At this month’s, September 10, regular meeting of the Middleburg Town Council, Vice Mayor Darlene Kirk introduced, and Council adopted without opposition, a resolution “ . . . expressing the Town’s full support for all law enforcement officers, in particular those serving the Middleburg Police Department, the Loudoun County Sheriff’s Department and the Virginia State Police and encouraging citizens everywhere to stand up for the safety of those police officers across the country that protect and serve them.”
Noting that “ . . . the Town has always had good police officers,” Kirk “ . . . explained that she wanted the Town to stand up for law enforcement “in light of what was happening around the country.”
Presented with a signed copy of the resolution, drafted by Town Clerk Rhonda North, Police Chief A.J. Panebianco expressed his appreciation of the gesture and promised to communicate Council’s support to his officers and to police organizations with which he and his department are affiliated around the state.
Vice Mayor Kirk expressed her hope that “other jurisdictions” would adopt similar resolutions.
Later in Thursday’s Council Session, Police Chief Panebianco reported on a recent incident in Fauquier County affecting the safety of one of his own officers.
An intruder, he told Council, had broken into one of his officer’s houses while the officer was out jogging. Once inside, the intruder allegedly barred one door of the house by jamming a chair under the front doorknob, then proceeded to help himself to the officer’s uniform shirt, badge, and several items from a gun belt. The officer’s gun, Panebianco emphasized, was not taken.
Though the front door barred, the back door apparently wasn’t, leaving it as the only way into the house for the returning officer, or out the house for the intruder. “The situation,” Panebianco noted, could have become dangerous.
Happily, officers from the Warrenton Police Department were in the area, ostensibly thanks to calls they had received related to other suspicious activities in the neighborhood.
Hearing a Middleburg Police officer shouting commands to an apparent intruder, they intervened, and quickly arrested a suspect found actually wearing the Middleburg Police officer’s missing uniform shirt.
The suspect, according to Chief Panebianco, was taken quickly taken into custody, then legally released, only to be arrested again the next day, accused of stealing a purse.
Panebianco told Council that, in view of the potentially very dangerous circumstances, his officer had performed well and that he was sending a letter of thanks to Warrenton’s Police Chief, commending the Warrenton officers who intervened.
Special Events Regulation
Town Planner and Zoning Administrator Will Moore reported that he was in the process of translation of Town Council’s general policies on “special events” into the formal language required to modify the appropriate chapters of the Middleburg Town Code.
Among other things, Moore outlined proposals covering liability insurance requirements and granting authority for what all those involved in the project hoped would be short, simple and clear “special events” permits.
Moore also suggested that, once approved, information about permitted “special events” should be made available electronically to all relevant government agencies.
At that point Councilmember Bundles Murdock “expressed concern about the definition that was proposed for a “special event” noting that it seemed to apply to “any gathering that required on-street parking of more than twenty vehicles.” Murdock questioned whether the rule would apply to a funeral or funeral-related event.
Councilmember Kathy Jo Shea observed that, while funerals themselves were excluded, “ . . . if Ms. Murdock had a large party at her house that involved parking on the street, she must let the Police Department know and secure a permit.”
When Economic Development Coordinator Cindy Pearson noted that, indeed, if a family had a gathering at their home after a funeral, larger than the “special events limit,” it would not be covered by the “funeral exception,” Town Administrator Semmes, at that point, suggested “the exemption of all funeral-related gatherings.”
Mayor Davis then expressed concern about requiring a permit for anyone hosting an event at their home after a funeral, noting that such gatherings could hardly be classified as “a party.”
Councilmember Shea then observed that “the Police Department needed to know when there were twenty cars parked on the street.”
After a lengthy discussion of other possible limits and exceptions for private and personal events, funerals, weddings, and reunions foremost among them, Councilmember Murdock, noted that “the last thing on someone’s mind when they were planning a funeral was the need to go to the Town Office.” She suggested the language related to the twenty-car limit be tweaked and that a private individual not have to provide forty-five days’ notice of an event.
Councilmember Snyder agreed, noting that “a wake was seldom planned.”
Councilmember Shea suggested the sub-committee work on this further, noting that there were many good reasons for the Town’s Police, Fire and Emergency responders to know “that an entire street was going to be lined with cars on both sides in the event there was something else going on.”
Chief Panebianco agreed, but recommended the Town’s sub-committee do more work on the ordinance
Mayor Davis agreed, noting that, in her view, the Town should not “get too involved in residential activities.” A party with one hundred people was one thing, she noted, but “when the Town started regulating everything, including when someone had a family reunion, it was over stepping its bounds. Councilmembers Snyder and Scheps agreed, at which point Mayor Davis asked the sub-committee to continue to work on the matter and bring new suggestions to Council.
Request to establish regulations to allow for ghost tours in public rights-of-way – Heather Kyle
Heather Kyle, noting that she was “an anthropologist and ethnographer who came to Middleburg to collect stories,” appeared before Town Council to request permission to run “ghost tours” of Middleburg for paying customers. After working in what she described as “some of the most haunted locations in Middleburg” and discovering that she, herself was related to a ghost sometimes described as “the Shrieking Shrew of Foxcroft,” Kyle came up with the idea of conducting ghost tours, similar to those conducted in Leesburg, Harper’s Ferry, Williamsburg and many other locations around Virginia.
Her tours, she said, would be modeled on those offered in Williamsburg, with tour guides in costume and presentations based on historical fact. Groups would be limited in size to around twenty people.
Her goal, she said, was to begin offering tours on October 1st, if possible, in order to have a couple of weekends under her belt before the Middleburg Film Festival. Her ghost tour website, she said, “ was poised and ready to go.”
After lengthy discussion of permits, insurance requirements, short notice and possible conflict with other special events planned for Middleburg during the fall, Councilmembers Bundles Murdock and Kathy Jo Shea suggested that Council should discuss the request further with Town staff and get back to Ms. Kyle.
Marc Chretien, the owner of Mt. Defiance Cidery, appeared before Town Council to seek advice and counsel on hoped-for changes to his business, now located at 207 West Washington Street.
The Cidery is doing well, he noted, and needs to expand and modernize.
Tearing down his current building and replacing it with something both larger and more appropriate to the style of the Town would help, he noted. Current plans call for the construction of “an 1860’s style historic barn that would look like it belonged in Middleburg.”
His real need, however, was land.
According to Chretien he now has a “sixty day study period contract for the purchase of twelve acres of land located at the end of East Federal Street.”
The land, he said, is ideal for him to plant apple trees.
His problem, he continued, “was that eight acres were located in the County and four in the Town.”
Loudoun County, he said, “requires a minimum of ten acres for a winery, which was how he was licensed” but could not give him a farm permit unless the entire ten acres fell under County jurisdiction.
Loudoun County, he said, had” indicated that they would have no objection if Middleburg annexed the property.” VDOT, he said, was on board, most of the property was surrounded by a cemetery and he would have only one neighbor, on the end of Federal Street, who would be protected by “a large buffer of trees between his property and the Cidery.”
Chretien asked that Council provide some indication as to its attitude toward the project “within the next fifty days so that he could buy the land.”
Mayor Davis advised Chretien that his requests would be scheduled for discussion during Council’s September work session.