This week in county government; After two delays, supes to consider changes to Zion Town Center; Planning Commission to hold public hearing on proposed technology overlay district
Engage Louisa is a nonpartisan newsletter that keeps folks informed about Louisa County government. 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, March 6 through March 11
For the latest information on county meetings including public meetings of boards, commissions, authorities, work groups, and internal county committees, click here. (Note: Louisa County frequently schedules internal committee/work group meetings after publication time. Check the county’s website for the most updated information).
Monday, March 6
Louisa County Board of Supervisors, budget work session, Public Meeting Room, Louisa County Office Building, 1 Woolfolk Ave., Louisa, 4 pm. (livestream)
Louisa County Board of Supervisors, Public Meeting Room, Louisa County Office Building, 1 Woolfolk Ave., Louisa, 6 pm. (agenda packet, livestream) The board will convene in closed session at 5 pm.
Tuesday, March 7
Louisa County School Board, Central Office Administration Building, 953 Davis Highway, Mineral, 7 pm. (agenda, livestream)
Wednesday, March 8
James River Water Authority, Fluvanna County Administration Building, 132 Main Street, Palmyra, 9 am.
Neighborhood Meeting, Public Meeting Room, Louisa County Office Building, 1 Woolfolk Ave., Louisa, 4 pm.
The Community Development Department will host a neighborhood meeting with Horsepen Branch Solar, LLC and the W.W. Whitlock Agency regarding their land use applications. Horsepen requested a Conditional Use Permit to construct a 20 MW utility-scale solar facility on parts of 304 acres between Kentucky Springs Road and Pottiesville Road in Bumpass. Whitlock requested to rezone, from agricultural (A-2) to commercial (C-2), part of 23.4 acres near the Gum Springs exit off Interstate 64 for a Love’s travel center.
Louisa County Water Authority, Public Meeting Room, Louisa County Office Building, 1 Woolfolk Ave., Louisa, 6 pm.
Thursday, March 9
Louisa County Planning Commission, long-range planning work session, Public Meeting Room, Louisa County Office Building, 1 Woolfolk Ave., Louisa, 5 pm. (livestream)
Louisa County Planning Commission, Public Meeting Room, Louisa County Office Building, 1 Woolfolk Ave., Louisa, 7 pm. (agenda packet, livestream)
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.
After two delays, supes to consider changes to Zion Town Center
The Louisa County Board of Supervisors on Monday night could green-light more townhomes at Zion Crossroads.
After two delays, the board is expected to hold a public hearing and vote on Emerson-Roper Companies, LLC’s request to add 124 residential units to Zion Town Center, a Planned Unit Development already approved for 599 dwellings and almost 275,000-square feet of commercial space on 113 acres (tmp 52-12-4) behind Walmart.
The Chesterfield based developer has contracted to buy the project’s 90-acre residential component from Zions Town Center LLC, the entity that, in 2019, won supervisors’ approval to rezone the property for mixed-use development.
In hopes of putting its own spin on the residential section, Emerson-Roper has requested amendments to the PUD’s proffers and master plan that would increase the number of dwellings to 723—upping the number of townhomes from 99 to 275, reducing the number of single-family detached homes from 164 to 112, and maintaining the number of apartments at 336—and tweak its layout and design. The developer plans to replace a cluster of 14 walk-up apartment buildings with two fully enclosed elevator-serviced structures and build taller townhomes on deeper lots that offer both on and off-street parking. The apartments would be rentals while the single-family attached and detached units would be for sale.
Emerson-Roper, developer of The Highlands, Chester Village Green, and other communities south of Richmond, brands its proposed changes as upgrades that would diversify the area’s housing supply, offering “attainable” residential options for range a demographics, from empty-nesters looking to downsize to younger workers settling into their first homes.
Monday night’s meeting marks the third time the project has been slated for supervisors’ consideration. At the applicant’s request, the board delayed a December 19 public hearing because Patrick Henry District Supervisor Fitzgerald Barnes, in whose district the property lies, couldn’t attend the meeting. The board then postponed a February 6 hearing after Emerson-Roper representative Jeffrey Geiger sent an email to Barnes and Board Chair Duane Adams just hours beforehand asking for a 30-day delay “so the applicant may have time to address questions brought to (its) attention today.”
The project has drawn mixed reaction from neighbors with some concerned that more residential development would clog roads, crowd schools, and tax emergency services, and others contending that additional rooftops would finally deliver the commercial amenities they crave like a new grocery store and more dining options.
But the proposal has faced its stiffest resistance from Historic Green Springs Inc., a land preservation group focused on protecting the Green Springs National Historic Landmark District just to the north of Zion Crossroads. The group has long feuded with the county over the area’s water supply, arguing that the ultra-deep wells that currently feed Zion can’t support continued development. In the case of Zion Town Center, the group contends that approving dozens of additional dwellings would further strain the aquifer that Green Springs residents rely on for their homes and farms.
The county’s long-term solution to Zion’s water woes is a pipeline to the James River that, when complete, will channel millions of gallons of water to development along the I-64 corridor. The project, which has faced a series of delays since it was first launched a decade ago, is currently winding its way through the state and federal permitting process and could be finished by early 2026.
Geiger has said at several public meetings that water isn’t an issue, noting that Emerson-Roper worked with Dewberry, the county’s utilities’ consultant, to evaluate the capacity of Zion’s wells and the firm determined that there’s sufficient water to support its proposal and additional economic development. He has also emphasized that Emerson-Roper’s proffers include a provision acknowledging that if the county deems there isn’t adequate water to support the project, it won’t issue building permits, so the developer would have to wait for water from the James.
Rae Ely, a founding member of HGSI, has raised red flags about some of Geiger’s claims, pointing to a May 2021 study from Dewberry that focuses on Zion Town Center. The study found that, under their current permitted capacity, the wells can’t support the development’s 599 units. It didn’t contemplate the water needs of the 723-unit proposal. Ely obtained the study via a Freedom of Information Act request in December.
In a January 31 email to County Attorney Helen Phillips, Ely said that supervisors should cancel the February 6 public hearing and send Emerson-Roper’s application back to the Planning Commission because they don’t have a valid recommendation from that body. Ely pointed out that when the Planning Commission considered the application in November—and voted 5-1 to recommend approval—it didn’t have access to the study.
“Accordingly, there must be a rehearing of this application by the Planning Commission to determine what their actual vote will be once they have access to all essential information to make an informed decision,” she said.
In an apparent response to Ely’s email, Emerson-Roper submitted two additional water-related documents in mid-February, aimed at showing that there is adequate water to support additional homes.
A February 13, 2023 letter from Dewberry paints a somewhat different picture of the development’s impact on the wells than the original study. The letter says that the 723-unit development would use 318,000 gallons of water per day at peak demand and the system—once two additional wells are brought online this spring—would have an excess capacity of about 475,000 gpd. The letter concludes that there is sufficient water for the project, pending the addition of the two new wells.
But the letter bases those projections on different figures than those included in the original study. It claims that Zion Town Center’s proposed 723 units, together with its commercial component, would use only 167,400 gpd, about 12,000 less than what was projected for the 599 units and that the development would use 318,000 gpd at peak demand, about 77,000 gallons less than what the May 2021 study concluded.
The firm bases those calculation, in part, on what it calls the system’s “1.9 peaking factor.” The initial study found that the system had a 2.2 peaking factor. The letter offers no explanation for why the peaking factor was reduced—the letter and study both reference water usage between March 2020 and March 2021—nor does it explain its rationale for projecting less water consumption from a larger development.
A Feb. 15, 2023 letter from WSP USA Inc., who Geiger describes as “the consultant for the Louisa County Water Authority,” also suggests that there’s sufficient water for continued development, noting that LCWA utilizes an extensive “groundwater monitoring and protection plan” and “based on our review of pumping rates and water levels over the last 15 years, the underlying aquifer is responding as predicted when the wells were originally tested and permitted.”
“This demonstrates that the groundwater wells and the aquifer are capable of continued withdrawals in a safe and sustainable manner in compliance with water system’s VDH permit. New water sources should be developed once water demand reaches 80% of permitted capacity for 3 months or more out of each year,” the letter states. In 2019, Louisa County adopted a policy to cap water usage at 75 percent of the wells’ permitted capacity.
In a February 28 email to supervisors that accompanied the letters, Geiger points out that only 2.5 percent of the wells’ permitted capacity would be used by the 124 additional dwellings and he reiterates that Emerson-Roper’s application includes a “stop development if no water capacity proffer.” Geiger also emphasizes that it would be a decade before the development is fully built out. By then, water from the James would presumably be available.
In the email, Geiger touches on other concerns including the development’s impact on traffic and county services. He notes that the 124 new units are only projected to add 30 peak hour vehicle trips per day over what’s anticipated from the already approved 599-unit development and only nine more school-aged children to the 165 expected from the original proposal. He attributes these small increases to a reduction in the number of single-family homes, which tend to house more children than townhomes. Geiger also notes that Emerson-Roper agreed to a $124,000 cash proffer to support Louisa’s Fire and EMS Department.
Beyond concerns about the development’s impact on infrastructure and services, some community members have criticized the proposal for its lack of affordable housing. Geiger has said that he doesn’t like to use the term “affordable housing” because it’s ill-defined and touts the 723-unit complex as providing “attainable housing” for Louisa’s workforce.
According to Emerson-Roper, the development’s single-family detached homes could start at about $375,000 in today’s dollars while the townhomes could sell for between $250,00 and $325,000 in today’s dollars. Emerson-Roper hasn’t provided details about the cost of the rental units but has branded them as more upscale than the complex that’s already approved. The developer did agree to build at least 24 two-story townhomes that would start at a lower price point than larger units.
Critics contend that the development won’t offer any options for working class residents who are bearing the brunt of the area’s housing crunch.
“There are hundreds of Louisa people whose income is below 80% of the area median income ($49,000). They will have no options for any of the projected 723 units,” Mountain Road District resident Mary Kranz wrote in a letter to the editor in the February 2 edition of The Central Virginian.
Patrick Henry District resident Sue Frankel Streit agreed.
“Are any of our unhoused community members going to be able to afford any of these places,” Frankel Streit asked at the board’s February 6 meeting. “I ask that you demand that developers of new housing set aside some percent for people who can’t afford anything currently available.”
Planning Commission to hold public hearing on proposed technology overlay district
County officials are considering creating a special zoning district that could pave the way for data centers and other high-tech industry in parts of Louisa County.
At its March 9 meeting, the Planning Commission will hold a public hearing and consider whether to recommend that the Board of Supervisors approve a proposed ordinance that establishes a Technology Overlay District, a land use designation that would overlay selected parcels current zoning and allow data centers, high-tech manufacturing, and other technology-related businesses as by-right uses. (draft ordinance, proposed overlay district map)
Staff recently began looking at how the county could attract lucrative technology businesses and considering ways to mitigate their impact, according to a memo from Deputy County Administrator Chris Coon. They ultimately decided an overlay district was the best path forward, selecting parcels for inclusion that could meet industry needs and offer space for buffers and setbacks.
“This was done by mapping specific locations that are adequately serviced by infrastructure, and we addressed several of the expected impacts through site development requirements in the overlay district ordinance,” Coon wrote.
Technology-related businesses like data centers require sizable tracts of land and access to high-voltage power lines, adequate road networks, and water and sewer infrastructure, according to an explainer on the county’s website. With these needs in mind, staff chose more than 6,000 acres for potential inclusion in the district across parts of central, eastern, and southern Louisa County. Many of the parcels are in areas designated for growth.
The explainer notes that staff selected parcels that “limit the need for new transmission lines” and “concentrate development” while also providing “functional separation from dense residential and commercial retail development.”
Under the proposed ordinance, selected parcels would retain the property rights granted by their current zoning while gaining additional by-right uses. These uses include data centers, technology research and development facilities, capital intensive advanced manufacturing facilities, technical schools, conference or training centers, and minor and major utility services. Utility-scale solar facilities providing power to the grid would generally require a conditional use permit.
Developers would be required to adhere to specific buffer, landscaping, and design guidelines to mitigate the businesses’ impact including a 200-foot vegetative buffer for parcels adjacent to agricultural and residential uses, a 150-foot buffer along primary roads, and a 100-foot buffer along secondary roads. The ordinance would also limit the height of buildings to 80 feet, require the use of dark-sky compliant lighting, and mandate at least 20 percent open space for each parcel group. Land in the TOD must encompass a minimum of 125 contiguous acres.
“Reflecting a community desire to retain our rural character, we will require wide vegetative buffers and ample setbacks from property lines to block views from roads and outside areas. These measures will be stricter than current growth area standards and will minimize structure visibility, business activity, and noise,” the explainer states.
A proposed map of the overlay district includes six groups of parcels, most of which are near either a 230kv or 500kv transmission line. One set of parcels covers more than 200 acres just south of the North Anna Nuclear Power Station in the Lake Anna Growth Area. A 230kv transmission line runs through the parcels.
Two other parcel groups have already been green-lighted for utility-scale solar development, but neither project has been constructed. One site is the Industrial Development Authority’s Cooke Industrial Rail Park, which covers more than 1,200 acres in the Mineral Growth Area between the towns of Louisa and Mineral. Two Oaks Solar, LLC received a Conditional Use Permit last year to build an up to 118 MW solar array on the property and a 50 MW battery storage facility.
The second group encompasses roughly 1400 acres north of the Northeast Creek Reservoir. In 2021, the county granted Aura Power Development, LLC a CUP to develop an up to 244 MW solar array on the property, most of which lies outside the growth area. A 230kv transmission line runs through both the rail park and the property north of reservoir.
The proposed district includes another roughly 1400 acres across Route 33 south of the reservoir. The parcels lie outside the designated growth area but have access to water infrastructure and the same 230kv transmission line.
The final two parcel groups lie in the Shannon Hill Growth Area and the Gum Springs Growth Area along Interstate 64. One is the 700-acre Shannon Hill Regional Business Park, which the county began developing in 2019 with an eye toward attracting distribution centers, data centers, and advanced manufacturing. The other group covers over 1500 acres near Gum Springs. A 500kv transmission line crosses the property.
County officials have had limited public discussion about the proposed overlay district. In his memo, Coon notes that the Board of Supervisors, at its February 6 meeting, instructed staff to work with Jackson District Supervisor Toni Williams “in evaluating opportunities to strengthen the county’s competitive position in attracting technology companies.”
Near the end of that meeting, Williams noted that state government is ramping up efforts to expand technology-related businesses across the commonwealth and asked if Louisa is “well positioned to attract” high-tech industries. County Administrator Christian Goodwin responded that staff would be happy to work with Williams on the issue. That conversation marks the only time the board has discussed the topic in open session.
In January, Governor Glenn Youngkin announced that Amazon Web Services plans to invest $35 billion in Virginia to expand data center campuses. In a press release, the Governor’s Office said that numerous localities are under consideration for the centers. During the 2023 General Assembly session, the legislature approved an incentive package—including an extension of data center-related tax exemptions—that would benefit Amazon.
“AWS has a significant presence in Virginia, and we are excited that AWS has chosen to continue their growth and expand their footprint across the Commonwealth,” Youngkin said. “Virginia will continue to encourage the development of this new generation of data center campuses across multiple regions of the Commonwealth. These areas offer robust utility infrastructure, lower costs, great livability, and highly educated workforces and will benefit from the associated economic development and increased tax base, assisting the schools and providing services to the community.”
Data centers contain thousands of servers that process and store data for cloud computing and other web-based services. They’re typically housed in large warehouse-style buildings that can cover over a million square feet. The centers don’t require a large workforce, but the pricey computer equipment inside can generate significant local tax revenue.
Data centers have become a central component of economic development in northern Virginia, a region dubbed “the data center capital of the world.” The area—particularly Loudoun and Prince William counties—is home to about 275 data centers with additional facilities either under construction or in the planning stages. According to Loudoun County, data centers contribute more than a half billion dollars to county coffers annually, about half of the local money required to operate Loudoun County Public Schools.
Data center proponents tout the facilities as a low-impact way to bulk up the tax base because they provide millions of dollars in revenue but require few services. But, the centers have sparked staunch opposition in parts of northern Virginia. Residents have raised concerns about their impact on the environment, their encroachment on rural farmland and historic resources, and the noise they generate, among other issues.
Supervisors to consider Centerville Road rezoning and more
Though the Zion Town Center public hearing is the marquee item on the board’s agenda Monday night, supervisors will hold two other public hearings, consider one action item, and hear three presentations.
Prior to their regular meeting, the board will hold an hour-long budget work session focused on funding for outside agencies. Read more about the Fiscal Year 2024 budget process here and check out a preview of supervisors’ regular meeting below.
Supervisors to consider Centerville Road rezoning: More residential development could be coming to the Lake Anna Growth Area.
Supervisors will hold a public hearing and consider whether to approve Mercerville Land Trust’s application to rezone, from agricultural (A-1) to residential (R-2), 33 acres on the east side of Centerville Road across from the Lakeshore Woods subdivision.
The property (tmp 30-74A, 30-74B) is in the Lake Anna Growth Area and designated for low-density residential development, per the Future Land Use Map in the 2040 Comprehensive Plan. The forested parcels don’t have direct access to the lake.
According to a conceptual plan, Mercerville intends to divide the property into a maximum of 13 lots, ranging from 1.6 acres to 5.2 acres. Under rules for A-1 zoning, the property, which covers two tax map parcels, can only be divided into six pieces. Each lot would have at least 125 feet of frontage along Centerville Road.
When the Planning Commission reviewed the project at its February meeting, several commissioners and neighbors said they didn’t have a problem with additional residential development in the area, but they did have concerns about 13 separate entrances off Centerville Road. Neighbors also asked for a roadside buffer to screen the dwellings from view.
“Our community and the other communities along Centerville Road, generally, have one access road and the lots are accessed off of that…we are a little concerned about having 13 driveways and the visibility and clearing that’s required for 13 driveways to have good, safe access to Centerville Road,” said Vincent Ammann, president of the Lakeshore Woods Homeowners Association. “We think a lot of vegetation will have to be removed and it will significantly affect the rural character of the area.”
In response, Mercerville representative Jefferson Jakubowski offered two proffers. In the first, the developer agreed to retain a 60-foot vegetive buffer along Centerville Road. In the second, Mercerville stipulates that adjoining lots will have co-located entrances, but separate driveways, reducing the access points to the state road.
Those concessions satisfied the commission, which voted unanimously to recommend that the Board of Supervisors approve the rezoning. Community Development Department staff also recommends approval, noting in its report that “the proposed subdivision goes beyond the bare minimum lot acreage compared to neighboring subdivisions and provides quality low density residential development for the Lake Anna Growth Area Overlay District.”
Dominion to deliver State of the Station address: Executives from Dominion Energy will deliver their annual State of the Station address, updating the board on North Anna Nuclear Power Station’s operation and performance over the last year and other news from the plant. Residents will also have a chance to weigh in during a public hearing that accompanies the briefing. Read the report in the meeting materials.
Board to consider requesting VDOT assistance with Hamilton Road bridge: Supervisors will consider approval of a resolution that requests that the Virginia Department of Transportation “initiate a project to address needs associated with” an aging one-lane bridge on Hamilton Road.
The circa 1917 steel Pratt truss bridge, which crosses the South Anna River in the Green Springs National Historic Landmark District, has fallen into disrepair in recent years and, per the resolution, “requires attention to address its ability to handle vehicular traffic.” The resolution states that the structure is no longer sufficiently rated to carry the weight of emergency vehicles and other heavy loads.
The Virginia Department of Transportation has available funds for bridge maintenance in its FY24 budget and up to $31,000 in additional money could be drawn from the county’s six-year secondary road plan, according to the resolution. It’s unclear if VDOT would construct a new bridge or rehabilitate the existing structure.
VDOT Residency Administrator Scott Thornton previously discussed the bridge’s condition with the board last October, noting that the department maintains the bridge to ensure it’s serviceable but, at some point, “the maintenance needs are going to outpace the maintenance funding.” Once it gets to that point, he said, the bridge would be shut down for safety reasons.
Thornton said that VDOT attempted to address concerns about the bridge eight years ago, but walked away from the process because stakeholders, including Green Springs residents and the National Park Service, couldn’t agree on how to deal with the bridge.
In response to Thornton’s presentation, the board directed county staff to meet with VDOT and other stakeholders to determine a path forward.
Supervisors to hear three presentations: Supervisors will hear presentations from the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission on the Regional Natural Hazard Mitigation Plan, the Louisa Arts Center, and the Commission on Aging.
PC to consider Capital Improvement Plan, CUP for equipment business and more
Beyond its public hearing on a proposed technology overlay district, the Planning Commission on Thursday will hold a long-range planning work session at 5 pm and three other public hearings at its 7 pm meeting.
Planners to consider CIP: Commissioners will a hold a public hearing and consider whether to recommend to the Board of Supervisors approval of the FY24-FY43 Capital Improvement Plan, a roadmap for spending on big-ticket items like new school facilities, water and sewer infrastructure, and fire trucks.
The commission is tasked with reviewing the CIP to ensure it conform with the 2040 Comprehensive Plan. Supervisors have the final say on if and when a project receives funding. They’ll approve and appropriate money for the FY24 CIP this spring as part of the annual budget process.
Planners originally reviewed a nearly $69 million CIP at a January work session where they heard pitches from department heads and other county officials on specific spending requests. Since then, the CIP has been slightly slimmed down to nearly $49 million for FY24. It includes more than $71 million in requests for FY25, including about $53 million for new school facilities, $12.3 million in FY26, and $9.9 million in FY27.
Much of the $20 million reduction for FY24 can be attributed to changes in the county’s plans to deliver water and sewer infrastructure to several of its designated growth areas.
The plan still includes significant investments in water and sewer including $18 million to complete the James River Water Project and $15.9 million to bring wet utilities to the Shannon Hill Regional Business Park. But the latter request is 42 percent lower than Economic Development Director Andy Wade’s original ask thanks to an $11.59 million state grant.
County officials moved to FY25 a $6.5 million request to upgrade a troubled wastewater treatment plant at Lake Anna. Supervisors agreed to purchase the plant for $90,000 in January with plans to bring it into compliance with state regulations and expand it to support future economic development along Route 208.
Other notable expenditures include nearly $3 million for Firefly Fiber Broadband’s effort to bring universal fiber access to the county by 2025 and $3.4 million for two turfs fields adjacent to Louisa County Middle School. Read more about the draft CIP in last week's edition of Engage Louisa.
Commissioners to consider CUP for equipment business: Commissioners will hold a public hearing and consider whether to recommend to the Board of Supervisors approval of Lane Industrial & Supply, LLC’s request for a Conditional Use Permit to operate an equipment sales business on a 4.38-acre parcel on the south side of Louisa Road (Route 22) near its intersection with Oakland Road (Route 613). The vacant property is zoned for industrial use (tmp 24-48).
Lane Industrial and Supply has requested the CUP to establish a business that sells agricultural equipment and attachments. In its report, Community Development Department staff states that the company “intends to revitalize a property that has been blighted and abandoned for several years” and that the proposed business “matches the character of the surrounding area which includes existing businesses and industrial zoned parcels.”
The report notes that Lane is currently in conversations with the Virginia Department of Transportation about what improvements, if any, need to be made to the property’s entrance off Louisa Road.
Staff recommends approval of the CUP with seven conditions including that the business maintains a 50-foot vegetative buffer along adjoining residential properties and uses dark-sky compliant lighting.
Commission to consider changing zoning amendment effective date: The Planning Commission will hold a public hearing on a proposed amendment to county code that would allow any property rezoned to residential (R-2) between February 2019 and February 2021, including adjoining R-2 property shown in the rezoning application as intended to be developed with the rezoned property, to be subdivided and developed in accordance with the county’s minimum lot size prior to its 2021 rewriting of the zoning code.
In February 2021, supervisors adopted a significant overhaul of the zoning code that increased the minimum lot size in R-2 zoning from 40,000 square feet to 1.5 acres. So, any R-2-zoned property that hadn’t been subdivided prior to the rule change falls under the new rules.
While he didn’t provide any details, Community Development Director Josh Gillespie suggested in a memo that the Covid-19 pandemic had impacted at least one developer’s ability to complete plans for a subdivision, at least part of which was rezoned to R-2 just prior to the county changing its rules. The proposed amendment would allow the subdivision to retain the design green-lighted during the rezoning.
Click here for contact information for the Louisa County Board of Supervisors.
Find agendas and minutes from previous Board of Supervisors and Planning Commission meetings as well as archived recordings here.
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Click here to access past editions of Engage Louisa.