Tribute to  Howard Allen

Vice-Mayor Darlene Kirk opened the November regular meeting of the Middleburg Town Council with a tribute to Mayor Betsy Davis, the Davis Family and the Mayor’s late father, Howard Allen, world class photographer, father, and outstanding citizen of Middleburg. So many joined the family to mourn his passing that the Virginia Department of Transportation agreed to halt its work on the main streets of his beloved Middleburg to accommodate the ceremonies. (See story on page 3).

Good Preliminary Audit News

A preliminary report presented to Town Council at its late October work session by Sandy Tondreau of Mitchell & Company, Middleburg’s official auditor, indicated that  as of June 30, 2015, “ . . . all of the Town’s funds had cash balances that were up.”

Fixed Assets in the town’s General Fund were also up this year, she noted, due to the Marshall/Madison Street Improvement Project and the donation of the Asbury Church property to the town.

Noting that the Town’s auditors were legally and ethically required “to communicate with the Council” and “to bring any issues to their attention,” Tondreau reported that they found nothing unusual or out of the ordinary.”

$1 Million Surplus

Thanks to significant Salamander-driven increases in revenue from meal and occupancy taxes, plus an increase in business license fees, the Town’ General Fund showed over a $1 million surplus.

That, according to the auditors, was “very good, ” especially for a town that was showing a deficit as late as 2006.

Even the Town’s “Health Center Fund” showed a profit this year, good news for the non-profits that benefit from annual donations financed from profits made from renting space in the Town-owned “Health Center” building

A major source of lost revenue for the Town had been the Town’s leaky water pipes.  That problem too has been significantly improved.  The auditors reported that “the percentage of gallons billed-to-pumped was now at seventy-eight percent (78%), which was an all- time high.”

Underfunded Pensions

Despite apparently shocking news that the Town’s pension fund was underfunded by $400,000 at the end of 2014, Mitchell & Company assured Council the anomaly “ . .  .  was not the fault of the Town as it has paid what it was told to pay” by the Commonwealth’s Virginia Retirement System (VRS).

“The good news,” Ms Tondrreau noted, “was that the amount of the underfunding decreased from the previous year . . . and that all of the [VRS] municipalities were getting hit on this to varying degrees.”

In fact, the Town’s fund balance, she said, “was up from $2.6 million last year to $4.2 million this year” and that “this took into account the adjustment for the pension liability. “

New Town Treasurer

On November 2 Middleburg’s long-serving Town Treasure, Debbie Jewell resigned.    

Town Council appointed Middleburg’ Town Administrator, Martha Semmes, to serve as acting treasurer until the position can be filled.

Middleburg Economic Development Co-ordinator, Cindy Pearson , was praised for her help , along with other town staff, in performing many of the Treasurer’s duties in the interim.

At press time the Treasurer’s position had been properly advertised and Town Administrator Semmes and Vice-Mayor Darlene Kirk are reported to be screening resumes and applications.

A hiring announcement is expected soon.

New Digs for the MPD

After years of suffering bravely through rain, snow and gloom of night, not to mention mold, cold, heat, humidity and a notoriously cranky (and sometime non-functional) heating and cooling system INSIDE its headquarter in the town’s ironically named “Health Center Building,” the Middleburg Police Department will soon be working from new office space.

At its last work session Town Council approved, without objection, a motion by its long-serving public safety liaison Council member Bundles Murdock,  seconded by Council member Mark Snyder, that Council authorize signing of “a three-year lease with a two-year renewal option in a form approved by the Town Attorney, with the owners of the condominium known as Building A, Units One and Two, Federal Court.”  Rent for the space on the west end of Town on the south side of Federal Street:  $45,800 per year.

Police Chief A. J. Panebiaco’s officers have also requested that funds heretofore appropriated to pay for gym memberships be re-allocated to fund the purchase of exercise equipment.

Middleburg Country Inn Site Plan Waiver

By a three to two vote Council has approved “a waiver of complete frontage improvements along Jay Street because requiring improvements at this time could restrict future development” of the Middleburg Country Inn.

The approval was made “subject to the provisions of a public pedestrian connection (such as a temporary trail), acceptable to Town Staff,  “between the sidewalk network on Washington Street and the newly constructed sidewalk on the adjacent Federal Street Office Building property.”

According to Town Planner and Zoning Administrator Will Moore, the request for the waiver was made because the property “could potentially be re-used by a purchaser who was looking to convert the use to a general office use.”

“Normally,” he continued,  “when a property that was non-conforming as to site improvements changed use, it must come into conformance with the site improvement requirements.

The Middleburg Inn property situation was, in his view,  “unique” Moore stated, in that, legally,  “it involved two separate parcels” with Middleburg Country Inn’s main structure and majority of its parking being located on one lot.”

A separate, connected lot, designated “Lot B,”  currently has no buildings on it but serves as “the primary ingress/egress” for the Inn and provides a “small amount of parking.”

As a result, Moore noted, because the change-of-use plan was “to continue to use the ingress/egress,” he felt compelled to address the two lots as “one property in terms of site improvements. “

The requested waiver applied to “frontage improvements along Jay Street, Moore noted, which would include some pavement widening and the installation of curb, gutter and sidewalk.”

“Normally, Moore said,” he would not support a request of this nature” but was doing so in this case because the situation was, in his words, “unique.”

The applicant’s position, Moore said,  “was that if he looked to develop the vacant parcel in the future, he did not want to be hindered by the site improvements, specifically the entrance.”

According to Moore, the applicant had indicated although “he could come up with something, he would prefer not to do the improvements until the vacant lot was developed.”

The Town’s Planning Commission had mixed feelings on the request, Moore told Council. Their main concern, he said was “the pedestrian connection” linking the two sidewalks currently separated by the property(s).  The Commission, he said, was “not as concerned with widening the pavement, installing curb and gutter or the construction of a new entrance as they saw the applicant’s point about maintaining flexibility for future development.”

Asked by Town Administrator Martha Semmes why the matter had been placed on Council’s work session agenda “as an action item when it was not previously discussed with the Council,” Moore replied “that this was because he was unable to attend the regular meeting and his absence slowed the process.”  If more time was needed by the Council, he noted, the matter could be tabled.

Council member Kathy Jo Shea opposed granting the waiver, noting that, in her view, if the applicant intended to divide his parcel immediately the improvements could wait.  In her view, however, the current owner seemed to be saying “that this may be done some day,” which meant the pedestrian work would have to wait” until some undetermined point in “the future.”“What,” she asked,  “would occur if the lot was not developed for thirty years.”

Council member Mark Snyder noted that if and when the lot that abutted Jay Street was developed, “it would require the installation of a sidewalk and gutter.”  He questioned why it was reasonable to waive the frontage improvements if someone wanted to change the use of the property which the applicant clearly did.

Architect Bill Turnure, speaking on behalf of the applicant, told Council  that “if they wanted the improvements installed, the boxwood bushes would have to be removed and the access would be moved to the south.”  He also noted that “a couple of trees would also have to be removed for the new street access.” As for “future development of the vacant lot” any new structure could front on Route 50 or Jay Street; thus, they really didn’t know and couldn’t say future access to “Lot B” would be located.

Town Planner Moore again reminded Council that “there was no guarantee the property would develop and could stay this way in perpetuity” and reiterated that  “the only reason he considered this was because it was unique in that it involved two parcels.

Council member Snyder reiterated that, in his view,  “Council was being asked to grant a waiver that was not fully defined for an undetermined period and advised that he was not comfortable with that.”     

With Mayor Davis absent, Vice-Mayor Darlene Kirk and Middleburg Country Innkeeper and Council Member Kevin Hazard abstaining, the motion to grant the waiver was passed 3-2, with Council members Littleton, Murdock and Schops in favor; Council members Shea and Snyder, opposed.