This week in county government; Update from BOS, Electoral Board, and TJPDC meetings; Federal earmarks could benefit Louisa
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, May 10-15)
Wednesday, May 12
James River Water Authority, Fluvanna County Public Library, 214 Commons Blvd., 9 am. Due to Covid-19 restrictions, the public is currently barred from attending JRWA meetings in person. Connect through Zoom here. At publication time, an agenda was not yet available.
JRWA, a joint venture between Louisa and Fluvanna counties, was formed in 2003 and is tasked with bringing sufficient water supply from the James River to meet the localities’ longterm needs.
In recent months, the authority has focused on identifying an alternative site for its water pump station along the James River. JRWA originally chose the controversial location, Rassawek, the former capital of the Monacan Indian Nation. That selection met widespread resistance from the Monacan and their allies. JRWA is now undertaking due diligence, including archeological fieldwork in consultation with the Monacan, at an alternative site upriver.
Louisa County Water Authority, Public Meeting Room, 1 Woolfolk Ave., 6 pm. (public notice) The public notice includes information about how to participate remotely.
The purpose of the LCWA, according to its Articles of Incorporation, is to provide water, sewage disposal and/or garbage collection and disposal services to Louisa County citizens.
Thursday, May 13
Louisa County Planning Commission Long Range Planning Work Session, Public Meeting Room, 1 Woolfolk Ave., 6 pm. (livestream)
The commission has a crowded agenda for its May meeting including 5 public hearings:
Growing Ag/Forestal Districts: Planners will hear public comment and consider the addition of 74 parcels covering nearly 5,400 acres to the Green Springs Ag/Forestal District in western Louisa County. The district currently includes 60 parcels and nearly 7,000 acres.
In a second public hearing, the commission will consider the creation of the Trevilian Station Agricultural and Forestal District. The proposed district will encompass 62 parcels and over 4,300 acres including land owned by the Trevilian Station Battlefield, Civil War Preservation Trust, and American Battlefield Trust, among others.
CUP for assisted living facility: The commission will hold a public hearing to consider whether to recommend to the Board of Supervisors approval of Sheila Thurston’s request for a conditional use permit to construct and operate an assisted living facility and private school to train certified health and home care professionals.
The proposed facility will be located along Rt. 33 in the Patrick Henry Voting District (tax map parcel 23-62C). The applicant will cap the number of students in the facility at 10 and the number of residents at 6.
Expansion of Ferncliff Growth Overlay District: In the fourth public hearing of the night, the commission will consider expanding the Ferncliff Growth Overlay District to include an additional 20 parcels, 19 of which lie within the Ferncliff Business Park. The remaining parcel is just outside the park’s eastern boundary. The parcels cover roughly 135 acres along Rt. 250 in the Patrick Henry Voting District.
Community Development staff say that the expansion “is necessary to continue encouraging industrial uses to locate in close proximity to I-64 by offering businesses streamlined zoning review and approval processes.”
The Board of Supervisors approved overlay districts in the county’s designated growth areas when it updated the zoning code in February.
CUP for Energix solar facility: In the final public hearing of the night, the commission will consider whether to recommend to the Board of Supervisors approval of Energix Aditya LLC’s application for a conditional use permit to construct an 11MW solar facility on a 95 acre parcel (tmp 42 86A) owned by Eugenia N. Rigsby Trust (Pamela Harlow and Melonie Donovan, Trustees).
The parcel is located near the intersection of Rt. 22 (Davis Highway) and Rt. 767 (School Bus Rd.) between the towns of Louisa and Mineral in the Mineral Voting District. According to the applicant, the solar array will encompass 60 acres of the parcel with the remainder “used for setbacks, vegetative buffers, pollinator plantings and stream and wetland protection areas.”
Nine people attended the neighborhood meeting, voicing concerns about a potential decline in property values, increased traffic during construction, and a buffer dispute at an Energix facility in another locality, among other issues.
Louisa County has become a hotspot for solar developers with the Board of Supervisors approving two utility scale projects in the last year and rejecting a third. The proposed Energix facility is adjacent to land leased by Aura Power and designated for the development of a nearly 1,400 acre, up to 244MW solar field. Last summer, the board approved the Aura project, on land owned by Louisa District Supervisor Eric Purcell and his father, Charles, via Fisher Chewning LLC.
Note: After consideration by the Planning Commission, applications proceed to the Board of Supervisors for another public hearing and a final vote for approval/denial. Either body can table an application.
Discussion about towing yards: The commission will also discuss whether to amend county zoning code to include a definition of “towing yard” and under what circumstances towing yards may be permitted.
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.
BOS approves changes to tax relief program for elderly, disabled; Commission on Aging shares its work with supervisors
The Louisa County Board of Supervisors attended to public business in short order at its first May meeting, hearing a report from the Commission on Aging, appropriating funding for the county’s FY22 O/M and CIP budgets, and holding two public hearings in less than an hour. Six of seven supervisors attended the meeting in person with Mineral District Supervisor Duane Adams participating remotely.
A few highlights from the meeting:
Board approves changes to tax relief policy: After supervisors raised concerns about some elderly residents’ ability to cover their rising real estate tax bills, the board moved to change its tax relief policy, which hadn’t been updated since 2009. The program offers tax relief to residents 65 and over or those who are totally disabled on a sliding scale based on income and financial net worth.
After some discussion, the board agreed unanimously to raise the financial net worth cap for eligibility from $100,000 to $200,000, excluding the dwelling and ten acres, and the cap on allowable tax relief from $1,000 to $2,000. The board decided to leave the annual income cap at $40,000.
Jackson District Supervisor Toni Williams asked Commissioner of the Revenue Stacey Fletcher about the fiscal impact of broadening eligibility for the program. Fletcher said that 447 residents participated last year, totaling $445,000 in tax relief. But, she indicated that she had no way of knowing how shifting the eligibility caps would impact county coffers.
The deadline to file an application for participation in the program is usually May 1 but Fletcher said her office would extend that to June 1 to accommodate those who now qualify. For more information about the tax relief program, call the Commissioner of the Revenue’s office at 540-967-3432.
Commission on Aging shares its work: The Commission on Aging, tasked with understanding the needs of Louisa’s aging population and reporting its findings to the Board of Supervisors to inform policy decisions, delivered a brief presentation Monday night. COA Chair Bob Kuhnle noted that the presentation was a complement to the commission’s annual report, which provides detailed information about COA’s work over the last year and recommendations on meeting the needs of aging residents.
Kuhnle indicated that, despite the challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic, the commission carried out its work and continued outreach efforts that inform it. The commission recently launched a website and published, in print and digital formats, the Little Yellow Book, a resource guide for seniors and caregivers.
Based on its 2020 efforts, the commission laid out various goals for 2021, Kuhnle said. Those include continuing to work closely with partners like the Jefferson Area Board for Aging and the Louisa County Resource Council, generating creative ideas and new approaches to meet seniors’ transportation needs, and working with the Fluvanna/Louisa Housing Foundation to move toward the creation of a regional summit to address housing challenges in the area, among others.
Twenty-eight percent of Louisa County residents are over the age of 60.
Electoral Board prepares for upcoming elections
There’s little time to rest for the Louisa County Electoral Board and General Registrar Cris Watkins.
Virginians go to the polls every year to vote for state or federal offices so there’s always a big election looming.
The electoral board met for its monthly meeting on May 3 with preparations for the June 8 Democratic primary for governor, lt. governor and attorney general well underway. Early and absentee voting kicked off April 23. Click here for more information about voting in the primary. Click here for a sample ballot.
Note: The Republican Party of Virginia chose to nominate its candidates for statewide office via a May 8 unassembled convention. At publication time, vote counting was underway.
News to know from the electoral board meeting:
Early Voting Report: Watkins reported that early and absentee voting are going smoothly in Louisa County with strong turnout in comparison to last year’s Democratic presidential primary.
Watkins provided an updated early voting report to Engage Louisa late last week. Through Wednesday, May 5, 200 voters had requested absentee ballots and 72 of those had been returned. Nineteen people had voted early in person. The early voting period runs through June 5.
Search for new home for Registrar’s office continues: During the 2020 presidential election, thousands of local residents voted early, turning the first floor of the Louisa County Administration Building, where the Registrar’s office is located, into a temporary polling place. Even before the onslaught of early voters, county administration was searching for a larger home for the cramped office. Watkins informed the board that the search continues. According to Watkins, County Administrator Christian Goodwin indicated that an update on a potential new home was “not yet” available.
Legislative Update: Watkins provided the board with a brief update from the 2021 General Assembly’s regular, special and reconvened sessions. The GA passed into law a number of bills that impact voters and local election administration.
Watkins noted that lawmakers made permanent several voting provisions enacted on an emergency basis last year including the use of drop boxes and a curing process for absentee ballots.
The board also discussed HB 1968, which allows localities the option to open for early voting on Sundays. The law goes into effect July 1.
Watkins reached out to several ministers and community members to gather feedback about Sunday voting. Based on that information, the board tentatively decided not to open on Sundays during the early voting period with the caveat that they could revisit the decision based on moves in neighboring localities.
Waktins expressed concern that some voters might be confused if Louisa’s neighbors open on Sundays. She noted that the Hampton Roads area, which shares a single media market, is taking a regional approach to Sunday voting.
TJPDC approves HOME action plan, hears update from General Assembly session
The Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission, a regional body that includes the City of Charlottesville and the counties of Louisa, Fluvanna, Nelson, Greene and Albemarle, met for its monthly meeting last Thursday. Supervisors Tommy Barlow and Bob Babyok represent Louisa on the commission. Barlow attended the meeting remotely while Babyok did not attend.
A few highlights from the meeting:
Commission approves HOME action plan: The commission held a public hearing on HOME’s action plan for FY22 and unanimously passed a resolution of approval.
TJPDC staffer Shirese Franklin explained that HOME is a federal grant program administered through the Department of Housing and Urban Development and implemented regionally through the TJPDC.
The program works with localities and partner organizations to preserve the existing supply of affordable housing, including rehabilitating homes, and to increase that supply by constructing affordable housing units for ownership and rental. The program also offers cost assistance to qualified first-time homebuyers. In Louisa County, the Fluvanna/Louisa Housing Foundation (FLHF) runs the program.
Franklin said FLHF will receive $84,576.88 through the HOME program in the coming fiscal year. Those funds will go toward acquiring land for and constructing an affordable rental unit in Louisa County.
According to Franklin’s presentation (and accompanying documents), the program invested $119, 206.41 toward building an affordable housing unit in Louisa County in FY21. In addition, FLHF has $50,000 in program funds on hand for home rehabilitation projects.
Legislative Update: Legislative staffer David Blount updated the commission on amendments to the state budget and other legislation passed during the General Assembly’s regular, special, and reconvened sessions.
He noted that the state budget includes additional money for salaries for teachers and state-supported employees as well as a $50 million investment in the Virginia Telecommunications Initiative. Those funds will be used to expand broadband in underserved areas. Legislators earmarked an additional $424,000 for the development of a statewide broadband map intended to show coverage areas and available speeds.
Blount said that the General Assembly plans to convene a special session this summer to address how it will use the $3.8 billion it’s expected to receive from the American Rescue Plan Act. Click here for Blount’s full legislative report.
Federal earmarks could benefit Louisa
Earmarks are back in Washington and Louisa County could benefit.
After so-called “pork” fell out of fashion with DC lawmakers for a decade, members of Congress will once again have a chance to bring home the bacon to their districts.
Congresswoman Abigail Spanberger submitted over $13.5 million in funding requests for ten projects (one for each locality in her district) through the Community Project Funding process. The projects could potentially receive funding through congressional appropriations.
Spanberger submitted a $775k request for Ferncliff Place, a mixed income affordable housing community that Louisa County hopes to build in partnership with Habitat for Humanity.
Here’s a brief summary of the project from the congresswoman’s website:
“Louisa County and Habitat for Humanity have a proposed partnership to create a mixed income community. This partnership will create a new 80 unit development where market rate homes and affordable dwellings will be located together. Grant funding and local government support are intended to subsidize the cost of market rate homes, discounting them for those who meet the requirements of the program. The end result will provide ownership for 25 individuals or families who are at or below 30% of Area Median Income for Louisa County. This project is a good use of taxpayer funding because it will provide low income 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.”
Spanberger asked localities to pass resolutions in support of three projects for potential funding through the program. At its April 5 meeting, the Board of Supervisors approved resolutions backing funding requests for construction of the New Bridge Fire and EMS Station near Lake Anna, the purchase and upgrade of the Lake Anna Wastewater Treatment Plant, and the Ferncliff Place project.
Spanberger and her staff then whittled requests down to ten proposals, the maximum allowed. According to Spanberger’s website, the final selections were based on “community impact, evidence of broad community support, and how well [the] requests matched the eligibility requirements and funding parameters of the applicable appropriations account.”
Spanberger also submitted millions of dollars in funding requests through the Transportation Project Requests process. Those proposals could potentially receive funding through 2021 surface transportation authorization legislation.
Spanberger asked for nearly $19 million to upgrade transportation infrastructure in Louisa County alone. The list of proposed projects, drafted in consultation with local stakeholders, include a $7 million request to improve safety along New Bridge Road (Rt. 208) between Rt. 522 and the New Bridge and a nearly $5.1 million request to improve safety at the intersection of Rt. 250 and Rt. 15 at Zion Crossroads.
There are no guarantees that any of the transportation or community project requests will receive federal funding. Stay tuned.
In accordance with Covid-19 guidelines, in-person attendance at Louisa County public meetings is limited. Click here for the county’s public meeting protocols.
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.