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Farmville may limit gatherings to 50

The Farmville Town Council is considering adopting an emergency ordinance to limit large gatherings to 50 people or less in preparation for the return of Longwood University and Hampden-Sydney College students.

A rough draft of the emergency ordinance was presented to the council by Town Attorney Gary Elder at the Wednesday, Aug. 12, Farmville Town Council Meeting.

Although Phase 3 of Virginia’s reopening plans allow for social gatherings of 250 people or less, other college towns and cities such as Radford and Blacksburg have moved to adopt ordinances that reduce that figure as they prepare to welcome students back on campus.

Elder said Wednesday he borrowed much of the ordinance’s language from Blacksburg and Radford, but asked councilmembers for feedback on changes that may need to be considered for Farmville.

The draft ordinance proposes to prohibit gatherings of more than 50 people in town, excluding instances such as religious ceremonies, weddings or funerals, as well as demonstrations on town property or other public property as permitted by a special event permit issued by the town manager or their designee.

Wednesday night owners of local restaurant North Street Press Club Nash Osborn and Jake Romaine came before the council with concerns regarding other localities putting curfews in place as college students return. Osborn told council members even a 12 a.m. curfew could result in a $10,000 loss in revenue for North Street each week. The establishment, he said, is normally ope until 2 a.m.

Osborn said the restaurant is following social distancing guidelines and requiring people to be seated and not congregating in large groups while at the business, and owners plan to do the same as students come back.

It does not appear that the council is currently considering such a curfew. Farmville Mayor David Whitus said Friday although the emergency ordinance limiting gatherings was still a draft, he does not anticipate it will affect restaurants.

On Wednesday night, Elder also said he did not believe the ordinance would apply to restaurants, as the state is already providing guidelines to food and beverage establishments regarding occupancy limitations during the pandemic.

Farmville Police Chief Andy Ellington said at Wednesday’s meeting law enforcement is expecting to see a surge in house parties and similar gatherings as students return.

Under the draft ordinance, a person found hosting a gathering of more than 50 people after being warned by law enforcement to disperse the group could be subject to a fine of up to $300. A person attending such a gathering who does not heed the warnings of an officer could be subject to fines up to $150.

Councilmembers did not take action on the draft ordinance Wednesday night, but an updated version is expected to be presented at the Wednesday, Aug. 19 meeting.