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Noise Enforcement Efforts Failing at Sunnyland Brewery

By On
• In Bellingham,

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On the evenings of October 27th and October 31st a total of 18 calls were made to the Bellingham Police Department to complain about the loud music emanating from the Twins Sisters Brewery on Carolina Street. Ten calls were made on October 27th between 7:08 p.m. and 9:49 p.m. Similarly, eight calls were made to the police on October 31st between 6:16 p.m. and 8:55 p.m. according to the Computer Aided Dispatch (CAD) reports on file at the Bellingham 911call center. There are no indications of actions taken by officers as they responded, with the exception of one officer’s comment to the 7:08 p.m. call on October 27th about which he said, “Sound is not unreasonable for 1930 [7:30 p.m.]. Staff is going to try and [sic] accommodate neighbor by having band turn down the bass.” The caller had reported the band noise was so great he could not even watch his TV. I was present that evening on Grant St. in the pouring rain at the very hour the first call was made to 911. I can personally testify the music was so loud I could hardly speak with the local resident with whom I was standing. In spite of what the officer stated in the CAD report, numerous calls (3-4 per hour) about the noise continued until almost 10 p.m.

I have submitted a document request, but unfortunately have not yet received copies of officer reports resulting from the 18 calls made to 911 those two evenings. These reports may shed more light on the reason the music on both nights continued to blare into the neighborhood (see video above) in spite of the city’s noise ordinance and the fact that the brewery is not in the two entertainment districts allowed by code for these purposes.

Meanwhile over at the Cascadia Weekly, Sunnyland receives the Best Neighborhood designation:

“Best Neighborhood Sunnyland—- What makes a great neighborhood? Well, one that is walkable, with tree-lined streets and ample parks, nearby services and entertainment. One that allows people to work from or near their homes. Many artists have moved to Sunnyland for exactly that reason, so they can run a studio out of their home—and that has produced a flourishing local arts community. Sunnyland is a nucleus for many of the favorite haunts and hangouts cited in this year’s reader survey. That dynamism has a downside, too, and Sunnyland is experiencing some growing pains from its tangy mix of industrial and commercial uses in proximity to family homes. Friends, an outdoor beer garden is a heartbreaking thing to quarrel about! I predict they’ll soon solve those problems, and continue to claim their crown as Bellingham’s favorite neighborhood.”

“Growing pains?” Not according a letter to the Weekly from a resident whose home is a few dozen yards from the brewery:

“The Best of Bellingham prediction that there should be a solution for the families in Sunnyland residing next to the beer garden is pure fantasy. A developer with zero regard for his neighbors and a rubber-stamping City of Bellingham wholly own the problem. Absolutely no consideration was ever given to the residents. The only thing that will improve the situation at this stage is a whole lot of money or closing down the beer garden, but neither of the perpetrators are ever going to own up to the problems they created much less entertain any corrective measures. The quality of life for many households has been permanently damaged. —Boyd Collings, Bellingham”

So my prediction back in February seems to be holding true:

“Guaranteed, this brewery/restaurant will present a host of continuing issues with regard to parking, noise, and litter, none of which are susceptible to immediate remediation since there are insufficient resources to enforce these violations as they are committed. Nights and weekends are the worst as police attend to other, higher priority duties, parking enforcement personnel are not available and litter control is relaxing at home. Noise complaints, probably the most likely of nuisances here, cannot be resolved unless a police officer actually hears the noise and, we all know from sad experience, will not be available short of a major riot.

The residents will then face a death by a thousand cuts as nightly disturbances seep into their lives eliminating anything having to do with quiet enjoyment. This will be a “drip, drip, drip” process of families tortured by people who do not live in the neighborhood but treat it as if it was their living room and, at times, a toilet. A code complaint form is nothing more than a
bureaucratic nostrum equivalent to warm milk and cookies… ‘take two and call me in the morning’.”

The Sunnyland Neighborhood Association is holding its Fall Membership Meeting on Tuesday evening, November 13th, at Options High School from 6 - 8 p.m. The agenda calls for the following, however, I would be not be surprised if the “brewery issue” dominated the entire meeting.

Guest speakers -

-Eric Johnson from COB Public Works regarding Residential Parking Zones (RPZ)
-Dante Alexander from BPD with updates regarding traffic and noise in Sunnyland
-City Councilor, Dan Hamill

Perhaps City Council ward rep Hammill can provide a better answer to the plight of the residents near the brewery than he did in a response to a citizen who said, “We are being actively harassed, and the code is being knocked over due to lack of effective enforcement. I am asking you to be more pro-active in defending us.” Hammill replied, “I’ve met with department heads from both departments multiple times on your and other neighbors behalf. That being said, it’s not the role of council to intervene on police or planning department matters. I have read every email that was sent regarding this issue and met with department heads in an effort to understand issues related to this subject property. Council has no authority to override decisions made by department heads or their assigns made legally on items within the Bellingham Municipal Code or RCW. Council’s role is to represent constituents through legislation and policy matters.”

I beg to differ. Council members have the bully pulpit and are not afraid to use it when it is their ox being gored. It is time not only for Mr. Hammill to speak up loudly and forcefully but also for the entire council to demand that the city codes they wrote and passed are, in fact, enforced.

About Dick Conoboy

Editor • Member since Jan 26, 2008

Dick Conoboy is a recovering civilian federal worker and military officer who was offered and accepted an all-expense paid, one year trip to Vietnam in 1968. He is a former Army [...]

Comments by Readers

Dick Conoboy

Nov 10, 2018

To my readers,

I want to emphasize that there is no exception made for music venues in commercial or industrial zones. The code reads:

“2. Frequent, repetitive or continuous sounds which emanate from any building, structure, apartment, or condominium, which unreasonably disturb the peace, comfort, and repose of a person or persons on public or private property, other than the property from which the sound emanates, such as sounds from musical instruments, audio sound systems, band sessions.

3. Sound from portable audio equipment, such as tape players, radios, and compact disc players, operated at a volume so as to be audible greater than 50 feet from the source and outside the property of the operator.”

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Larry Horowitz

Nov 11, 2018

Two questions:

1) Which city attorney drafted Hammill’s seriously pathetic response?  (Terms like “subject property” and “their assigns” are not typically used by people we elect to represent us.)

2) According to Hammill, if the laws adopted by council are not enforced, is it council’s sole option to send lame replies to their constituents?  Or, does council have the duty to step in when the administration fails to enforce laws they adopt?

Will someone with a backbone PLEASE run for council?

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David McCluskey

Nov 12, 2018

Dick,

10.24.120. That you are quoting from is for commercial districts and does not mention Industrial.

Please show me where it says. “Or industrial”

 

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David Donohue

Nov 12, 2018

20.36.020Purpose and intent.

B. Light, Use Qualifier. The light industrial (LI) designation is intended to accommodate uses which are not compatible with uses allowed in the central commercial areas but which do not create noise, smoke, odors or other objectionable nuisances to the extent that they may be detrimental to each other or to surrounding areas.

fyi, the city code doesn’t make the distinction, light-industrial and commercial uses are compatible, so your hair-splitting is just that.  There is a distinction made between the Downtown and Fairhaven commercial districts and any others, as they are additionally “Entertainment Districts” where music and other cultural noises may be created, with some guidelines in force.   Sunnyland business owners must comply with the noise ordinance, which is in force 24/7.  

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David McCluskey

Nov 12, 2018

The code does say that eating and drinking establishments are allowed under light industrial.

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Dick Conoboy

Nov 12, 2018

David and David,

Just to be clear my earlier comment (which I accidentally removed - one day I will figure out how this all works!) read “David, I could not have said it better myself” was to David Donohue who quoted from the municipal code. 

For David McCluskey - Eating and drinking establishments may be allowed but you need to read the code that clearly states: “which do not create noise, smoke, odors or other objectionable nuisances to the extent that they may be detrimental to each other or to surrounding areas.”  I think that is pretty clear.

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George Dyson

Nov 12, 2018

I don’t have a dog in this fight, but, many years ago served on a city committee looking at noise regulations for downtown, trying to balance the desire to encourage nightlife and music with a conflicting intention to attract more residents to live downtown. We looked at a LOT of regulations formulated by other local governments. What I learned, after studying all the case history, is that it isn’t decibels as such that  bring complaints. Work noise, traffic noise, etc is generally tolerated. It’s the sound of other people having more fun than you are that drives people nuts.  Trying to regulate this in any systematic way by decibel value (“we’ll ask them to turn down the bass…”) does not address this reality and generally fails. And that’s why siting an open air entertainment venue in a residential neighborhood was doomed from the start.

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Mike Rostron

Nov 12, 2018

George is absolutely right! Also, the noise ordinances are not uniformly enforced. They are complaint driven, and sometimes nepotism and cronyism plays a role. A few years ago I was in a band that attempted to perform at a benefit in front of Kulshan on State St. The traffic noise was certainly louder than the music, but the owner or manager of the fruit and vegetable stand across the street had a bone to pick with the (at that time) the relatively new business. (Ironically many people at the event were also going across the street to buy food at the stand.) This one complaint caused the police to come and shut down the event immediately. When the owner and person running sound asked if they could try turning down the music some some the officer insisted on getting the name, address, and phone number of the person in charge of sound, and threatened him with arrest for “disputing” with the officer. There was no discussion—just the immediate closing of the event and threat of immediate arrest for noncompliance. As a former resident of Sunnyland I never minded the music (I do have a certain bias there), but the traffic and parking was a real issue. I would not want to own a home too close to either Kulshan or Twin Sisters—nor downtown! The only real solution I can see would be to restrict music to indoors only, or as Kulshan ocassionaly does, reasonably quiet acoustic music during early hours outside. But of course Kulshan is on a busy street, and the traffic noise is a constant. Unfortunately for the neighbors, as in the case of Kulshan and Trader Joes, they will probably just have to get used to the increased traffic, which is happening all over town, and is a product of rapid growth, which is at the heart of most of these sorts of disputes. I don’t think the city will force the business to close as they permitted it, and would probably liable for damages.

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David Barton

Nov 13, 2018

I own and live in a house directly across the street from the entrance to Twin Sisters/BBG-as close as anyone else commenting or theorizing here- and I feel like it’s time to chime in. I think the obsession by this publication and some of the discussions on other threads are quite petty, often mischaracterizing the situation-and even the behavior of the patrons- to a level that’s almost comical at this point. And the ongoing story as reported by NW Citizen reads more like a dramatic novel based on a self-fulfilling prophecy than an accurate assessment of what’s actually going on. 

To be fair, most people in the neighborhood seem to view the issue through either a “glass half full” or “glass half empty” perspective. Personally, I see it as a big positive. But believe it or not, I’m sympathetic to immediate neighbors and the surrounding streets, and I’m fully aware that the five or six houses on Grant are more exposed to sound and light than others-and that some residents like myself are having to deal with increased traffic driving by and parking in front or their houses. But people are acting like the property was some type of sacred burial ground prior to becoming a beer garden, and that is just absurd. Not only is it safer now, but it needs to be pointed out that a LOT of residents in Sunnyland want to be live here specifically because it isn’t some generic suburb filled with cul-de-sacs but a neighborhood that’s in the middle of the city. Many of us want close access to amenities and took the gamble that gentrification would occur.

So I have to shake my head and laugh a little bit when someone simultaneously tells me how run down and shady our area of the neighborhood was in the past AND simultaneously complains about how much they hate how popular the area is today. Yes, we were surprised that the city didn’t tell us more about what was going on during construction, but the business did what was required of them or they never would have been allowed to open. Honestly, we were relieved that it wasn’t a mechanic shop or hammer factory or old abandoned buildings with an unlit parking lot and shady characters parking and hanging out regularly on the front and side of it. You know, like it was before….

Instead, someone made great use of empty space and existing structures to create a place where people of all ages go to enjoy. It tends to be busier on warmer, sunnier days and some weekend nights from about 5 to 9 pm but it is not even close to being loud enough to inconvenience the neighborhood on a nightly basis. It’s all relative, but I hear PLENTY of other noise living where I do- and the nightly sounds of I-5, Bellingham High, and general traffic in town are far more consistently audible than laughing or shrieking children, or a band playing once in a while.

Again, when we bought our house, we were well aware of how the area was zoned, and aware of the fact that the entire southern part of the the neighborhood- and much of the border of the beer garden itself- is quite industrial. TS/BBG has made improvements to make things better for neighbors, but neighbors, too, are going to have to compromise- and understand that just because completely unrealistic demands may not be honored doesn’t mean that the whole thing is part of an evil conspiracy. Like it or not, it’s here to stay. So why not work with all parties to make improvements, and make the neighborhood a better place to live with it here? And I realize that 911 is the provided recourse for neighbors to complain, but it would be nice if we could work towards not making the already thinly-staffed BPD night patrols spend such a disproportionate amount of time away from more important things.

I’m not taking away from all criticisms-some are clearly legitimate- but I do think George was right that some people are simply more mad at the sounds of people having fun than anything else. Perhaps we could achieve some progress if we put things in perspective and avoided unnecessary exaggeration when having this conversation? 

Ultimately, the negativity  of this whole situation towards the new place is kind of exhausting. But unlike the editor asserts, it’s definitely not shared by everyone. 

 

 

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David Donohue

Nov 13, 2018

 David

Thanks for siding with the business that has made it’s business model out of violating the letter and spirit of the municipal code which is impacting your neighbors simply because it doesn’t really bother you.   All for one and one for one, as you say. 

When this project was first made public, some time after being permitted, and we neighbors had no opportunity to comment on any particulars affecting us, I objected to the city, and asked for that consideration.   We were shut down, and told to sit down.  Since we never had the opportunity to defend our rights to begin with, we do it in  whatever other ways are available to us.    

 We aren’t,  and never have been opposed to “the brewery.’  We are opposed to being abused by the way the brewery has decided to do business, especially in the ways they intentionally chosen to be abusive to us.    You are mistaken about the zoning and the code, like so many here, and are siding with a bully who mouths regard for his the neighborhood but does the opposite.    Like all the rest of those who “support” the brewery, you seem to not have actually read any of the articles that have been published, but are eager to speak against your neighbors’ complaints.    

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Larry Horowitz

Nov 13, 2018

George, I also don’t have a dog in this fight, and I completely agree that “siting an open air entertainment venue in a residential neighborhood was doomed from the start;” but, I’m not convinced that the “sound of other people having more fun than you are” is the dominant concern.  This reasoning fails to explain why some of the most common noise complaints involve dogs barking, children crying, trains, and airplanes.  These complaints have nothing to do with fun at all.

As the Washington State Department of Ecology site explains, “Noise is part of our everyday lives and affects some people more severely than others.”  I believe it’s quite possible that those who are more sensitive to noise have legitimate complaints that have nothing to do with people having fun.  The question is, are these complaints legitimate, and if so, what can and should be done to mitigate the cause of those complaints?

I also agree with my friend Mike Roston (who we miss in Bellingham): rapid growth is at the heart of most of these disputes.  The city’s development code absolutely fails to consider the need for transition zones and buffers between residential areas and commercial/industrial ones.   As we densify, the need for these buffers will become more critical, but it would appear that it’s already too late.  No doubt the rate of these disputes will continue to increase.

John Calhoun’s study of overcrowding among mice and rats predicted a grim future for mankind.  What can we do to prevent that?

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Tim Paxton

Nov 13, 2018

Seems pretty simple.   City employees, including the mayor, decided to act outside of their scope of authority and take on personal liability to permit property trespass.

The property trespass of noise, lights, litter, quiet enjoyment, smells, etc are pretty clear violation of  long standing property rights.     Pushing the permit through without notifying the neighbors is a clear violation of due process rights.   

Claiming it is all “legal” by their interpretation of the “code” (not law), likely invokes the Federal Law of Violation of Rights under Color of Law.  More liability for Bellingham employees.  It is possible that RICO laws have been violated here too.

Now it seems that the Police Chief has ordered a stand down on law enforcement of traffic,  parking and noise complaints and other general trespass.  

I don’t expect the City or Sunnyland neighbors board to be of any help to resolve the trespass.

The previous occupant of this site worked day time hours 8-5 and had a few moving trucks coming and going, so it was a long way from a scary hammer factory, whatever that is?  

Finally, what about the Veterans / neighbors who have PTSD and black out curtains but still can’t sleep because of all the noise?  What about neighbors whose friends can’t visit evenings because all the parking is used up by one person? 

Maybe its time for the City condemn this site with Greenway funds and just build a nice park for Sunnyland children?    Maybe a new Civic Pool could go here?  

By the way.  There are lots of other places one can go to engage in alcoholism,  quietly,  with out drunk driving, if that is your thing.

 

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David Barton

Nov 13, 2018

Hi Tim,

Thanks for the swipe. Or maybe you were just being obtuse? My point about a “hammer factory” is that someone could have used the property for any number of factory uses that could have polluted the air or our ears with some loud, industrial noise. The fact that the prior tenants didn’t do much with the property is somewhat irrelevant because it certainly wasn’t going to be like that for long. And you conveniently leave out the fact that it was an eyesore that became a dimly lit lot at night, and it was a little shady and sometimes unsafe. But not your problem, I guess. I have to look at it everyday, and again the idea that it was preferable before as old, ugly buildings and empty parking lots makes me literally laugh out loud. 

I’d address your “infringement of rights” angle, but I don’t know how much time I’d devote arguing with someone who really thinks that a family friendly beer garden is the spawn of Satan. Sorry, your 10/27 assessment of the atmosphere and patrons and is so off the wall that I have little doubt that you know what’s going on over there.  It’s more family-friendly than other establishments in town, has a large children’s area, and enough space and atmosphere that it attracts people of all ages. Again, it gets a fair number of people here and there but it in no way resembles a “drunk frat party” - in fact, it’s not geared at all towards college kids who can’t afford $6 beers, and there’s rarely ever anyone over there beyond 10 or occasionally 11. There are just as many, if not more, families and older people enjoying the place as the ruffians you’re imagining. In fact, you’d barely know it was an abomination of mankind from my house across the street from the entrance. So, while I agree with my neighbors that there should be enforcement for blatant violations, I don’t think we need to construct a DUI checkpoint with observation towers. That’s a joke, Tim. I was being facetious- kind of like you were when you refer to a band playing every month or two as “every night.” Right? And why are you the arbiter of morality and land use for the spot? A high proportion of people in town are in favor of beer gardens and a neighborhood feel- just not always in their back yard, apparently. Or at least to that scale, anyway.

 Again, I understand some of the neighbors’ complaints about light and noise, though it should be pointed out that it feels a lot safer than it did when it was just a dark space. In fact, traffic and parking have improved, and the type of crimes reported before it opened have seemingly disappeared, for the most part. But I’d have no problem signing on as a group if we tried to push for improvements that the city could allow- a taller or additional fence for further noise mitigation on Grant, residential parking permits on adjacent streets, etc. 

But let me take a step back. Is this even a serious discussion? Most of the minor complaints about violations are something the  city could help improve, they’re not aggressive acts by angry mobs set to harrass neighbors. It’s hard to be serious when people are talking about condemning a new establishment and building a pool or shutting it down due to RICO laws. This discussion sounds more like an echo chamber of people who just want to daydream and enjoy their new hobby of being permanently ticked off, rather than figure out how to improve conditions around them. Finally, the slippery slope argument doesn’t really carry all that much weight, as this is an anomalous piece of property in a uniquely zoned part of the neighborhood- there simply aren’t many places like it. 

Oh, and just so you know, we saw far more trick or treaters than we’ve seen in the past several years, and everyone seemed just fine. Many people-parents and children that we talked to- remarked how cool the neighborhood was, and how cool the haunted beer garden was.

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David Barton

Nov 13, 2018

David,

You can pick and choose whatever points you’d like to from what I just wrote, but as I’ve mentioned numerous times I do have sympathy for neighbors and the big change that has taken place in this part of the neighborhood. In terms of my motivations, the fact is that I’m as entitled to support it as you are to fight it ....but now that you’ve mention it, I have no idea if the people on this thread really live in Sunnyland or not. Anyway, this series of articles on the subject takes a very one-sided perspective. So I’m not “eager to speak against neighbor’s complaints” -but do feel it’s fair to refute the insinuation that everyone close by it thinks it’s a terrible thing.

Like you, I’ve watched the whole situation unfold. And as we’ve both mentioned, it was strange that the city didn’t debrief us as the whole thing developed. But I don’t hold the owner of the property to blame for their process. Further, many of the issues are more in the city’s hands, and the brewery has done quite a few things above and beyond what the city has apparently asked or required.

Regarding what you’ve encountered over there….I’m sorry for however you feel you’ve been treated. All of our experiences with the brewery owners, management, and staff, howevever, have been nothing but positive. I wasn’t there for what happened to you, but I have a tough time imagining that there aren’t two sides to the story.  I’m curious, have you tried casual conversation with the owner or their new communications guy, or has your only contact been through confrontations? Have they ever offered you a tour or reached out to show you around and talk about things?

As to my familiarity with the issue, I’m pretty sure I’ve followed every online conversation about it from the beginning, and it’s clear that  you were hoping  that the property would eventually become affordable housing from the start rather than a brewery/beer garden. If it means anything, I would have been fine with that or a number of possibilities that people have mentioned. But they didn’t materialize, and someone moved in to turn it into a brewery and beer garden.

Did it really ever stand a chance for you? Maybe it’s just the tone that you take, but you seem to assume that everyone involved with TS/BBG (or who supports it) has negative intentions with everything they do. I’d posit that it’s much more likely that the owners of the new place are trying to see what works and what doesn’t at their new place than intentionally trying to cause suffering to people who live nearby.

So what is the end game, especially now that it’s up and running? Are you hoping to shut it down? Shame others from going? Have them tear up everything and start over from scratch? Fine them out of existence? Come to some agreements about certain things? I’m just curious what you’d like to achieve going forward.  

I don’t wish to spend much more time bickering with you. And I don’t want any ill will between residents in the neighborhood.  But a big brewery and beer garden is now located in the middle of our ‘hood, and now a place that many of us were hoping would bring everyone together is driving everyone apart. Are you willing to make deals, and compromises, or are you and a couple other people going to choose to be miserable and fight its very existence at every step?

 

 

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David Donohue

Nov 13, 2018

David,  I am concerned you’re not paying attention.  We aren’t threatening the establishment.  There is no argument with the fact that a brewery has been opened.  The argument is with the excesses in the implementation and ongoing business model that aggressively infringes our rights as spelled out in the BMC, and that city has somnambulantly waved at, on occasion.  I’m sorry you don’t understand the nuances here, but would you please stop trying to misconstrue our intent?

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David Barton

Nov 13, 2018

David,

You refuse to directly answer my questions, address anything I’m saying, and now you’re even talking down to me. I asked nicely what your end game is, or even what you hope to accomplish. Is that so hard to do? 

I’m honestly trying to have a conversation with you, at this point- and once again- YOU are the one assuming that everyone else is up to something nefarious. Do you or do you not want other people in the neighborhood to listen to and support what you’re saying? 

I get that you feel that the brewery owner is thumbing his nose at you. And I fully understand that you feel that both the owner and the city infringe on our rights as set forth by the municipal charter, though I think that painting an overdramatic picture of the situation on this thread doesn’t really help anyone effectively communicate the issues.

Now, once again-in all seriousness, and with your concerns understood-what are you wanting to do about it? Or is this thread simply to vent about it?

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David Donohue

Nov 13, 2018

The answer to your questions is in the article(s).  You could read them.

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