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Virginia Beer Museum owner petitions court to overturn parking exemption denial

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David Downes makes his case for a parking exemption to expand his Va. Beer Museum backyard beer garden – could the museum proprietor, an attorney by profession, fare better in court than he did before the town council? Royal Examiner File Photos/Roger Bianchini

On Friday, February 8, local attorney and proprietor of the Virginia Beer Museum David Downes filed for a declaratory court order to overturn the Front Royal Town Council’s denial of his request for an off-street parking exemption. By a binding 4-2 margin on January 14, the newly-configured council reversed a first-reading, December 10, 4-3 vote of approval.

The basis of his petition for a declaratory judgment reversing the council decision is that he has been singled out unconstitutionally as “a class of one” on several fronts for treatment different than other downtown property, museum and business owners.

“This Complaint seeks to reverse the Town Council’s decision of January 14, 2019, that upholds Town ordinances that intentionally and Unconstitutionally treat the Plaintiff as a ‘class of one’ without any rational basis for treating similarly situated property owners differently that own (a) other art galleries and museums in Town; (b) other properties on the west side of Chester Street between East Main Street and Peyton Street, and (c) other properties on Main Street and Jackson Street that are in the same revitalization area of downtown Front Royal,” the complaint filed in Circuit Court states.

Expansion of the outdoor, backyard ‘Beer Garden’ of the Virginia Beer Museum is currently in limbo.

Downes sought the exemption regarding about 12 existing off-street parking spaces at the rear of his properties at 14 and 16 Chester Streets, housing his legal office and the Beer Museum, respectively. His goal is to expand a special-event Beer Garden area to the rear edge of his now fenced-in property. As Downes has pointed out during the petition process, he also has five off-street parking spaces at the north side of the Beer Museum building abutting the Town’s public Peyton Street Parking Lot.

Above, the now fenced-in private property at rear of 14 and 16 Chester Street: to park OR not to park (in order to expand an outdoor events area)? THAT is the question. Below, a car in one of the Beer Museum’s 5 off-street parking spaces outside the fence area.

After detailing adjacent and nearby properties’ square footage and parking requirements or exemptions versus the status of his properties, the Downes’ complaint cites the publicly-stated rationale for a decisive negative vote from Vice-Mayor William Sealock delivered on January 14. Sealock had voted with a 4-3 majority including Councilmen Meza, Morrison and Mayor Tharpe’s tiebreaking vote (with Tewalt, Gillespie, Connolly opposed) approving the request at the December 10 first-reading vote.

However after two new councilmen were seated in the new year in the wake of the November election, Sealock changed his vote to “no” to create a binding second vote majority with Gillespie, Tewalt and newly-installed Chris Holloway to deny the request. Meza and newly-installed Letasha Thompson voted for approval at the second reading.

Of that changed perspective by the now vice mayor, Downes’ complaint states, “On January 14, 2019, Councilman Sealock was the only councilman to offer a basis for treating the Subject Property differently from other museums, adjacent properties, and all of the properties exempt on Main and Jackson Streets”

Of that “basis” the complaint indicates a belief Sealock’s statement reflected a misunderstanding of the involved issues upon which the request was based – “But for that misapprehension, he would have recognized that an uninformed basis to treat Downes differently would, at a minimum, prompt him to follow the recommendation of the Zoning Commission to not decide the issue until further study could be conducted … Upon information and belief, Councilman Sealock misapprehended the issue requiring a rationale basis to treat Downes differently from similarly situated property owners.”

The complaints reasons that had Sealock’s vote been cast from “an informed” perspective, and in favor of the request as he had previously voted, again creating a 3-3 tie the mayor would have again cast a decisive vote in favor of the request.

In fact, the complaint points to Mayor Hollis Tharpe’s question following Sealock’s remarks if he would like to delay a vote for further work session discussion and staff explanation of the evolution of the request through the zoning, planning and council levels, to which Sealock replied, “No, it has gone on long enough.”

The complaint concludes of the process and final vote: “As a result of the Amendment being denied on January 14, 2019, the Town Council intentionally treated Downes and the Subject Property he owned differently than similarly situated real estate owners that (a) operate museums on Chester Street, (b) own property on the border the Subject Property, and (c) own property located in the downtown area designated as the ‘Revitalization’ area without a rational basis for being treated differently.”

Planning Commission member Cee Ann Davis and Planning Director Jeremy Camp at map of the Downtown Business District Revitalization Area during an August work session discussion on the Beer Museum parking exemption request.

In his pre-vote statement the vice mayor references lost leaf-season tourists ending up in the Chester Street area; a belief the issue is more a neighborhood dispute than a matter of town government concern; and some confusion at the nature of four variations Downes’ exemption request took between planning-zoning and council consideration; as well as a lack of information on the area’s parking history.

The final of those four exemption options and the one Downes finally presented to council – applying for the exemption as a museum – appeared to be made by the applicant to allay fears that if granted simply as a property or business owner’s request it might set a broader precedent in the downtown area.

As Downes has explained in amending his requested exemption to that already granted to museums or art galleries, approval of his final proposal would not create any wider parking exemption precedent.

See Vice-Mayor Sealock’s full statement prefacing his January 14 “no” vote in the full transcript from the court filing below:

To left in 2018 file photo, now Vice-Mayor William Sealock’s reasoning for his final vote against the Virginia Beer Museum parking exemption is a focal point of owner David Downes legal filing to reverse that decision.

“Mr. Mayor, I have some real concerns. I tried to find data from the Parking Authority that was in control of the area before and, unbeknownst to me, there is no such data to tell us what the past history was.

“There was a great deal of parking there for the forty years I have been in town. What I am concerned about is a major concern. When we discussed this as a council, we were going with the Commission’s recommendation. So, when I reread when I got the agenda, what I heard was there were four motions. And when you look at the four motions, they are almost identical except the last few words which I felt we should have had discussion on the change to the museum which did not happen as a council.

“We came into the meeting and were presented with four motions. I have a little concern with that. I did not have time enough to do my research to find out exactly.

“And it is an argument between the property owners. It is not a council issue except other then it has changed to the museum.

“The other thing that concerns me when we had the excessive, ah, ‘Peepers’ (fall leaf season tourists) that came into town, I was checking all of the streets to see, you know, what the traffic flow was and a lot of our tourists were confused because about how to get where they want to go with the traffic falling out.

“So, I came down Chester Street and I know Chester Street is extremely, ah, crowded. You can’t get two vehicles past and when you get up to the, ah – when I was looking for the Parking Authority information, I wanted to see why those two houses was left off of parking in front. I cannot find any information.

“That a, that’s a, from a lawyer’s stand point, Mr. Downes, you would argue that point very much just like I am. So, in my travels today, looking at the traffic with the Peepers, I almost got hit when I hit Virginia Hale’s area because it is a bad turn right there and it bottle necks down. So, I bring those issues forward because I was really concerned seeing four motions and at the last work session, I finally got an answer why we had four motions and that troubles me because we never had the opportunity to discuss a museum option and it was not presented from the Commission as well.

“So that is my concern. We did not have the time to discuss the so called four motions that came up. So, that is what I got to say about that.”

Download the filed complaint here.

Dressed for beer history – patrons and staff in the Helltown Saloon at the Virginia Beer Museum anxiously await final resolution of the plan for an improved rear area special event outdoor Beer Garden, after all spring is on the horizon.

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Workers urge Northam to sign minimum wage bill

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RICHMOND, Va. — Workers and advocates are urging Gov. Ralph Northam to sign a bill that would raise the minimum wage to $9.50 at the start of next year. The General Assembly will reconvene on April 22, and lawmakers will reevaluate recently passed legislation as the state’s economy takes a blow and unemployment climbs during the COVID-19 outbreak.

Northam and state leaders anticipate the state’s economy will suffer a major hit from the coronavirus outbreak. Northam didn’t respond directly to whether he is considering delaying the increase in the minimum wage when asked at a recent press conference.

“There are a number of pieces of legislation that we are looking at regarding our business environment, and I haven’t made any definite decisions, but we are talking to the patrons of those pieces of legislation,” Northam said. The governor said he will “make a decision in the best interest of Virginia and the best interest of our economy.”

Workers on the front lines of essential businesses continue to serve the public during the COVID-19 outbreak, including many workers who earn minimum wage–currently $7.25 in Virginia.
Employees at a Virginia Kroger grocery store and Amazon distribution center recently tested positive for the coronavirus. Many essential workers have asked for an increase in pay to reflect the increased need for their services and the elevated risks they take while working.

Anna Scholl, executive director of Progress Virginia, an advocacy organization, said that raising the minimum wage is necessary to allow these workers to raise their families with dignity.

“That’s especially true now when grocery store workers, delivery drivers, home health aides and so many more are going to work for low wages and putting themselves at risk of getting sick so that we can stay home and healthy,” Scholl said in a press release.

The group is asking Northam to sign House Bill 395 into law without amendments or delays that would water down the bill. HB 395 would raise the minimum wage to $9.50 in 2021, $11 in 2022 and $12 in 2023. The minimum wage could go up to $15 by 2026 if approved by the General Assembly.

Photo by VCU Capital News Service

Some essential workers also argue that they are not being provided adequate protective gear and supplies to keep them safe from the coronavirus, another reason they are pushing for a guaranteed wage increase.

Lisa Harris works at Kroger in Mechanicsville and is a member of the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union. She has been with Kroger for 13 years and said in a press conference organized by Progress Virginia that she would benefit directly from HB 395. She is urging Northam to sign the bill with no weakening amendments.

“I find it fascinating how fast grocery store workers like me have gone from being considered unskilled labor to being recognized as essential personnel,” Harris said.

She compared workers dealing directly with an increasingly infected public to being on the front lines like first responders and said: “it would be nice to be paid accordingly.”

Harris said Kroger is not observing the proper social distancing recommendation of 6 feet or providing workers with personal protective equipment. She said the staff is required to wipe down the self-checkout scanners and screens every half hour but argues that this is impossible with the influx of customers visiting the store. Harris said the staff is given Windex to clean equipment and not a proper disinfectant. The company has given full-time workers a $300 bonus and part-time workers a $150 pay boost, but that’s not enough money, Harris said.

“It means barely being able to support myself, it means making tough decisions about whether to pay a bill or skip a meal, it means calling on my family members to help me as I’m attempting to be a fully enfranchised 31-year old,” Harris said.

Allison McGee, corporate affairs manager for Kroger, said the grocery chain provided all hourly workers with a $2 pay increase for hours worked March 29 through April 18. McGee also stated that all Kroger stores in the Richmond area have been provided with Environmental Protection Agency-registered disinfectants to wipe down counters and cash registers. She said employees are required to wipe down surfaces frequently and extra hand sanitizer bottles have been provided at each checkout station.

“As far as PPE, we are encouraging our associates to wear protective masks and gloves, and we’re working hard to secure these resources for our associates,” McGee stated in an email. “Supply has started to arrive for our associates, and we anticipate all locations having personal protective equipment within the next several weeks.”

Kroger said on its website that they want healthcare workers to get a hold of protective gear before they can properly distribute it to their workers. For now, employees have limited access to such PPE and are encouraged to use their own.

Beginning April 7, Kroger will also start to limit the number of customers to 50% of the building code’s calculated capacity to allow for proper physical distancing in stores, the company announced this week.

Michael Cassidy, executive director of The Commonwealth Institute for Fiscal Analysis, said that the coronavirus is a reminder many essential workers are also minimum wage workers.

“These individuals are providing a vital service to us right now and they deserve more than $7.25 an hour,” Cassidy said.

Cassidy said if the minimum wage increase were to go into effect in January, it would help 46,000 healthcare workers, 100,00 retail workers and over 100,000 restaurant and service industry workers. He said this would allow people to buy more and contribute to businesses and the economy as a whole.

Photo by VCU Capital News Service

“That’s important because consumer spending is the foundation of our economy, it’s about 72% of Virginia’s gross domestic product,” Cassidy said.

Del. Danica Roem said in a tweet that she is extremely disappointed to see groups advocating for bills like HB 395 to be watered down or delayed.

“We’re $1.50/hr behind West Virginia right now,” Roem tweeted. “You don’t see an uprising of West Virginian business leaders demanding the government lower their minimum wage to match ours.”

Cassidy said history shows that increasing the minimum wage during a recession has been successful in bringing the economy back.

HB 395 is currently pending signature by Northam with a deadline of April 11.

By Ada Romano
Capital News Service

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QuaranTEAMing: Ways to GIVE during the COVID-19 Crisis– featuring George McIntyre and Pam Waters

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These two Warren County residents are embracing their own ways to support their community and use their resources to help others during the crisis. George McIntyre (of The Apple House in Linden, VA) and his devoted team are delivering free donuts and offering complimentary meals to area nursing homes, medical personnel, and others. Pam Waters (of Front Royal) is making masks to donate to offices in need as her way of helping others and herself during this challenging time.

They exemplify the “what matters is your heart” philosophy, as do many local residents who are stepping up even when we are limited in stepping out. Let’s stop talking about fear and discouragement and start talking about the opportunities to make a positive impact and the silver linings in the cloud of the COVID-19 crisis.

Beyond the clouds overhead now and somewhere over the rainbow, this challenging period of our lives will be in the past, so let’s make some memories to cherish–memories that prove that kindness, generosity, and compassion can have even more of an impact on our world than a deadly virus.

Trade your Quarantining for QuaranTEAMING–there’s only one team in this game of life, and we’re all on the same one. Let’s remember that and use our positions to play our best however we can where we are.

Have you seen an inspiring act of selfless giving? Share in the comments below and inspire others to make time each day to take even a small action to brighten the life of another.


WHAT MATTERS:
Are you or your group in need of a free video that could be created to help market your cause or event? Beth’s WHAT MATTERS Warren videos post on Facebook and Youtube.

Learn more about Beth’s nonprofit, WHAT MATTERS, a 501 (c) (3), at www.whatmattersw2.com–check out the “Community” section to request a TOWN TIP or WHAT MATTERS WARREN BETHvid or contact her at 540-671-6145 or beth@whatmattersw2.com.

About WHAT MATTERS:
WHAT MATTERS is a 501(c)(3) that focuses on local and global outreach to help spread the word, support and raise funds for causes that matter (primarily through Facebook). WHAT MATTERS has ZERO overhead as 100% of the expenses are funded by Beth’s real estate business thanks to her clients and supporters. Every cent raised goes to the cause she’s promoting and most are matched by Beth. If you’d like to get involved with her local or international nonprofit work or travel to Africa with her on a future trip to work with the children of Light up Life Foundations, please visit www.whatmattersw2.com.

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Attorney General Herring seeks extension of utility disconnection suspensions through duration of State of Emergency

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~ Herring filed an emergency petition on March 13th to halt disconnections for non-payment and suspend late charges during the state of emergency ~

RICHMOND (April 7, 2020) – Attorney General Mark R. Herring has asked the State Corporation Commission (SCC) to extend its utility disconnection suspension through at least June 10th when Virginia’s state of emergency is currently scheduled to end. Last month, the SCC halted utility disconnections for non-payment and suspended late charges following Attorney General Herring’s emergency petition requesting a freeze on disconnections.

“As we continue to grapple with the health and financial crises brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, it is clear that this extension is needed to make sure that all Virginians have access to water, power, and gas during the entirety of the state of emergency,” said Attorney General Herring. “This extension is especially important for hourly wage earners and those who work in the service industry who have been particularly affected by social distancing efforts and stay at home orders. I hope the SCC will continue to give Virginians some peace of mind during this time while we continue to ask them to stay home to prevent further spread of this virus.”

As Attorney General Herring explains in the filing “the temporary suspension of service disconnections for the reason of non-payment is needed to minimize adverse impacts on the public health and safety during this period of health and financial crisis.” Additionally, he adds that “during the immediate time of this emergency, the public interest requires that basic needs such as power, heat, and water go uninterrupted for all customers.” The Attorney General has sought the suspension of late fees during this time, but it is important to note that customers will eventually have to pay for the utilities they use during this time. If customers are able to, they should continue to pay their utility bills to avoid higher balances in the future.

In addition to extending the utility disconnection suspensions, Attorney General Herring also asks the SCC to consider the following:

• Reconnect service for any customers who request reconnection who had it disconnected for non-payment before the Suspension Order

• Waive any requirements that would make it harder for utilities to reconnect service

• Suspend late fees

• Provide for any other relief the Commission deems appropriate and necessary

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Second Saturday night fire causes flame jetting phenomenon, injuring two

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On Saturday, April 4, 2020, at approximately 7:40 pm, the Warren County Department of Fire and Rescue Services were dispatched to the 200 block of 19th Street, Front Royal for a reported
explosion with people injured.

Fire and EMS units along with units from the Front Royal Police Department quickly arrived on the scene to discover that an outside fire pit had been extinguished prior to their arrival. Two patients were noted to have sustained burn-related injuries. One patient was treated on the scene and transported to MedStar Washington Hospital Burn Center via helicopter with significant burn injuries. A second patient was treated at a local medical facility for minor burn injuries.

The incident which was investigated by the Warren County Fire Marshal’s Office was determined to be caused by a phenomenon called “Flame Jetting”. Flame jetting happens when a container of flammable liquid meets an ignition source, causing flames to shoot out of the container for distances of 15 feet or greater. This type of event is often unexpected and extremely dangerous. This blowtorch-like effect can engulf bystanders in flames, leading to serious injury or even death.

Photo courtesy of Warren County Department of Fire and Rescue Services.

 

In this incident, a container of “weathered” gasoline was utilized in an attempt to accelerate the combustion within the outdoor fire pit. As the vapors ignited, the fire traveled into the container causing an over pressurization and rupture of the container resulting in the flame jetting event to occur. This caused the significant burn injuries to the bystander, burn injuries to the victim holding the container and damages the home ten feet away.

Fire Marshal Gerry Maiatico stated, “while this event is certainly unfortunate, it should serve as a reminder that flammable liquids and open flames are a potentially deadly combination.” The Department of Fire and Rescue Services urges the following safety precautions when conducting fire pit activities:

• Never use gasoline as a starter fluid for any type of fire.

• Never leave a fire pit unattended.

• Never leave children or pets unattended near a fire pit.

• Consider investing in a wire mesh cover to keep embers inside and help prevent children
or pets from falling in.

• Limit the amount of fuel you put in the fire—just put what’s necessary to keep it burning
gently.

• Don’t put garbage or paper products into the fire. They can easily spark and throw off
embers or burning remnants.

• Don’t wear flammable or loose-fit clothing while near the pit.

• Don’t burn softwoods like pine or cedar. These can “pop” and throw sparks.

• Even if you follow all of these guidelines, accidents still happen. Keep a container of
water and a hose nearby in case of an emergency.

For more information with regards to the flame jetting phenomenon, visit www.ameriburn.org/stop-the-flame or visit www.warrencountyfire.com.

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Saturday night fire destroys home, cause remains under investigation

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Photo courtesy of Warren County Department of Fire and Rescue Services.

 

On Saturday, April 4, 2020, at approximately 8:00 pm, the Warren County Department of Fire and Rescue Services received a report of a residential structure fire located in the 1000 block of
Harmony Orchard Road, Front Royal.

Units quickly arrived on the scene to discover a two-story, single-family home with significant fire conditions throughout the structure. The home appeared unoccupied at the time of the fire
and based on the number of fire conditions and structural instability, fire suppression efforts were executed from the exterior of the home for safety concerns. It took firefighters approximately 40
minutes to bring the fire under control. The home was rendered a total loss.

During the course of the incident, a firefighter sustained a traumatic injury and was treated on the scene and transported to Warren Memorial Hospital for further treatment and evaluation.

The cause of the fire remains under investigation by the Warren County Fire Marshal’s Office with assistance from the Warren County Sheriff’s Office Criminal Investigations Division.

Anyone with information with regards to this incident is asked to contact Fire Marshal Gerry Maiatico at 540-636-3830 or email gmaiatico@warrencountyfire.com or contact Sheriff’s Office
Investigator Scott Baker at 540-635-7100 or email sbaker@warrencountysheriff.org.

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Randolph-Macon Academy offers virtual Q&A sessions

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Randolph-Macon Academy will host a Virtual Q&A Session on Thursday, April 16th, at 7:00 pm.

The session hosts will be the Director of Enrollment Management, Clare Dame, and the Director of Admission and Financial Aid, Amy Harriman. Families interested in applying to Randolph-Macon Academy, or those having questions about the private school admission process in general, are welcome to attend.

To register, visit RMA.edu/events, or email admission@rma.edu.

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