By Randy Arrington
LURAY, April 28 — A Stanley cabin owner has put county officials on notice — reopen short-term rentals on May 8, or potentially face litigation.
J.D. Cave, a former county supervisor and resident of Stanley, sent a letter on Monday to the county administrator and members of the Page County Board of Supervisors on behalf of his family’s short-term rental business Shenandoah Woods.
“Wanted you to be aware of a lawsuit in Lynchburg regarding the Governor’s order to close businesses. Today, the judge ruled in the Plaintiff’s favor,” the letter states. “Even though this suit deals specifically with a gun range, it could have much broader implications pertaining to cabin closures in Page County, and the legality thereof. I’m certain there will be many more lawsuits to follow pertaining to state and local directives to close businesses in the Commonwealth.”
The letter references a lawsuit filed against Governor Ralph Northam on April 8 in the Circuit Court for the City of Lynchburg by Lynchburg Range and Training (d/b/a – SafeSide Lynchburg), Virginia Citizens Defense League, Gun Owners of America, and the Association of Virginia Gun Ranges. The lawsuit basically claims the governor overstepped his bounds in closing non-essential businesses, particularly gun ranges, by violating the “right to bear arms” clause of both the Virginia and U.S. constitutions.
On Monday, Judge F. Patrick Yates issued an order granting a temporary injunction for the gun range to operate free from the governor’s Executive Order 53. The order initially closed non-essential businesses through April 23, and then was later extended to May 8.
At their last meeting on April 21, supervisors expressed a desire to discuss at their next meeting on May 5, potentially lifting the county’s ban on short-term rentals and other actions to “get the county going again.”
“Some folks want some logic behind these decisions,” Supervisor Jeff Vaughn said during the live-streamed meeting on April 21. The District 5 representative cited Governor Northam’s closure of non-essential businesses.
“We need to truly consider what is going on in Page County,” Vaughn said. “They can do all the models they want, but we’re not Northern Virginia.”
“We have to put some sense to this, or we’re going to destroy our economy,” District 2 Supervisor Allen Louderback added, also noting the particular need to lift the restriction on short-term rentals.
In his letter sent out Monday night, Cave claims that income from Page County cabins “amount to over $21 [million] annually.”
“The Cabin Capital of Virginia loses while cabins remain closed,” Cave’s letter states. “So far for the month of April, the total [loss] is almost $2 [million]. That income must be made up somewhere.”
In the seven days since the supervisors last met and expressed a great desire to open the county back up for business, the number of COVID-19 cases in Page County has increased more than six-fold, from 14 to 89. And while there were no hospitalizations related to the virus among the first 14 diagnosed locally, there are now 10 hospitalized.
At least 59 of those new cases have been attributed to an outbreak in Skyview Springs Rehab and Nursing Center in Luray. Among the 203 outbreaks of COVID-19 in Virginia, 114 are in long term care facilities, according to the Virginia Department of Health. These facilities only account for about 9.5 percent of the COVID-19 cases statewide, but 21.2 percent of the virus-related deaths.
The Lord Fairfax Health District reported its first two deaths in the last week — both in Shenandoah County.
After initially declaring a state of emergency on March 17 to free up state and federal resources and aid (if needed), the county amended the declaration on March 31 to include a ban on short-term rentals.
According to the amendment, the measure prohibits the rental of “a hotel room, motel room, rental housing unit, condominium, RV campsite, primitive campsite, rental cabin or similar accommodations for less than 30 consecutive days.”
The new mandate allows exemptions for “contractors, medical personnel and employees performing essential services within Page County.”
The March 31 amendment goes on to state that “current guests in a hotel, motel, vacation rental or other short-term rental housing unit may remain in their occupied quarters for the duration of their rental agreement.”
The amendment was aimed at preventing the spread of COVID-19 in the Page Valley — especially from those who may be fleeing the spread of the virus in “hot spots” further north and elsewhere.
“Page County has been overflowing with travelers escaping the virus and exposing our citizens,” County Administrator Amity Moler stated in an April 1 email.
The amendment was approved the same day that Page County reported its first case of COVID-19 on March 31. The county administrator acknowledged the additional burden this measure could put on some in the local workforce.
“We recognize many employees have experienced layoffs or reduced hours of work due to COVID-19 and hated to potentially put more in that situation with the restrictions,” Moler stated in the April 1 email. “But we felt it was the best decision for the health and safety of our residents at this time.”
Moler noted that the Governor’s recent orders only limited stays at privately-owned campgrounds for stays less than 14 nights.
“Page County’s [declaration] is far more restrictive,” Moler said.
The new, more restrictive declaration for Page County went into effect Wednesday, April 1, and will last “until such time as the state of emergency in the Commonwealth of Virginia is lifted or until such other further notice.”
Governor Northam is expected to make an announcement next week related to his closure of non-essential businesses and the extended May 8 expiration. If the governor lifts the ban, then Page County will likely follow suit and open back up for business. However, the question becomes, what will the supervisors do when orders from the state conflict with pressure from local business owners — especially cabin owners.
“We believe if this decision to close cabins in Page County were tested in Virginia’s courts, the outcome would be favorable to cabin owners,” Cave’s letter states. “There are many willing to take that step. Please rethink the order issued and allow cabins to resume business by May 8, 2020.”