Home-Business Application Stirs Tensions in Manassas

Here’s a link to the Manassas city web site: http://www.manassascity.org/.

Oh look. They’re having a home buying information fair on the 21st.

Here’s a link showing political contributors in Manassas: Fundrace.


Gay Masseur, Some Residents at Odds

By Nick Miroff
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, October 16, 2006; Page B01

In the past three years, the Manassas City Council has received two applications for home-based massage therapy businesses, and members have approved both. Then Howard Daniel, who is gay, applied.

The backlash against Daniel’s request began last month when nearly two dozen people, many of them members of a local church, spoke in opposition to it at a public hearing. When it came time for the city to decide on Daniel’s application the next week, council members balked and voted instead to consider changing the city’s zoning laws.

The city’s response and the community opposition have blindsided Daniel and his supporters, one of whom had an anti-gay message written on his car.

“This should have been a business issue, and somehow it has become political,” said Daniel, 44. “Why?”

Richard Devine, Daniel’s partner of 22 years, sees the dispute in less uncertain terms. “I think it’s obvious what’s going on here,” he said. “It walks like a duck.”

Questions of discrimination are already sensitive in Manassas, which is currently under federal investigation for housing policies that allegedly target Hispanic residents, a violation of the Fair Housing Act. Now the city is again facing a land-use decision loaded with political overtones. At least one council member, Andrew L. Harrover (R), said he has received threats that Daniel’s home will be picketed if the council approves his application.

“It’s going to be terribly challenging for me” to decide, said Harrover, who lives around the corner from Daniel. His wife has signed the petition in support of Daniel’s application, but Harrover said he is opposed to home businesses that bring more traffic to residential neighborhoods.

The vast majority of those who have mobilized against Daniel’s application do not live on his street or even in his neighborhood. Many are affiliated with Manassas’s All Saints Catholic Church, though there is no indication they have organized their opposition through the church.

“This isn’t a Catholic thing; it’s a city thing,” said Amy Bookwalter, who has spoken out against Daniel’s application. “This is about keeping a residential area a residential area.”

Those claims are growing increasingly hard for Daniel and his supporters to believe. Just one year earlier, they noted, another massage therapist in Manassas applied for a permit, and not one resident voiced opposition. “No one has officially come and said it yet,” Daniel said, “but why are all these people concerned about traffic on a street they don’t live on?”

Daniel and Devine have lived for 10 years in their Cape Cod-style home on West Street, three blocks from the city’s commercial district, in a neighborhood with towering maple trees and an eclectic mix of red-brick single-family homes and Colonials.

A former Marine Corps reservist, Daniel works full time as a database administrator and treats patients on a part-time basis at the local hospital and in their homes. Daniel said he was encouraged to apply for the permit by the city planning office because his proposed client load was a fraction of that of similar businesses already approved by the council.

Daniel then spent more than $800 preparing his application: providing blueprints, inspectors’ signatures, a business plan, a petition signed by all of his immediate neighbors supporting his application and a copy of his certification from the Virginia Board of Nursing. Appointments would be scheduled to minimize neighborhood impact, and clients would park in his driveway. On Aug. 16, the planning commission approved Daniel’s application and recommended its approval by the council.

Then came the public hearing Sept. 18. Four of Daniel’s neighbors spoke on his behalf. A long line of opponents followed.

“And you know what?” said Michael Hudson, Daniel’s neighbor. “I started to look at these people, and I realized I didn’t know any of them.”

Of the 21 residents who publicly opposed Daniel’s application, two live on West Street. Many said they were against home businesses on principle, and others expressed concerns about the preservation of “a family-friendly atmosphere” in Old Town, the presence of “unknown” people in the neighborhood and the unfair “competitive advantage” that Daniel could gain by working out of his home.

After the public hearing, Devine approached Daniel’s opponents in the parking lot. “I went up to them and said I wanted to understand,” he recalled. ” ‘I don’t know who you are or where you live.’ And the first person to speak said, ‘It’s not about your lifestyle.’ “

Devine was stunned. “How do people from a different neighborhood know about our lifestyle?” he asked.

The next week, when council member J. Steven Randolph (I) introduced a motion to approve Daniel’s application, no one seconded it.

Daniel’s application hadn’t actually been rejected, because no member was willing to introduce a motion to do so. That led to a 45-minute freewheeling discourse on the city’s special-use-permit code, with council members ultimately voting to refer the issue to its Land Use Committee for further study — leaving Daniel in the lurch. That same night, someone scrawled anti-gay graffiti on the car window of one of Daniel’s supportive neighbors, escalating tensions further.

If the council votes on Daniel’s application at next Monday’s meeting, at least three of the council’s six members said they are likely to vote against it. One is Jackson H. Miller, the Republican candidate for the 50th District of the House of Delegates, who introduced the motion to approve another massage therapy business a year earlier.

“I’ve had a mixed record on home businesses,” Miller said. “I’m opposed if neighbors are opposed. That’s been my standard,” he said, noting that he voted with the council earlier this year to reject an application for a home-based optometry clinic.

But that standard seems like an arbitrary one to Daniel. “If they would have told me from the very beginning, ‘We do not allow this,’ it would have been fine with me,” he said. “I would have never started the process.”


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