By Carol Vaughn —
Chincoteague Mayor Arthur Leonard and Accomack County Supervisor Billy Joe Tarr formally presented to state police new equipment that will improve vehicle crash investigations, including decreasing the time it takes police to do their work and get the roadway reopened after a serious crash.
Chincoteague, Accomack County, and Northampton County cooperated to purchase the equipment, which cost $16,500.
The need for the equipment was highlighted after a May 2021 fatal crash on the Chincoteague causeway, resulting in a woman’s death, shut down the causeway for more than six hours as police conducted a forensic investigation at the scene.
Their work was hampered by a malfunctioning piece of equipment.
The lengthy road closure affected banks and other businesses, several of which remained closed that day, as well as emergency medical services.
The new equipment, which uses GPS technology, was purchased for the Eastern Shore Barracks of the Virginia State Police and will be used only on the Eastern Shore.
Sgt. Dane Lawson of the state police formally accepted the equipment during Monday’s Chincoteague Town Council meeting.
Lawson said the equipment already has been used to investigate a number of recent crashes on the Shore since Jan. 1.
“We have used it five times so far this year,” he said, noting the equipment’s increased efficiency compared to the old equipment.
“I can have it set up in probably 20 minutes … versus our old system, which would take almost an hour to set up,” he said, adding, “… It enables us to just work through a scene very, very fast.”
The equipment also can be used in criminal investigation, according to Lawson.
“It has a huge range of resources that are available,” he said.
Town Manager’s Report
Town Manager Mike Tolbert said all six ground floor spaces in the old firehouse, which the town owns, have been rented, including the former ambulance bay, which was rented in February for 12 months. The lessee will conduct exercise classes there.
One of three available spaces upstairs has been rented and there is interest in a second space once a stair chair is installed, according to Tolbert.
Revenues and expenses at Curtis Merritt Harbor continue to be high due to higher than expected fuel sales.
Tolbert spoke with a representative from Accomack-Northampton Electric Cooperative concerning ANEC’s plans to establish charging stations for electric vehicles.
Tolbert told the man “that the town had several suitable sites that we could make avaialbe for these stations,” he said.
Leo Pedkowski, of ANEC, told Tolbert the electric cooperative currently is pursuing several grant opportunities that are only 30 to y60 days away and said he would keep Tolbert informed of any developments.
Potential EV charging locations on town property include parking lots at Robert Reed Park, the town dock, the downtown parking lot between Church and Mumford Streets, the town municipal center lot on Deep Hole Road, and the Chamber of Commerce office, according to Tolbert.
Chincoteague received $28,362 in transient occupancy taxes in February, which exceeds the previous February and also the three-year average.
The town received $35,131 in meals taxes in February, compared to $29,259 last February and the three-year average of $26,729.
The Town Council, Mayor, and Town Manager congratulated A. J. Bowden upon his upcoming retirement from the Department of Public Works after more than 42 years as a town employee.
Bryan Rush, director of emergency services, reported Chincoteague had only four cases of COVID-19 in the last month.
Hike in Building Permit Fees Approved
The Town Council approved an increase in building and zoning fees.
The fees will go in part to pay for a cloud-based service that will streamline the permit review process, freeing the building and zoning administrator to accomplish other critical tasks. The system also will allow people to apply for permits online.
The Department of Building and Zoning in 2021 issued 548 permits, for a total construction value of $15.3 million, according to Tolbert.
Of eight localities in a cohort of similar localities, Chincoteague’s fees were 58% of the average. For several permits, Chincoteague had the lowest fee of any locality in the cohort, according to Tolbert.
Accomack and Northampton counties were included in the calculation.
The Building and Personnel Committe recommended increasing the permit fees 20% across the board, with four main fees raised to equal the cohort average.
Among other changes, the permit fee for residential new construction is increasing from 18 cents to 32 cents per square foot, with the minimum fee increasing from $80 to $320.
The fee for new commercial construction is increasing from 23 cents to 41 cents per square foot.
Speakers Register Complaints
The owners of a Maddox Boulevard business during the public comment period asked the Town Council to reconsider its denial last month of a pump-and-haul agreement for the business, Whiteraven’s Nest.
Owner Kimberly White-Landon said the store produces only gray water from a hand sink and mop sink, “maybe two gallons of gray water per day, no septic.”
White-Landon said when the Department of Agriculture last inspected the store in November, the owners were told they needed to update the grey water drainage system in order to be in compliance with the Accomack County Health Department.
The Landons do not own the property but have operated the business there for two years.
The agreement, if approved, would have added the business to the town’s general permit from the Virginia Department of Health. That requires council approval.
“We have been attempting to get this permit application reviewed and voted on since we applied to the town in December,” White-Landon said, adding the January council meeting was cancelled due to COVID-19.
After a 3-2 vote denying the request at the February council meeting, the Landons spoke to someone at the Accomack County Health Department and were told that the ordinance was misinterpreted, according to White-Landon.
The Landons met Feb. 9 with Mayor Leonard, who recommended they reapply.
“We did so immediately,” she said, adding they “were scheduled to be heard tonight.”
Still, they later were told the matter would be taken up instead at the council’s workshop meeting March 17, in order to give the ordinance committee a change to review it at their March 10 meeting and potentially make new ordinance recommendations.
“We were told it would benefit us to wait. We have been waiting since the end of December.
I don’t know too many small businesses, especially in these days and times, that can survive this waiting,” White-Landon said.
Owner Burke Landon Jr. asked if other gray water producing activities such as power washing also are going to be regulated.
He said, although their store location does not have a septic system, they often smell sewage for days at the location after heavy rains or high tides.
“It’s not ours, so somebody’s or a number of somebodies’ septics are not working up to par,” he said.
Landon said the town ran town water lines to the property before the Landons established the store there.
“Did anyone ever consider where this water is going to go when they ran the water there?” he asked.
Town Manager Mike Tolbert read into the record two emails from people supporting the business.
Two neighbors of Teaguer’s restaurant spoke about noise, littering, and other problems.
Susan Lenhardt said she is one of three widows among five people who live in the townhouse development on Teal Lane, near the restaurant.
She complained of drunken people, late night noise late, garbage containers that attract buzzards, littering, and parking issues.
“I’ve called the police several times, Lenhardt said, adding, “… Every couple of weeks there is another problem.”
“I’ve had a drunk come to my door,” said Patricia Vumas.
Still, Vumas said the owners, who she called “nice people,” have taken care of the garbage and loud music issues.
Teaguer’s addressed the comments in a Facebook post Tuesday, saying, in part, that the business has an arrangement to use a nearby chiropractor’s parking lot after business hours and that no parking is allowed on two properties adjacent to the restaurant.
In the post, customers were asked to “please be mindful of the noise outside.” The post noted the restaurant is open for late night food at a time when others are closed, bringing a lot of people at one time.
The business uses a decibel reader and relocated the band area away from the windows about four weeks ago to address complaints about loud music, according to the post.
Bottles and cans “that we clearly don’t sell” left in the parking lot and people unloading trash from their vehicles there are a problem, according to the post, which went on to say, “This is a beautiful island with some exceptional people and we are doing our best to be good neighbors.”