By Heather Michon
Two planning and zoning requests were deferred by the Board of Supervisors at their meeting on Wednesday (Feb. 16) after lengthy public hearings that, combined with a budget work session and closed session, stretched the meeting to well over seven hours.
Dominion Energy requested a special use permit to construct a new power substation at the intersection of Ruritan Lake Road and Branch Road. The facility is part of a project to replace a section of transmission lines and poles in service since the 1920s.
Called the Grapevine Substation, the facility would create little noise, almost no light pollution, and has few regulatory or construction issues. Instead, questions about what might be called “site aesthetics” dominated the conversation.
Bruce Deal, who runs Cunningham Creek Winery along with his wife, Debby, said the substation – which would sit right at the winery’s entrance – would be a blow to local agri-tourism.
“We are trying to make a place in the county that’s very conducive to visitors who want to see agriculture, not power lines or industrial artifacts,” he said.
He noted the irony of Dominion naming the station “Grapevine,” when “the owners of the grapevines” don’t want it there. While they would prefer the substation not be built at all, at the very least, “we do want some screening on the right-of-way,” to better hide it from view.
Dominion representatives seemed responsive to the requests for screening and other site details, but couldn’t commit until speaking with others involved in the planning process.
As a result, supervisors voted 5-0 to defer the matter until the March 16 meeting.
The second hearing of the evening focused on a special use permit request from the Virginia United Methodist Housing Development Corporation (VUMHDC) as part of the proposed 120-unit senior housing project at Village Oaks on Lake Monticello Road.
The permit would raise density from 2.9 dwelling units per acre to 5.0 per acre for two parcels right at the entrance to the Village Oaks development.
VUMHDC director Larry Dickenson said his organization has been in operation since 1975 and has developed or sponsored the construction of nearly 2,000 apartment units in 18 developments across the state, all focused on seniors and lower-income households.
The Village Oaks facility would consist of two three-story buildings offering a mix of studio and 1- and 2-bedroom units, plus indoor and outdoor communal spaces, a gym, and even gardening spaces.
Dickenson said this was not an assisted living facility, but a place where seniors could live independently in a supportive community environment. To qualify, residents would have to have incomes at 50-60 percent of average median income, and rent would be offered on a sliding scale.
VUMHDC first looked at the property in January 2021 and purchased the two parcels from Southern Development in August.
Dickenson added that he had heard several people allude to “some closely tied plot of something with Southern Development,” during public comments at the Planning Commission, but said their only interaction with the developer was a simple real estate transaction.
Their analysis showed that around 1,100 Fluvanna residents would qualify for the development, potentially allowing more seniors to age within the county. There would be limited impact on traffic, schools, and public safety, and the property could easily add over $100,000 in annual real estate taxes to the county revenue.
Dickenson said his organization was hoping for board approval so they could meet a March 10 deadline with the state for a 9 percent tax credit; without that, construction could be delayed at least a year or more.
At least a dozen residents spoke during public comments, raising various concerns about the impact the project would have on the Village Oaks community.
While affordable housing and senior housing are a growing concern for the county, as the discussion continued, it was clear there was no consensus among the supervisors to move forward at that time.
Palmyra Supervisor Patricia Eager moved to deny the zoning request, with a second from Supervisor Chris Fairchild (Cunningham). The vote split 2-2, with supervisors Mozell Booker (Fork Union) and Tony O’Brien (Rivanna), voting to move forward with the zoning request.
This left the deciding vote to Chair Mike Sheridan (Columbia), who said he would rather defer the motion.
“I got too many questions to approve this tonight,” he said.
He then abstained, causing the motion to fail.
Eager made the motion to defer action until the November 16, 2022 meeting. This motion passed 4-1, with Fairchild voting no.
Prior to the regular meeting, the supervisors heard the School Board’s budget request for nearly $20 million in funding from the county.
School Board members approved a $52 million budget package at their Feb. 10 meeting; they are asking the county to pick up about 42 percent of the total, with the remainder coming from state and federal funds.