described exchanges but will just suggest you “get the popcorn” or a preferred snack and settle in for the hour-and-three-minute show as it transpired in this Royal Examiner video.

Opposing sides file out without incident as board takes a five-minute break following the 63-minute Public Comments portion of the meeting.

Then there is the rest of the meeting – erosion and sediment control ordinance updates to align with state law changes; Conditional Use Permit applications for flower-arranging classes at an Ag District farm (vote postponed to Nov. 4); a short-term tourist rental application; and two zoning modification requests by Frank Barnett Jr. and the Warren County Fair Association/Frank Brugh; and establishment of a small 14-lot Sanitary District at the Shannon Woods subdivision (public hearing recessed to Nov. 4) – but what an anti-climax, unless one of those applications was yours.


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Council approves budget transfer on FRPD construction; remaining CARES Act distribution plan

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In other business at its October 19 meeting, by a 5-0 vote, Meza absent, the Front Royal Town Council approved a Fiscal Year-2021 Budget Amendment allowing an “Interfund Budget Transfer” of $8,483,001.15 to facilitate payment on the United Bank loan on the construction of the new Town Police Headquarters. During the public hearing on the budget amendment, Paul Gabbert rose to tell council it was a transfer long overdue.

Gabbert also questioned council’s congratulatory “back slapping” on alleged savings of “millions of dollars” noting that with an unknown interest rate in 10 years when an estimated $4.78-million-dollar balance will have to be refinanced, exactly how much money will be saved or lost remains a long-term unknown. Gabbert also told town officials they should calculate contracted attorney’s fees related to the Town’s litigation against the EDA against those publicly bragged about savings.

“There are no back pats from the public,” Gabbert asserted of council’s choices of litigation with the recovering from financial scandal EDA and the two-year impasse over assuming financing on its police headquarters construction project.

Council approved several budgetary items Monday and tabled another till more information on Contingencies was available. Royal Examiner Photos by Roger Bianchini – Royal Examiner Video by Mark Williams

Also, by a 5-0 vote, council approved “Option 1” of two options on the distribution of a remaining $309,058 in Phase 1 CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Securities) Act relief funds. The Town’s share of that first $3.5 million received by the County from the federal-enabled, state-distributed money was $1,276,558.

One apparent difference between the two options was a small percentage change in the “Additional Payout” category from 31.4% in Option 1, to 30% in Option 2 that appeared to reduce the “Estimated Chamber of Commerce Administration Fee” from $18,808 in Option 2 to $5,000 in Option 1. Contacted on those numbers, Town Finance Director B. J. Wilson said Option 1 would result in a lesser payment to the Chamber for its administrative work on the CARES distribution. He noted that the Chamber had offered to do the work at no charge, but that council felt some compensation was in order, choosing the $5,000 compensation on the Phase 1 work.

Consideration of a transfer of Contingency funds was removed from the agenda on a motion by Vice-Mayor Bill Sealock. Sealock indicated some questions about involved resources remained to be clarified. And council agreed to table consideration of the transfer pending more information.

Also, during the Interim Town Manager’s Report, FRPD Chief Kahle Magalis came forward for a promotion ceremony of Officer Zachary King to sergeant in the patrol division. His wife Jess, two children River and Tyler, and mother Dot were present for the brief ceremony during which Jess successfully pinned her husband’s new rank on his chest.

FRPD Chief Magalis introduces Office Zachary King, wife Jess, and older son River to council and the mayor as mom and younger son observe from the back row.

Jess pins her husband’s new rank to his chest without incident, as has not always been the case in past promotions.

Mom Dot and younger son Tyler get a closer look at Sgt. King’s promotion.

One local businessperson, Holly Leach, thanked the Town for its efforts on behalf of downtown businesses in the opening public comments period.

During his report, Interim Town Manager Matt Tederick presented social media statistics, views, and “likes” from the past weekend’s Fall leaf season during which a promotional effort by the contracted Tourism marketing company Strategic Solutions by Trish brought what Tederick called “influencers” or people with social media posting sites and followers related to travel and tourism, to Town.

Interim Town Manager Tederick explains the role of social media ‘influencers’ in promoting tourism in the community.

However, there were no numbers presented that indicated a direct correlation between revenue generation and the social media “influencers” posts, responses, and “likes” compared to past Fall season Tourism numbers. Though such statistics may only be known over time, when and if “likes” translate into visits, not only to our national and state parks but downtown and other tourism-related businesses as well.

And those results in hard business revenue numbers will have to be judged against past tourist season revenues for a final judgment on the “influencer’s” influence on tourism destinations.

Watch these discussions, ceremonies, and public comments in this Royal Examiner video:

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Town Council urges Valley Health and Anthem to resolve cost impasse

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In a final agenda item before adjourning to closed session Monday night, October 19, the Front Royal Town Council passed a Resolution urging regional medical provider Valley Health and insurance giant Anthem/Blue Cross Blue Shield to continue to negotiate to a mutually acceptable resolution on the existing impasse on costs associated with renewing their contract which expires at the end of the 2020 calendar year, December 31st.

The resolution on a motion by Lori Cockrell, seconded by Letasha Thompson, was approved by a 5-0 vote, with Valley Health employee Jake Meza who likely would have recused himself from voting, absent. There was no council comment prior to the vote, as there is an apparent community-wide consensus the two private sector health care entities need to resolve their new contract cost dispute.

Motorists passing the current WMH on N. Shenandoah Ave. may soon be thinking ‘I have to drive where for my Anthem insurance to do me any good?!?’ Royal Examiner Photos by Roger Bianchini – Royal Examiner Video by Mark Williams

As first reported by Royal Examiner contributing writer Malcolm Barr Sr. on September 28, (“Major health insurance carrier may quit Valley Health; health care costs may rise for many in 2021”) were the Anthem/Valley Health contract allowed to lapse it would impact as many as 70% of Valley Health patients, including government retirees and employees. The Front Royal Town Council resolution estimates an impact on “about 40,000 people in the Valley Health regional health care monopoly region” including those utilizing Warren Memorial Hospital in town.

Perhaps unhappily now for local governments, Valley Health is currently building a new Warren Memorial Hospital (WMH) enabled by a Town and County-approved $60-million-dollar loan through the County-Town Economic Development Authority covering a significant portion of the new facility off Leach Run Parkway’s estimated cost. The new hospital was already controversial due to the planned elimination of some services, most prominently a maternity/birthing unit.

Perhaps ironically, Meza’s reversal of previous recusals on the matter due to his employment status with Valley Health, enabled June 11, 2018, 3-1 vote (John Connolly dissenting) adding the Town’s approval of the EDA hospital financing to the County’s. With two councilmen, Morrison and Gillespie absent had Meza continued his previous recusals council would not have had a necessary voting quorum to proceed on the matter, at least at that June 11, 2018 meeting (“Birth Local’s last stand nets one ‘no’ vote on finalizing hospital financing”).

On June 11, 2018, ‘Birth Local’ activist Melanie Salins makes her final plea against preferential financial treatment for a new Valley Health hospital facility without a maternity unit as three Valley Health officials listen behind her. She and other public pleas netted one ‘no’ vote to a locally enabled EDA $60-million loan. Wonder what the vote would be today as Valley Health and Anthem play hardball on new insurance coverage contract costs?

But back to the present, Monday’s resolution notes that many people carry Anthem as their medical insurance provider through their employers, locally including public school and local government employees.

The resolution also points to the ongoing threat from the COVID-19 Coronavirus pandemic which it observes, “continues to threaten the livelihood and well-being of the Front Royal and indeed, the greater Warren County community … and would only be exasperated by the dissolution of the currently-existing Valley Health and Anthem partnership to provide quality, affordable, and in-network healthcare services to the residents and citizens of the Front Royal and Warren County community of many thousands of people.”

The resolution makes several references to Valley Health’s “de facto monopoly on many vital life-saving and critical health care provisions” in the region and cites “a moral, if not legal, fiduciary responsibility” to continue to provide its services “to residents within this geographic region” and place those Anthem-covered service costs “above the profits and pecuniary interests of Valley Health”.

The County is also considering its options should the impasse not be resolved as reported in our story “County considers options as Valley Health and Anthem insurance split” – and the supervisors have expressed a distinct preference for a resolution of the Anthem-Valley Health dispute to changes to its employee insurance packages estimated to see costs at least double.

‘Birth Local’ demonstrators outside WMH on Feb. 28, 2018. Might we see new demonstrators with different signage at WMH as the Valley Health-Anthem stare down over new insurance contract costs continues toward the year’s end?

So, will public pressure and municipal resolutions have a positive impact on what may be a high-stakes poker game between the Northern Shenandoah Valley regional health care provider and the national health care insurance giant?

Stay tuned – it’s only our health and sometimes lives on the line versus corporate and executive compensation bottom lines.

See the motion, vote, and other business and public comments to council that will be summarized in a related story, in this Royal Examiner video of Monday’s 29-minute open meeting:

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County Planning Commission mulls change of use permits

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The Warren County Planning Commission met October 14th in the Government Center, combining a joint work session with the Agricultural and Forestal District Advisory Committee, and the regular commission meeting.  The advisory committee, consisting of 10 members appointed by the County Board of Supervisors, including 8 landowners, a member of the board, and the Commissioner of the Revenue.

County Planning Director Taryn Logan informs the Commission of the duties of the Advisory Committee before their PowerPoint presentation.

The committee presented its report and recommendation for the renewal of the three Forestal Districts in Warren County:  Rockland, South River, and Limeton.  Each district exists to encourage the development and improvement of Virginia’s agricultural and forestal lands for the production of food and other agricultural and forestal products.  The districts are formed by voluntary action of participating landowners in any district.  The Rockland district was formed in 1977 following enabling legislation.  These special districts provide community benefits in the form of protection of the character of the community and continued rural uses of the land, potential tax benefits for participating landowners, and restrictions on government actions within the district, such as special review for any eminent domain or use restrictions that may adversely affect it.

The renewal request, for a period of 10 years, includes 196 parcels in the Rockland district, 35 in South River, and 20 in Limeton.  The Planning Commission voted unanimously to forward the package to the Board of Supervisors recommending their approval of the continuation of the districts.

Once the work session was concluded, the planning commission regular meeting was called to order.  Once the agenda and the minutes of the previous meeting were approved, Chairman Myers opened the floor for public presentations, and there were none.  Opportunities for public presentations are included at every Planning Commission meeting and intended to allow any member of the public to address relevant planning issues to the commission that are not included on the regular agenda.

The Public Hearing portion of the meeting opened with the review of a request by property owners Kevin and Renee Roig, and Daniel and Samantha Nobles, for a conditional use permit for a short-term tourist rental of their property at 2686 Panhandle Road in the Fork Magisterial District.  The property is zoned Agricultural.  The applicants purchased the property as a second home for their own use and determined to help offset the maintenance and operating costs by offering Bed & Breakfast accommodations through Airbnb.  There is no Property Owners Association for this property and all setback requirements have been met.  The home is 948 feet from the nearest dwelling.  The Applicants have been working with the planning department to provide all required documents and the conditional use permit will require compliance with all county ordinances, identifying prohibited activities, health department requirements, with occupancy requirements not to exceed 6 persons.

Resident Randy Weir weighs in. Photo/Stephen Sill

Chairman Myers opened the floor for public comment, and there were eight neighboring residents who offered their input on the request – Their comments ranged from concerns about unknown persons wandering around the neighborhood to noisy activities to potential trespassing, to potential increased traffic on a very rural road with mountainous terrain, to the endangerment of livestock, to general complaints about the use of the property as a “business”.  All the speakers were opposed to the permit being approved.  A former owner of the property indicated that the installed septic system required several treatments and was concerned that guests may not perform the required treatments and thereby endanger the groundwater that the system was designed to protect.  A recurring theme of the comments was that allowing this use of the property would not be in character for a close-knit neighborhood of long-standing.

Once all comments had been made, the Chairman closed the public comment period and asked the applicants, represented by Renee Roig and Samantha Nobles, to respond to the comments from the neighbors if they wished.  The applicants began by expressing their appreciation for the input and for the attention of the planning department and the commission for allowing them to comment.  They stressed their desire to be part of the community – acknowledging that the COVID-19 pandemic had restricted their ability to have more communication with their new neighbors.  They assured the commissioners that their original and primary reason for the purchase of the property was as a second home for their families’ use, given that it is only an hour and a half drive from their homes.  They indicated that their intent was to fulfill any requirements that would allay the fears of their neighbors about the use as a tourist rental, including screening of guests and prohibiting any dangerous activities such as shooting, open fires, or fireworks. Finally, they reminded the commissioners that if the permit was not approved, they still intended to use the property as a getaway home for their own families.

Chairman Myers thanked the applicants for their comments.  He reminded the audience that the Virginia legislature has declared that Short-term tourist rental is not considered commercial use and that, on the other hand, a long-term rental is a by-right use.  A tourist renter who is a problem is likely to be very temporary, but a long-term tenant can be a far greater problem.

Vice-Chairman Henry also commented that short-term tourist rentals often improve a property and its environment since they have to be maintained to a high standard to attract guests.  He also cautioned against viewing profit as a bad thing, and that there is a need for balance in assessing the impact of use on the community.

Commissioner Beall pointed out that a person is entitled to use their own property as they see fit, so long as the use is legal.  But she had mixed feelings about the situation.

Commissioner Kersjes asked if the septic system was compliant, and vice-chairman Henry responded that it was, but it did require some additional maintenance to operate properly, and it could be beneficial to make that an additional condition for issuance of the permit, along with any others that would be appropriate.

Chairman Myers reiterated that approval of the permit application is only a recommendation to the Board of Supervisors, who has the final approval authority.

Matt Wendling from the Planning Department told the commissioners that markings for property lines, rules of behavior for guests, and emergency contact information would be included in the Property Management plan, required as a condition of approval.

Vice-Chairman Henry then asked if the motion to approve could be amended to include additional requirements, such as septic system maintenance or other restrictions.

Vice-Chairman Henry offered an amended motion to recommend approval, seconded by Commissioner Kersjes, approved unanimously.

The commission then turned to the second public hearing on the agenda, that of a Zoning Ordinance text amendment, to amend Chapter 180 of the Warren County Code (Zoning Ordinance) to add “rural events facility” as a use allowed by conditional use permit in the Agricultural (A) zoning district.  After a reading of the amended text, Vice Chairman Henry offered a motion to recommend approval of the text amendment to the Board of Supervisors, Commissioner Kersjes seconded.  The motion was approved unanimously.

The commission then considered a request for a conditional use permit for a rural events facility on Lee Burke road in the Fork District that would host weddings and other events on a 41-acre parcel of agricultural land.  The Applicant, Shelly Cook, wishes to incorporate these events in the agricultural setting and has developed a plan for its use that is undergoing engineering at this time.  Planning Staff recommends that if the Planning Commission recommends approval, that conditions such as compliance with all Health Department, VDOT, and Warren County Fire and Rescue requirements, as well as those of the Planning Department.

Chairman Myers then opened the floor for public comments.  There were 4 speakers who expressed support for the project in general but were concerned that they did not have enough information about the final placement of the event facility on the project.  The applicant explained that the engineering work was not yet complete, but that the placement would be in a location approved by the Planning Department.  Some concerns regarding music, lights, alcohol consumption, and hours of operation were raised by the commenters.  The applicant explained that the facility itself would not be serving alcohol, and individual vendors would have to serve in compliance with all applicable laws.

The Chairman then closed the public hearing and turned to the commissioners for any questions or comments.  Commissioner Kersjes raised the issue of proximity to the senior living facility on the adjoining property and asked if the light or music might create an issue for the residents there.  The applicant indicated she had spoken with the onsite manager there, but not with the facility owners, who are out of state.  The onsite manager indicated no conflict with it.  Vice-Chairman Henry asked if the applicant had subdivision rights for the property should this use not work out.  The applicant indicated she did.

Following the discussion, Vice-Chairman Henry made a motion to recommend approval, seconded by Commissioner Longo.  The motion was approved unanimously. The Commission then considered two requests for Authorization to Advertise for public hearings.

David and Nita Sudlow are requesting a Conditional use permit for a Chapel on their property at 6435 Strasburg Rd, in the Fork Magisterial District.  The chapel is to be located in a structure that was a garage.  The chapel will not be a formal church but will be limited to groups of 49 or less.  Commissioner Kersjes offered a motion to approve an authorization to advertise for a public hearing, Commissioner Longo seconded.  Approval was unanimous.

Finally, the commission considered a second conditional use permit for David and Nita Sudlow for a guest house in an existing structure on the same property.  The project will require an upgraded septic system that meets the Virginia Department of Health Requirements.  Vice-Chairman Henry offered the motion to approve the authorization to advertise, Commissioner Kersjes seconded.

The Chairman then made comments regarding the need for better traffic control at the corner of John Marshall Highway and High Knob road.  Planning Director Logan acknowledged the concern and reminded the commissioners that VDOT approval is a lengthy process and the problem is one of long-standing.

Previous articles in the Royal Examiner have addressed the most critical problem with that intersection:

“Driver inattentiveness is a serious issue on the approaches to High Knob, complicated as they are westbound from Linden by a blind hill approach to the entrance, and from the east and Front Royal by a looping curved approach.” – Roger Bianchini, November 19, 2018

Planning Director Logan also announced the retirement of longtime Planning Department Administrative assistant Cindy Kokernak, who will be greatly missed.

Chairman Myers adjourned the meeting at 9:00 PM.



Driver inattentiveness cited at top of safety issues in Route 55 E corridor

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Budget season must be on the horizon as supervisors begin departmental reviews

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At a Tuesday night, October 13 work session the Warren County Board of Supervisors reviewed a draft schedule for its Fiscal Year-2022 (FY-22 which runs from July 1, 2021 to June 30, 2022) Budget process and may have previewed that process with a detailed review of two of its in-house county departmental budgets, staffing and logistical operations.

Those departments were General Services and Public Works, headed by Brandy Rosser and Mike Berry, respectively. The department heads gave very precise power point presentations on their departmental functions, including future concerns that could impact those budgets, on the public works side including Sanitary District operations. Also prominent on the public works side were changes in availability of disposal sites, rising costs and tonnage on the recycling side of refuse disposal operations.

Above, Brandy Rosser explains the three-year-old General Services Department’s functions; and below Mike Berry traces the Public Works Department’s logistics. Royal Examiner Photos by Roger Bianchini – Royal Examiner Video by Mark Williams

Rosser reviewed the General Services Department established during FY-2018 to oversee County-owned property and building maintenance and custodial services. The custodial function has taken on added importance with added duties from the COVID-19 Coronavirus pandemic reopening precautions, Rosser noted.

The department also provides management and staff support in implementation of the County’s Capital Improvement Program (CIP). Rosser’s power point included a number of projects overseen in past four years, including Eastham and Rockland Parks trails and the installation of Music Park equipment enabled by the generous donations of Ms. Lorraine Holquist; boat landings and building renovations including Ressie Jeffries Elementary School, RSW Jail, the Community Center in old library, the Parks & Rec Department Splash Pad among others.

Some projects are facilitated through grant applications won, Rosser told the board, elaborating on local versus State or Federally supported contributions.

Also at Tuesday’s meeting the board heard from Circuit Court Clerk Angie Moore on the advisability of closing county courthouse operations on New Year’s Eve, December 31, due to the closing of the state court system, making computer system availability necessary to virtually all of the courthouse operations inaccessible.

Circuit Court Clerk Angie Moore explains why she is requesting the courthouse be closed on December 31, along with the state court system and most local courts throughout Virginia.

Moore also noted a “budgetary nightmare” aspect to remaining open on December 31, which is that any land recordings or other business able to be conducted are recorded as occurring on January 2, the first business day of the following year. It was noted that Warren County was one of only 14 of the commonwealth’s approximately 126 courts open December 31 of last year.

A consensus appeared to be to approve the closure at the next supervisors’ meeting.

Tuesday’s meeting opened with Sheriff Mark Butler presenting staff awards, several associated with Mother’s Against Drunk Driving (MADD) recognitions.

Sheriff Mark Butler lauds the work of his deputies, socially distanced behind him, for efforts in keeping the county’s roads and citizens safe.

Deputies Anthony Stevens, Jonathan Price and Cindy Burke were singled out for outstanding contributions to the department’s efforts to keep our roads and county safe for the general public. Stevens received an Outstanding Service Award for his compassion to a citizen in distress, and a MADD recognition; Burke was awarded a Community Policing Medal for community service and problem-solving skills; and Price rounded the awards out with a nod from MADD for his work keeping our roads safe from intoxicated drivers.

Above, Deputy Cindy Burke, receives a Community Policing Medal from Sheriff Butler; and below, Deputy Anthony Stevens adds an Outstanding Service Award to his earlier MADD recognition.

See those awards open Tuesday’s meeting; the departmental and courthouse reports; and the FY-22 Budget Process Schedule review in this Royal Examiner video:

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Local Government

County okays immediate emergency services communications tower replacement

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At its October 6 work session, Warren County officials dealt with a second emergency services funding issue – this one equipment related, rather than personnel as in the Chester Gap Fire & Rescue discussion. In fact, Chester Gap Chief Brown stayed for this discussion as it impacts his department along with all the County’s emergency service responders.

The equipment at issue are two microwave communications towers, one at Guard Hill Road on the north-central side of the county, the other in Bentonville to the south. The towers are crucial to station to field communications with, not only fire and rescue personnel, but law enforcement officers responding to sometimes life-threatening situations, as well as interdepartmental communications. That details of those emergency response situations are available to first responders on all fronts is crucial to their safety and the public safety, Sheriff Mark Butler explained.

“I told you I wouldn’t come to you (for money) unless it was a need – this is a need,” Butler said.

From left, County Fire Marshal Maiatico, Sheriff Butler and Chester Gap Chief Brown agree that it is important they be able to communicate, not only station to staff, but interdepartmentally. Royal Examiner Photos by Roger Bianchini – Royal Examiner Video by Mark Williams

“A real serious need,” Chester Gap Chief Brown added. And it appeared the most serious problem is with the Bentonville tower in his neighborhood, which was referenced as being essentially dysfunctional since August 25, to the point where fire and rescue and the sheriff’s office can’t communicate in that part of the county.

As with the earlier Chester Gap and countywide  discussion, short and long-term solutions were on the table. Short-term, a $93,000 cost was cited to replace the two antennas showing current signs of failure. Longer term, to upgrade the entire emergency communications system a $2 million to $2-1/2-million price tag was estimated.

Interim County Administrator Ed Daley told the board that the microwave communications tower replacement costs in the short term would become the number one priority on the CARES Act public safety funding allotment, with courthouse upgrades second.

A consensus was reached to move immediately on the short-term issue to assure the complete restoration of service in the Bentonville-Browntown area and improve the communication gap situation countywide. However, it was stressed that movement on the entire system upgrade was needed to begin in the near future, as the aging system is facing periodic interruptions across the board.

A consensus to move forward immediately on the dysfunctional tower was made with a three-month or less timeframe for replacement.

A two-week turnaround in the order with installation in less than three months was cited on the replacement work.

See the discussion of another vital aspect of countywide emergency services in this exclusive Royal Examiner video:

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