This week in county government; Updates from PC and JRWA meetings; Louisa set to receive pandemic relief funds
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 17-22)
Monday, May 17
The Louisa County Board of Supervisors will hold its second May meeting Monday night with a pair of presentations and two public hearings on the agenda.
A few agenda highlights:
Vaccine update from Blue Ridge Health District: BRHD will inform the board about the latest vaccination numbers and related demographics in Louisa County and district-wide, and discuss where folks can get vaccinated and its outreach efforts. Check out BRHD’s Covid-19 dashboards here.
Louisa County Chamber of Commerce update: The Chamber will update the board on its efforts to promote small businesses and strengthen the local economy.
Public hearing to amend county code regarding powers of the Industrial Development Authority: The board will hold a public hearing to consider adding the following language to Louisa County code as it relates to the duties of the Industrial Development Authority:
“including the authority pursuant to Va. Code § 15.2-4903 (A) to acquire, own, operate and regulate the use of airports, landing fields and facilities, and other property incident thereto, including such facilities and property necessary for the servicing aircraft.”
The public hearing on the proposed amendment follows several discussions among board members regarding the role of the IDA as owner/operator of the Louisa County Airport.
Public hearing to expand Ferncliff Growth Overlay District: Following a thumbs up from the Planning Commission, the board will hold a public hearing to consider expansion of the Ferncliff Growth Overlay District to include an additional 20 parcels, 19 of which lie within the Ferncliff Business Park. See the update from last week’s Planning Commission meeting below for more information.
Wednesday, May 19
Louisa County Board of Zoning Appeals, Public Meeting Room, 1 Woolfolk Ave., 7 pm. (public notice)
The Board of Zoning Appeals will meet to hear appeals on two items:
Setback variance request at Pleasants Landing: Vallerie Holdings of Virginia LLC is requesting that the BZA issue a variance to allow no setback in an area along the shore of Lake Anna where a five-foot setback is required. The Valleries erected outdoor stairs and a deck on a structure at their business, Pleasants Landing, (tax map parcel 47-(11)-B2 ) in the Jackson Voting District, which violate county setback requirements. The hearing marks the latest twist in the county's ongoing battle with the Valleries over the stairs.
Setback variance request at Trevilians Elementary School: In the second public hearing, Sun Tribe Solar LLC is requesting a variance to setback requirements on the construction of a solar array at Trevilians Elementary School on S. Spotswood Trail (tmp 23-46) in the Patrick Henry Voting District. A 30-foot setback is required but Sun Tribe is asking for a 10-foot setback. The 880k WAC solar array will provide power to Trevilians Elementary School.
Thursday, May 20
Louisa County Industrial Development Authority, Public Meeting Room, 1 Woolfolk Ave., 8:30 am. (public notice) This meeting was publicized after this edition of Engage Louisa was originally published. No agenda is available at this time.
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.
Despite opposition, Planning Commission recommends approval of Energix solar project; Four other applicants win PC support
The Louisa County Planning Commission held a marathon three hour meeting Thursday night with five public hearings. After much discussion, the commission gave a thumbs up to each of the applicants’ requests. (video)
Commission recommends solar project: The commission saved the most controversial public hearing for last: Energix Aditya LLC’s request for a Conditional Use Permit to construct a 60-acre, 11MW solar array on a 95-acre parcel (tmp 42 86A) near the intersection of Davis Highway (Rt. 22) and School Bus Road (Rt. 767) in the Mineral Voting District. The property is owned by Eugenia N. Rigsby Trust (Pamela Harlow and Melonie Donovan, Trustees).
Nineteen people opposed the project at the meeting with 16 speaking in person, two by phone and one by letter. Outside of the applicant and county planning staff, no one spoke in support of the CUP.
Many of those who oppose the facility live along School Bus Road or have relatives who reside there. They expressed a range of concerns including a possible decline in property values, the facility’s impact on wildlife, increased traffic in the area during construction, and other negative impacts on their quality of life.
Some argued their concerns are being ignored by Energix and county officials, and that the project has no benefits for their community.
“We pay taxes and this is no benefit to us. It might benefit Energix. It might benefit Dominion Power but it doesn’t benefit the residents on School Bus Road,” said Donna Bates, whose home adjoins the project site.
Diane Christmas, another School Bus Road resident, asked why Energix is “targeting low and middle income neighborhoods” for its project. “You think we don’t care because you don’t care. It’s all about money,” she said.
Energix representatives and county staff countered various concerns. They pointed out that the company is pledging a $10,000 contribution to expand broadband internet and a $16,000 annual payment to the county throughout the 35-year term of the CUP.
In addition, Energix presented a study by Kirkland Appraisals LLC contending that the project would have no detrimental impact on property values. Appraiser Richard Kirkland asserted that adjoining properties are well set back from the proposed solar array, vegetative buffering already exists, and additional buffering is planned.
County planning staff and Energix representatives also pointed to tax assessment figures from the Louisa County Commissioner of the Revenue’s office, which, on average, show no decline in property values on real estate that adjoins the county’s existing solar facilities.
Traffic concerns along School Bus Road and Routes 22 and 33 raised the eyebrows of several planners as the area emerges as a hotbed for solar installation. Last summer, the county approved construction of a nearly 1400-acre solar project on land that stretches from School Bus Road to the county reservoir off Rt. 33. That property is owned by Louisa District Supervisor Eric Purcell and his father, Charles, via Fisher Chewning LLC.
“This area is already saturated particularly when school lets out,” Cuckoo District Commissioner George Goodwin said. “You want to talk about a nightmare, think about these two projects being constructed at the same time.”
In the end, commissioners recommended an additional condition to Energix’s CUP. They stipulated the submission of an application to VDOT requesting a reduction in the speed limit on School Bus Road from 45 to 35 miles per hour to ease the impact of construction traffic.
That move seemed to alleviate some concerns. Planners recommended approval of a slightly amended CUP to the Board of Supervisors in a 5-2 vote. The board will likely hold a public hearing on the Energix project in June.
Planners support growth of AFDs: The commission unanimously approved efforts to expand the county’s Agricultural and Forestal Districts, a conservation tool that allows landowners to protect farms and forestland from future development for at least a 10-year period. AFDs have gained increased popularity in the county, which commissioners and planning staff credited to the work of the revamped Ag/Forestal and Rural Preservation Committee.
Pending final approval by the Board of Supervisors, the Green Springs AFD will add 68 parcels and over 5,300 acres and the county will create a new Trevilian Station AFD, including 62 parcels and over 4,300 acres.
'‘This is about conservation of our natural resources, protecting our watershed, enhancing wildlife, and keeping farms and forests for the future,” said Jim Riddell, chair of the Ag/Forestal and Rural Preservation Committee, during public comment.
Assisted living facility/school approved: In a 7-0 vote, the commission recommended to the Board of Supervisors approval of Sheila Thurston’s request for a Conditional Use Permit to operate an assisted living facility and private school to train certified health and home care professionals.
The proposed project will be located at 961 S. Spotswood Trail in the Patrick Henry Voting District (tax map parcel 23-62C). After some discussion, the commission recommended that the facility have a cap of 8 residents and no cap for students and teachers.
Aside from the applicant, no one spoke for or against the project but two neighbors submitted letters of support. In her presentation, Thurston noted that she reached out to folks in her neighborhood and all were enthusiastic.
“Everyone felt like this is what we need for the county,” she said.
Green light for expansion of Ferncliff Growth Overlay District: The commission unanimously recommended 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.
The Board of Supervisors approved overlay districts in the county’s designated growth areas when it updated the zoning code in February. But, supervisors exempted land designated for future industrial use in the Ferncliff Growth Area, which stretches along Rt. 250.
Community Development staff requested expanding the overlay district to include the business park, which is zoned industrial, and an additional parcel, saying that it’s “necessary to continue encouraging industrial uses to locate in close proximity to I-64 by offering businesses streamlined zoning review and approval processes.”
Goodwin said he was concerned that other industrially-zoned properties further west on 250 were being unfairly cut out of the overlay district. Assistant County Administrator Jeff Ferrel said that no such properties existed, winning Goodwin’s support for the expansion.
JRWA proceeds with plans to study alternative site for water pump station
At its May meeting, the James River Water Authority heard an update from AquaLaw’s Justin Curtis, who is guiding the group through the tangled process of building a water pump station along the James River.
Putting that key piece of infrastructure in place would cap a years-long effort to secure water from the James and quench Louisa County’s thirst for continued development along the I-64 corridor.
Curtis told the authority that preparations for a cultural resources study at a proposed alternative site continue. Dubbed the “Forsyth alternative,” the site is upriver from the location that JRWA originally settled on. The original site, near the confluence of the James and Rivanna rivers, was once the home of Rassawek, the ancestral capital of the Monacan Indian Nation. Its selection met widespread resistance from the Monacan, historians, preservationists, and others.
Curtis told the authority that Fluvanna County is currently in the process of securing permissions from landowners to conduct an archeological study at and around the alternative site. Some land requires extensive excavation while other parcels would undergo more limited “shovel testing.” Landowners are also asked to donate any artifacts found during excavation.
At the request of the Monacan, Gray & Pape, a nationally-known cultural resources management firm, will conduct the study. The firm’s original proposal came with a $155,000 price tag but estimates were revised upward at the May meeting. The authority approved a $232,000 budget for the project. Curtis said that the increase was, in part, due to a larger than anticipated study area. In a letter to the authority earlier this year, the Monacan agreed to support the construction of the pump station at the alternative site as long as certain conditions were met.
Louisa set to receive $7.3 million in pandemic relief funds
According to final figures released last week by the U.S. Department of the Treasury, Louisa County will receive just over $7.3 million in federal pandemic relief funds from the American Rescue Plan Act.
Those funds will be distributed to localities in two tranches with half available now and the remainder available in 12 months. The federal government also released guidelines on exactly how the money can be used. They encompass a range of options, from bankrolling specific Covid-19 mitigation programs to expanding broadband infrastructure. Localities must spend the funds by 2024.
After Congress passed the relief package in March, Louisa County was informed of preliminary funding estimates and broad guidance on using the money. As they awaited a final figure from the Treasury Department and firm federal guidelines, the Board of Supervisors had limited public discussion on how they will allocate the aid.
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.