Busy week ahead in county government; Ferncliff Place funding clears House

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Engage Louisa is a community newsletter aimed at keeping folks informed about Louisa County government. It’s free, non-partisan, and powered by volunteers.  We believe our community is stronger and our government serves us better when we increase transparency, accessibility, and engagement.


This week in county government: public meetings, August 2-7

Monday, August 2

Louisa County Board of Supervisors, Public Meeting Room, 1 Woolfolk Ave., 6 pm. The board will convene in closed session at 5 pm. (agenda packet) (livestream)

The Louisa County Board of Supervisors will convene for its only August meeting Monday night with a crowded agenda including three public hearings.

A few agenda highlights:

  • Update from the Virginia Department of Health:  The board will hear an update from the Virginia Department of Health.  No details about the presentation are provided in the agenda packet.  

    Since March 2020, Dr. Denise Bonds, Director of the Blue Ridge Health District, has periodically spoke to the board about Covid-19’s impact locally, the Virginia Department of Health and the CDC’s public health guidance, and local vaccination efforts.  She last appeared in front of the board in mid May.  

  • Update on fiber broadband project: In March, the Board of Supervisors pledged $15 million to bring high speed internet to every household in Louisa County that wants it via a partnership with Firefly, a subsidiary of Central Virginia Electric Cooperative, Rappahannock Electric Cooperative, and Dominion Energy.  

    Since then, the board has rarely discussed the project publicly and hasn’t indicated how it will be funded.  At Monday’s meeting, the board will hear a “fiber broadband update.” No additional details are provided in the meeting materials.  

    In late June, Firefly, Dominion, and REC signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Louisa and surrounding counties to advance a regional broadband partnership that aims to deliver fiber-optic broadband service to unserved and underserved households and businesses, subject to regulatory approvals. Firefly will act as the internet service provider using its own infrastructure as well as fiber lines owned by Dominion and REC.

    Last Thursday, the company hosted a virtual town hall to update residents on the project, dubbed RISE (Regional Internet Service Expansion), and to answer questions. A second town hall is scheduled for Monday, August 2, at noon. Sign up for the town hall here.

    In addition, Firefly asks residents to complete a brief survey and, in some cases, perform a simple internet speed test by August 7. The survey and speed test data will be used to further define the service area for a regional grant application, according to a statement from the company.

    Firefly’s RISE project could deliver fiber internet to more than 25,000 Virginians. As a regulated monopoly utility, Dominion’s portion of the project requires approval by the State Corporation Commission. The company plans to submit an application to the commission by early 2022.

  • De-appropriating funding for the Mineral Volunteer Rescue Station: The board will consider a resolution “authorizing the de-appropriation of remaining FY2021 and FY2022 Operational and Maintenance budgets for Mineral Volunteer Rescue Station.”

    The resolution states that “while the County is grateful for Mineral Volunteer Rescue Squad's dedication, the entity has experienced recent challenges in its efforts to maintain reliable service levels, and career-staffed units are providing the majority of the response in the district.”

    The resolution notes that the de-appropriation will not impact service in the area and volunteers at the Mineral Rescue Station are welcome to volunteer at other stations in the county.

  • Considering a tax exemption for logging equipment:  The board will hear public comment and consider approval of a tax exemption for single-use logging equipment. During the 2020 session, the General Assembly approved legislation permitting localities to grant an exemption from personal property and machinery and tools taxes on equipment specific to logging like cutters and chippers. Louisa County already offers an exemption for farming equipment. 

    In April, Ron Jenkins, Executive Director of the Virginia Loggers Association, and local logger Rob Woolfolk spoke to the board and requested the exemption. The board unanimously agreed to advertise a public hearing to consider the request at its June 21 meeting

    If the county adopts the exemption, it will likely only impact a handful of Louisa taxpayers, according to Woolfolk’s estimate. No fiscal impact figures were publicly presented at either the April or June meetings. 

    Upon approving the public hearing, Mineral District Supervisor Duane Adams said he supports the exemption.  The six other supervisors didn’t signal how they’ll vote. 

  • Public hearing on controversial solar project: The board will consider approval of Energix Aditya LLC’s request for a Conditional Use Permit to construct a 60-acre, 11MW solar array on a 95-acre parcel (tmp 42 86A) near the intersection of Davis Highway (Route 22) and School Bus Road (Route 767). The property is owned by Pam Harlowe and Melonie Donovan. At the request of the applicant, county officials deferred a previously scheduled public hearing in late June.

    During a marathon meeting in May, the Planning Commission recommended approval of the CUP in a 5-2 vote. Commissioners George Goodwin and Cy Weaver opposed. 

    Goodwin cited concerns about traffic along School Bus Road and Routes 22 and 33 during construction. Weaver said he couldn’t support the project after listening to School Bus Road residents express strong opposition. “My heart goes out to these people,” he said. 

    In requesting the deferral, Energix officials told the county they were awaiting additional information from a traffic analysis. The proposed site abuts property already approved for a large solar facility. If built, that project would span some 1400 acres. Goodwin noted that building the two facilities simultaneously could cause a traffic “nightmare.” Planners asked the county to request that VDOT reduce the speed limit along School Bus Road from 45 to 35 miles per hour to ease traffic safety concerns. 

    Beyond traffic, School Bus Road residents said they are concerned about possible declines in property values, the facility’s impact on wildlife, stormwater runoff in nearby waterways, and other negative impacts on their quality of life.

    Energix officials countered that, after construction, impact from the project would be minimal. The company plans to implement an extensive storm water management system, according to its application, and staff the site throughout construction to monitor it. Energix also noted that it’s planting a “pollinator garden” to enhance biodiversity on at least 10 percent of the project site. 

    The company presented a study by Kirkland Appraisals LLC contending that the project would have no detrimental impact on property values. Appraiser Richard Kirkland asserted that adjoining properties are well set back from the proposed solar array, vegetative buffering already exists, and additional buffering is planned. 

    County planning staff and Energix representatives also pointed to tax assessment figures from the Louisa County Commissioner of the Revenue’s office, which, on average, show no decline in property values on real estate that adjoins the county’s existing solar facilities.

  • Growing the Yanceyville Ag/Forestal District:  The board will hold a public hearing and consider adding 96.7 acres off Mount Airy Road (tmp 70-51) to the Yanceyville Ag/Forestal District (AFD). The property belongs to Joshua 19 LLC, an entity owned by Mineral District Planning Commissioner John Disosway. Planners unanimously recommended adding the parcel at their July 8 meeting. Disosway did not vote. 

    The county includes 15 AFDs, a conservation tool that allows landowners to voluntarily prohibit development on farms and forestland for a 10-year period. The Yanceyville AFD currently includes 7 noncontiguous parcels in south-central Louisa County. Over the last several months, the county has grown its AFDs by over 10,000 acres.

Tuesday, August 3

Louisa County School Board, Central Office Administration Building, 953 Davis Highway, 7 pm. Louisa County School Board meetings are currently unavailable via livestream or archived video. The only way to access the meetings is to attend in person. (agenda) (meeting materials)

With the first day of the 2021-22 academic year fast approaching, the Louisa County School Board will hold its August meeting Tuesday night. The board will hear updates on the CDC and Virginia Department of Health’s Covid-19 guidance and school construction projects, among other matters.

The board will consider several action items including approval of school policy updates from the Virginia School Boards Association (VSBA), a resolution to dispose of surplus property, and a resolution naming several media members, including The Central Virginian’s David Holtzman, to the VSBA Media Honor Roll for their work covering Louisa County Public Schools.

One resolution asks the Board of Supervisors for permission to “dispose of” a one-acre school board-owned property, which adjoins Philippi Church (tax map parcel 72-66 ) on Route 33 in the Cuckoo Voting District.

The resolution states that the property is no longer used by the school division. It includes one structure, which was once used as a school for African-American children. Philippi Church approached the division about acquiring the property and turning it into a historic site. The resolution indicates that the division would transfer the property to the church for an amount not to exceed 10 dollars.

Wednesday, August 4

Louisa County Electoral Board, Administrative Conference Room, County Administration Building, 1 Woolfolk Ave., 10 am. To listen to the meeting, call 540-967-3405. If you have any questions about the meeting, call the Registrar’s office at 540-967-3427. (agenda)

Early voting for November’s state and local elections starts in just over six weeks. The Louisa County Electoral Board meets on Wednesday to continue preparations for the upcoming elections and discuss a potential policy change that could impact some poll workers’ schedules.

A couple agenda highlights:

  • Considering split shifts for some poll workers: At its July meeting, the board discussed changing a longtime policy that requires all election officers to work the entire day on Election Day, prohibiting split shifts. State code allows some poll workers to work part of the day but requires that poll chiefs and assistant chiefs remain on duty the entire day. Louisa currently allows split shifts only during the early voting period. 

    An all-day shift can span more than 15 hours, potentially deterring some folks who may otherwise take on the duties and prompting other longtime poll workers to step away from the job. 

    The board will again discuss the policy at Wednesday’s meeting. Last month, Board Chair Curtis Haymore said he’d research policies and procedures in case Louisa adopts the change and Registrar Cris Watkins said she’d reach out to other localities who use the split shift model.

  • Early voting hours: The board will discuss voting hours for the 45-day early voting period, which kicks off September 17 and runs through October 30, the Saturday before Election Day.

    At its May meeting, the board tentatively decided not to open on Sundays during the early voting period. HB 1968, which passed the General Assembly last spring, allows localities the option to open on Sundays but does not mandate it.  

    Watkins reached out to several ministers and community members to gather feedback about Sunday voting. Based on that information, the board opted not to adopt Sunday voting hours with the caveat that they could revisit the decision prior to the start of early voting.

    Waktins expressed concern that some voters might be confused if Louisa’s neighbors open on Sundays. She noted that the Hampton Roads area, which shares a single media market, is taking a regional approach to Sunday voting. The board planned to monitor the decisions about Sunday voting made in surrounding localities.

Thursday, August 5

Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission, Virtual Meeting, 7 pm. A Zoom link is available in the agenda packet. Archived recordings of previous meetings are available via the TJPDC website. (meeting materials)

After foregoing a July meeting, the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission gathers on Thursday night with a busy agenda on tap.

The commission will hear presentations on the hiring of a new planner, the Watershed Improvement Program, and the Regional Housing Plan. The commission will also consider formal adoption of the Regional Housing Plan and discuss funding for the Regional Housing Partnership. Members will discuss a regional broadband grant from the Virginia Telecommunications Initiative as well, among other items.

A couple items of interest:

  • Adoption of the Regional Housing Plan: The Central Virginia Regional Housing Partnership recently unveiled its draft affordable housing plan, Planning for Affordability: A Regional Approach. The partnership’s board is comprised of local officials, nonprofit leaders focused on affordable housing, and other community stakeholders and acts as an advisory panel to the commission.

    The commission will consider formal adoption of the plan, which was developed over several years and provides a roadmap to meeting the area’s affordable housing needs. To read more about the plan, check out Engage Louisa’s July 4 edition.

  • Seeking a Virginia Telecommunications Initiative grant to expand broadband: TJPDC Deputy Director David Blount will brief the commission on efforts to secure a 2022 Virginia Telecommunications Initiative grant in partnership with Firefly. Through its RISE program (see above), Firefly hopes to bring fiber internet to more than 25,000 central Virginia residents who currently lack reliable broadband service.

    The Virginia Telecommunications Initiative (VATI) is funded by the Commonwealth and awards grants to government entities partnering with private sector providers to expand high speed internet in unserved areas. VATI will award nearly $50 million in grants in FY22.

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Additional information about Louisa County’s upcoming public meetings is available here.

Interested in taking your talents to one of the county’s numerous boards and commissions? Find out more here, including which boards have vacancies and how to apply.


Ferncliff Place funding clears House as part of appropriations package

Congresswoman Abigail Spanberger announced late last week that the House of Representatives approved $775,000 in federal funding for Ferncliff Place, a mixed income affordable housing community proposed for southern Louisa County. The money is part of a seven-bill appropriations package that will now head to the Senate for consideration.

Spanberger requested the Ferncliff Place funding at the urging of the Louisa County Board of Supervisors. The money would support the development of a mixed income community, comprised largely of single-family homes, on a 13.3-acre parcel of county-owed land near the corner of Route 250 and Mallory Road (tax map parcel 67-2-D) in the Patrick Henry Voting District. 

Louisa County hopes to develop the project in partnership with Habitat for Humanity of Greater Charlottesville to help address the locality’s affordable housing needs. According to preliminary plans, the community would include about 80 units with 25 reserved for families making between 25 and 60 percent of the area’s median income, currently $74,500 a year. The remainder of the homes would sell at market rate. 

The development would also include a facility to house an early childhood education center, community room, and in-take offices for a regional nonprofit serving Louisa County residents. Plans for the project are currently on hold as county officials await word on federal funding.

“As we rebuild from the COVID-19 pandemic, Central Virginians deserve to have greater access to affordable housing opportunities. This project in Louisa County would provide the dream of home ownership to more Louisa County residents and make this community a stronger place to live, work, and raise a family,” Spanberger said in a press release. “I am proud to have worked directly with Louisa County in securing this funding, and I thank these elected officials for their leadership, their vision, and their commitment to the people of Louisa. I am encouraged that these hundreds of thousands of dollars were passed today in the U.S. House, and I will keep working to move this funding forward and eventually to the President’s desk to be signed into law.”

“The County is grateful for the potential award of funding for this project,” Bob Babyok, Chairman of the Board of Supervisors, said in a press release.  “Access to affordable housing is a significant concern in Louisa, and with responsible planning this project will create safe and sustainable options to meet that challenge.”

The proposed development has sparked opposition from some neighbors. In a letter to area residents, Heidi Shalloway and Teddy Fung, whose property adjoins the project site, expressed concern about destruction of wetlands, costs to local taxpayers, and increased noise and traffic in the area. 

The property is zoned A-2 but located in the Ferncliff Growth Area and designated for mixed-use development on the Future Land Use Map in Louisa’s 2040 Comprehensive Plan. As defined in the plan, mixed-use includes high and medium-density residential developments, neighborhood scale commercial development, and civic uses such as schools and churches. 

Spanberger requested the funds through the community project funding program, which allows Members of Congress to directly submit applications for money for locally-planned projects as part of the annual appropriations process.  The Congresswoman submitted 10 projects, one for each county in her district. Each project, totaling more than $6.3 million, is included in the appropriations package that passed the House last week.

At Spanberger’s request, the House’s INVEST in America Act, which cleared the chamber in June, includes more than $7 million in federal funding for two road improvement projects in Louisa County, one at the intersection of Routes 250 and 15 at Zion Crossroads and the other at the intersection of Routes 22 and 780 at the Louisa Industrial Airpark. That bill was blocked by a Republican filibuster in late July but got a new lease on life late last week when Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer pushed through a motion to reconsider. Stay tuned.

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Click here for contact information for the Louisa County Board of Supervisors. 

Find agendas and minutes from previous meetings as well as archived recordings here

Click here for contact information for the Louisa County School Board. 

Click here for minutes and agendas for school board meetings.

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