My Side of the Fence

The danger isn't going too far. It's that we don't go far enough.

Abortion Clinic Regulations – Part Deux

Recall that, when last we met, the Council had passed a resolution asking the staff to overhaul the entire zoning ordinance.  The same zoning ordinance that was enacted in the 1950's.  When we had working farms in the City. Fun fact: my bus was late to school a number of times because there were cattle in the road!!  The same zoning ordinance that has cost the taxpayers of Manassas the better part of $2 million dollars over the past 7 years.  Definitions of family.  Sexually oriented businesses.  Assembly uses in Industrial….and the hits keep a comin'.  Each time that this happens the Council, like a recovering alcoholic, swears off the sauce: "we're never doing that again.  It cost $200k and it's too damn expensive!!"  We look, bleary-eyed, at one another and agree that "we need to take the tough vote and overhaul the entire zoning code in order to put this to bed once and for all".

But for all of that determination, it never happens.  We stagger into the populism bar and fall off the wagon.  "$20k doesn't seem like so much to regulate abortion clinics"…$20k is just a downpayment and we're off….

Last night we had about 100 folks come to the Council meeting and demand that we take up and pass Mr. Aveni's proposed zoning amendment.  This amendment would align one of our local zoning definitions – the one for outpatient centers in particular – with language found in the state code.  This change would mean that the City would include abortion clinics as outpatient centers.  It would also require a special use permit for any of those facillities to locate in the city.  

Allow me to be clear: I've no love of abortion but this process was already in place.  It's what the Council voted on last time around.  Those that want to see this regulation tightened were going to get what they wanted, just not when they wanted it.  Some mentioned it would take 3 years.  That's not accurate.  The "definitions" part of the zoning code – the part that defines what a "restaurant"  or "outpatient facility" is and does – was going to be the first part of the task we took up.  That was slated to be done by the middle/end of summer.  That wasn't soon enough for the anti-abortion folks.  So, they did what succesful political movements do and packed the room.  Citizens time was several hours longzoning 2 after which Mr. Aveni brought up his resolution again and asked for a vote to send this zoning code amendment along with a requirement that a SUP be issued for abortion or other outpatient surgical centers that want to open in the city to the planning commission.  Mr. Randolph offered a substitute motion that asked that the staff study this issue for the next 2 weeks and have a staff report ready at the next Council meeting where the vote could be taken.  This passed and this item will be on the agenda for our first meeting in March.  

My concern is simple:

Having the Council dictate to the staff that a SUP be required is putting the cart before the horse.  When we have done this previously, we were told by our consultants (who were pretty sharp), staff and lawyers that we needed to do the legwork in order to demonstrate that regulation was necessary before we enacted changes to our zoning code.  Especially where federally protected users are concerned.  There has been some staff work done but the outcome seems unsure at this point.  This motion would appear to pre-judge the outcome of staff and legal work.  That's got potential to cause some remarkable legal headaches.  This is not some abstract concern that can be hand-waved away.  Here's the takeaway:  I support an effort to examine medical uses but I want the City to follow the necessary process and the medical uses work be part of a larger overhaul.  That's it.  Doing is seperately is risky and far, far more expensive.

As a general comment it continues to frustrate me that the Council refuses to spend time on municipal policy until some problem explodes in front of us and after which we rush to drown it in money or just ignore it.  We are adding money for jail space and police officers at a regular rate….doesn't that beg the question as to whether we should be examining less expensive strategies to see if we can't keep this from happening?  We're spending $1 million a year on a library system that doesn't have a branch in the city.  Manassas Park is opting out.  Too expensive and no branches are being built near either city.  Average incomes in the City continue to lag our peers by a wide margin and we have more affordable housing than anyone in NoVa….in the middle of one of the richest counties in the entire country.  Doesn't that bother anyone?  The City has no viable strategic plan so is it any wonder the city is struggling to thrive?  The inertia of idleness is accelerating to an extent where something really groundbreaking will be a necessary predicate for meaningful action.


  1. Yes…do something!  And every time "do something" is responded to, precious TAX dollars are spent causing holes to pop up.  And then "do something" without raising taxes but in order to please the "do something" crowd, futher cuts have to be made…delaying further things like economic development focus or completing plans in place.

    oh yeah, and now a matter about Homelessness before the Council, with the CIty Manager preparing a response….and as said last night, some Council Members want to have a discussion on it.  Gee, seems before "do something" occured this Fiscal Year killing the paid Housing Manager/Adovocate, there was an excellent system in place to include six volunteers working on it.

    So yes, "do something"….feed the masses.

  2. Christopher Leet, MD

    February 25, 2014 at 9:32 pm

    While an abortion clinic is certainly a source of conflict in the community, there is obviously a section of the community keeping them in business, as evidenced by the length of time the other clinic has stayed in business, in spite of the continuous parade of protestors trying to close it. Obviously, not many patients wanting an abortion are going to discuss this in public. Since there are existing medical facilities, it would be difficult to establish a SUP for one type of business. The standards set by the state require hospital standards for any out-patient surgery center, with additional requirement of the physician requiring to be a member of the local hospital staff. This is not an unreasonable requirement, but financially and technically difficult to satisfy. If a clinic is actually capable of fulfilling these regs, I don't see how a SUP with further requirements can legally be done

  3. Chris, thank you for reinforcing as a Doctor what I wrote in Part One here on this blog about Abortion Clinics, and said before the Council, that they are classified as HOSPITALS.  I had also directed folks to VDH Laws & Regulation page to view it themselves. The large number that asked for a resolution supporting Delegate Marshall and his efforts to consolidate regulations got what they wanted.  The law is the law.

    Andy, you have done a great job referring to your time on Council and a million plus spent on piecemeal fixing of the Code. The recent 5-1 vote to do a complete overhaul is what…$150,000 to contract for the whole review?  Smart use of our tax dollars we pay that be.  But let us look back a bit futher to ohhh say 2006 or so…..

    The Council rushed to amend our Code to define "family" and "housing" which landed us in a lawsuit that was settled for around $800,000-plus; not to mention the legal fees running up to the settlement.  Then it was an observation period for five or so years – and if anyone thinks we are still not being observed, they are wearing blinders!  So here is the question:

    Mr. Aveni is Chair of the Council's Finance Committee.  Is he ready to present to that Committee a resolution setting aside say 2 or 3 million dollars – just in case – in a rush to "do something" in response to the small population of this City being vocal where we may end up in another lawsuit?  And is the full Committee ready to back such a preemptive set-aside?

  4. I know a Dr who runs a clinic. He does not do the procedures himself anymore. He is in his 70's but keeps the clinic operating. He knew George Tiller. I have met he and his wife together and individually to conduct some small business, and over the years of our conversations I have learned a number of things about the why's and hows of their business.

    He is of an age of doctors, a Gynecologist, that started practicing when abortion was not legal. He did his internship in NY City. He told me that he would be called in, at all hours, to try to keep a woman from dying. It impacted the rest of his life. He talked about giving hysterectomies to 16 year old girls from botched abortions, saving a woman bleeding out only to have her die of infection, having women die in the ER after being left on the street after a bad amature procedure. He spoke of a particuliar girl, he said he would never forget her face. The ER doctor was talking to him as they were rushing her to the OR, she grabbed his hand look into his eyes for help and shortly thereafter died. The autopsy determined that lye had been poured into her uterus. She was chemically burned from the inside out.

    He lives with a highly trained German Shephard, very serious security at his home and office. There came a time when he determined that he needed to learn to use a gun. He and his family have been threatened many times. It is not an easy choice to make to do what he does. He told me he has even seen a former patient picketing his clinic. Te told me he looked directly at her and she turned away, he had no doubt that they were the only ones there who knew. He said delivering babies was far less stressful.

    These older doctors fear people do not know what it was like before abortion became legal.

    People have children, these doctors have children. No one is pro abortion. Safe and legal is the answer. Using TRAP laws is frankly ridiculous and requiring doctors to have admitting priveledges is not necessary and sometimes not politically possible given the location. The people placing needless restrictions on clinics inflict pain and suffering on others, that is all there is to it. Do they really care, or does the fact that the women who use these services are removed, nameless and faceless to them? But there was that woman protesting, and statistically, reguardless of their beliefs, the people who call for restrictions on clinics will have people in their own families affected. They kid themselves by thinking that by getting involved in women's decisions they are doing good, in truth just the opposite is true.

  5. Patricia Richie-Folks

    February 26, 2014 at 12:40 pm

    Dear Andy,

    I totally agree with you.

    I was at home when I saw all of the people in the Chamber and was wondering what was going on.

    When I heard what they were talking about during Citizen's time I thought, this has already been voted on and followed the proper procedures with public hearings and then the vote at the Council Meeting on the 10th of February at the Public Works building.

    I thought, why are they bringing this back or should I say Mr. Aveni have these people there to bring something back that has already been voted on 5-1 to take the recommendations from staff and staff had it's maraching orders.

    Now here it is back again!!  Really!!

    What a waste of tax payers dollars and instead of the Council being able to work on issues that really matter in the City such as economic development, education they are dealing with an issue that has already been decided on.

    Good luck to you Andy and keep on trying to do what's right for the citizens of Manassas which is everyone instead of a select few.


  6. Minutes of the February 3rd Meeting where the Staff proposed plan was accepted with vote 5-1

    Interesting to note Mr. Vanderpool, as the City's Assistant Attorney, reviews all the legal issues since 1946 and "the ordinance is outdated from the legal perspective" meaning, as we know, the whole Code needs a revamp.

    And another question:  Mr. Aveni stated "City Council cannot wait for three years to resolve the three outstanding issues" which are Places of Assembly, Medical Care Facilities, and Temporary Structure/Tents.  Mr. Lovejoy asked asked if at the end of Phase 1 – Definitions and Uses and Public Outreach (about 7 to 9 months to complete) will answer the three most pressing issues and Ms. Via-Gossman "confirmed that upon completion of Phase 1 the three pressing issues would be resolved".  Sooooo..why is it viewed by Mr. Aveni as not resolving the issues?

  7. Andy, a request –

    If Mr. Vanderpool provided a handout of all the various legal issues, could you post that here for all to see? Or a listing of them? Would definitely reinforce the point about taking a more focused, logical approach to Code review. Thanks!

  8. The entire council is a bunch of clowns.  Our city is crumbling around us and this is what they spend their time on?  Let's hire 6 democrats, they could hardly do worse.

  9. andy

    February 27, 2014 at 10:58 am

    Ray: We haven't received such a list (yet) and, unfortunately, it would almost certainly be attorney-client privildged information that I could not disclose.

    JohnnyD: You can only hire 3 democrats at a time…:)  However, I share your frustration.

  10. With all the positive things happening in regards to women's health in the City of Manassas, this drags us backward yet again. Thanks for blogging about this, Andy. I missed the livestream of the meeting – can't watch the rebroadcast tonight because I'll be at NOVA, still waiting for it to be posted on the city website's media center. You're our only news source!

  11. Andy, I continue to take exception about your comments on the Prince William County library costs..  The library on Mathis Avenue is within comfortable driving and in some cases within walking distance of the entire City.  I know costs are going up and that new libraries are being built in the county's growth areas.  They are not going to build a new library in the City when they have one down the street already.  Why don't you propose that users that are City residents be charged a yearly user fee to offset some of the costs.  Until the City can duplicate what the Prince William County library system offers, then we need to stay with them.  It is just more than books.  I am an avid user of the library and I  think it would be cost prohibitive to try and duplicate a library in the City.  I don't use the jails or the schools but my tax dollars go for these services.  Think about the user fee.  I don't think anyone would object to this who use the library.

  12. Thanks, Andy about the list.  Just wondered since in the Minutes it mentioned Mike related the legal issues, and the meeting was not closed, so thought it might be a public document.  Still, a neat little factoid!

  13. Andy, perhaps the source of the "three years to complete the overhaul" was your own Feb. 5 post on the topic where you say: "The proposal indicated that we will be using in-house staff to do the work and save money so the entire process will take several years."  You made no mention of some incremental completion.

    Dr. Leet, state standards for operation of an abortion clinic have no relevance to zoning code.

    Finally, I fail to understand the logic that a piecemeal review/change in zoning code is anymore expensive than a review/change of that same zoning code as part of a complete zoning overhaul.  The same level of effort would be required to research and craft the code no matter what the situation.

  14. GMan:  your right if the zoning code you refer to is our outdated local code.

    The operation of an abortion clinic DOES have relevance to Zoning per Virgina Administrative Code 12.5-412….the Regulations effective June 20, 2013 are not only operation of the facility, but also design & construction.  Please see the Regulations at the following link:

    Additionally, since 12VAC5-412-30 classifys Abortion facilities as a category of hospital, there are aspects of 12VAC5-410 which apply.

  15. And another question:  Abortion Clinics by State Code are classified as Hospitals, and by our existing Code has "hospitals" in B-4 Districts.  Now, "medical offices" are a "by right" in the B-1, B-2,and B-3 districts.  Given that since those portions of our Code were long ago updated, and there have been several changes to the definition of "medical office" in VA Code, why the push to do it now versus the excellent Staff Plan (approved 5-1 by Council) where the changes to the Business Zones could have a complete relook and rewrite?

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