By Randi B. Hagi, assistant editor
Tensions flared at Tuesday’s packed Harrisonburg City Council meeting as proponents of a resolution to declare the city a Second Amendment sanctuary shouted at council members to urge them to act.
The Harrisonburg Republican Party had sent the city staff the resolution for the council’s consideration. And the issue was on Tuesday’s agenda for discussion only.
Council member George Hirschmann, who requested that council discuss the resolution, began by expressing his support for the measure, which says local law enforcement wouldn’t enforce potential gun control measures the Democratic-controlled state legislature might pass, such as universal background checks or certain weapon bans.
“It’s pretty much sending a message to the governor,” Hirschmann said. Other local governments have adopted similar resolutions across the Commonwealth, including in Rockingham County. City Republicans met last week to discuss their approach to the council.
After Hirschmann gave his introduction, there was a pause before other members of council spoke.
“I think nobody has anything to say. That gives you an idea, folks,” Hirschmann said. Murmurs came from the audience, which Mayor Deanna Reed reprimanded.
Because the topic of the resolution was included as a “regular item” on the agenda for the council to discuss — as opposed to a “public hearing” — community members weren’t invited to comment on it.
“This is our time,” Reed said, before shouts broke out among the audience of, “This is our time! You work for us! You need to talk!”
Reed called for order, saying, “If you can’t handle it, you can be excused.”
“Then discuss it,” a few more people yelled out, before Reed hit the gavel again to establish order. More than a dozen of the resolution’s proponents, who wore orange and yellow stickers that read “Guns save lives,” pulled out their phones to record the council.
Council member Richard Baugh said he is generally opposed to resolutions that don’t have any legal effect, as Attorney General Mark Herring said in an advisory opinion last month. Instead, Baugh said, such resolutions only “weigh in on the topical federal or state issue of the day.”
“I am a gun owner and I don’t agree with the resolution,” Council member Chris Jones said. He characterized the resolution as falsely accusing the state legislature and governor of taking unconstitutional actions.
“But that’s not true, because nothing’s happened yet,” Jones said. “So just the language, in and of itself, makes it impossible for someone to support it, because we then turn around and ask the state to help fund our local police department and sheriff and our jails.”
The council’s discussion ended after that.
Environmental Action Plan moves forward
The city council unanimously approved the first phase of a three-part Environmental Action Plan presented by the Environmental Performance Standards Advisory Committee and city staff. The plan, a draft of which was made public last summer, will act as a guiding document for the city to “implement sustainability visions and principles,” according to the plan.
Phase one lays a foundation of goals and strategies for improving Harrisonburg’s environmental sustainability in areas like energy usage, tree canopy health, access to locally produced food and water quality.
Thanh Dang, assistant director of Planning and Zoning, said the next two phases will proceed simultaneously — to gather data, develop baselines and make specific recommendations.
Council delays vote on DN-R building plans
The council unanimously tabled a decision on rezoning and special use permit requests from Rockingham Properties, LLC, represented by Matchbox Realty, concerning the Daily News-Record property.
The firm wants to allow the newspaper employees to continue working in part of the building but rent out some space.
Staff had recommended denying the request because the rezoning would mean Rockingham Properties wouldn’t have to offer any off-street parking. For instance, eliminating existing parking on the site could further congest the municipal parking lot near the Turner Pavilion.
The council members decided to postpone a decision until after they had heard the results of the downtown parking study, which City Manager Eric Campbell said could be ready for council’s review next month.
Also at the meeting:
- The council unanimously approved amendments to the city code updating real estate and property tax exemptions for residents who are 65 years of age or older or permanently and totally disabled. The amendments raise the exemptions’ thresholds for income and net financial worth, making them available to more city residents.
- The council unanimously approved a special use permit for a short-term rental on Carriage Drive.
- The council unanimously reappointed Hobart Bauhan to the Harrisonburg Electric Commission; William Blessing to the Harrisonburg Transportation Safety and Advisory Commission; and Craig Miller, Gerald Bland, and Steven Hottle to the Building Code Board of Appeals. They also unanimously appointed Jim Orndoff to the Planning Commission.
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