Home-Business Application Stirs Tensions in Manassas

A group of residents is up in arms over the massage therapy business Howard Daniel wants to open in the home he shares with his partner.
A group of residents is up in arms over the massage therapy business Howard Daniel wants to open in the home he shares with his partner. (By John Mcdonnell -- The Washington Post)
By Nick Miroff
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, October 16, 2006

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.

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