Harrisonburg City Council approved a proposed ban on gatherings of more than 50 people at its Tuesday meeting.
“This is something I have been talking to the city attorney about,” Mayor Deanna Reed said during the virtual meeting. “I feel like we know that in the next 10 days, we’re going to have a tremendous amount of people in the city, so this is just a little guideline for people to still feel safe.”
The ban goes into effect Thursday and lasts for 60 days unless changed by council, according to city documents.
“More localities are doing these emergency ordinances as we get closer to more people coming back into our locality,” Reed said. “That’s really why I kind of brought it up.”
Tenants or property owners who hold gatherings with more than 50 people will be warned to end the gathering, and if they do not, they can be charged with a class 3 misdemeanor, which could carry a fine up to $500.
Guests of a gathering with more than 50 people will also be warned to leave. If they do not, they can be charged with a class 4 misdemeanor with a fine up to $250.
Religious gatherings, wedding ceremonies and receptions, schools and protests are exempt from the measure, according to city documents.
In addition, working employees or contractors would be exempt from the limitation.
Reed said local leaders, such as representatives of Sentara RMH, retirement homes, area universities and colleges, elected officials and Harrisonburg and Rockingham County staff, have been in discussions on ways to get out the message to students to be wary of the pandemic as they return to the Valley.
“We’ve been working together to do a campaign called ‘Be Vigilant for the Valley,’” she said.
Part of the campaign is a commitment from the groups to proactively share pertinent information regarding cases and conditions in addition to making decisions based on public health and economic conditions, according to Reed.
“We are still in the middle of a pandemic. We still need to take care of each other,” no matter how many people are in the area, Reed said.
Council also passed a new policy formalizing the process for how it approaches naming sites and spaces, including streets and government buildings.
The new rules set a formal process for the naming that includes public input, but the power is still council’s.
The proposed naming policy considers names related to natural features, geographic locations, places of historical or cultural significance or areas around the site as appropriate for use.
The new policy also avoids names that could be construed as advertising for a business, derogatory or too similar to an established city space or facility.
It would also discourage using the name of a person who is either still living or has been dead for less than three years, unless they improved life for residents and the city’s history and culture or helped buy or donated land or structures to the community.
In other news, council also denied the rezoning and special-use permit for the Daily News-Record site in downtown Harrisonburg at 231, 251 and 261 S. Liberty St.
The request was to change the parcel that includes the newspaper’s printing operation from manufacturing to business, with a special-use permit allowing the production of newspapers or similar products at the site.
Rockingham Properties LLC, represented by Matchbox Realty, submitted the requests, according to city documents.
The requests were originally tabled by City Council in January until more information from a parking study could be obtained.
City staff recommended denying the request for the rezoning due to the negative impact on parking, based on results from the parking study, that a development would have at the site without additional parking, according to city documents.
However, staff recommended granting the special-use permit if council approved the rezoning, according to city documents.
The applicant was notified earlier this year about the issues with parking before the item was previously tabled, according to city spokesman Michael Parks.
“I am concerned that other businesses will suffer because the competition for parking [around the Daily News-Record building] is just insane,” Councilman Sal Romero said during a discussion before the vote.
Reed said she agreed with Romero, and Councilman George Hirschmann also said he was concerned about the long-term impact of a parking shortfall as the area continues to grow.
“I think it’s necessary that they come up with what would be a more reasonable approach to the parking [situation], an alternative,” Hirschmann said. Parking could be “quite a premium in this little city.”