This week in county government; Planners okay Cooke Rail Park proffer amendment, Bio-Cat rezoning; State invests in broadband; County advertises sale of 32 acres adjoining Reedy Creek subdivision
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 16-21
Thursday, August 19
Louisa County Industrial Development Authority, 1 Woolfolk Ave., 8:30 am. At publication time, an agenda was not publicly available. (public notice)
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.
Planning Commission okays Cooke Industrial Rail Park proffer amendment, Bio-Cat rezoning
The Louisa County Planning Commission held a pair of public hearings at its meeting Thursday night, green-lighting a proffer amendment that could open the door for solar development at Cooke Industrial Rail Park and a rezoning request for a long-standing Zion Crossroads business. (meetings materials, video)
Planners also continued a discussion about “towing yards” carried over from a previous meeting. In the end, they were unable to settle on how to define and address the term in county land development regulations.
A few highlights from the meeting:
Opening the door for solar at Cooke Rail Park: Planners voted 4-2 to recommend to the Board of Supervisors approval of a proffer amendment that paves the way for a developer to request a Conditional Use Permit to construct a solar facility at the Cooke Industrial Rail Park.
The Louisa County Industrial Development Authority owns the 800-acre property, 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 property 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 wipes away 10 other proffers currently attached to the property if solar development moves forward. A solar facility would 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.
Economic Development Director Andy Wade told planners 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.”
Louisa District Planner Manning Woodward questioned the wisdom of taking 800 acres of industrially zoned property for use as a solar facility, which wouldn’t provide jobs post-construction.
Wade said that the property isn’t well-positioned to accommodate a sizable workforce, given traffic flow in the area, and that the county's approach to industrial development has shifted over time. Many large industries want to be close to the interstate, he noted, and county officials are focused on locating large-scale industrial development along the I-64 corridor.
Wade explained that the property is attractive to solar developers because of the 230kv power line running through the area. He said the facility would tie in to the 1400-acre Aura project, approved for construction across Davis Highway, so a substation wouldn't be needed on site.
Patrick Henry District Planner Ellis Quarles wondered if the IDA is competing with private landowners who are leasing their property to solar companies and asked what would happen if the proffer amendment wasn’t approved. Wade said the project wouldn’t move forward.
Quarles also asked how the IDA planned to spend the money acquired thorough the solar lease. Wade indicated that the authority is still paying off a note on the property and additional funds would likely be dedicated to promoting economic development and industrial growth in the county.
On a motion by Mineral District Planner John Disosway, the commission recommended to the Board of Supervisors approval of the proffer amendment. Quarles and Woodward opposed. Green Springs District Planner Holly Reynolds was absent.
Thumbs up for Bio-Cat rezoning: The commission voted unanimously to recommend to the Board of Supervisors approval of 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 property is designated mixed use in the 2040 Comprehensive Plan and included in the Zion Crossroads Growth Area Overlay District. About 1.1 acres, located across Route 250 from the rest to the parcel, is zoned agricultural (A-2) and not included in the rezoning request.
The Community Development department recommends approval of a rezoning to either industrial limited (I-1 GAOD) or industrial general use (I-2 GAOD) with some conditions.
Kelsey Schlein, a planner with Shimp Engineering, told commissioners that, though the proposed facility largely aligns with uses permitted under I-1 zoning, Bio-Cat’s owners are requesting I-2 zoning because the new facility will manufacture microbials, which involves a fermentation process. She said there’s a slight chance the facility could produce a brewery-like smell. I-2 zoning in the Growth Area Overlay District allows for medium industry that produces moderate external effects like noise, smoke, and odor.
Schlein presented a proffer statement from the applicant, which excludes a number of uses currently allowed in I-2 zoning. She also noted that heavy industrial activity is only permitted in I-2 zoning under a Conditional Use Permit so, if a future user wanted to engage in that activity, it would require a public approval process.
“This property is being rezoned to I-2 to allow for specifically that laboratory use, research and development, and the industry medium and not allowing for the railroad facility, the aviation facility, “ she said, citing two examples of excluded future uses under the proposed rezoning.
Schlein presented a conceptual map outlining potential phases of the property’s development beyond the construction of the 30,000-square foot facility. She told planners 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 regarding the buffer requirement from the Louisa County Board of Supervisors.
Work session on towing yards planned: The commission continued a discussion about how to define and address “towing yards” in county land development regulations.
Earlier this year, Community Development Director Robert Gardner explained in a memo to the commission that several people approached the county with an interest in establishing a towing yard. Because county land development regulations do not define or address towing yards, they aren’t currently allowed. Code does define impound lot but Gardner argued that serves a different function than a towing yard.
In his latest effort to define and address “towing yards,” Gardner incorporates towing yards, impound, and repo lots into one definition, describing them as
“a secure outdoor holding facility for motor vehicles until returned to the owner, or auctioned off for the benefit of any impounding agency. Such facilities are accessory uses for developed property and shall meet the minimum setback requirements, cannot exceed two acres in area, and exclude all self-service storage facilities.”
He suggests the facilities could be permitted on property zoned industrial under a Conditional Use Permit.
While planners said Gardner’s draft was closer to what they are looking for, they still had some concerns. Cuckoo District Planner George Goodwin noted that he’d prefer a time limit on how long vehicles could remain on site and suggested that the definition clarify what is meant by “accessory use.”
Gardner said that “accessory use” requires a building on the property. Goodwin responded that he wanted to ensure the building was related to the operation of a towing yard.
“I would like to see that accessory use tweaked a little bit to give it some sort of relation to the use so we don’t have my absurd example of a stand alone impound lot behind a Dollar General,” he said.
Mountain Road District Supervisor Tommy Barlow, who serves as the board’s liaison to the Planning Commission, noted that he’d like to see some sort of threshold for the number of cars a towing yard could hold.
After a lengthy discussion, planners asked Thomas Thompson, who operates TNT Auto Sales and Towing, to share his insight. Thompson said his company routinely deals with junk cars, clearing motor vehicle accidents when called by police.
“There’s more to the junk car business than most people see,” he said, describing a patchwork of rules and regulations imposed by the DMV and other agencies that can complicate setting time limits on how long a vehicle can stay in a towing yard. He advised commissioners to consult the Sheriff’s Office and state police to gain additional information about towing in the county.
“I’ve kept cars up to a year waiting for an insurance company to settle with people. There’s a lot more to it then just going out here and picking up a junk car and taking it to my place saying ‘what am I going to do with it now,’” Thompson said. “The car has to go through channels.”
Planners unanimously agreed to schedule a work session focused on towing yards and consult the Louisa County Sheriff’s Office for more information.
Goodwin requests work session on traffic data in land use applications: Cuckoo District Planner George Goodwin requested that the commission convene a work session specifically focused on how traffic issues are evaluated in county land use applications, particularly as they relate to the county’s growing number of solar facilities. The facilities generate little traffic after completion but can cause traffic headaches during construction.
In May, Goodwin opposed Energix Aditya LLC’s request for a Conditional Use Permit to construct and operate a 60-acre solar array off School Bus Road, citing traffic concerns. He said that simultaneous construction of the Energix facility and the adjoining, much larger Aura project, approved last year, could cause a traffic “nightmare.” The Energix facility was approved by the Board of Supervisors at its August 2 meeting.
Planners agreed to hold a work session on the subject in cooperation with VDOT.
General Assembly appropriates ARPA funds including millions for broadband expansion
The General Assembly approved a $4.3 billion spending plan for federal pandemic relief funds last Monday, making significant investments in broadband expansion, school repairs, clean water projects, small business aid, and the state’s unemployment trust fund.
The budget bill, which appropriated money made available though the American Rescue Plan Act, passed the legislature with bipartisan support. Two Republicans in the closely divided Senate crossed over to support the bill while 24 Republicans in the House of Delegates voted with the Democratic majority.
The legislation includes $800 million to replenish the state’s unemployment trust fund, $700 million to expand broadband infrastructure, $411 million for clean water projects, $353 million for small business relief, and $250 million to improve air quality in public schools. The General Assembly left about $1.1 billion unappropriated with plans to address future issues that could arise from the pandemic.
The budget bill also includes $120 million in aid to Virginians struggling to pay utility bills, $100 million to the State Council of Higher Education for need-based financial aid, and over $53 million to cover $5,000 bonuses for state police and $3,000 bonuses for state-supported sworn officers of sheriff's departments and regional jails, among other allocations.
The bill features several notable language amendments. One provision requires that all Department of Motor Vehicles customer service locations open for walk-in service within 60 days. Another amendment establishes rules for college athletes to make money off their name, image, and likeness.
Democratic leadership in the House and Senate worked closely with Governor Ralph Northam’s administration to craft the spending plan ahead of a special session that kicked off August 2. The original proposal sailed through the House but some Senate Democrats teamed up with Republicans to insist on a handful of amendments. A conference committee hammered out the final details and Northam signed the legislation last Tuesday.
Louisa County’s representatives in the General Assembly, Delegate John McGuire and Sens. Bryce Reeves and Mark Peake, opposed the bill. In a statement on his Facebook page, Reeves criticized the process Democrats used in writing and advancing the legislation.
“I voted against the budget bill because Republicans and the public were shut out of the process,” he wrote. “We had the ability to introduce floor amendments but almost every single one was defeated by the Democratic majority.”
Broadband funding could benefit Louisa County
The sizable investment in broadband could play a key role in helping the Board of Supervisors fulfill its promise to bring high-speed internet to everyone in Louisa County that wants it by 2025.
In March, the county announced a partnership with internet provider Firefly, a subsidiary of Central Virginia Electric Cooperative, Rappahannock Electric Cooperative, and Dominion Energy to bring universal broadband coverage to the locality, utilizing existing and yet-to-be constructed infrastructure owned by the three utilities. Supervisors pledged $15 million to the project but did not specify where that money would come from.
At the board’s August meeting, Firefly’s Gary Wood estimated that the project could cost $72 million. He told supervisors that Firefly, in partnership with the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission, plans to apply for funding through the Virginia Telecommunications Initiative (VATI). The state program awards grants to public-private partnerships to expand high-speed internet in unserved areas.
Firefly, in cooperation with Dominion and REC, is currently developing its Regional Internet Expansion (RISE) program in hopes of bringing fiber internet to thousands of homes across 12 central Virginia counties. Wood estimates that VATI could contribute $50 to $60 million to the program.
“This is a one-time opportunity because of the funding that’s been made available at the federal level and the state level to get this fixed,” Wood said, noting that VATI is particularly interested in funding large-scale projects during the upcoming grant cycle.
TJPDC and Firefly’s grant application is due September 14. Wood plans to attend supervisors’ September 7 meeting to secure the county’s backing for the VATI grant and regional project. He indicated that firmer details about the project’s budget would be available for that meeting.
Louisa County will receive about $7.3 million in ARPA funds, separate from the state’s allocation. Half of that money was expected to arrive this spring with the remainder coming next year. County officials have been quiet about how they plan to spend the money. According to federal guidelines, the funds can be used to expand broadband infrastructure.
Firefly awarded ReConnect funding
Firefly announced this week that it received a $14.1 million grant from the USDA’s ReConnect program to offset the cost of its $18.8 million fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) build across parts of Buckingham, Cumberland, Goochland, Louisa, and Powhatan counties.
According to a press release from the company, the funded service area includes 37 educational facilities, three health care facilities, 14 essential community facilities, 4,139 households, 13,886 people, 193 businesses, and 65 farms spread over 65 square miles. Construction is expected to start later this year.
County puts 32 acres adjoining Reedy Creek subdivision on the market
Louisa County issued a Notice of Solicitation, requesting that interested parties submit offers to purchase 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.
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.
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).
During the public hearing, Michael Breen, representing the Reedy Creek Property Owners Association, voiced concerns about the property’s potential sale, encouraging the county to turn the parcel into a park, transfer the property to the subdivision’s POA or find some other way to preserve the land.
Breen said community members are especially worried about possible clear-cutting on the property, noting that heavy logging trucks could increase traffic and damage the subdivision’s roads.
Supervisors weren’t enthusiastic about Breen’s suggestions for the property’s future. But, Patrick Henry District Supervisor Fitzgerald Barnes said he didn’t want the land clear cut and he opposed any additional subdividing beyond a possible family division. “I don’t want to change the tranquility of the neighborhood. I want to preserve it,” he said.
Louisa District Supervisor Eric Purcell, whose family deeded the property to the county, and County Attorney Helen Phillips said that the property is subject to Reedy Creek’s restrictive covenants though it is not part of the subdivision.
The board directed staff to research what restrictions currently apply to the property and what conditions could potentially be placed on it prior to sale.
According to the Notice of Solicitation, interested parties are encouraged to contact the county for more information about the property and submit offers no later than Friday, August 27 at 4:30 pm.
Acceptance of any offer is contingent upon final approval by the Board of Supervisors. This issue will be considered at the board’s September 7 meeting.
Note: This post has been updated to correct the tax map parcel for this property.
Other news of note:
Census data shows continued growth in Louisa County, starts clock on redistricting: On Thursday, the US Census Bureau released population data that will inform the decennial redistricting process. The data provides a first look at population shifts at the local level and the nation’s ethnic and racial diversity, according to a Census Bureau press release.
The statistics show that Louisa County’s population grew 13.4 percent since 2010, adding some 4,443 residents. Housing units grew 7.2 percent. Louisa ranks 18th out of the Commonwealth’s 133 localities in rate of population growth over the last decade.
Check out this handy tool from the Virginia Public Access Project for more information about Louisa County’s population, racial and ethnic demographics, and growth rate over time.
Delivery of census data starts the clock on the Virginia Redistricting Commission's map-drawing efforts. Per a new constitutional amendment, the bipartisan commission, comprised of eight citizens and eight legislators, has 45 days to draw new maps for the state’s 100 House of Delegates districts and 40 State Senate districts. The commission has 60 days to draw maps for Virginia’s 11 Congressional districts.
The maps must be approved by a supermajority of commissioners and pass the state legislature with at least a simple majority. If the commission or legislature fail to approve new maps, the task of establishing legislative districts falls to the Virginia Supreme Court.
Local officials now have data in hand to begin their redistricting efforts. The Louisa County Board of Supervisors discussed redistricting at several meetings earlier this year. Supervisors didn’t indicate whether they plan to draw their own districts or follow the state’s lead and allow citizens a direct role in the process.
Given the late arrival of census data, new maps won’t be in place for this November’s state and local elections.
Councilors back off efforts to annul Mineral town charter: After pushback from residents, Mineral’s Town Council reversed course on efforts to annul the town’s charter. According to The Central Virginian, councilors voted unanimously to rescind the action supported by a split council at its July 12 meeting.
Councilor Ed Jarvis, who led the effort to abandon Mineral’s status as a town, explained that he was motivated to do so because citizens pay taxes to the town but get little in return.
“We just passed a budget for $1.2 million,” he said. “What do you get for $1.2 million? You get your trash picked up, but what else? We can do better.”
Mineral resident Susan Groome told the council that she doesn’t mind paying taxes to both the county and the town.
“Believe me, if I did, I would have my rear end out of here. But that’s not the be-all-end-all of living in this town,” she said.
Chamber to host broadband forum for businesses: The Louisa County Chamber of Commerce will host a broadband forum for local business leaders this Monday, August 16, from 8:30 to 9:30 am at the Louisa Arts Center, 212 Fredericksburg Ave.
The forum will include opening remarks from Louisa County Administrator Christian Goodwin and a panel discussion featuring David Walker, Director of Rural Broadband at Dominion Energy Virginia, Gary Wood, President and CEO of Firefly Fiber Broadband, and John Hewa, President and CEO of Rappahannock Electric Cooperative.
Panelists will discuss the ongoing effort to bring universal broadband to Louisa County, benefits for local businesses, impacts on customers or potential customers, and ways to support the initiative in the community.
Kelly Avellino of NBC 12 News will moderate the forum.
The event is open to business leaders serving Louisa County. Register and learn more 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.