This week in county government; Planners to consider solar facility, sign regulations, and more; Light agenda for supervisors' Dec. 6 meeting
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, Dec. 6 through Dec. 11
Monday, December 6
Louisa County Board of Supervisors, Public Meeting Room, 1 Woolfolk Ave., Louisa, 6 pm. The board will convene in closed session at 5 pm. (agenda packet, livestream) Supervisors will consider a light agenda Monday night including one public hearing, one discussion item, and two presentations. See below for more information.
Tuesday, December 7
Louisa County School Board, Central Office Administration Building, 953 Davis Highway, Mineral, 7 pm. (agenda)
Wednesday, December 8
James River Water Authority, Fluvanna County Public Library, 214 Commons Blvd., Palmyra, 9 am. (agenda packet)
Louisa County Water Authority, Public Meeting Room, 1 Woolfolk Ave., Louisa, 6 pm. (public notice) At publication time, an agenda was not publicly available.
Thursday, December 9
Louisa County Planning Commission long-range planning work session, Public Meeting Room, 1 Woolfolk Ave., Louisa, 6 pm. (agenda packet) The Planning Commission will convene for a work session to discuss the county’s Capital Improvement Plan, part of the annual budget process. Commissioners will also hear a pair of presentations from Dominion Energy focusing on battery storage for solar energy and the company’s community solar program.
Louisa County Planning Commission, Public Meeting Room, 1 Woolfolk Ave., Louisa, 7 pm. (agenda packet, livestream) Commissioners will hold four public hearings and consider a rezoning request tabled at their previous meeting. See below for more information.
Chickahominy Pipeline LLC Virtual Open House, virtual meeting, 6:30 pm. The developer of the proposed Chickahominy Pipeline, a roughly 83-mile pipeline that would carry fracked gas from the Transco Pipeline in western Louisa County to a yet-to-be constructed natural gas plant in Charles City County, will hold a virtual open house to discuss the project Thursday night. A link to livestream and participate in the event will be posted on the company’s website. Submit questions to email@example.com.
This event is hosted by Chickahominy Pipeline LLC and is not affiliated with Louisa County government.
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.
In busy meeting, planners to consider solar facility, sign regulations, and more
The Louisa County Planning Commission will consider a packed agenda Thursday night including four public hearings. Commissioners will also consider a rezoning request tabled at their November 18 meeting.
Public Hearing: considering Two Oaks Solar LLC’s request for a Conditional Use Permit to construct and operate an up to 118 MW solar array and an up to 50 MW battery storage system between the towns of Louisa and Mineral: Commissioners will hear public comment and consider whether to recommend to the Board of Supervisors approval of Two Oaks Solar LLC’s request for a Conditional Use Permit to construct and operate an up to 118 MW solar array and an up to 50 MW battery storage system on parts of 1234 acres between the towns of Louisa and Mineral. The applicant also plans to construct a substation and transmission lines.
The site includes more than 50 parcels primarily located north of Davis Highway (Route 22) between Chopping Road (Route 623) and Chalklevel Road (Route 625). Much of the property is zoned Industrial (IND) but it also includes parcels zoned General Agricultural (A-2) and General Residential (R-2). All but six parcels lie within the Mineral Growth Area Overlay District and are designated for industrial use on the Future Land Use Map in the 2040 Comprehensive Plan. The remaining parcels are designated rural/agricultural. Currently, most of the site is covered in pine trees.
The Louisa County Industrial Development Authority owns about 800 acres of the property, which comprises the Cooke Industrial Rail Park. The William A. Cooke Foundation owns more than 400 acres, mainly via Rail Park North LLC. Several smaller parcels, owned by Isaiah Sims, Betty Sims, Stella and Lowry Davis, Kim and Phillip Harris, and Clarence and Edna Moubray, are also included in the project.
The facility would connect to Dominion Energy’s electric grid via a nearby 230 kV transmission line. According to a preliminary site layout, the battery storage system would be located in the southeastern corner of the facility on a parcel zoned industrial. A new transmission line would connect to a proposed substation off Old County Road (Route 746). Entrances to the solar site would be located along Chopping and Chalklevel Roads. Two Oaks, a subsidiary of NCRE Solar, estimates that construction could begin in late 2022.
While Louisa County is already home to hundreds of acres of solar panels, battery storage systems are a new technology for the county. In its land use application, Two Oaks explains that the system would include a bank of fully enclosed lithium-ion batteries. The batteries would store power produced by the panels, allowing for its redistribution on to the grid during peak demand.
The applicant notes that battery storage is a relatively new technology. With that in mind, Louisa County Fire and EMS staff would receive specialized training to ensure they are “knowledgeable about and prepared for any potential interaction with the technology.”
As required by county regulations, the solar facility would include a 150-foot vegetative buffer to screen it from view. The applicant notes that mature trees exist around much of the property and such vegetation would, generally, comprise 75 feet of the buffer. In areas where vegetation is insufficient, the applicant would plant 45 feet of fast-growing, non-invasive, evergreens. The remainder of the buffer strip would consist of pollinator plantings.
Louisa County has embraced a phased approached to utility-scale solar development in an effort to address stormwater runoff and erosion and sediment control issues. Problems with runoff have plagued Dominion’s Belcher Solar Facility off Waldrop Church Road where some 1,100 acres were cleared and no phased construction required.
Two Oaks proposes to construct the project in three phases, encompassing from 201 to 386 acres. County planning staff recommends that the applicant employ a nine-phase construction plan, with no phase exceeding 100 acres. Each phase would require soil stabilization, via specified measures and approval by county staff.
Two Oaks plans to implement various other erosion and sediment control measures including silt fencing, diversion dikes, and sediment basins. Throughout construction, crews would employ dust control, straw mulching, and seeding immediately following grading activities to minimize exposed soils. Where practical, grading activities will be sequenced to minimize the number of open soils exposed at one time, per the application. Two Oaks anticipates including 67 permanent sediment basins.
The applicant would limit traffic to and from the facility during peak hours and employ other traffic control measures as necessary. Two Oaks estimates that, during the nine to 12-month construction period, the facility would generate about 10 truck trips and 30 car trips per day. The facility would create little traffic once constructed.
Two Oaks projects that the site, including the solar array and battery storage system, could contribute over $15 million in tax revenue to the county over its 35-year lifespan. The applicant also notes that the William A. Cooke Foundation, which is leasing more than 400 acres for the project, could increase its funds for local grant-making and scholarships by $700,000 a year.
Among other charitable endeavors, the foundation provides thousands of dollars in scholarships annually to Louisa County High School students and recently gifted $1 million to Louisa Little League for the construction of a new baseball and softball complex on land it donated near Cuckoo.
The Louisa County Industrial Development Authority would also draw significant revenue from the project. The IDA signed a ground lease agreement with Two Oaks last year. The lease included a $45,000 up-front payment to the authority. If the facility is built, the IDA would receive about $700 an acre annually for usable land under lease during the life of the solar array.
Economic Development Director Andy Wade said earlier this year that the funds would allow the authority to pay down a note on the property. The IDA would likely dedicate additional revenue to promoting economic development and industrial growth in the county, according to Wade. The Cooke Foundation sold the rail park to the authority in 2015.
If approved, the facility would be the seventh utility scale-solar site okayed by county officials and the first to include a battery storage system. Of the six approved sites, only Dominion’s Belcher and Whitehouse facilities have been constructed. Three of the six sites were green-lighted in 2021.
Public Hearing: amending sign regulations to prohibit the display of vulgar, obscene, indecent, or profane language: Commissioners will hear public comment and consider whether to recommend to the Board of Supervisors approval of an amendment to county sign regulations that prohibits “any sign that displays vulgar, obscene, indecent, or profane language.”
Mountain Road District Supervisor Tommy Barlow proposed the amendment at supervisors’ November 1 meeting in response to constituents’ concerns about a cluster of vulgar political signs in eastern Louisa. He recently attended a funeral where several constituents complained to him about the signs, he said.
Earlier in the meeting, Amy and Nathan Ware expressed their frustration about the signs, noting that they prominently display the F-word and are located close to their Wisteria Lane home in the Jackson District. Nathan Ware said that school buses pass the signs daily and he doesn’t think it’s appropriate that children see them.
Barlow said that he crafted the proposed amendment based on federal regulations that seek to limit “vulgar, obscene, indecent, or profane language” over public airwaves.
Supervisors opted unanimously to send the proposal to the Planning Commission for discussion. At their November 18 meeting, commissioners agreed to move forward with a public hearing. Supervisors have the final say on whether to amend the sign regulations, which would require an additional public hearing.
“I’ve been getting complaints from my constituents about signs on the side of the road that their children have to see. I agree with the First Amendment. You should be able to speak freely. But, I think this goes beyond that. For our citizens who were raised properly and don’t see this as language that should be displayed out in the public, they want to know what we are doing and why we allow this kind of trash to go on,” Barlow told the Planning Commission. “If it turns out that this is what’s allowed by federal and state law then so be it. But, what I want my constituents to know and people in Louisa County is that we don’t condone it and that we are doing what we can so that this stuff is not displayed on the side of the road.”
If supervisors decide to adopt the amendment, they will find themselves on shaky constitutional ground, per court precedent.
In Cohen vs. California, a 1971 Supreme Court case, the high court ruled that, generally, government can’t criminalize the public display of profane language. The case was brought after the arrest of a Vietnam War protester who wore a jacket adorned with the words, “F- the draft” into a California courthouse.
Earlier this year, a Virginia Beach resident placed a large, profane sign on a fence around their home, upsetting neighbors. A Virginia Beach official told the Virginia Pilot that the city couldn’t do anything about the sign because local government prohibiting speech violates the First Amendment. Exceptions apply in the case of threats, some forms of libel, and speech that incites violence. Courts have also permitted bans on some hate speech and some sexually-explicit speech.
Currently, the county’s sign ordinance prohibits political signs on county property, signs that violate state laws governing outdoor advertising or violate other state and federal laws, and signs that could impact public safety.
Public safety prohibitions include signs that feature the words “stop” or “danger” and/or could be confused with a sign displayed by a public authority, some signs that display flashing lights and cause glare, signs that obstruct building entrances and exits, and signs that interfere with those displayed by public authorities for the purpose of providing traffic instruction and other public information.
Public Hearing: amending land development regulations-motor vehicle impoundment yard & towing services: Commissioners will hear public comment and consider whether to recommend to the Board of Supervisors approval of amendments to county land development regulations regarding the establishment and operation of towing services and motor vehicle impoundment yards.
The proposed amendments have been months in the making. Community Development Director Robert Gardner told commissioners earlier this year that several people had approached the county in hopes of establishing a towing yard. But, county regulations don’t define such a use so it’s currently not permitted, according to Gardner.
Staff and planners worked to craft a definition of “towing yard.” They eventually opted to delete the existing definition of “impoundment lot” and add definitions for “motor vehicle impoundment yard” and “motor vehicle towing services.” In addition, the proposed amendments establish Conditional Use Permit criteria for a “motor vehicle impoundment yard” and designate the zoning districts where these uses would be allowed.
In short, motor vehicle impoundment yards would include facilities that store “motor vehicles towed or otherwise removed from one place to another by the use of a motor vehicle specifically designed for that purpose. Storage of towed vehicles means the keeping of such vehicles in an approved impoundment yard for a time not to exceed that which is required to return it to the owner or dispose of it in accordance with the Code of Virginia, state and local law enforcement, judiciary order, or insurance settlement.”
Motor vehicle towing services would cover smaller operations that tow but only temporarily store vehicles. Such services are defined, in part, as a “business that tows or otherwise moves vehicles from one place to another by the use of a motor vehicle specifically designed for that purpose. Motor Vehicle Towing Services may include the temporary storage of motor vehicles. For towing services that store less than six (6) vehicles, the business is exempt from fencing, visual barriers, or other local ordinances that apply to Motor Vehicle Impoundment Yards. Towing services that temporarily store less than six (6) vehicles may do so up to thirty (30) days.”
The proposed amendments lay out a range of criteria specific to Conditional Use Permits for a “motor vehicle impoundment yard.” For example, the use would require an opaque security fence a minimum of eight feet tall that encircles the entire impoundment yard. Impoundment yards and towing services would be permitted via CUPs in Industrial (IND), Industrial Limited (I-1), and Industrial General (I-2) zoning designations in Growth Area Overlay Districts.
Gardner noted during a November 18 work session that the proposed regulations would only impact the county’s existing towing services if they sought to expand operations or start a new business.
Public Hearing: considering Newcomb and Farmhouse 5 LLC’s request for a Conditional Use Permit to establish an agricultural operation on property zoned residential: Commissioners will hear public comment and consider whether to recommend to the Board of Supervisors approval of Newcomb and Farmhouse 5 LLC’s request for a Conditional Use Permit to establish an agricultural operation on three adjoining parcels zoned General Residential (R-2).
The properties (tmp 97 68A, 97 68 B, and 97 68 C) cover about 8.2 acres located along Owens Creek Road in the Mountain Road Voting District and lie between a larger parcel owned by the applicant, Nathan and Chelsea Newcomb. The land is surrounded by properties zoned Agricultural (A-1, A-2) and General Residential (R-2).
According to the land use application, the Newcombs hope to establish a farmette with a garden and some livestock. They note that they won’t use public utilities and the operation will have no impact on roads.
Louisa County’s land development regulations allow for passive agricultural activity on property zoned residential by-right including the cultivation of crops and silviculture. But, keeping and raising farm animals and fowl is specifically excluded, requiring a CUP on R-2-zoned property.
The applicant, along with Louisa County’s Community Development Department, hosted a neighborhood meeting on November 10. Two people spoke in opposition to the CUP, per the staff report. They expressed concerns about the proximity of livestock to residential dwellings, the lack of details regarding the number and kinds of animals that the Newcombs plan to raise, and the animals’ impact on water supply, among other issues.
County planning staff recommends approval of the CUP with several conditions including that the county has the right to inspect the property without notice and a prohibition on swine, alpacas, and llamas.
Continuing the consideration of Louisa Mini Storage LLC’s rezoning request: At their November 18 meeting, planners tabled a vote on an application to rezone for commercial use about four and a half acres adjacent to the Louisa County Industrial Air Park. They plan to revisit the matter Thursday night.
Louisa Mini Storage applied to rezone to General Commercial (C-2) two parcels along Davis Highway (Route 22) just east of its intersection with Industrial Drive (Route 780) in the Mineral Voting District. One parcel (tmp 41-207) encompasses 4.214 acres, currently zoned Industrial (IND). The adjoining parcel (tmp 41-208) includes 0.479 acres, currently zoned General Agricultural (A-2). The forested properties are included in the Louisa Growth Area and designated for industrial use on the Future Land Use Map in the 2040 Comprehensive Plan.
Brandon and Darrell Payne, who own Louisa Mini Storage LLC, plan to build and operate an approximately 72,000-square foot self-storage facility on the property. The Paynes run a similar business in Greene County.
Planners worried about the rezoning’s potential impact on an already-congested area with residential dwellings nearby, expressing particular concern that the applicant only offered to exclude five potential uses for the site in its proffers. C-2 zoning allows for more than 40 by-right uses, according to county land development regulations.
“For whatever reason, if you decide you aren’t going to go forward with this project and you sell the land, 43 uses are on the table that convey with the property and there are some on there that I just would not vote for,” Cuckoo District Commissioner George Goodwin told the applicant, noting that a future property owner could operate a grocery store at the site under C-2 zoning.
The Paynes agreed to consider excluding other potential uses for the property. According to a revised proffer statement, the applicant now offers to exclude 13 uses including a grocery store.
Light agenda for supervisors’ Dec. 6 meeting
The Louisa County Board of Supervisors has a light agenda for its meeting Monday night including a public hearing to consider establishing a community development authority at Cutalong, presentations by the Louisa County Chamber of Commerce and the Fluvanna/Louisa Housing Foundation, and a discussion about potentially purchasing real estate in the Louisa County Industrial Air Park.
Public hearing on establishing a community development authority at Cutalong: Supervisors will hear public comment and consider whether to approve the establishment of a community development authority serving the Cutalong community at Lake Anna.
Community development authorities are permitted under Virginia law to finance infrastructure for specific developments via bonds. Generally, those bonds are paid off over time by property owners in the CDA district via taxes and/or special assessments generated by the new development. CDAs require authorization by the locality where they would be established.
Cutalong representatives proposed the creation of a CDA to cover the cost of infrastructure for their project at the board’s November 1 meeting. The development, located off Route 208 near the Lake Anna Food Lion, is already home to a golf course and is expected to include townhomes, single-family homes, golf cottages, and other resort amenities. The CDA district would include about 723 acres.
Mike Graff, a public finance attorney with McGuire Woods, told the board that Cutalong's developer plans to create the authority primarily to finance water and sewer improvements. He likened the CDA structure to a homeowners’ association, only the county would serve as the collection agency for the assessment and distribute the money to the development.
“It’s not a tax that’s imposed on folks without their consent. Rather, it’s an assessment that a developer imposes on himself and his land. When he, in turn, sells land to home builders and, ultimately, to people that purchase residences in the development, the assessment has already been imposed, it’s recorded in the land records and travels with title to the property, and it’s completely disclosed to anyone that purchases property within the district,” Graff explained.
Discussion on potential real estate acquisition at Louisa County Industrial Air Park: Supervisors will continue to discuss an opportunity to buy an office building and adjoining lot in the Louisa County Industrial Air Park. The potential acquisition was first publicly discussed at the board’s November 22 meeting.
County Administrator Christian Goodwin told supervisors that a pair of properties located along Industrial Drive are up for sale including a roughly 5.4-acre parcel, home to an office building that formerly housed Virginia Community Bank’s corporate offices, and an adjoining 3.95-acre lot. Supervisors gave Goodwin a green light to explore buying the properties, which are now owned by Blue Ridge Bank. Blue Ridge Bank bought Virginia Community Bank in 2019.
The office building and lot (tmp 41B 1 4) are assessed at about $1.86 million while the vacant adjoining parcel (tmp 41 200) is assessed at $172,400, per county records.
Goodwin said that the opportunity to buy the properties comes as the Louisa County Health Department’s lease on its current workspace is drawing to a close. The department, located in trailers adjacent to the Betty Queen Center, has reached out to the county in hopes of finding a more permanent home.
Goodwin suggested that acquiring the office building would provide local government increased flexibility in where to place its services and purchasing the vacant parcel would offer room for future growth.
Presentation from the Chamber of Commerce and Fluvanna/Louisa Housing Foundation: Supervisors will hear an update from a pair of community organizations: the Louisa County Chamber of Commerce and the Fluvanna/Louisa Housing Foundation.
The chamber periodically briefs the board on its work, which includes marketing initiatives to promote local businesses, leadership development programs, community events, and other endeavors.
The housing foundation is updating the board on its efforts just ahead of the FY23 budget process. The organization provides “services and programs that help income eligible citizens afford and improve their living conditions, stay in their homes longer, and live safely in the community,” per its website. Specifically, the foundation runs the county’s Housing Choice Voucher program, provides emergency home repairs, and builds ramps for home accessibility, among other services. The board allotted $25,600 to the foundation in FY22.
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.