This week in county government; Ferncliff Place funding included in House appropriations bill; Louisa ranks among counties with longest commute times; Harmful Algae Bloom spreads at Lake Anna

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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, July 26-31

Wednesday, July 28

Lake Anna Advisory Committee, 9104 Courthouse Rd., Spotsylvania, 7 pm. (public notice) At publication time, an agenda was not publicly available.

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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 included in House appropriations bill

A recently-introduced Congressional appropriations bill includes $775,000 in funding for Ferncliff Place, a mixed income affordable housing development proposed for southern Louisa County.

The $84 billion Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act was introduced in the House of Representatives on July 20 as part of a 7-bill appropriations package. The legislation is expected to be considered by the full House this week.

Ferncliff Place is listed among hundreds of community project funding requests slated to receive federal money in a 311-page committee report accompanying the legislation. The community project funding program allows Members of Congress to directly submit applications for money for locally-planned projects as part of the annual appropriations process.

Congresswoman Abigail 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 between 70 and 120 units with about 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.

On her website, Spanberger touted the project as a good use of taxpayer money because it will provide “working individuals and families the opportunity of home ownership and not just affordable rental assistance. These taxpayer funds will go directly to support the hardworking individuals and families for whom the equity and stability of home ownership is just out of reach.”

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.

The transportation and housing appropriations bill must pass the House then pass the Senate in the same form before heading to the President’s desk.

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 last week.

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Louisa ranks among Virginia counties with longest commute times

On average, Louisa residents commute 36.7 minutes to work one-way, making it the county with the 18th longest commute in Virginia, according to numbers released by the US Census and compiled by the data journalism website, Stacker.

Drawing on the 2019 American Communities Survey, Stacker reports that 57.2 percent of Louisa residents commute outside of the county for work. The average commute time is 27.9 percent longer than the state average and 33 percent longer than the national average. Louisa ranks as the county with the 61st longest commute nationwide.

About 4.7 percent of Louisa residents commute more than 90 minutes to work and 16 percent leave for work between 12 am and 6 am. More than 78 percent of Louisa workers drive themselves to the job while about 12 percent carpool, 1.2 percent walk and .3 percent use public transportation. In 2019, 6.6 percent of residents worked from home, a number likely on the rise due to the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. In calculating average commute times, the census excluded people who work from home.

Cumberland County topped Stacker’s list of Virginia localities with the longest commute with a 44.8 minute one-way trip, ranking 6th nationwide. Louisa’s neighbors, Orange and Spotsylvania, also ranked high on the list. Spotsylvania ranked 13th with an average commute of 38.3 minutes while Orange ranked 15th with a 38.2-minute average commute.

Louisa County officials point to residents’ lengthy commute times and the relatively high number of people who travel outside of the county for work as key factors in their aggressive push to attract businesses to the county. When supervisors announced the controversial Shannon Hill Regional Business Park in 2018, Mountain Road District representative Tommy Barlow pointed directly to cutting commute times.

“New jobs in this park would cut (residents’) time on the road, increase time with family, and have an economic multiplier effect in the county as citizens spend more dollars locally,” he said in a news release touting the site.

Economic Development Director Andy Wade pitches Louisa’s out-of-county commuters as a potential benefit for businesses looking to locate in the area.

“More than half of Louisa’s resident workers commute to jobs outside of the county and are a sizable pool of potential employees who would prefer to work closer to home.” reads a "Community Profile"on Yes Louisa, the county’s official economic development website.

In its newly-released draft affordable housing plan, the Central Virginia Regional Housing Partnership cited lengthy commute times as a factor in driving up costs for Louisa residents, noting that transportation expenses, “such as a car payment, maintenance, gas and insurance follow (housing costs) as the second biggest expenditure for typical households.”

The 2019 data shows that commute times are on the rise nationwide, up 11 percent since 2006 with an average one-way commute of 27 minutes. Commute times have risen slightly every year between 2006 and 2019 except for 2009 amid a significant recession.

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VDH expands Harmful Algae Bloom advisory at upper end of Lake Anna

The Virginia Department of Health issued a Harmful Algae Bloom advisory for Lake Anna’s Upper and Middle North Anna branches last week. An advisory for the Upper Pamunkey branch, announced July 1, remains in effect.

The advisory warns residents and visitors to avoid contact with water in these areas until the algae concentrations returns to acceptable levels. The Upper and Middle North Anna branches and Upper Pamunkey branch stretch across parts of the western end of the lake in Louisa, Orange, and Spotsylvania counties. Click here for the VDH advisory, here for the latest Lake Anna HAB report, and here for an interactive map.

Tests conducted on July 13 found unsafe levels of cyanobacteria, which can cause skin rash and gastrointestinal illness including nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. People and pets are advised to avoid activities that may involve ingesting water like swimming, windsurfing, and standup paddle boarding. Follow up monitoring is planned above Route 208 in the first week of August.

Algae blooms can occur when warm water and nutrients combine to make conditions favorable for algae growth, according to the advisory. Most algae species are harmless but some species may produce irritating compounds or toxins. VDH advises people to avoid discolored water or scums that are green or blueish-green because they are more likely to contain toxins.

Harmful Algae Blooms have plagued the western end of the lake over the last four summers, shutting down swimming at Lake Anna State Park in 2019. Local and state officials have struggled with how best to address the blooms.

In 2020, State Senator Mark Peake submitted a $500,000 budget amendment to increase funding for freshwater Harmful Algae Bloom testing. The limited funding currently available is drawn from the state’s marine water testing program. That same year, Delegate John McGuire introduced a $500,000 budget amendment to expand testing, study the blooms, and devise a strategy to eliminate them. Neither request was included in the state budget.

Peake introduced a language-only amendment this year with no funding attached, which passed the legislature. That amendment instructs the Department of Environmental Quality, which tests the lake’ waters, to convene a Harmful Algae Bloom workgroup in conjunction with the Department of Health and the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

The workgroup is tasked with issuing a report detailing the location, frequency, and severity of Harmful Algae Blooms in Virginia, the factors that lead to their formation and occurrence, and strategies for state agencies to lead or support appropriate mitigation efforts. The group is required to submit its report to the Chairs of the House Agriculture, Chesapeake and Natural Resources Committee and Senate Agriculture, Conservation and Natural Resources Committee by September 1.

The Lake Anna Civic Association conducts water quality testing in cooperation with the DEQ and works closely with the state’s Harmful Algae Bloom Taskforce, which includes the VDH, DEQ, and Old Dominion University’s Phytoplankton lab. The association offers a range of water quality and environmental resources on its website including a list of water quality testing stations on the lake, tips for homeowners “to choke off” nutrients that feed algae, and a draft algae bloom recovery plan, compiled in 2019.

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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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