This week in county government; Supervisors again defer public hearing for Zion Town Center; BOS recap; PC green-lights Centerville Road rezoning request
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, Feb. 13 through Feb. 18
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).
Tuesday, February 14
Finance Committee, Administration Conference Room, Louisa County Office Building, 1 Woolfolk Ave., Louisa, 9 am.
Wednesday, February 15
Community Policy Management Team, Executive Board Room, Louisa County Office Building, 1 Woolfolk Ave., Louisa, 1 pm.
Louisa County Water Authority, Public Meeting Room, Louisa County Office Building, 1 Woolfolk Ave., Louisa, 6 pm.
Thursday, February 16
Louisa County Industrial Development Authority, Public Meeting Room, Louisa County Office Building, 1 Woolfolk Ave., Louisa, 8:30 am.
Monday, February 13
CANCELED: Mineral Town Council, 312 Mineral Ave., Mineral, 7 pm.
Thursday, February 16
Candidate Information Session, Public Meeting Room, Louisa County Office Building, 1 Woolfolk Ave., Louisa, 6 pm.
The Louisa County Registrar’s Office will host an information session for candidates interested in running for office this November. Tammy Alexander, campaign finance compliance and training specialist with the Virginia Department of Elections, is the featured speaker. Alexander will explain campaign finance rules, reporting requirements, and procedures, and attendees will have an opportunity to ask questions.
Learn more about what’s on the ballot this November here.
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.
Supervisors again defer public hearing for Zion Town Center
Another controversial public hearing, another delay.
At the applicant’s request, the Louisa County Board of Supervisors on Monday night deferred until its March 6 meeting a public hearing on Emerson-Roper Companies, LLC’s request to add 124 dwellings to Zion Town Center, a Planned Unit Development already approved for 599 units and nearly 275,000-square feet of commercial space behind Walmart at Zion Crossroads (tmp 52-12-4).
The deferral marks the second time supervisors have delayed consideration of the request. The first came at the board’s December 19 meeting when the developer asked to defer the hearing because Patrick Henry District Supervisor Fitzgerald Barnes couldn’t attend the meeting. The property lies in Barnes’ district.
Supervisors have delayed other contentious public hearings in recent months. At the applicant’s request, they twice put off consideration of a hotly contested rezoning for a mixed-use development at Lake Anna before holding the hearing and green-lighting the request in January. And last September, they yanked from the agenda a public hearing on controversial regulations for short-term rentals, referring the proposal back to a county work group. Rules for short-term rentals haven’t made it back in front of the board.
Supervisors and county staff didn’t offer much insight into why the developer opted to postpone the hearing during Monday’s meeting. Barnes motioned to defer the item, saying only that the county received “a written request to delay the hearing” from the applicant.
County Attorney Helen Phillips said in an email on Tuesday that county officials were notified of Emerson-Roper’s request at about 3:30 Monday afternoon. Phillips said the applicant made the request “to obtain additional information.”
Emerson-Roper has contracted to buy the 90-acre residential portion of Zion Town Center from Zions Town Center, LLC, which won board approval to rezone the 113-acre property for mixed-used development in 2019. The Chesterfield-based developer wants to put its own spin on the residential section, requesting amendments to the PUD’s proffers and master plan to increase the number of dwellings to 723, tweak the community’s layout and design, and focus more heavily on townhomes.
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 housing supply in the county’s fastest growing area by offering “attainable” living options that appeal to a range of demographics from empty-nesters looking to downsize to young workers settling into their first home.
Specifically, the developer would increase the number of townhomes from 99 to 275, decrease the number of single-family detached homes from 164 to 112, and maintain the number of apartments at 336 albeit with a revamped design that replaces 14 walk-up apartment buildings with two fully enclosed elevator-serviced structures. The rental apartments would include gathering spaces, a pool, and gym. The project could reach full buildout within the next decade, according to Emerson-Roper.
The proposal has received mixed reaction from neighbors. Some say they welcome more rooftops because they’ll increase the housing stock and help draw craved-for commercial amenities like a new grocery store while other contend that additional residential development would clog roads, tax county services, and detract from the area’s rural character. Some residents have also argued that Emerson-Roper’s plan doesn’t include sufficient affordable housing.
But, the project has met the most forceful pushback form Historic Green Springs Inc., a land preservation group dedicated to protecting the Green Springs National Historic Landmark District just to north of Zion Crossroads. The group has long feuded with the county over the area’s water supply, contending that the public wells that service Zion don’t have enough capacity to support continued development.
The county’s long-term water plan is a pipeline to the James River that, when complete, will channel millions of gallons of water to development along the Interstate 64 corridor. The final stage of the project is currently winding its way through the state and federal permitting process and could be complete within the next three to four years.
In a January 31 email to Phillips, Rae Ely, writing on behalf of HGSI, said that supervisors should send Emerson-Roper’s application back to the Planning Commission because they don’t have a valid recommendation from that body. Ely said that when the Planning Commission reviewed the proposal in November—and voted 5-1 to recommend approval—it didn’t have access to a May 2021 study from Dewberry Engineering that concluded the wells, at their current capacity limit, don’t have adequate water to support the proposed dwellings.
“Had such study been made available to the public and the Planning Commission they would have seen that there was insufficient water to grant the request of the applicant and in fact there was insufficient water to supply a development of 723 units and in fact there was only water sufficient to supply a development of 359 units,” Ely wrote.
Emerson-Roper representative Jeffrey Geiger has insisted adequate water is available. But he’s said that, more importantly, the developer addressed concerns about water in a proffer, first agreed to during the property’s 2019 rezoning. The proffer acknowledges that public water is available on a “first come, first serve” basis and the county will limit building permits based on availability. Supervisors adopted a policy in 2019 to cap the water usage in the wells at 75 percent of their permitted capacity.
Geiger has also said that he’s hopeful water from the James River will eventually arrive, relieving pressure on Zion’s wells.
Beyond water, the developer has maintained that its proposed changes would have limited impact on county services and traffic. Geiger has pointed to studies paid for by the developer that suggest the additional 124 units would add only 9 school age children to the 165 anticipated from the already-approved 599 dwellings and only about 30 car trips during peak hours over what’s projected from the approved plan.
He attributes those low numbers to the type of housing Emerson-Roper proposes, noting that townhomes tend to draw residents with fewer children, meaning less impact on schools and fewer trips around the neighborhood. To mitigate the impact on traffic, the developer has agreed to implement to same traffic improvements approved in 2019 including adding and enhancing turn lanes and through lanes at Camp Creek Parkway’s intersections with Route 15 and Market Street.
In response to concerns about Emergency Services and housing affordability, Emerson-Roper agreed to pay a nearly $124,000 cash proffer to the county’s Fire and EMS Department and to build at least 24 two-story townhomes, which would start at a lower price point than large units. Emerson-Roper also agreed to reserve 10 of those units for Habitat for Humanity of Greater Charlottesville. The latter proffer is contingent on the developer and Habitat agreeing on a purchase contract for the units.
Three residents spoke in opposition to Emerson-Roper’s request during the meeting’s public comment period, with two suggesting there’s insufficient water to support the project and the third complaining that the development is another example of undesirable “sprawl.”
A fourth speaker, Patrick Henry District resident Sue Frankel Streit, said that when considering large housing developments like Zion Town Center, supervisors should insist that developers include housing that’s affordable for Louisa County residents, pointing out that some community members can’t find homes within their budget.
“Are any of our unhoused community members going to be able to afford any of these places,” Frankel Streit asked. “I ask that you demand that developers of new housing set aside some percent for people who can’t afford anything currently available.”
BOS recap: Real estate tax assessments jump again this year
While supervisors didn’t consider the marquee issue on their agenda Monday night, the board did discuss several other items, from the FY24 budget to roaming livestock. Here’s a meeting roundup.
Real estate tax assessments up about 14 percent excluding new construction as board begins work on FY24 budget: Homeowners in Louisa County are seeing their real estate tax assessments climb again this year.
Finance Director Wanda Colvin told the Board of Supervisors on Monday night that, on average, assessments are up some 14 percent excluding new construction and up about 17 percent when factoring in improvements and new homes. The increase follows a significant jump last year when assessments on homes, excluding new construction, rose more than 12 percent, prompting some residents to urge the board to cut the real estate tax rate.
Since 2015, the real estate tax rate has sat at 72 cents per $100 of assessed value and it currently ranks as one of the lowest among surrounding counties. Supervisors will determine where to set this year’s rate as part of the annual budget process.
Colvin addressed the assessments as part of a preliminary discussion of budget projections for Fiscal Year 2024. She said that anticipated revenues and expenses for the coming fiscal year, which kicks off July 1, are outpacing last year’s projections.
County revenues are expected to rise about 11.5 percent, or $16.15 million, over last year, Colvin said, reaching nearly $157 million. That’s driven largely by increases in real estate and personal property tax revenue. Based on the current tax rates, revenue from real estate taxes is projected to rise some 17 percent, about $7.45 million, while revenue from personal property taxes could jump as much as 24 percent, roughly $2.75 million.
The county’s personal property tax rate is $2.43 per $100 of assessed value for individuals, the lowest rate in the area. Supervisors will also set that rate when crafting next year’s budget.
Other tax revenue is also on the rise, Colvin said. Meal taxes are expected to come in 16.7 percent higher, or $250,000, while lodging taxes are estimated to increase 28.3 percent or $85,000. Sales tax revenue is up albeit a more modest 1.75 percent or $100,000.
Operating expenses are expected to increase as well, Colvin said, reaching $149.6 million based on preliminary funding requests. That’s 10.6 percent, or $14.4 million, more than last year.
A variety of factors are driving up expenses, Colvin said, including an anticipated 13.5 percent hike in employees’ health insurance costs, a potential five percent pay raise for staff, a pay raise for part-time hourly workers to a minimum of $15 an hour, and departmental requests for 14 additional staff positions.
The staffing requests include three new positions at the Louisa County Sheriff’s Office, eight new firefighters/medics and one part-time staffer to handle logistics for the FEMS Department, and two animal control attendants. If funded, those positions could add more than $1 million in operating expenses.
Funding requests from outside agencies and Louisa County Public Schools have also risen, Colvin said with outside groups asking for $884,000 more than last year and LCPS’s request up $7.5 million, a significant portion of which will be offset by revenues from state and federal sources.
Outside of the operating budget, Colvin said that capital spending requests are up $38.6 million over last year as several big-ticket infrastructure projects, including completing the James River Water Project, purchasing and upgrading a wastewater treatment plant at Lake Anna, and bringing wet utilities to the Shannon Hill Regional Business Park, are on supervisors’ spending agenda. Preliminary capital requests total more than $49 million.
Colvin said that supervisors could use an anticipated $7.27 million operating surplus to help cover capital expenses. They also have about $6.1 million in the general fund and more than $15 million in capital reserves.
Colvin emphasized that the numbers presented Monday night are just a preliminary look at the budget as supervisors haven’t decided what to fund or where to set tax rates. The county is also waiting on a final state budget.
The board will hold a two-hour budget work session on Tuesday, February 21 at 3 pm—just prior to their next meeting—to dig into the specifics of the spending plan.
Senate, House budget proposals include money for HAB mitigation: The General Assembly could fund efforts to mitigate Harmful Algal Blooms at Lake Anna.
During his county administrator’s report, Christian Goodwin told supervisors that proposed budget amendments released by the House of Delegates and state Senate last week include money to address the blooms.
The House spending plan directs $1 million to the Department of Conservation and Recreation “to support cyanobacteria mitigation and remediation efforts at Lake Anna" while the Senate budget bill calls for $500,000, according to the state budget website.
Lawmakers will hammer out changes to the budget over the next several weeks, drawing on both chambers’ proposals and amendments recommended by Governor Glenn Youngkin (R) in December.
Composed of toxin-producing cyanobacteria that can be detrimental to human health and harmful to wildlife and pets, HAB is a persistent problem at the lake. The blooms prompted the Virginia Department of Health to issue no-swim advisories for the body’s upper reaches every summer since 2018 and the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality to add part of the lake to its list of impaired waterways last year.
Over the last several years, supervisors have sounded the alarm about the blooms and their potential impact on the health of the lake and the local economy. Their efforts bore significant fruit last year when state Senator Mark Peake (R-SD22) helped secure $3.5 million for the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality to study HAB at Lake Anna and in the Shenandoah River and develop long-term mitigation strategies.
But supervisors have said there’s also a pressing need to fund near-term mitigation efforts. They sent a letter to Youngkin last fall urging the governor to push for money to support immediate measures.
“While we expect DEQ’s study to eventually produce useful and actionable information, that process will likely take many years to come to fruition. Meanwhile, there is an immediate need for treatment and mitigation of HABs at Lake Anna using any number of proven treatments that can help ensure the lake remains safe, open, and economically viable,” the letter states.
The letter highlights local, grassroots efforts to mitigate the blooms, particularly the work of the Lake Anna Civic Association. Through a fundraising campaign, LACA started a pilot treatment program last summer deploying a product called Lake Guard Oxy at four test sites. The product has been used to combat algae and cyanobacteria in other waterways.
Youngkin didn’t include funding for HAB mitigation in his proposed budget amendments, but Peake filed a budget amendment in the Senate and Delegate Scott Wyatt (R-HD97) of Hanover County carried an amendment in the House.
Community members express need for emergency shelter: Multiple community members spoke during the meeting’s public comment period to express concerns about housing affordability in Louisa County and the dire need for an emergency shelter.
Sue Frankel Streit and Ericka Williams Rodriguez told supervisors that they regularly encounter people in Louisa unable to find housing, pointing out that the county doesn’t have a sustainable program to help unhoused residents and neither do most local nonprofits.
Frankel Streit said that after she encountered “the fourth homeless family in as many weeks,” she began researching local resources. She said that the only transitional housing she could find in Louisa was The Journey Home, a small nonprofit with limited space that doesn’t accept men.
Frankel Streit and Williams Rodriguez said that, with nowhere else to turn, some community members end up staying at a local motel for as long as they can afford it. They urged the board to use county resources to establish an emergency shelter.
“There are many families living in the local motel here, the Loyalty Inn, some for eight months or more. These families are in an endless cycle of poverty, paying $92 a night to live in conditions that are not suitable for families long-term,” Williams Rodriguez said. “I have paid the room cost on several occasions for families who would otherwise be left to spend the night in their cars. I have two children myself and one on the way. It is the county’s responsibility to provide housing for its neediest residents. In this motel, I have come across families with disabled children, elderly widows with no family and people who are working to provide for their families and feel stuck in this cycle of paying the high cost of living in a motel.”
“These unhoused people, who I’ve met and maybe some of you have met, are members of our community and they are your constituents. There’s clearly both an emergency need and an ongoing need for safe and affordable housing,” Frankel Streit said.
While supervisors didn’t respond directly to Frankel Streit and Williams Rodriguez, Cuckoo District Supervisor Willie Gentry said later in the meeting that he’s aware community members are facing a housing crunch and there aren’t resources to meet their needs.
“We had a lady that was staying at our church on the sidewalk and, for three months, I called everywhere that I could call. I couldn’t find a single place that she could go to,” Gentry said. “Since rent and other things have gone up in the county, it’s really gotten to be a bad situation, so there probably is some need for some sort of emergency shelter.”
Supes direct Ag/Forestal and Rural Preservation Committee to discuss at-large livestock: The board directed the Ag/Forestal and Rural Preservation Committee to consider ways the county could potentially address livestock running at large.
Some residents have complained at recent Board of Supervisors meetings that farm animals frequently trespass on their property and, at times, cause damage, but the county has no way to correct the problem.
Supervisors discussed the issue Monday night, reviewing a memo from Assistant County Attorney Kyle Eldridge, which states that the county doesn’t currently have a legal mechanism for reining in roaming livestock. The only legal recourse for a Louisa citizen harmed by at-large livestock is to sue the owner or manager of the livestock for trespass, according to the memo. The damages are limited to $20 for a first offense and double damages for every subsequent offense, per state code.
Eldridge points out that both Goochland and Spotsylvania counties specifically address trespassing livestock in their code. Goochland’s ordinance states that three violations within a six-month period constitutes a Class 4 misdemeanor while Spotsylvania’s ordinance makes the trespassing of livestock unlawful but provides no penalties.
Board members were reluctant to move forward with a discussion about changes to code without consulting farmers and other stakeholders.
Mineral District Supervisor Duane Adams said that residents who’ve raised concerns about roaming farm animals at recent meetings seemed to be complaining about neighbors raising animals on small parcels, not large-scale agricultural operations. He said the board needs to be careful not to “harm our agricultural community” when considering any potential action.
Green Springs District Supervisor Rachel Jones agreed that the problem mainly stems from what she termed “hobby farmers,” but expressed concern that animal control officers have no recourse to address citizen complaints.
“We don’t want to hinder our agricultural community with this. But we are getting a lot of small hobby farmers who are coming to Louisa, getting five acres of land and putting pigs, chickens, and goats on them and not understanding, like our farmers do, what actual fencing is and what it takes to control these animals,” she said.
Mountain Road District Supervisor Tommy Barlow called Louisa a “rural, agricultural community” and said folks who move here “should expect animals to get out on occasion.”
At the suggestion of Jackson District Supervisor Toni Williams, the board opted to refer the issue to the Ag/Forestal and Rural Preservation Committee for its consideration. Williams noted the committee includes several community members heavily involved in farming.
Supervisors appropriate $11.59 million state grant to Shannon Hill Regional Business Park: Supervisors appropriated $11.59 million in state grant funding for site development at the Shannon Hill Regional Business Park.
The county received the money from the Virginia Economic Development Partnership’s Business Ready Sites program. In mid-January, the program doled out $90 million to 21 business and industrial parks across the state with Shannon Hill receiving the third largest allocation.
The county plans to use the money to develop water and sewer infrastructure at the park, a project that could begin as soon as this summer, according to Economic Development Director Andy Wade.
Wade requested $27.5 million in the FY24 Capital Improvement Plan for the project with the grant covering about 42 percent of that cost. Per state rules, the grant requires a 50/50 local match.
The Shannon Hill site covers about 700 acres in south-central Louisa County just north of Interstate 64. The county began developing the site in 2019 with an eye toward attracting distribution centers, manufacturers, or other large-scale economic development projects to diversify the tax base and create jobs. Since its inception, the project has received about $13.8 million in state grant funding, Wade said.
Board members applauded Wade’s work to secure the latest grant.
“It was only because of the work that was put in and the advocacy on your behalf and behalf of the county that we received the third highest grant in the state,” Mineral District Supervisor Duane Adams told Wade.
But Mountain Road District Supervisor Tommy Barlow took a slightly different view, noting that the grant requires matching local funds.
“I don’t want that to get overlooked. It’s still an awful lot of money that the county has got to put up,” Barlow said.
“It’s a lot less than what it was,” Wade responded.
Supervisors allocate up to $20k for VA250 committee work: At the request of Cuckoo District Supervisor Willie Gentry, the board unanimously approved an up to $20,000 appropriation for a county committee planning for Virginia’s commemoration of the 250th anniversary of American Independence.
In 2021, the General Assembly established the Virginia American Revolution 250 Commission (VA250), a body tasked with planning for and commemorating Virginia’s participation in American independence. The commission invited localities to form their own committees and appoint a liaison to coordinate with the group. Supervisors tapped Gentry, who serves as the board’s liaison to the county’s Parks, Recreation and Tourism committee, to lead local efforts.
Participating localities are eligible for state grant funding for anniversary-related events as well as access to traveling exhibits and teacher resources. Localities can also apply for American Rescue Plan Act funding that supports industries negatively impacted during the Covid-19 pandemic such as tourism, travel, and hospitality.
Gentry said at least some of the funding would be used to secure grants, but he didn’t provide any specific details about local plans.
The VA250 Commission began its work last year and planning and commemorative events will take place through 2026, the 250th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence.
Supes send proposal for changing zoning amendment effective date to Planning Commission: Supervisors voted unanimously to refer to the Planning Commission for a public hearing a proposed amendment to county code that would allow any property rezoned to residential (R-2) between February 2019 and February 2021 to be subdivided and developed in accordance with the county’s minimum lot size prior to a rewriting of the zoning code that changed lot size rules.
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 in the county that hadn’t been subdivided prior to the rule change falls under the new rules.
While he didn’t provide any details, Coon suggested that the Covid-19 pandemic had impacted at least one developer’s ability to complete plans for a subdivision on a parcel rezoned to R-2 prior to the county changing its rules. The amendment would allow the subdivision to include lots as small as 40,000-square feet.
Barlow, Purcell to dig into VDOT entrance requirements for family subdivisions: Supervisors briefly discussed concerns about Virginia Department of Transportation requirements for entrances to family subdivisions. Mountain Road District Supervisor Tommy Barlow first raised the issue at the board’s January 3 meeting, noting that department officials are interpreting their rules to require beefed up entrances for private subdivisions if they include more than two lots. After a brief discussion, Barlow and Louisa District Supervisor Eric Purcell agreed to serve in a work group that will meet with VDOT to discuss the issue.
PC green-lights Centerville Rd. rezoning request
The Louisa County Planning Commission on Thursday night green-lighted more residential development in the Lake Anna Growth Area.
Commissioners voted unanimously to recommend to the Board of Supervisors approval of Mercerville Land Trust’s request to rezone 33 acres (tmp 30-74A, 30-74B) from agricultural (A-1) to residential (R-2). The parcels are located across Centerville Road from Lakeshore Woods subdivision in an area designated for low-density residential development on the Future Land Use Map in the 2040 Comprehensive Plan. The forested property doesn’t have direct access to the lake.
Jefferson Jakubowski, a member of Mercerville Land Trust, told the Planning Commission that he and his partners plan to divide the property into a maximum of 13 lots, ranging from 1.6 acres to 5.2 acres. Under current 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, Jakubowski said, providing ample space for private entrances.
The proposed subdivision fits with the character of the surrounding community, Jakubowski said, noting that the area is home to several lakeside subdivisions with smaller lots, and it conforms with the county’s vision for the neighborhood per the Comp Plan.
While commissioners didn’t have concerns about additional residential development in the area, several took issue with 13 entrances along Centerville Road.
“When you look at the 2040 Comprehensive Plan referenced earlier, it calls for meaningful landscape buffers…it calls for promoting cluster development, which this land doesn’t (lend itself to)…and it strongly emphasizes employing shared lot entrances. I think that’s something we really need to consider,” Green Springs District Commissioner Jim Dickerson said.
Three speakers weighed in during the public hearing to express similar concerns, asking that the developer reduce the number of access points to the state road. Community members also asked that the lots include a vegetative buffer.
“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 to those concerns, Jakubowski submitted two proffers. In one, the developer agrees to include a 60-foot vegetative buffer along the road. In the other, the developer stipulates that adjoining lots will have co-located entrances, but separate driveways, reducing the access points to the road.
Those concessions satisfied commissioners. Goodwin motioned to recommend that supervisors approve the rezoning with the attached proffers, noting that they could be tweaked by county staff.
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