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Mecklenburg County rezones near Microsoft site / August 12, 2020
Mecklenburg County supervisors voted Monday to rezone nearly 650 acres near the Microsoft Data Center in Boydton — land that will likely be used for future expansion of the company’s cloud computing complex.

Supervisors unanimously agreed to rezone a 310.83-acre tract currently owned by the Mecklenburg County Industrial Development Authority, along with an adjoining 335.38-acre tract owned by Microsoft near the intersection of Old Cox and Ridge Roads.

When the zoning requests were first presented to the Planning Commission for review, County Administrator Wayne Carter said the zoning change from agriculture to M-1 industrial would allow Microsoft to expand its data center in the future. Carter did not specify when that expansion might take place, nor did he indicate that the IDA had committed its 311-acre site to Microsoft’s future development plans.

On Monday, Carter said Mecklenburg County has not received any site plans for either parcel, but he offered no further comment.

Since 2010 when Microsoft began construction of its data center in Boydton, the company has invested more than $2 billion in the project and built more than 1.1 million square feet of space to house its data equipment.

In other business at the board’s monthly meeting in Boydton, Carter announced that Mecklenburg County has received a second round of CARES Act funding totaling $2.67 million. The money will be shared with the county’s five towns, Boydton, Chase City, Clarksville, La Crosse and South Hill, in the same amounts as distributed in the last round of pandemic relief funding, based on population.

The county also received a $111,000 grant from FEMA to purchase four backup generators for the Mecklenburg County Lifesaving and Rescue Squad and for fire stations at Buckhorn, La Crosse, and Lake Gaston. The State of Virginia paid another $27,800 and Mecklenburg County added nearly $7,000 to cover the cost of the generators.

Angie Dickenson was granted a special exception permit to open a hair salon on property she and Randy Wray own at 4244 Old Cox Road in Chase City. Dickenson currently operates Head to Toe Hair Salon at 302 E. Sycamore Street in Chase City.

Joseph and Carolyn Alexander were granted a special exception permit to operate a food truck on their property at 9562 Highway One in South Hill, and Dr. Cheryl Hanly was granted a special exception permit to convert a small outbuilding on her property at 9928 Red Lawn Road into a chiropractic office.

A request by Jacob Tanner to expand by two the number of camper spaces allowed at his trailer park on Buggs Island Road was tabled and returned to the Planning Commission. Planners will review new information that Tanner had not made available to the members of the commission during an earlier hearing.

After receiving several letters opposing the expansion, county planners had recommended that supervisors deny Tanner’s request.

Superintendent of Schools Paul Nichols updated supervisors on the status of school openings in Mecklenburg. Nichols praised the teaching staff and members of central office who “worked hard to prepare to offer remote learning” to students this fall.

Despite the recent spike in COVID-19 cases in Mecklenburg County, the school division remains on track to start the fall semester on Sept. 8, the day after Labor Day.

In the past week, the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Mecklenburg County jumped from 309 to 446. The spike is attributed to an outbreak spreading through Baskerville Correctional Center, where at least 122 offenders and five prison personnel have tested positive for the virus.

Nichols admitted he is taking a risk by allowing students to return to the classroom full-time instead of following the lead of other divisions that are offering online classes only for the first nine weeks. He said he weighed the risk of the COVID-19 virus against other risks to the students — lack of social interaction, limited access to nutritious food, mental health concerns, poor or no internet and limited or no support system for providing educational opportunities — and decided it was better for the students to return to the classroom.

Around 37 percent of the parents do not agree with Nichols. He said they feel it is safer to keep their kids at home rather than potentially expose them to the virus. These students will receive their lessons through the school’s online learning platform, Virtual Virginia.

While nearly two-thirds of the students plan on returning to the school buildings, Nichols said, if on Sept. 10 Mecklenburg County’s potential for exposure to the virus is at orange or red — the two highest risk levels for exposure to the virus employed by the Harvard Global Health Initiative — school buildings will not open and all lessons will be virtual.

When asked how the division plans to handle possible outbreaks, Nichols said if the outbreak is limited to a single school, students there will return home and receive lessons through Virtual Virginia while a quarantine period is enforced and the building is cleaned. If the outbreak is more widespread, Nichols said the division is prepared for full-time virtual education.

Nichols said virtual leaning, much like in-person teaching, will require significant interaction between teachers and students as well as parental involvement. Teachers will be available online or over the phone, but he does not expect his teachers to work 24 hours a day, seven days a week. “There will be limits.”

He also said parents will be obligated to take daily attendance and report to the teachers. If there is no contact between the student or parent and the teacher for four days, the teacher will step up his or her contact attempts and if none for 15 days, Nichols said the division could be forced to send law enforcement to the home. He pointed out that parents are required to make sure their school age children are attending daily classes.

Since all students in grades K-12 can now receive free meals through the school, Nichols said the food service division is working with the transportation division to arrange for the delivery of meals.

Brandon Estes urged the Board of Supervisors to adopt a resolution re-affirming the county’s pro-gun stance. The model resolution, which is being pushed by the Virginia Citizens Defense League, declares that Mecklenburg County will not “regulate or prohibit the otherwise legal purchase, possession, or transfer of firearms or ammunition.” If adopted, the ordinance would allow for open carry of all legal firearms in public places, including public buildings and at fairs and festivals where there are large gatherings of people.

The resolution has already been adopted in 15 towns and counties, among them Pittsylvania, Patrick, Appomattox, and Charlotte counties.

This new Second Amendment push echoes the sanctuary city effort that the Virginia Citizen Defense League spearheaded last year. Their message is that in this time of civil unrest, gun rights must be protected.

Supervisors spent much of their comment period discussing their concerns about the current racial tensions playing out across the country, the lack of civility that exists today, and their concerns for the school division as kids prepare to head back to the classroom on Sept. 10.

Jim Jennings summed up their feelings. “We have been sitting here since March in the middle of a pandemic and probably the biggest concerns I have during the pandemic is of course the health and along with that the educational system and the children, not only in this county but in this country, and over the fractured educational process.” He predicted the negative impact the virus has had on the educational process for these children would surface at some point in their life.

On the topics of race and civility, Jennings said, “I just hope we can get some kind of resolve that promotes unity and people getting along. I don’t think we have a race problem in this country, I think we have a people problem. People have not been taught how to respect other people. It doesn’t make any difference who they are.”

Glenn Barbour echoed the sentiment. “I don’t think there is a documented case of a baby being born in this world racist. And we have to understand, we teach our children how to crawl, we teach them how to walk, we teach them how to talk, read and write and how to drive. We need to incorporate somewhere in their upbringing [discussions of] racism. And it is not necessarily all about racism. We’ve got bullying issues and these children need to be taught that this kind of thing is wrong.

“Like Jim said, we’ve got a people problem, and nobody is going to correct our people problem but us. We’ve got to step up,” Barbour said.

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