In an exclusive interview with Nelson Mendes, Royal Examiner reporters learned of a history of possible harassment from the County Planning Department targeting Mendes and his next steps to move forward with an appeal.
Nelson Mendes came to Thunderbird Farms to fulfill a dream of owning and operating a tree nursery. Seeking a quieter life from the Northern Virginia area, Mendes and his wife obtained land, cleared trees and started working. Two buildings, storage garages, were already on the property when it was purchased. A hoop house, a kind of temporary greenhouse, has been constructed to aid in the growing of young trees. The large garage has been on the property for four years, and the small garage has been there for three and a half years. In all that time, these structures where not cited for violations.
Then problems came out of nowhere.
The difficulties started when a neighbor complained about Mendes clearing trees from the lot. Mendes claims that this shouldn’t be a concern, as he has agricultural plans for the land. He is using it to grow trees after all.
Mendes didn’t believe he needed a land disturbance permit because his property was agriculturally zoned; however, when he realized he would need one and turned to the county the real trouble began. Mendes was denied his permit because he needed to go through a “thorough review process” which included an erosion and sediment control plan. This led to frustrations as Mendes was cited again and again for buildings which did not follow this erosion and sediment plan, most of which pre-existed Mendes’s ownership of the property.
When the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) was sent to review Mendes’s property, they deemed the erosion and settlement plan unnecessary as the land was already safe against erosion. The head of the County Building Code Department, David Beahm, attempted to overrule the State ruling but was shut down by a DEQ supervisor. Mendes proceeded to move forward with working his farm; however, on January 16, 2019, Mendez received a letter of violation from the County Building Code Department on all his structures.
One of the issues was the dock, another structure previously built on the property. Mendes had added a small ramp for launching kayaks and canoes which raised issues. Mendes was reported to the Virginia Marine Resource Commission (VMRC) for the violation concerning the ramp, but again, as with the DEQ, the supervisor at VRMC found no problems with the structure.
Mendes, under the advice given to him by the County Planning Department, filed for several agricultural exemption for the properties that were cited as violating the zoning ordinance. Per a Zoning Determination Letter sent to Mendes on May 1, 2019, the Zoning Administrator found that his Agricultural Exemption Applications, which would have exempted him from obtaining a “zoning permit” were not approved because they lacked residential building permits for the garages and the hoop house.
At this point Mendes began seriously questioning the motives of the County Department and its aggressive nature towards his pursuit of tree farming. Mendez contacted the previous owner, a lawyer, who began to investigate. Since purchasing the property, Warren County officials have referred Mendes’ property to third-party regulatory agencies (DEQ, MRC, FEMA) on three occasions. Two out of three of those occasions resulted in agencies finding that Mendes did not need to take any further action (i.e. DEQ and MRC) whereas FEMA merely required that Mendes install flood-vents on his structures. So why, Mendes wondered, why was he being targeted so harshly.
Mendez researched and determined that his properties were, to the his best understanding, not in violation of any codes established from the state level down to the local. The county website specifically stated that buildings in an agricultural zone and used for agricultural purposes did not require permitting he was told he required. WCC § 180-21 under section A of General Legislation, states “In addition to agricultural pursuits, any one of the following uses is permitted by right on each lot or each tract or combination tracts in the Agricultural District.” Due to the fact that the Mendes property is zoned Agricultural, this regulation, or lack thereof, would appear to apply. In addition, the previous owner had already been approved for one of the structures; a 500 square foot garage.
Seeking information by his right under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), Mendes found that in the original letter of violation, his property was part of a county-wide flood plain observation. When he inquired how many properties were involved under this observation, he learned his property was the only one cited with a violation. In fact, Mendes has been the only property charged for violating WCC § 180-16(F)(1)(A) within a six-month period.
Mendes also believes that some questionable actions occurred with the County listing his ramp as a violation. Due to the ramp being so small and his property being at a steep incline, the only way to even know the ramp was there would be to swim upstream or trespass onto the property. Even from the aerial photographs, the ramp is not visible unless you know to look for it. Mendes maintains Fourth Amendment search concerns related to this matter.
Other questionable charges include the request for flood vents on the hoop house and the garages. The hoop house is made of steel mesh and the garages have large open doors in addition to being anchored in concrete, making all three structures flood proof. These charges baffled Mendes.
Mendes is now seeking action by appealing to the Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA) on September 5. In accordance with the Right to Farm Act, he is fighting for his right to run his farm how he needs to run it under what his research has shown are within State guidelines.
When asked for comment, Mr. Joe Petty from the Planning Department stated that “From the Planning Department’s perspective, we’ve don’t nothing wrong. This is nothing personal against Mr. Mendes, we simply have a code to enforce and those standards apply to him as they would to anyone else.” Mr. Petty clarified the Planning Department’s side of the issue on several accounts. At the time that the initial letter of violation was sent to Mr. Mendes, his property was the only one being observed. However, since an August 1st meeting, over 50 such letters have been sent out to other properties in the flood plane. In addition to this, Mr. Petty clarified that much of the information gathered that brought violation charges on Mr. Mendes’ structures was obtained by use of the geographic information system (GIS) available to public viewing on warrengis.org. This would explain the Planning Department’s ability to cite structures such as the ramp without being on the property.
Mendes’s next step is a hearing that will contest the County’s requirements that Mendes build his structures to residential standards. He hopes this will lead to a change in the County’s aggressive approach towards him, as well as other businesses for building code enforcement.
Since the Royal Examiner interviewed Nelson Mendes, he has received additional FOIA information he requested from the County. His attorney, Tim Johnson, says it appears that upon a preliminary review it demonstrates that the Planning Department really did selectively target Mr. Mendes.
Even the other floodplain properties, including one other agricultural zoned property with non-permitted structures on it, went through a completely different process than Mr. Mendes: (1) received notices of zoning inspection; (2) had the property reviewed on-site by officials; (3) if any issues, THEN they received the notice of violation AND specific suggestions to be corrected.
Mr. Mendes was only ever cited with violations first, had officials come out to his property 3-4x with no clear guidance at each visit, then still be found in violation when he did do the one thing he was specifically told to do: install the flood vents.
If this case was really about ‘enforcing the code’, and the officials really had any concerns about the property, they had unlimited opportunities to meaningfully address those concerns and work with Mr. Mendes to resolve them to both his benefit as a well-intentioned property owner in Warren and to their benefit to ensure safety.
Whether or not Mendes’ appeal moves forward is yet to be seen, as more information has yet to be provided to the BZA. All will be made clear at the appeal meeting that will be held on September 5th.
Front Royal man arrested and charged for felony eluding and reckless driving
On February 25, 2020, Front Royal Police Officer J. Treese attempted to conduct a traffic stop at approximately 8:30pm on a 2013 Chevy Corvette that was traveling at a high rate of speed in the 1400 block of N. Royal Avenue. The vehicle did not display a license plate and when the officer activated his emergency lights, the vehicle failed to yield, and a pursuit was initiated. The pursuit continued through several jurisdictions to include Warren County, Shenandoah County, Strasburg and Frederick County.
Front Royal officers discontinued the pursuit; however, the pursuit was re-initiated by Frederick County Sheriff’s Office and Virginia State Police while on I-81. The vehicle stopped in Clarke County, where the driver fled from the vehicle on foot. The area was searched by Frederick and Clarke County deputies and the Virginia State Police; however, the driver was not located.
With the assistance of Upper Pottsgrove Township Police Department located in Pennsylvania, Front Royal Police has identified the driver as William Watson Allen IV. Charges were obtained on Allen for Felony Eluding and Reckless Driving. Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office arrested William Watson Allen IV this morning just over the West Virginia state line. Allen was transported to the Eastern Regional Jail. Other charges may be forthcoming in this matter.
Anyone who may have information about this case is asked to please contact Detective Ramey at 540-636-2208 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
United Way donates $5,500 to Blue Ridge Legal Services
The United Way of Front Royal-Warren County has donated $5,500 to Blue Ridge Legal Services (BRLS) for the 2019-20 fiscal year. The United Way has partnered with the free legal services clinic for several years, and is very happy to do so again this year!
According to its website, “BRLS is a non-profit charitable civil legal aid program providing free legal assistance in civil matters of critical importance to low-income residents of the Shenandoah Valley and Roanoke Valley. BRLS is committed to eliminating poverty-based inequities in the civil justice system by providing high-quality legal advice and representation to low-income residents of (its) service area, folks who would otherwise be unable to obtain legal help due to their poverty.” (Blue Ridge Legal Services, Inc.)
Blue Ridge Legal Services performs valuable services for the people of Front Royal-Warren County. In 2019, the agency closed 37 cases that benefited 83 low-income Warren County residents, including affirmative lump sum recoveries of $12,469 and monthly benefits of $4,116, and avoidance of claims, costs, and liabilities totaling $6,600 along with $353 in monthly costs avoided. In cases where the agency provided extended representation, it achieved client goals in 92% of those cases, and partially achieved client goals in another 8% of cases.
Since 1950, the United Way has worked to advance the common good in Front Royal-Warren County. The community wins when a child succeeds in school, when families are financially stable, and when people are healthy. The United Way’s goal is to create long-lasting change by addressing the underlying causes of the challenges we face. Living United means being part of the change!
To reach the United Way offices in Front Royal-Warren County (134-B Peyton Street, Front Royal, VA, 22630), please email email@example.com or call 540-635-3636.
Update: Bridge demolition at Route 123 continues this week, Feb. 24-28
Demolition and lane closures to occur during nighttime hours
Demolition continues during overnight hours this week on the ramp from I-66 West to Route 123 (Chain Bridge Road) South over I-66 to make room for the future reconstructed Route 123 Interchange, as part of the Transform 66 Outside the Beltway Project. This demolition activity must occur during the overnight hours, as multiple lane closures and temporary traffic stoppages on I-66 are required to safely complete this work.
What Nearby Residents and Drivers Should Expect:
• Removal of bridge beams is planned for Monday night, Feb. 24. Demolition of two bridge piers is planned for Tuesday, Feb. 25, through Friday night, Feb. 28.
• Five nights of demolition-related activity remain during this phase. The schedule will be adjusted if weather delays occur.
• Nearby residents may hear unavoidable construction-related noise during demolition operations.
• Drivers should plan for nightly lane closures for the demolition work on I-66 East between Route 50 and Route 123 with occasional 20-minute stoppages between midnight and 4 a.m. (5 a.m. on weekends).
Crews completed the removal of the concrete bridge deck of the Route 123 ramp over I-66 on Sunday night, Feb. 23. Demolition activities that don’t require multiple lane closures on I-66 will occur during daytime hours.
Demolition of the I-66 bridges over Fairfax County Parkway (Route 286) is also scheduled to continue this week. Nightly lane closures on I-66 East and Route 286 North and South will be implemented to safely accommodate this work.
All work is weather dependent and will be rescheduled if inclement conditions occur. Find additional details on planned traffic closures at www.Transform66.org.
Linden ladies embrace Company 4-hosted FRPD Self-Defense Class
On Sunday afternoon, February 23, the Front Royal Police Department took its class on self-defense for a specific and sometimes more vulnerable segment of the population to the Linden Fire & Rescue headquarters. Linden Volunteer Fire Department Company 4 President Suzi Shiley explained the town police foray outside the town limits was at her request to make the ladies self-defense class more accessible to women in the Linden area of eastern Warren County.
Before the 1 p.m. start of the class, we spoke to Shiley, class instructor Sgt. Jason Winner and Warren County Victim-Witness Coordinator Kelliann Harris, who traced her involvement in the FRPD self-defense program to her previous stint with the Laurel Center for victims of sexual violence.
Shiley noted that the response had been good, around 35, for a class capped at 20 participants, leaving the possibility of a second class being hosted at Company 4 later in the year. Shiley noted she had registered for the FRPD self-defense class about two years ago after seeing an ad at a local church.
“I took the class with Sgt. Winner and I enjoyed it immensely, and I remember to this day things that he taught us. So, I thought it would be great for the women of Linden to have the program here at the fire department at no cost,” Shiley said.
As we spoke, participants registered to bring Sunday’s turnout to 18, with several additional onlookers who appeared familiar with some of the techniques being taught. Royal Examiner spoke to one of those registered, Melissa Eakle, about the impetus for her participation.
“I actually came for my daughter – she’s getting ready to go off to college and in the world that we live in today, especially when you’re out on your own, you need to know just to play safe, be aware and what to do if something bad does happen to show the confidence to know how to take care of that situation,” Eakle, herself a personal physical trainer, said of her family’s dual registration.
And if her daughter’s aggressive embracement of techniques demonstrated by Sgt. Winner and FRPD Chief Kahle Magalis is any indicator, she will indeed be prepared with the knowledge and physical skills taught Sunday for her first solo foray into the world at childhood’s end.
As will the other participants, young and more mature, all of whom were attentive through Sgt. Winner’s introductory remarks and PowerPoint presentation giving an overview of, not only how to fight for your life and personal safety, but how to maintain the situational awareness to head off those situations before they reach the crisis point.
“The best way to win the fight is not to be in it,” Winner told the class before they hit the mat to practice those combat techniques necessary when all the means to avoid that final confrontation have been exhausted. And the FRPD physical combat instructor, who taught these techniques to his colleagues before his 2011 involvement in taking them into the community, stressed the importance of mental acuity in the experience of day-to-day life.
Different situations demand different strategies, Winner pointed out, noting that responses to being individually stalked in public areas will differ from an episode of domestic violence or an active shooter situation that has become all too familiar in “the world we live in today”.
Winner told his class to practice every day, not only the physical self-defense techniques they would learn, but the mental ones of situational awareness allowing one to overcome physiological reactions to stress and process your choices of “run, stay or fight” as quickly and efficiently as possible.
He also pointed to the negative impact on situational awareness of modern technologies like cell phones and individual mobile musical play systems that distract or deafen users from early signs of trouble in remote situations like large commercial parking lots or public areas in which they might find themselves alone and being followed.
And that is good advice for all of us – everything has its time and place EXCEPT our physical safety and survival. Awareness of potential threats to those should be a priority for us all, at all times.
Though as Winner cautioned his students Sunday, “Don’t just punch someone in the face who asks you what time it is or offers to help you with your groceries – there are some nice people out there. But if the hair on the back of your neck stands up, trust your instincts,” he added
Nine years & running
Winner traced the start of the women’s self-defense class to his involvement in training FRPD officers when the department was located in the old post office building at West Main Street and Luray Avenue. Without room in the cramped space of that building for self-defense training, Winner was offered the use of the Tap Etc. Dance Studio, at the time on East Main Street, by owner Kristin McCullough to hold that training.
“She offered her space for our training free of charge; the only thing she asked was if we could do a class for the dance students. I said, ‘Well, I’ve never done that, so let me do some research.’ I did the research, and we developed a class, and we’ve been developing it ever since. It’s kind of a work in progress,” Winner said, adding, “It’s been up and running for nine years. It’s more of a volunteer situation, and the Police Foundation bought us the mats and the pads. And now that we have the new facility, we do it at the police department pretty regularly now – at least once a quarter.
And when people ask, we do these things like when Suzi asked us here. Several weeks ago, we did one at New Hope Church for the Women’s Forum. So when people ask, if we can fit it into the schedule, we say ‘Yes,’” Winner said of accommodating additional requests for the no-cost classes such as Sunday’s at the Linden Company 4 Fire House.
Winner said he is the main departmental point of contact but pointed to his partnership with County Victim-Witness Coordinator Harris, who now works under the arm of the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office.
“It’s as much her class as it is my class. She handles registration and most of the paperwork, the waivers you have to sign, the evaluations, and things like that. So, Kelliann does the scheduling.
When we do them at the police department, Kelliann is the point of contact,” Winner observed, adding that at special-request events the host organization would be that point of contact like Shiley was at Company 4’s event Sunday.
Of her participation, Harris told us, “I used to work as a sexual assault advocate at the Laurel Center for 2-1/2 years. So, I started self-defense with Jason through that process. And then, when I changed positions over to the director position for Victim-Witness, I just kept on doing it. We’ve got a great program running; it’s a great team effort. So, we just kept that going,” Harris concluded.
And “in the world, we live in today” as Sunday participant Melissa Eakle observed, that is probably not a bad idea.
LFCC retains Military Friendly® School ranking
LFCC’s commitment to our student veterans has once again been recognized in the form of a Military Friendly® School designation from Viqtory, which connects military members to civilian jobs, schooling and more.
The college was given the Bronze distinction, meaning it came within 30 percent of the 10th best school in the small community college category. LFCC has received a Military Friendly® designation every year for the past decade.
Public data sources and a proprietary survey were used to award Military Friendly® School designations. Those making the cut will be listed in the May issue of “G.I. Jobs” magazine. The list is also available at militaryfriendly.com.
LFCC scored particularly high in the categories of financial aid and assistance; admissions and orientation; academic policies and compliance; and culture and commitment.
According to LFCC veteran advisor and school certifying official Jeanmarie Corrado, 200 student veterans are served at LFCC.
“We are student veterans’ first contact as they prepare to separate from the military and transition to becoming a student,” she said. “From application to graduation, LFCC veteran services provide academic and transitional support. Most student veterans have not been in an academic setting for more than four years, typically since high school. As case managers, our goal is to help student veterans reach their goals.”
There are dedicated veterans centers on both the Middletown and Fauquier campuses. There, student veterans can meet with their academic advisors/school certifying officials, use free printing services, and share coffee and fellowship.
About Military Friendly® Schools:
The Military Friendly® Schools list is created each year based on extensive research using public data sources for more than 8,800 schools nationwide and responses to the proprietary, data-driven Military Friendly® Schools survey from participating institutions. The survey questions, methodology, criteria and weighting were developed with the assistance of an independent research firm and an advisory council of educators and employers. Ernst & Young (EY), a global leader in assurance, tax, transaction and advisory services, independently evaluated the scoring methodology used for the Military Friendly® Schools list using the criteria set forth by VIQTORY. The services performed by EY were limited to advisory procedures and do not provide assurance over the scoring methodology. The survey is administered for free and is open to all post-secondary schools that wish to participate. Criteria for consideration can be found at www.militaryfriendly.com.
Founded in 2001, VIQTORY is a service-disabled, veteran-owned small business (SDVOSB) that connects the military community to civilian employment, educational and entrepreneurial opportunities through its G.I. Jobs®, Military Spouse, Military Friendly® brands. VIQTORY and its brands are not a part of or endorsed by the U.S. Dept of Defense or any federal government entity. Learn more about VIQTORY at www.viqtory.com.
Conversation of Hope is Tuesday, February 25th
The WHAT MATTERS community meeting space, “Open House: Meet in the Middle” (213 E. Main Street next to the Daily Grind) serves as a meeting place for community members seeking positivity in this time of controversy for our town and county. At 7 pm on the 4th Tuesday of each month, community leaders and citizens gather to engage in one hour of positive reflections and hope.
This month’s conversation is on Tuesday, 2/25 from 7-8 pm. Check our Facebook page.
During the first “Conversation of Hope” in June, Chief Kahle Magalis shared a fitting quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Finish each day and be done with it. You have done what you could. Some blunders and absurdities no doubt crept in; forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day. You shall begin it serenely and with too high a spirit to be encumbered with your old nonsense.”
Comments shared throughout our times reflecting have included positive feedback about the school system, about the giving & caring individuals in our community, encouragement to focus on the positive and move forward without delay (by sharing concern but finding solutions and moving on), the acknowledgment that we have a strong sense of community that’s full of characters and memories and that we have so much potential and good energy. It has been expressed that this is a good time to be forced to confront what we love and value and to picture the past and what’s good about the area.
“This too shall pass” is often uttered as well as the fact that our community has so much to offer as a busy, active and unique area (full of outdoor assets and beauty) where people care about each other and don’t let tragedy define us. Niki Foster of the FR/WC Chamber of Commerce encouraged everyone to share the wonderful things we see and be louder than the ugly noise. Representatives of area clergy have been in attendance and said they want to support and serve, especially in these times we are facing.
Please join us on the 4th Tuesday at 7 pm at 213 E. Main Street- OPEN HOUSE, to share and witness more encouraging conversations. You are guaranteed to enjoy the hour spent with a wide range of citizens, public officials, volunteers, and kind souls!
*Please note that these gatherings are ones of positivity, not negativity. Politics and current events will not be discussed—instead, we will remind ourselves why we love our community and provide an opportunity to briefly join together those who care together in the spirit of hope…