The Route 50 Dilemma
On February 10 Virginia State Senator Jill Vogel walked the dangerous ground on Route 50 just west of Middleburg with Middleburg Police Chief A.J. Panebianco, Town Council members Kevin Daly and Bridge Littleton, former Town Council Member Lisa Patterson and Dee Dee Hubbard, Eccentric Editor-in-Chief.
The goal of the meeting was to identify clearly and move the Virginia Department of Transportation to help address the dangers associated with the intersection of Zulla Road and Route 50 and those brought about by “get-to-the-head-of-the line” speeding as Route 50 west of town narrows to two lanes and the speed limits drop suddenly from 55 to 35 to 25 mph.
Both factors are complicated by the blind approach to both the intersection and the dropping speed limits as drivers crest the hill at Mount Defiance and head downhill into Middleburg, all too often traveling well over the 55 mph speed limit.
Police enforcement in the area is also complicated by geography. The area is just outside Middleburg, and thus outside the jurisdiction of the Middleburg PD. It is also quite close to the Fauquier County line, thus limiting for practical time and manpower reasons patrolling by the Loudoun County Sheriff’s Departments.
Chief Panebianco summarized the group’s findings and recommendations in a formal letter to Senator Vogel
Killer Left Turns from Zulla Road
Drivers turning left from Zulla Road onto Route 50 west all too often make their turn too early. Instead of crossing over two lanes of eastbound traffic before turning, they turn left immediately, straight into eastbound traffic cresting a blind hill above them at 55mph or more.
The dangers of a disastrous head-on collision are exacerbated by a confusing (and some say illegal) rock structure in the median strip across from the intersection, and still worse at night, even for drivers who know the intersection. Some GPS systems add to the danger
Indeed, less than a week after Vogel and the Council walked the ground a large truck pulling a 40-foot trailer hauling steel beams turned left into oncoming traffic, prompted to do so by the voice of the driver’s GPS system. Happily, the driver saw immediately what he had done and pulled off the road.
Chief Panebianco’s letter suggests two solutions:
1. “Consider removing the rock structure, provided it is not of historic value and is in the public right of way, as it has been the cause for confusion that makes it appear the eastbound lane [of Route 50] is a two-lane road”
2. Consider erecting a flashing light with a sign indicating “no left turn” from Zulla or denoting the dual lanes. The current markings are not working”
The group agreed on three suggestions to address speeding:
1. “Consider reducing the speed limit eastbound [on Route 50 west of Middleburg] as the two lanes approach the crest of the [Mount Defiance] hill.
2. “Consider adding rumble strips to alert drivers to the reduced speed and dangerous conditions.”
3. “In such case as the speed limit is not reduced the rumble strips would still help alert drivers of dangerous conditions if we are able to erect a sign.”
Senator Vogel has promised to do her best to bring these suggestions to the powers that be in Richmond and see that whatever action s are appropriate and possible are acted on as soon as possible.
Safety Patrol Sworn In
In a first for Middleburg Community Charter School and the Middleburg Town Council, twelve members of the School’s new Safety Patrol took a formal oath of office in front of their parents, the Town Council, and guests and received the badges symbolic of their new responsibilities.
Snow Removal Ordinance
After a lengthy discussion of a proposed ordinance that would require residents to clear snow and ice from the sidewalks in front of their homes, just as businesses are required to do, Town Council voted unanimously to table the measure.
Of particular concern to Council members were the burdens such requirements would place on elderly or physically-restricted residents and those particular to some difficult geography.
One Council member noted that in some places the ONLY place to put snow removed from a sidewalk was back in the street, which meant that the next snowplow to come along would simply pile it back onto the sidewalk, again.
Electronic Minutes and Video of Town Council Meetings
Middleburg Town Clerk Rhonda North reported that the town, after lengthy research and negotiation, has signed a contract (and will soon have up and running) new electronic cloud-based agenda and meeting minutes software from Granicus, Inc., a leading international supplier.
Swagit, Productions, LLC, will provide new tools for providing key-word -searchable video transcripts.
The two integrated systems promise to provide unprecedented public access to monthly regular meetings of Council, their critical committee-of-the-whole work sessions, and other key meetings to be determined.
Assisted Living Facility Request – Legal Issues
Will Moore, Middleburg Town Planner and Zoning Administrator, reported that staff had briefed the Middleburg Planning Commission on “applications that have been filed for a Zoning Map Amendment and Special Use Permit for an assisted living facility on a 15+ acre parcel on the north side of Washington Street in the 400 East Block” of Middleburg.
Moore noted that, at this point, the application suffered from “quite a number of deficiencies,” among them “lack of completeness” and “inconsistencies” with the Town’s comprehensive plan.
Staff went on, he said, to advise the commission and Town Council that “it is imperative that the appointed and elected bodies refrain from any discussions with the applicant or general public pertaining to the applications.”
“As filed,” Moore continued, “the rezoning application is governed by proffer legislation enacted in the Code of Virginia in 2016 wherein the ability of localities to accept or negotiate proffers related to the residential zonings was severely restrained. A mere suggestion of a proffer that could be deemed unreasonable could face the Town with significant legal exposure under the legislation.”
In bold type, Moore’s report noted: “Staff suggests the Council refrain from discussion of the applications until further guidance is provided by staff and/or our legal counsel”
Materials submitted by the applicant are available for public review at the town offices.