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.
Derrick Leasure of R-MA assumes Front Royal Rotary presidency
Randolph-Macon Academy Assistant Dean of Students Derrick E. Leasure officially took over as president of the Rotary Club of Front Royal at an “actual” ceremony in the town’s community center on Friday, July 10.
Outgoing president Bret Hrbek passed the gavel after his year in office, made more challenging when interrupted by the COVID-19 Coronavirus pandemic, which sent its regular weekly meetings since March to the internet via “Zoom.”
The real-life meeting that greeted Leasure, attended by a dozen past presidents from John Marlow (1977) to the retiring Hrbek, likely will return to “Zoom” as Leasure begins his tenure. After the gavel was passed, Leasure swore in members of the new board of directors, including Hrbek.
“He has a difficult task before him,” Hrbek had said earlier. Like other local organizations, Rotary has taken a hit in its fundraising activities but nevertheless managed to take in $126,000 last year for local and international projects.
Leasure, who came to R-MA’s middle school in 2008, earned his Bachelor’s Degree at Ohio State University and a Master’s in History from the University of Arizona. He is an active member of the Front Royal/Warren County Chamber of Commerce, serving on the education committee. Outside his teaching and later administration posts at the Academy, Leasure has been a student mentor and head coach in golf as well as his promotion to assistant dean.
Married to Michelle Cantlebary, the couple has two children. He joined Rotary shortly after arriving in Front Royal 18 years ago.
(Malcolm Barr Sr., our contributing writer, is a member of the Rotary Club of Front Royal)
LFCC Professor Mark Sunderlin receives statewide recognition
Professor Mark Sunderlin recently received the George B. Vaughan Leadership Award for Outstanding Adjunct Faculty from the Virginia Community College System with support from the Virginia Foundation for Community College Education.
Earlier this year, Professor Sunderlin was named the 2020 LFCC Distinguished Faculty Award winner.
An adjunct faculty member for the past eight years, he spent many years working for the federal government, before serving as the senior technical manager of AOL for seven years. Currently, Professor Sunderlin is principal data engineer for Verizon Media Services.
United Way welcomes Shane Goodwin as new president for 2020-21
Shane Goodwin has been elected the new President of the United Way of Front Royal-Warren County, and will serve through the 2020-21 fiscal year. Mr. Goodwin is the Principal at E. Wilson Morrison Elementary School.
Mr. Goodwin arrived in Front Royal from York, SC, where he served on the Solid Waste Advisory Board (2003-04), the PTO Board (2003-19), and the Boy Scouts of America Board (2002-18). During his time in South Carolina, Mr. Goodwin was also involved with the Regional Aids/Interfaith Network, Family Promise, the Dorothy Day Soup Kitchen, and the Dolly Parton Imagination Library. Since arriving in Front Royal, Mr. Goodwin has continued to demonstrate a desire to work in his community, and has been involved in the Thermal Shelter, Shred Day, the Rotary Club, the Elks Club, Church Choir, and Boys Into Gentleman (B.I.G.).
Mr. Goodwin joined the United Way Board in August, 2019, out of a desire to “help our community connect and thrive.” Since joining the Board, he has taken on many community projects, including serving on the Community Impact Grant Interview Committee, which leads the way for local United Ways in providing grant funding for community agencies. This committee approved $35,000 in grant funding for eight community agencies over the coming year, including Blue Ridge Legal Services, House of Hope, The Laurel Center, Phoenix Project, St. Luke Community Clinic, Habitat for Humanity, Cars Changing Lives, and Loaves and Fishes Food Pantry.
In looking forward to the upcoming year, Mr. Goodwin has several goals for the United Way of Front Royal-Warren County. These include the following:
- Increase Corporate Funding/Partnerships
- Increase Board Member Involvement On United Way Committees
- Set In Motion Processes To Increase Credit Scores/Net Worth Among Front Royal-Warren County Community Members
- Begin Working Toward A Facility To Allow Children Quality Exercise And Mentoring
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 firstname.lastname@example.org or call 540-635-3636.
RSW Regional Jail’s new visitation system
COVID-19 has been a unique and ever changing situation and we are aware of the difficulties and strain the suspension of our programs and visitation has placed on the inmates, their families, and their friends. Since March of 2020, when we realized this would be a long term event, we have been working with our inmate telephone provider for a viable alternative to onsite visitation. Unfortunately, these plans slowed and then eventually halted as we faced the many challenges of having a number of inmates and staff test positive for the virus.
However, since that time, we have been able to move forward and are pleased to announce the launch of a web-based visitation system that allows for both, onsite and remote, visits. This system allows visitors the ability to visit with their loved ones from the safety and comfort of their home, utilizing a computer, tablet, or any Android smart phone. (IPhones do not currently work with this system, but we are told they are working on a solution to this)
Effective, July 13, 2020, we will resume our visitation program, utilizing the IWeb Visit system for remote visits only. We will continue to monitor and evaluate the situation and will make a decision for onsite visits at a later date.
IWeb Visit was founded in 2009 and is headquartered in Decatur, Alabama. They operate in 16 states from California to New Jersey. Currently, they serve 30 facilities across the nation and are adding 2-3 facilities per month. IWeb Visit focuses on increasing family contact with inmates and reducing recidivism as well as streamlining the overall visitation process by working closely with jail staff and administrators.
To accommodate this new system, a few changes have been made to our schedule and operations. Visitors will be required to register and schedule all visitations a minimum of one (1) day in advance by going to the website, www.iwebvisit.com. Visitors are no longer required to be on an approved visitor list for each inmate and there are no restrictions to the number of remote visits you can have each week, as long as there is a time slot available. Time slots will be as follows:
- 8 am – 11:30 am
- 1 pm – 4:30 pm
- 6 pm – 9:30 pm
Visits are in fifteen (15) minute increments and up to three (3) in a row may be scheduled at a time to allow for a total visit of forty five (45) minutes. There will be a fee of $4.50 for each fifteen (15) minute visit and it must be paid utilizing the website when the visitor schedules their visit. This fee is paid to IWeb to operate their system and RSW Regional Jail receives no revenue from this service. Visitors must also understand that by utilizing this system, they agree to the terms and rules of IWeb Visit. In addition, all visitation policies set forth by RSW Regional Jail are applicable. Any inappropriate content that is observed will result in the inmate losing their visitation privilege for a period of thirty (30) days. Subsequent offenses will result in a loss of visitation for a period of sixty (60) and then (90) days.
It is imperative that visitors have good internet connection or cell service (anything above two bars) before beginning their visit. Poor quality cell service or internet connection will negatively affect the sound and video during the visit. We understand this is a new process and you may have questions or experience some technical problems when first accessing the site. Please remember, IWeb Visit is an independent company that we have partnered with and RSW Regional Jail is not able to answer technical or operational questions regarding their website. For any questions or concerns regarding those matters, please reach out to their customer support team at email@example.com or 775-434-8748. For any questions regarding RSW visitation policies, please contact Captain Michael Miller at Michael.firstname.lastname@example.org or 540-622-5028.
LFCC nursing students volunteer – and learn – during coronavirus pandemic
LFCC nursing students and faculty are playing an important role in helping to contain the spread of coronavirus.
Since the start of June, dozens of students have voluntarily staffed a temporary COVID-19 contact tracing center set up in the Barn on the Fauquier Campus.
Grants from the PATH Foundation, the Claude Moore Foundation and the Culpeper Wellness Foundation have funded the necessary equipment and faculty stipends for the center, said April Achter, population health coordinator for the Rappahannock Rapidan Health District.
The center is staffed by LFCC nursing students three days a week, and by nursing students from George Mason University the other two days. It is scheduled to run through July.
The health department is notified of any positive COVID-19 case, and then contacts the positive patient, according to Amanda Brooks, the Fauquier Campus’s nursing program lead and clinical coordinator. The patient is asked for people they have been in contact with.
Contact tracing center staff then call the patient’s contacts to tell them they have been exposed to someone with the virus, Brooks said.
There are various quarantine and isolation recommendations based on whether the contact has symptoms of coronavirus or not, or whether they live with a confirmed case, according to Achter.
Contact center volunteers ask the people quarantining if they need help with groceries and other needs.
“I’m working in the center to serve my community,” said nursing student Teena Stevic. “We answer questions regarding how COVID-19 is spread, what to do if you have been exposed and how to self-isolate if you have COVID-19. We’ve also had the pleasure of contacting members of the community to give them the good news that their test was negative.”
Brooks said six to 10 students work at the center per day. Students can volunteer up to three days, earning 24 hours of clinical experience.
“As testing for COVID-19 ramped up and states started opening up, it became more important to trace contacts,” Brooks said.
Additionally, nursing faculty from LFCC and GMU provide pharmacology and other instruction on slow days, Brooks said.
Aside from learning this important facet of public health, the nursing students are getting a chance to earn clinical hours at a time when they’ve been unable to earn them in the more traditional way at hospitals.
Many of the hospitals where nursing students earn clinical hours stopped allowing the students to come in starting in March, Brooks said. This was to conserve limited supplies of personal protective equipment and to limit new patients’ exposure to coronavirus.
Meanwhile, the Rappahannock Rapidan Health District needed people who could help trace contacts of those who have been diagnosed to with COVID-19 in an effort to slow the spread of the disease.
“It’s a great opportunity to expose the students to public health,” Achter said. “It’s been a great help to the health district. We’re just like everyone else – starting to transition back to routine services, and this takes a burden off our staff.
“Isolation and quarantine of those who are sick is really an age-old procedure for public health. The time-consuming and labor-intensive process of tracing contacts is the backbone of public health, so these students doing this work absolutely helps us mitigate this illness in our community. We’re grateful to LFCC for allowing us to use the space.”
Steevic said she decided to become a nurse to help close the gap in public health both in the U.S. and abroad.
“Working public health education while in school gave me an opportunity to talk with clients, educate them on the current pandemic, and practice the client communication skills I have been learning during my first year of nursing school,” she said.
Learn more about LFCC’s nursing program by visiting lfcc.edu/nursing.
Congratulations to Skyline High School Seniors – Class of 2020
Royal Examiner presents the Skyline High School Class of 2020. Congratulations to these wonderful seniors on their hard work and deserved accomplishments! We wish you the best in your next big endeavors. Photos courtesy of Victor O’Neill Studios, Tolliver Studios, and Nik’s Piks Photography.
The most important thing in your life is to live your life with integrity and to not give into peer pressure to try to be something that you’re not.”
“The old rules are crumbling and nobody knows what the new rules are. So make up your own rules.”
“Graduation is not the end; it’s the beginning.”
—Senator Orrin Hatch
“Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.”
“Education is not preparation for life; education is life itself.”
“There are far, far better things ahead than any we leave behind.”
“To accomplish great things, we must not only act, but also dream, not only plan, but also believe.”
“Your life is your story, and the adventure ahead of you is the journey to fulfill your own purpose and potential.”
“What lies behind us and what lies before us are small matters compared to what lies within us.”
—Ralph Waldo Emerson
“The fireworks begin today. Each diploma is a lighted match. Each one of you is a fuse.”
“There are no regrets in life. Just lessons.”
“Take pride in how far you’ve come. Have faith in how far you can go. But don’t forget to enjoy the journey.”
“The only thing you can do in this life is pursue your passions, celebrate your bloopers and never stop following your fear.”
“Kid, you’ll move mountains.”
“Your imagination is your preview of life’s coming attractions.”
“Every person you meet knows something you don’t; learn from them.”
—H Jackson Brown Jr.
“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”
“If you want something you’ve never had, you must be willing to do something you’ve never done.”
“You have to dance a little bit before you step out into the world each day, because it changes the way you walk.”
“Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.”
“Don’t ever confuse the two, your life and your work. The second is only part of the first.”
“I encourage you to live with life. Be courageous, adventurous. Give us a tomorrow, more than we deserve.”
“Get busy living or get busy dying.”
“Life is ten percent what happens to you and ninety percent how you respond to it.”
“Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.”
“Even if you are on the right track, you will get run over if you just sit there.”
“There is no script. Live your life. Soak it all in.”
“If opportunity doesn’t knock, build a door.”
“We know what we are, but know not what we may be.”
“Spread joy. Chase your wildest dreams.”
“Creativity is intelligence having fun.”
“You can’t climb the ladder of success with your hands in your pockets.”