At August’s regular session of the Middleburg Town Council, Town Administrator Martha Semmes reported that the latest round of construction bids for the much anticipated and long awaited Washington Streetscape Improvement Project were “high” and not altogether unexpected, given the relatively small size of the job, its timing, and contractors understandable desire to land big jobs whenever possible.
The bidding was further complicated by Middleburg’s entering not one, but two agreements with VDOT, allowing aging water lines along the route to be replaced while construction streetscape improvements were being done. Among them: a twenty-one percent discount on an unavoidable water line replacement project, because VDOT was already digging up the street for the crosswalks.
The agreements saved money, Semmes noted, but did ”bind the Town to cover whatever the cost would be, including possible over runs.” At this point those extra costs total $285,326 for the Town, of which $255,000 was due to the water line project. VDOT will absorb an additional $347,037. The costs to the Town would have been some $40,000 higher, Semmes noted, were it not for a clause in its contracts limiting the Town’s share to construction costs plus ten percent.
In response to questions, Semmes agreed that the size of these overruns may indeed “impact the Town’s ability to do the other projects it wanted to do.”
As of August 13, the Town Administrator was still reporting that staff “still did not know why the costs were higher” and that Middleburg’s Utilities Engineer “could not believe the price for the water line.”
Wrong Way Turns off Zulla Road
Council member Kathy Jo Shea once more raised the issue of the still unmitigated dangers of left turns into oncoming traffic at the intersection of Zulla Road, just west of Middleburg, with the four-lane stretch of Route 50.
At a recent Middleburg Business & Professional Association meeting, Shea reported, Middleburg Eccentric co-founder and Editor, DeeDee Hubbard, had noted that “on a weekly basis, cars could be seen going the wrong way.”
“Existing warning signs were not stopping motorists from doing this,” Hubbard noted, and VDOT, despite indicating to Hubbard that they would do so, had not yet painted arrows or other markings on the pavement to help address the problem.
Hubbard asked the MBPA to contact VDOT, and Shea encouraged the Town to do so as well.
Police Chief A.J. Panebianco, noting that the intersection “was not within the Town’s jurisdiction, told Council he had already contacted the Loudoun County Sheriff’s Department to request “permission to set up a Town police vehicle” enforce the law and protect motorists at the intersection.
His request, he said, was denied.
VDOT was also part of the problem, Panebianco noted, suggesting that “something drastic needed to happen.”
The danger to motorists turning left one lane too early, Council member Shea noted, was motorists headed east, downhill, inevitably sped up at this location in order to pass slower cars before they reached end of the four-lane highway
Chief Panebianco suggested that, at the very least, there was “ for the installation of a flashing light on a sign on Zulla Road with the message “divided highway ahead”.
Council member Trowbridge Littleton summed up Council’s reaction to the problem, stating that “this was the number one priority out of all of the items that have been discussed during the meeting.”
The Town will continue to reach out to county and state authorities, Council indicated, until something is done.
Drones over Middleburg
In response to concerns about drone photography Police Chief A.J. Panebianco announced that, henceforth, his department would post signs at Town-sponsored public events in Middleburg reminding attendees that at any public events “participants could be photographed.”
Council member Kathy Jo Shea, had raised the issue after noting drone photographs of Town-sponsored and other events appearing on the web.
Shea, noting that she had “taught self-defense and participated in battered women’s programs for years “ told Council “ some people did not need to have their pictures put on the Internet.”
Council member Erik Scheps reported that he and his wife had recently called the Police Department to report what he believed to be “excessive noise” from music being played on property belonging to the Salamander Resort. “When he could hear the words from the lyrics in his house,” he said, “the noise level was too loud.”
Scheps called for the establishment of a “baseline” for such noise and the use of the town’s portable decibel meter to enforce it.
Police Chief Panebianco noted that the town’s current regulations would require an officer to enter the home of anyone who lodged a formal complaint and take noise measurements four feet away from the wall nearest the offending noise “with the doors and windows closed.”
The current lower bounds, he said, were fifty-five decibels after 10:00 PM and sixty-five decibels during the day.
A loud TV set will produce a fifty-five decibel noise, Panebianco noted. A sixty-five decibel noise was roughly “the equivalent of a loud conversation.”
In the Chief’s opinion, the noise from the Salamander property “was probably not a violation” noting that “Salamander tended to be very hospitable and would make an effort to address a complaint if they knew there was a problem.” Council member Scheps agreed that “the noise was probably in line with the [current] ordinance” but urged Council to consider lowering the decibel limits.
Chief Panebianco, a member of the Executive Board of the Virginia Association of Chiefs of Police, also serves as Chair of that organization’s Professional Image and Ethics Committee.
At the August 13 Town Council meeting Panebianco “expressed hope that in a short time, he would make an announcement on a project he has been working on with the Commonwealth Attorney.”
“Middleburg,” he said, “was deeply involved in it” and in his opinion, “it would be ground breaking.”
Panebianco is often consulted by other departments across the state, both for his expertise in “community policing” and the recruitment and training of personnel.
One of his first acts after being hired as Middleburg’s Chief was to introduce a departmental “Oath of Honor,” above sworn to by Middleburg Police Officers in front of Town Council, the public they serve, and their families as they receive their badges.
Possible Grant for Asbury Church
On August 13 Tom Sweitzer, co-founder of A Place to Be, announce that his organization had been invited by the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) to apply for a grant that could well provide significant funding for the restoration of Asbury Church, now owned by the Town of Middleburg, and once stabilized and restored, a candidate for a wide variety of uses by the Town and non-profit community.
Applications for the NEA grant Sweitzer told Council, “must include a non-profit, whose income was over $500,000, who has been around for more than three years and who must partner with the Town to renovate the space.”
A Place to Be would, could apply for a grant of some $200,000-300,000, with his clients doing the work, even though it would remain a Town space. Sweitzer also said “he had people who would start a website and take care of the building.”
According to Town Administrator Semmes the grant “ would not cover construction costs” but would “cover the design and planning costs to turn the building into a multi-purpose, cultural facility.” Once such plans were in place, she noted, further fundraising would be MUCH easier.
A Place to Be has been widely recognized for its work, “Helping people face, navigate, and overcome life’s challenges using the therapeutic arts” serving, among other individuals suffering from Autism, Asperger’s Syndrome, Down Syndrome, cerebral palsy; the emotional challenges of coping with bullying or self-esteem issues; and people living with chronic illness such as Lyme disease and cancer.”
Town Administrator Semmes noted that a formal resolution of Council support for Town Staff to work on the NEA grant application would needed, and “suggested this be done during the September meeting.”
Council member Mark Snyder expressed not only his own support, but noted that, from his perspective town staff could count on unanimous Council support.
Council member Katy Jo Shea agreed, but noted she “wanted to make sure the building did not become “A Place To Be” in town but rather was used for the arts. She suggested the Middleburg Arts Council and Piedmont Community Music be included in the discussions.
Sweitzer agreed that “it would be easy to share this space with fifteen people who cared about the arts,” noting that A Place To Be could serve as the host and provide cleaning services.
Town Administrator Semmes then “cautioned Council about putting the cart before the horse.”
Middleburg, she said, had not formally “decided whether the Town would keep the building” and had “not voted to do anything [with Asbury Church] beyond fixing it up.
Council member Shea agreed, but noted that even if the Town did not keep the building, “it would be easier for someone to take it over if there was a valuable use for it.”