(703) 369-4738

30
Mar
2020

Virtual Meetings and Consultations Now Available

In efforts to continue to serve our clients in a safe and CDC compliant manner, we are now offering virtual meetings and consultations.

If you are interested in scheduling a virtual consultation or meeting with your attorney, please call 703-369-4738 and one of our legal assistants will schedule a zoom appointment.

23
Mar
2020

Resources to Help Employers Respond to Workplace Issues From COVID-19 (Corona Virus)

By: Kristina Keech Spitler, Esquire

FOR THE MOST UP TO DATE INFO, PLEASE VISIT OUR COVID-19 PAGE

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Given the fast-paced and changing nature of the impacts of the COVID-19 (Corona Virus) pandemic, businesses are working to respond in the best manner possible for the safety of their employees and customers while remaining in compliance with various employment laws and evaluating their ability to keep their businesses viable. On the evening of March 18, 2020, President Trump signed Families First Coronavirus Response Act (“FFCRA”) which amongst other provisions, includes the Emergency Family and Medical Leave Expansion Act, the Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act, and the Tax Credits For Paid Sick and Paid Family and Medical Leave that generally apply to all employers with fewer than 500 employees.

Businesses are evaluating how to respond to this pandemic which includes dealing with the following challenges (to name just a few of the many issues and concerns):

  1. Determine how to keep their employees safe and comply with various federal, state and local mandates, laws, and guidance.
  2. Determine how to comply with the Occupational Safety and Health Act.
  3. Evaluate if they can continue business operations by allowing employees to work remotely, and if so, which employees can work remotely. Ensuring that employees have the technology in place to effectively work remotely, and determine what policies and practices need to be put in place or amended.
  4. Determine what leave they should or must offer to their employees and whether they need to amend their existing leave and vacation policies and practices. Determine how to continue to comply with existing Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) requirements (generally applicable to employers with 50 or more employees) and now comply with the new Emergency Family and Medical Leave Expansion Act and Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act requirements pursuant to the FFCRA.
  5. Determine how to comply with laws that prohibit discrimination based upon disability.
  6. Determine how to correctly pay employees (exempt and nonexempt) under the Fair Labor Standards Act given all the variables in play.
  7. Evaluate whether they should just close down and conserve resources with the hope of being able to reopen in the future.
  8. Evaluate what unemployment benefits can employees who have been terminated, laid off, or furloughed may be eligible for through the Virginia Employment Commission.

To help businesses with these challenges, I have provided some helpful information, a summary of some applicable employment laws, and identified where you can find additional useful resources.

Please note that this summary is designed to provide general information, is not intended to constitute legal advice, and should not be utilized as a substitute for professional services in specific situations. If legal advice or other expert assistance is required, please consult with an attorney.

Employers have a number of issues to consider in this difficult time. If you need legal counsel, please feel free to contact me at 703 369 4738 or kspitler@vfnlaw.com. In addition, please stay safe and healthy.

Employee and Customer Safety

Employers should frequently review the website for the Center for Disease Control (CDC) regarding guidance and regular updates including its Interim Guidance for Businesses and Employers. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/index.html https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/guidance-business-response.html

Employers should also frequently visit the website for the Virginia Department of Health. http://www.vdh.virginia.gov/coronavirus/

Occupational Safety and Health Act (“OSHA”)

“The Occupational Safety and Health Act requires employers to comply with safety and health standards and regulations promulgated by OSHA or by a state with an OSHA-approved state plan. In addition, the Act’s General Duty Clause, Section 5(a)(1), requires employers to provide their employees with a workplace free from recognized hazards likely to cause death or serious physical harm.” This statement is contained in OSHA’s Guidance on Preparing Workplaces for COVID-19. Employers should review this resource at the website referenced below. https://www.osha.gov/Publications/OSHA3990.pdf

Remote Working/Telecommuting

While working remotely (also called telecommuting or teleworking) is not new and many employers (both small and large) have been allowing employees to do so and/or providing it as a benefit to employees for flexibility and work/life benefit reasons, the COVID-19 pandemic is forcing all employers to consider this as an option for business continuity reasons. If you already allow remote working, you should review and if necessary, amend existing policies – particularly if you previously only allowed remote working for limited periods such as one day per week. If you are new to teleworking or who have previously been reluctant to allow it, there are many resources available on the internet that can help you manage teleworking employees. Below is a site for an article from Harvard Business Review on how to manage newly remote workers. https://hbr.org/2020/03/a-guide-to-managing-your-newly-remote-workers

Employee Leave

Employee leave is not a simple issue and involves various laws (and now including the newly enacted Emergency Family and Medical Leave Expansion Act and Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act as part of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act). Employers should consult with legal counsel to ensure compliance with leave laws.

Generally, employers will need to comply with their current policies or amend them regarding any paid or unpaid leave to provide employees. Employers should also look at their vacation policies. Employers will need to decide if they are going to allow employees to take advance leave/vacation and/or go into the negative if employees need to take leave related to the Corona virus or other illnesses. Employers may need to amend various policies to address these issues. In addition, please see the FFCRA summary below as the Act requires paid sick leave related to the Corona virus under certain conditions for all employers with fewer than 500 employees.

Employers will also need to comply with existing FMLA laws and regulations. Generally, the FMLA applies to employers with 50 or more employees within a 75-mile radius and would not apply to smaller employers. However, please see the FFCRA summary below as the Act amends the FMLA to deal with the Corona virus and applies to all employers with fewer than 500 employees.

For convenience, I have included the website below for Department of Labor’s “COVID19 or Other Public Health Emergencies and the Family and Medical Leave Act Questions and Answers” which was published prior to the enactment of FFCRA. https://www.dol.gov/agencies/whd/fmla/pandemic

Leave Under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA)

The FFCRA was enacted quickly in response to the Corona virus and, in part, requires all private for-profit and not-for-profit employers with fewer than 500 employees along with government employers (“Covered Employers”) to provide certain paid sick leave and paid family and medical leave to employees. It also provides that these employers will get a tax credit as described below. There are a lot of unanswered questions about this new legislation. As of the date of this article, DOL has not published any regulations or guidance on compliance with FFCRA. Stay tuned as guidance is expected. Both the Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act and the Emergency Family and Medical Leave Expansion Act provide that they “shall take effect not later than 15 days after the date of the enactment of this Act.” As part of FFCRA, it was signed by President Trump on March 18, 2020 so that it would go into effect under the Act by April 2, 2020 at the latest. Both acts end on December 31, 2020.

FFCRA Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act

Covered Employers shall provide employees for immediate use (regardless of how long they have been employed) with up to 10 days of paid sick leave if the employee is unable to work or telework for the following reasons:

  1. The employee is subject to a Federal, State, or local quarantine or isolation order related to COVID-19;
  2. The employee has been advised by a health care provider to self-quarantine due to concerns related to COVID-19;
  3. The employee is experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 and seeking a medical diagnosis.
  4. The employee is caring for an individual who is subject to a quarantine or isolation order as described in (1) above, or has been advised as described in (2) above;
  5. The employee is caring for a son or daughter whose school or place of care has been closed, or the childcare provider is unavailable, due to COVID-19 precautions; or
  6. The employee is experiencing any other substantially similar condition specified by the Secretary of Health and Human Services in consultation with the Secretary of the Treasury and the Secretary of Labor.

The amount of hours of paid sick time for full-time employees is up to 10 days (80 hours). Part time employees are entitled to “a number of hours equal to the number of hours that such employee works, on average, over a 2-week period.” Unused paid sick leave may not be carried over from one year to the next.

The amount Covered Employers must pay to an employee who is unable to work or telework for one of the above reasons will be the following:

  • paid at the employee’s regular rate, up to $511 per day ($5,110 in the aggregate), to quarantine or seek a diagnosis or preventive care for COVID-19 (reasons 1, 2 or 3 above); or
  • paid at two-thirds the employee’s regular rate, up to $200 per day ($2,000 in the aggregate), to care for a family member for such purposes or to care for a child whose school has closed, or whose child care provider is unavailable, due to COVID-19, or the employee is experiencing any other substantially similar condition specified by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (reasons 4, 5 and 6 above).

Covered Employers may not require an employee to use other paid leave provided by the employer before the employee uses the paid sick leave provided under this Act. The Act does not address how to handle if the employer has already provided sick or other type of leave to employees prior to its enactment.

It shall be unlawful for employers to discharge, discipline, or in any other manner discriminate against any employee who takes leave under this Act and who has filed any complaint related to this Act or has or will testify about any such proceeding. Violations of this Act will be considered violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act and employees may be entitled to unpaid wages, liquidated damages, and attorneys’ fees and costs.

Covered Employers are required to post and keep posted in conspicuous places on their premises a notice regarding the rights under this Act. This notice will be prepared by the Secretary of Labor and available at a later date. Secretary of Labor shall make a publicly available model notice within 7 days of enactment.

Covered Employers of health care providers or emergency responders may elect to exclude such employees from the application of this subsection.

In addition, the Secretary of Labor shall have the authority to issue regulations to: 1) exclude certain health care providers and emergency responders from the definition of employee, including allowing employers of such health care providers and emergency responders to opt out; 2) to exempt small businesses with fewer than 50 employees from the requirements of providing paid sick leave under reason #5 above (the employee is caring for a son or daughter whose school or place of care has been closed, or the childcare provider is unavailable, due to COVID-19 precautions) when the imposition of such requirements would jeopardize the viability of the business as a going concern; and 3) as necessary to carry out the purposes of this Act.

FFCRA Emergency Family and Medical Leave Act

This Act amends the existing Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993. The Act provides that Employees who have been employed for at least 30 days with a Covered Employer will be entitled to take up to 12 weeks of job-protected Emergency FMLA leave for a qualifying need related to a public health emergency of COVID-19. The Act defines this to mean that the employee is unable to work or telework in order to care for a child (under the age of 18) if the child’s school or place of care has been closed or the childcare provider is unavailable due to COVID-19. The first two weeks of the Emergency FMLA leave are unpaid under this Act. During this time, Employee sick leave may be under the Emergency Paid Sick Leave described above or the employee may elect, but may not be required, to substitute any accrued vacation leave, personal leave, or medical or sick leave already provided by the employer. Thereafter, the remaining 10 weeks would be paid Emergency FMLA leave. The amount of pay shall be no less that two-thirds (2/3) of the employee’s usual pay, up to $200 per day ($10,000 total). When the need for such leave is foreseeable, employee shall provide the employer with such notice as is practicable.

It is unclear at this time whether or how employer-provided paid leave would run concurrently with this Emergency FMLA leave and how it would interact with the traditional FMLA leave benefits.

As this is job-protected leave, this means that the employer must restore the employee to the same or equivalent position when s/he returns to work from such leave. However, for Covered Employers who employ fewer than 25 employees, the Act provides that this job restoration provision shall not apply if 1) the position does not exist due to economic conditions or other changes in operating conditions of the employer that affect employment and are caused by a public health emergency during the period of leave; and 2) the employer makes reasonable efforts to restore the employee to an equivalent position during the year following the conclusion of the leave period.

Similar to the Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act, Covered Employers of health care providers or emergency responders may elect to exclude such employees from the application of this subsection. In addition, the Secretary of Labor shall have the authority to issue regulations to 1) exclude certain health care providers and emergency responders from the definition of employee; and 2) to exempt small businesses with fewer than 50 employees when the imposition of such requirements would jeopardize the viability of the business as a going concern.

FFCRA Tax Credits for Employers Providing Emergency Paid Sick Leave and Emergency FMLA Leave

Covered Employers who provide Emergency Paid Sick Leave and Emergency FMLA Leave will be eligible for refundable tax credits on their payroll tax payments equal to 100% of the amount paid (up to the maximum amount authorized by each Act) during each quarter.

Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”)

For employers who are covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act (15 or more employees), the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) has provided guidance on complying with the ADA and Rehabilitation Act, including requirements for reasonable accommodations and rules about medical examinations and inquiries. On March 19, 2020, the EEOC clarified that while both Acts continue to apply, they do not interfere with or prevent employers from following the guidelines and suggestions by the CDC or state/local public health authorities. See the EEOC’s webpage and the EEOC’s Pandemic Preparedness in the Workplace and the Americans With Disabilities Act below. https://www.eeoc.gov/eeoc/newsroom/wysk/wysk_ada_rehabilitaion_act_coronavirus.cfm https://www.eeoc.gov/facts/pandemic_flu.html

Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”)

Employers need to be careful to ensure that they are complying with the FLSA when evaluating how to correctly pay their employees (exempt and nonexempt) given all the variables in play during this pandemic. Employers should consult with legal counsel to ensure they are complying with the FLSA. In addition, please see the guidance that the Department of Labor has provided: “COVID-19 or Other Public Health Emergencies and the Fair Labor Standards Act Questions and Answers.” https://www.dol.gov/agencies/whd/flsa/pandemic

Closing Your Business, Terminating Employees, and Unemployment Benefits

Evaluating whether a business should close down now and conserve resources with the hope of being able to reopen in the future is a complicated and difficult decision. The decisions regarding whether to terminate, layoff or furlough some or all employees is equally as difficult. Both issues are beyond the scope of this article. In the event that employers do terminate employees and/or significantly reduce their hours, generally the employees may apply for unemployment benefits with the Virginia Employment Commission. Note that beginning March 15, 2020, the one week waiting period and the requirement to conduct a weekly job search has been suspended by the Governor in response to the pandemic. See the Virginia Employment Commission website below. http://www.vec.virginia.gov/

Businesses should also be aware of the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act (“WARN Act”) which generally requires that employers with 100 or more employees provide certain notices of intention when closing a facility with 50 or more employees and/or laying off 50 or more employees. The Virginia VEC has established a rapid response team to help in this situation. See VEC website above.

30
Dec
2019

7 Reasons Good Attorneys are Worth Their Weight in Wine

According to WVTF, Wine Spectator Magazine named Virginia a top world destination for wine lovers to visit, along with places like France, Germany, Spain, and New Zealand so it’s no wonder wineries are popping up all over Virginia. In Northern Virginia, in particular, wineries and breweries have gained popularity because of their access to interstates and tourism traffic. Agritourism combines 2 of Virginia’s top 3 industries: agriculture (#1) and tourism (#3) providing a boon to rural economies and helping preserve small to mid-size farms.

If you’re considering starting a vineyard, winery, or brewery you probably already know you have to comply with Virginia alcohol laws and regulations. What many aspiring entrepreneurs forget is that it’s also worthwhile to learn about the “non-alcoholic” side of winery and brewery ownership. An experienced business attorney can take the guesswork out of the agritourism business law and protect your winery from common risks that nearly all businesses face.

Read on to learn 7 things lawyers can do to help your agribusiness’s growth and sustainability.

1. Attorneys Can Help You Incorporate & Reduce Personal Risks.

If you want your winery or brewery to be taken seriously, you’ll need to form a business entity.  When handled properly, incorporation can protect your personal assets from business losses and reduce your tax liabilities. Deciding which corporate structure will work best for your business is a balancing act that requires the insight of an experienced attorney. Trying to use legal forms without the advice of an attorney could lead to your winery paying more than its fair share in taxes, or worse, the loss of your business and personal assets for simple legal mistakes.

2. Attorneys Can Help You Obtain Business Loans to Grow Your Winery.

If you have never applied for a business loan, it’s worth noting that business lending is quite different from the personal loan process. Lenders want to protect their investment, so they often require business owners to submit substantial paperwork and sign numerous guarantees before any money is distributed. In addition to many lenders requiring a business plan, incorporation, and other business documentation, they may apply multiple contingencies throughout the life of your loan. Such as a requirement that you maintain your corporate entity, have a life insurance policy, or submit annual financial data.

An agribusiness attorney can help you prepare the right documentation to improve your chances of obtaining a business loan and ensure you’re not signing predatory loan agreements that set you up for failure.

3. Attorneys Can Help You Acquire Land & Construct Facilities.

Land acquisition and usage is always a hot legal topic for Virginia wineries. Zoning issues and private legal restrictions, such as covenants, may limit or prohibit some uses of your property.

Trying to navigate all of the different rules, regulations, and procedures involved with land use regulations is complicated and time-consuming. The time to consult an attorney is before you acquire land.

4. Attorneys Can Help You Draft Contracts that Protect Your Business Interests.

Every business needs contracts. At some point, you will deal with suppliers, vendors, employees, and other professionals. Each relationship that your business relies on will need to be governed by some form of an agreement so that you can take action if the other party doesn’t hold up their end of the bargain.

The world of contract law is highly specialized within every industry. Even the most experienced contract attorneys may not know the nuances of the agritourism industry. Working with an attorney who knows the ins and outs of agritourism will set your business up for success and mitigate risks.

5. Attorneys Can Help You Hire & Retain Good Employees.

If you want your business to grow and succeed, at some point you will need to hire employees. Finding, hiring, training, and retaining good employees is one of the most important (and daunting) aspects of business ownership. Even business owners with past management experience often do not know the best ways to secure trustworthy employees. What’s worse is that employees are one of the biggest sources of business lawsuits in the United States.

Federal and State governments regulate what can be asked during interviews, how employees are paid and taxed, how employees are to be treated, and when employees can be fired. An attorney can help ensure you’re in compliance with all employment laws and regulations. They can also help create employee agreements that protect your business from adverse actions of employees,  like opening a competing business, sharing your trade secrets, or recruiting co-workers for a competitor.

6. Attorneys Can Help Your Protect Your Name, Ideas, Reputation, and Designs.

Your business’s name, ideas, and reputation are its lifeblood. If a competitor steals your ideas or an employee shares your proprietary information, your business could lose its competitive advantage. This is why intangible assets, like intellectual property (IP), are some of the most valuable components of a newly formed business.

You will want to ensure your unique ideas maintain their value by taking advantage of intellectual property laws that protect trademarks, copyrights, and patents. Even your marketing campaigns can be protected property. A seasoned attorney can help you maximize the value of your business by protecting your ideas. As well as help you avoid fines and lawsuits by ensuring you are not infringing on other businesses ’ IP rights.

7. Attorneys Can Help You Avoid Lawsuits.

Many business owners believe they don’t need lawyers until a problem arises. You may have caught yourself thinking, “I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it.” Unfortunately, this is one of the most expensive mistakes business owners make. All businesses face the risk of lawsuits and agri-business is no exception. If you’re selling alcohol on your property, you face even greater risks.

The good news is, experienced business attorneys can help you protect your business from litigation and limit your liabilities, proactively. They can help ensure you have the right protections in place, legally, financially, and contractually to protect your business from lawsuits and regulatory penalties.


Our experienced team of attorneys at VF&N are able to assist you with all aspects of your agritourism business, from startup to growth and beyond. If you’re interested in starting a winery or brewery in Virginia, or would like to protect your existing agribusiness, contact us for personalized advice designed to meet your unique goals.

By: Martin Crim, VF&N Attorney

2
May
2019

Land use and zoning explained: Repurposing an established building through a special use permit

The commercial real estate and property sector in Northern Virginia and Prince William County has experienced fluctuations in recent years which resulted in vacant buildings. For the owners of these properties, they’re left with a tough decision – let the property stay vacant or repurpose the property.

Repurposing property is using a building differently than the original intent. As a property owner, you are looking for cost-effective ways to keep your investment profitable.  For example, If you turn an old factory into loft apartments, or a barn into an event center, the building sees new life, you continue to make money, and all without building on existing green space. But it isn’t always that easy to change land use of an existing property.

Land use considerations

Land use laws regulate how businesses can operate on certain lands. The most common form of land use regulation is zoning. Cities use this legal process all across the country to help regulate their local development. Zoning laws prevent you from coming home to your well-established housing neighborhood and finding a big box store has set up shop next door.

While it’s not likely for a big box store to pop up next to houses, it is possible as in our earlier example, for a factory to become loft apartments. The zoning for that land must change to account for residents living on the property instead of people coming to work. Without making this change, it puts both the business operator and you, the property owner, in legal peril. It’s up to you to make sure the city allows the land use modification.

Special use permit (SUP)

A special use permit allows a local government to take a look at one particular development and to impose conditions needed to mitigate any impacts on the community. It is available only if the zoning ordinance provides for it.

To obtain a special use permit, you must get approval from the governing body in your community. You need to file an application, submit the filing fee, provide documentation supporting your request, and submit to questioning at a public hearing.  See the steps outlined below:

The process to obtain a SUP

5
Jan
2018

Cheers to Randy for Effingham Manor Winery Win

VF&N Litigation Attorney Randolph D. Frostick Wins Case for Effingham Manor Winery

This story was reported in full in VA Lawyers’ Weekly (login required).

The Case

The conversion of the 18th century historic estate, Effingham Manor, into a winery caused a stir among residential neighbors who claimed that the winery breached the community’s 2004 development covenants and filed suit. The opposition came as a surprise to the winery owner, Chris Pearmund, thinking the winery would be an ideal fit for the bucolic community. He came to Manassas trial attorney Randolph D. Frostick (Randy) of Vanderpool, Frostick, & Nishanian, P.C. for legal representation in the case. On May 26, 2017, Prince William County Circuit Court Judge Steven Smith ruled in favor of our client, allowing Effingham Manor Winery to open for business in Fall 2017.

“Not only did Randy have compelling evidence in this case, but he also argued his point with finesse and detail in line with the law, which is what VF&N’s attorneys are known for. We are proud of his hard work, skill, and dedication to his client, and are thrilled by the outcome” says VF&N managing partner Michael Vanderpool.

The Facts 

A main point of contention in the case was a 2005 amendment to the development’s covenants that removed the manor house from the residential restrictions. This amendment was upheld in court despite arguments that it was invalid because it was not filed with a certification required by the Virginia Property Owners Association Act. Circuit Judge Steven Smith ruled that the legislation’s use of “may” over “shall” in regard to the amendment allowed an alternative method if authorized by a declaration.

Three key pieces of evidence bolstered the decision:

  • Zinone v. Lee’s Crossing Homeowners Ass’n held amendments following the terms of the declaration valid without regard for statutory procedure.
  • The General Assembly amended the POAA legislation this year to exempt declarations from the POAA’s procedural requirements for amendments, effective July 1, 2017.
  • The developer, Frank Smerbeck, testified that he had intended to keep the manor lot free of residential restrictions due to its historic value and commercial potential.

Homeowners also tried to block the winery’s road access, claiming that the increased traffic would overburden the easement. However, the judge backed the winery’s existing agreement to pay half of the road maintenance costs for the subdivision.

This case, along with the new legislative amendment, assures property owners’ associations and their lawyers that their declarative amendments are legally sound.

About Randy

Randy Frostick has been providing civil trial and alternative dispute resolution solutions to clients throughout Virginia since 1983 in both state and federal courts and various arbitration and mediation panels. He represents a diverse range of clients, including businesses, municipalities, and individuals, in a wide range of cases.  For over thirty years, Randy has provided his clients legal guidance to both avoid and resolve civil disputes without litigation, and when necessary, zealously advocated for their legal rights in court or arbitration. Learn more about Randy here.

25
Aug
2017

The Landing At Cannon Branch Moves Forward with Grants

On Wednesday, representatives from the City of Manassas came together with Governor Terry McAuliffe and Buchanan Partners to announce the receipt of grants permitting the construction of a new brewery and restaurant in the commercial development of the Gateway Center, now known as The Landing at Cannon Branch. The attorneys at VF&N are pleased to have represented the City of Manassas Economic Development Authority regarding the legal work necessary for the development of The Landing at Cannon Branch and the proceedings moving forward.

The Landing at Cannon Branch is a 40 acre, $250 million-dollar mixed used development which will house, not only the brewery, but hotels, retail, offices, restaurants and over 270 new homes, aiding in the community’s economic growth and engagement. Governor Terry McAuliffe announced that 66 new jobs will be created in the City of Manassas due to the placement of the brewery.

The City of Manassas has been marketing the Gateway property for twenty years, waiting on the best project and development partners to collaborate and make it into a unique place that residents of the locality and businesses can benefit from.

Buchanan Partners is working as the master developer of the project, while Stanley Martin will be developing a component in the residential side of the property. The location will also feature hotels, restaurants, and other commercial developments. As the attorney’s overseeing the City of Manassas developments for this project, we look forward to seeing what’s in store for this site.