Busy week ahead in county government; Broadband Authority ponders its future; Pipeline developer asks for ruling from State Corporation Commission
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, Sept. 6-11
With county offices closed for Labor Day, the Board of Supervisors will hold a rare Tuesday night meeting, kicking off a busy week in county government. Get all the details below.
Tuesday, September 7
After holding only one meeting in August, supervisors will convene their first September meeting Tuesday evening with a crowded agenda including three public hearings.
Public hearing on Cooke Rail Park proffer amendment: Supervisors will hold a public hearing to consider the Louisa County Industrial Development Authority’s request for a proffer amendment for the Cooke Industrial Rail Park. If granted, the amendment would clear the way for a solar developer to request a Conditional Use Permit to construct a utility-scale solar facility on the site.
The 800-acre property is located on the north side of Davis Highway (Route 22) between Chalklevel Road (Route 625) and Chopping Road (Route 623) in the Mineral Voting District. The land is zoned industrial and, with the exception of one parcel, designated for industrial use and included in the Mineral Growth Area in the 2040 Comprehensive Plan.
The IDA’s proposed amendment would wipe away 11 other proffers currently attached to the property if solar development moves forward. A solar facility would still require approval from the Board of Supervisors via the CUP process, per county regulations.
The current proffers cover a range of stipulations, some of which are not applicable to the development of a solar facility. One requires that all roads built in the park are maintained to VDOT standards. Several others relate to the construction of a wastewater treatment facility.
Last year, the IDA signed a ground lease agreement with Two Oaks Solar LLC allowing the company up to five and a half years to conduct due diligence at the park for the potential construction of a solar site. The lease includes a $45,000 up-front payment to the IDA. If the facility is built, the company would lease the property for $700 an acre annually for the life of the solar array.
While no one attended a neighborhood meeting hosted by the Community Development Department in mid July, the Buckingham Branch Railroad sent a letter to the county, asking if a portion of the park could be reserved for rail use. The park has over a mile of frontage along the railroad and, as its name suggests, was originally envisioned as an industrial site served by rail.
At the Planning Commission’s public hearing on August 12, Economic Development Director Andy Wade said that, since the IDA purchased the property in 2014, it never attracted much interest as a rail park. He said he doesn't think that’s the site’s “highest and best use.”
The Planning Commission recommended approval of the amendment in a 4-2 vote. Louisa District Commissioner Manning Woodward and Patrick Henry District Commissioner Ellis Quarles opposed the request. Green Springs District Commissioner Holly Reynolds was absent.
Public hearing on Bio-Cat rezoning: The board will hold a public hearing to consider Mircozyme LLC’s request to rezone 23.43 acres of a 24.585 acre parcel (tmp 52-29) from Commercial (C-2) to Industrial (I-2 GAOD). The property is located southwest of the intersection of Three Notch Road (Route 250) and Poindexter Road (Route 613) in the Patrick Henry Voting District.
Microzyme is requesting the rezoning to expand the operation of Bio-Cat, a biotechnology company that has operated in the county for more than 30 years. The company has long produced enzymes and since branched out into manufacturing human-grade probiotics via Bio-Cat Microbials. That operation is based in Minnesota but Chris Schuler, Bio-Cat’s owner, plans to expand its production at the Zion Crossroads site.
The rezoning will allow the company to add a 30,000-square foot facility for microbial production, drive aisles, and accessory parking. Microzyme is also proposing a third entrance off Route 250.
The company estimates the expansion will accommodate about 20 additional employees. The rezoning would also provide space for Bio-Cat’s future growth.
The Planning Commission unanimously recommended approval of the request at its August 12 meeting.
Kelsey Schlein, a planner with Shimp Engineering, told commissioners that the county’s requirement for a 100-foot buffer around the property, as laid out in new land development regulations, isn’t feasible. The applicant plans to seek a special exception to the buffer requirement from the Board of Supervisors, she said.
Public hearing to permit golf carts and utility vehicles on roads at Blue Ridge Shores: Supervisors will hear public comment and consider an amendment to county code that would permit the operation of golf carts and utility vehicles, subject to certain terms and conditions, on 26 public highways in Blue Ridge Shores subdivision.
Code already allows the use of golf carts and utility vehicles on public roads in a handful of subdivisions around Lake Anna. In June, the Blue Ridge Shores Property Owners Association sent a letter to Louisa District Supervisor Eric Purcell asking that the board designate the neighborhood a “Golf Cart Community.”
Discussion of utility scale solar development: Louisa County has already green-lighted five utility-scale solar facilities with a Conditional Use Permit application for a sixth recently filed with the county.
With interest from solar developers unlikely to wane, supervisors will discuss ways they might guide such development going forward.
Supervisors approved an extensive rewrite of the county’s Land Use Regulations in February, which included amendments that address utility scale solar projects. But, according to a memo from Community Development Director Robert Gardner, those provisions were the “first step to provide a fixed standard for development.” He notes that currently “no guidelines, policies or ordinances exist which control either suitable locations or numbers of land use amendments necessary for establishing (solar) facilities.”
In the memo, Gardner lays out a range of “best practices” used in other localities for the board’s consideration. These include:
Placing a cap on solar development: The county could place limits on solar development. Brunswick County capped the number of total acres that will be considered for utility scale solar use. Culpeper capped the number of megawatts that can be produced by such projects.
Proximity to electrical transmission lines: The county could limit how far a utility scale solar facility can be located from a transmission line.
Restricting by viewshed: In order to preserve and maintain the county’s rural character, the board could increase the distance between solar development and existing development of any kind.
Proximity to other utility-scale solar developments: The board could require that solar facilities are located in close proximity to other solar development. Culpeper County has adopted a utility solar development policy that encourages solar facilities to locate on contiguous properties or within a certain distance of an existing solar site.
Placing size requirements on solar development: Supervisors could mandate the minimum and/or maximum acreage included in solar sites.
Proximity to protected properties: The board could prohibit solar development on land in Ag/Forestal Districts or under conservation easements. The board could increase the overall width of buffers where a project joins protected land.
Approving local matching funds and supporting Firefly’s grant application for county-wide fiber project: Supervisors will consider a resolution approving the county’s participation in the Regional Internet Service Expansion project (RISE), a partnership between Firefly, a subsidiary of Central Virginia Electric Cooperative, Dominion Energy, Rappahannock Electric Cooperative, and the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission (TJPDC).
RISE aims to deliver fiber connectivity to thousands of unserved residents in about a dozen central Virginia localities. Firefly will serve as the internet service provider. In Louisa County, it will use its own infrastructure as well as infrastructure constructed and owned by Dominion and REC.
In March, Louisa County announced a partnership with the three utilities to bring fiber internet to everyone in the county who wants it by 2025. Firefly has already connected large swaths of western Louisa in CVEC’s service area. The Board of Supervisors provided the company with a $500,000 tax abatement to aid that effort. Federal CARES Act funding has also helped connect residents in the area.
The proposed resolution pledges Louisa County’s support for Firefly’s grant application to the Virginia Telecommunications Initiative, a key funding source for the RISE project. TJPDC will act as the lead applicant and administer the grant, if received. Per the resolution, Louisa County will commit nearly $9 million to the project outlined in the grant application, pending receipt of the grant and execution of a future construction agreement.
According to Firefly’s latest estimates, there are over 12,000 unserved addresses in Louisa County and just over 10,000 meet the criteria for VATI funding. The company estimates that construction costs for county-wide fiber connectivity will total $87.5 million with construction in VATI-eligible areas comprising about $75 million of that total.
In addition to the county’s contribution, Firefly, Dominion, and REC will contribute over $47 million to the project. TJPDC and Firefly are requesting over $18.5 million in VATI funds.
During a special session in early August, the General Assembly allocated $700 million in federal pandemic relief money for broadband expansion, dramatically increasing VATI resources. The VATI grant application is due September 14 and awards are expected to be announced in December.
Firefly is drawing on other funding sources to connect the county as well including federal money made available through the USDA.
Selling county-owned land adjacent to Reedy Creek subdivision: The board will consider a resolution to approve the sale of 32 acres of county-owned land adjoining Reedy Creek subdivision (tmp 67-28A) in the Patrick Henry Voting District. The parcel is zoned R-2 and, according to county records, assessed at $113,800.
The wooded property, which abuts Reedy Creek along Carter Lane and is accessed via Flint Place, was the subject of a public hearing at the Board of Supervisors’ June 7 meeting. County officials indicated that someone approached them about buying the property, prompting the public hearing, which is required by state code before the land can be sold.
The county issued a Notice of Solicitation in early August, calling for offers on the land by August 27. According to the proposed resolution, the county received three offers: $1 higher than the highest bid, not to exceed $114,000; $118,000; and $120,000. The resolution authorizes that the property be sold to the highest bidder.
Reedy Creek’s developer, Charles Purcell, gifted the property to the county during the subdivision’s development. It was originally considered as a location for a new elementary school but the school was later built along Courthouse Road (Route 208).
Some neighbors in Reedy Creek expressed concerns about the property’s sale at the June public hearing, urging the board to transfer it to the Reedy Creek Property Owners’ Association or turn it into a park.
The board wasn’t enthusiastic about those ideas but Patrick Henry District Supervisor Fitzgerald Barnes said he wanted to preserve the tranquility of the neighborhood.
County Attorney Helen Phillips and Louisa District Supervisor Eric Purcell, whose family deeded the property to the county, noted that, though the parcel isn’t part of Reedy Creek, it’s subject to the subdivision’s restrictive covenants.
TJPDC legislative priorities: The board will hear a presentation from the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission detailing its legislative priorities for the coming year. TJPDC is a regional planning body that serves local governments in Louisa, Fluvanna, Nelson, Greene, and Albemarle counties as well as the City of Charlottesville.
Broadly, the commission’s legislative priorities include: supporting action at the federal, state, and local levels to protect communities and to ensure their viability in the face of the COVID-19 health emergency; urging the governor and legislature to enhance state aid to localities and public schools, to not impose mandates on or shift costs to localities, and to enhance local revenue; and encouraging and supporting state and federal efforts and financial incentives that assist localities and their communities in deploying universal, affordable access to broadband.
Appointing alternates to the BZA: At their August meeting, supervisors briefly discussed the possibility of appointing alternates to the Board of Zoning Appeals. The seven-member BZA, which hears appeals of county zoning rulings, has faced challenges getting all of its members to recent meetings. State code permits the appointment of up to three alternates.
While the BZA only requires a quorum to conduct business, Vallerie Holdings LLC, which contested a county ruling regarding stairs and a deck that violate setback requirements, declined to have its appeal heard by less than the full board.
Supervisors tabled a vote on selecting alternates in August, instructing County Attorney Helen Phillips to further explore the process.
According to meeting materials, the board is ready to appoint at least two alternates. Supervisors will consider the appointment of Ed Kube, a resident of the Mineral District, and a yet-to-be named representative from the Mountain Road District. The board’s selections are subject to Circuit Court approval.
Workforce housing committee: Though it’s not explicitly included on the meeting agenda, the board is expected to form a committee tasked with exploring suitable locations for the development of workforce housing.
At its August meeting, Patrick Henry District Supervisor Fitzgerald Barnes asked the board to form the committee. Chair Bob Babyok agreed to poll members’ interest in serving on the body and formally establish it at supervisors’ September 7 meeting.
“I’ve been really concerned about our teachers, our firefighters, and our maintenance people being able to afford somewhere to stay,” Barnes said, nodding to rising housing costs in the county.
In late July, Congresswoman Abigail Spanberger secured $775,000 in federal funding for Ferncliff Place, a proposed mixed-income affordable housing community that Louisa County hopes to build in partnership with Habitat for Humanity of Greater Charlottesville. The funding is included in a House appropriations package that has moved to the Senate for consideration.
Barnes wants the committee to study the best location for such a community, noting that a developer might be willing to proffer land for affordable housing. In a phone conversation with Engage Louisa after the August meeting, Barnes said that his goal is to fully investigate all possible sites for workforce housing, including county-owned parcels, to ensure the best outcome.
The Ferncliff Place proposal has met resistance from some neighbors who argue that the county-owned property chosen for the project, near the corner of Route 250 and Mallory Road (tmp 67-2-D), is ill-suited for dense development.
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)
The School Board will gather for its first meeting since the 2021-22 academic year kicked off in early August. The agenda includes presentations from the American Heart Association and the Louisa Education Foundation, and updates on Covid-19, school construction projects, and the Freedom of Choice Remembrance project. That project, initiated by the Louisa County Historical Society, captures the voices of Black students who first integrated Louisa County High School in 1965 through oral history interviews.
The board will hold a public hearing and consider a resolution authorizing the sale 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 Black children. Philippi Church approached the division about acquiring the property and turning it into a historic site. The resolution indicates that the division will transfer the property to the church for an amount not to exceed 10 dollars.
Wednesday, September 8
James River Water Authority, Fluvanna County Public Library, 214 Commons Blvd., 9 am. At publication time, an agenda was not publicly available. (public notice)
Neighborhood meeting on proposed Aura solar facility, Public Meeting Room, 1 Woolfolk Ave., 4 pm.
Aura Power Developments LLC will host a neighborhood meeting to provide details and answer questions about its request for a Conditional Use Permit to construct up to a 94 MW solar project on a 445-acre parcel near the Town of Mineral. The property (tax map parcel 43-4) is owned by Charles Purcell and his son, Louisa District Supervisor Eric Purcell, via Mine and Hemmer LLC.
The site is located east of Chopping Road (Route 623) behind Hidden Farms Estates, west of Zachary Taylor Highway (Route 522), and north of the CSX railroad line in the Mineral Voting District. Much of the property is zoned agricultural (A-2) but about 18 acres fall into residential (R-2) zoning. The site is accessed by Old County Road (Route 746). According to the land use application, the solar array will cover about 187 acres of the property.
Aura already has one solar facility approved in the county: a yet-to be constructed up to 244 MW array on portions of a roughly 1400-tract owned by the Purcells via Fisher Chewning LLC. The Board of Supervisors okayed that project, which stretches from just south of Davis Highway (Route 22) to the county’s reservoir, last August in a 6-0 vote. Purcell recused himself from considering the CUP request.
Louisa County Water Authority, Public Meeting Room, 1 Woolfolk Ave., 6 pm. At publication time, an agenda was not publicly available. (public notice)
Thursday September 9
Louisa County Electoral Board, Executive Board Room, County Administration Building, 1 Woolfolk Ave., 1 pm. To listen to the meeting, call 540-967-3565. If you have any questions about the meeting, call the Registrar’s office at 540-967-3427. At publication time, an agenda was not publicly available.
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.
With fiber project in the works, Broadband Authority ponders its future
The Louisa County Broadband Authority held its first meeting since March and members spent much of it pondering the body’s future. (video)
In early March, the Board of Supervisors announced a partnership with Firefly, a subsidiary of Central Virginia Electric Cooperative, Dominion Energy, and Rappahannock Electric Cooperative to bring fiber internet to everyone in Louisa County who wants it by 2025. Firefly is the internet service provider and plans to use infrastructure owned by the three utilities.
That development largely sidelined the authority from its founding mission “to increase access to broadband internet for citizens of Louisa County.”
“Is there a need for a broadband authority?” Green Springs District representative Rachel Trombetta asked during the meeting.
After Bob Hardy, Louisa County’s Technology Director and staff liaison to the authority, provided a brief update on the fiber project, members explored that question.
Mineral District Supervisor Duane Adams, who serves as a board liaison to the group along with Patrick Henry District Supervisor Fitzgerald Barnes, told members that the county’s focus has shifted to the fiber project and the board isn’t interested in providing any additional funding for the authority’s fixed wireless initiative. Supervisors would like the authority to explore how to best utilize its assets, including five wireless towers, and provide advice to the board in the coming months, he said.
In 2017, the board appropriated over $1 million to the authority for the construction of wireless towers. Space on the towers was then leased to a private internet provider. The authority also owns fiber strands that connect to towers at Louisa schools.
“I’m interested in seeing these county assets continue to be a benefit to citizens,” Adams said.
The authority discussed several possible avenues for dealing with its assets including selling the towers. Adams suggested that perhaps the towers could provide cellular service, as most are located in areas with poor cell coverage. Keeping the towers operational would also allow continued service to current wireless customers, he said. Hardy said that the type of tower the authority constructed might not have the capability to provide cell service but the issue needs further exploration.
Some authority members raised the possibility of helping the county with outreach regarding its fiber plan. Trombetta wondered if the authority could play a role in publicizing information about the fiber project. Other members agreed that the project could benefit from a communications plan as many residents want to know when fiber will reach their home.
Mountain Road representative Tim Layne, who runs the Louisa Residents for Internet Service Facebook group, said he frequently fields questions about the project.
Adams said he understands the need to answer citizens’ questions. “if you leave an information vacuum, people are going to revert to their worst fears,” he said, noting the negativity often aired by members of Layne’s Facebook group.
Still, he said, it’s critical that communication about the project doesn’t lead to unreasonable expectations.
“We want to be open and transparent but manage expectations,” Adams said, adding that the fiber project is running slightly ahead of schedule. He pointed out that Firefly has already connected many CVEC customers in western Louisa and make-ready work has begun in REC territory along I-64.
But, he added, due to the flood of federal money going to broadband projects nationwide, there could be supply chain problems in obtaining materials and other unforeseen issues.
Both Hardy and at-large member Jim Ogg said that the fiber initiative, while expected to receive a sizable influx of local tax dollars, is not a county project.
“If people want information, they should call Firefly,” Ogg said, noting that his Poindexter Road home was recently connected to the service. He praised the company’s customer service as well as his fiber connection.
Barnes and Adams said that supervisors will discuss the fiber project with Firefly at the September 7 board meeting and inquire about the company’s effort to keep citizens informed regarding when fiber connectivity might reach them and other project details. (See above for more information).
Both Firefly’s website and the Broadband Authority’s webpage include information about the project. The Louisa County Chamber of Commerce recently held a forum to provide business leaders with details about the effort.
At the conclusion of the meeting, Louisa District representative Mary Johnson, who has served on the body since its inception in 2014, announced her resignation, saying she didn't feel like the authority is pertinent to the county’s current broadband expansion efforts. Ogg said that he considered resigning at the meeting but would stay onboard for now. Hardy noted that he’s retiring at the end of the month and he’s unsure who will assume his role as a staff liaison to the group.
The authority made no firm decisions about its future or that of its assets but members plan to meet again on Wednesday, October 6.
Pipeline developer asks for ruling from State Corporation Commission
In a filing last week, Chickahominy Pipeline LLC asked the State Corporation Commission to rule that its proposed natural gas pipeline, which could cut across Louisa County, doesn’t need SCC approval.
Irfan Ali, the project’s developer, told the Richmond Times-Dispatch in July that the pipeline would feed a yet-to-be constructed merchant power plant in Charles City County and connect with the Transcontinental pipeline near Charlottesville. That pipeline runs through western Louisa.
The developer also said that he would alter the pipeline’s route to accommodate property owners who didn’t want it on their land. Some impacted landowners and activists opposing the project are skeptical of that claim.
Though no map of the proposed pipeline has been released, landowners in Louisa, Hanover, Henrico, New Kent, and Charles City counties have received letters asking for permission to access their property to investigate possible pipeline construction.
The developer’s filing with the State Corporation Commission argues, in part, that the pipeline doesn’t require SCC approval because Chickahominy Pipeline LLC is not selling the gas, merely transporting it, so it doesn't qualify as a public utility.
Read the Richmond Times-Dispatch’s update on the filing here.
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.