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Virgilina school use approved; solar layout altered / June 27, 2019

It was an eventful night for the Halifax County Board of Supervisors as they churned through an agenda packed with a variety of unrelated pieces of business. The various interested parties brought supporters that packed the room at the Mary Bethune building.

Members began by modifying and approving a conditional use permit for My Life Matters to takeover the old Virgilina Elementary School. The corporation, a religious organization headed by Timothy Bowes, plans to turn the school into a church camp for youths.

“It will be intended for 60 young people and adult leadership. It is intended to be more intimate than larger facilities,” Bowes explained.

Bowes said that his organization would host children overnight, especially during the weekends and the summer. Although it had been approved by the Virgilina Town Council, Garland Ricketts of ED-7 noted that the group had not used the correct language to ensure that the building would be up to code for overnight stays. Bowes agreed to amend his request, and the Board approved the modified conditional use permit.

After approving the permit, Board Chairman Dennis Witt recognized long-time Board of Supervisors clerk Debbie Forlines for her service to Halifax County. County Administrator Scott Simpson commented on Forlines’s commitment to work and knowledge of Halifax County governance.

“She missed one meeting in 21 years, and that was for a broken bone that had to be mended that day,” Simpson said.

Hubert Pannell, ED-3, said, “Ladies and gentlemen, this is a big change for county business.”

Forlines will be replaced by Olivia Epps.

The Board also permitted Foxhound Solar to modify its conditional use permit for its site at Green Level Road to add and drop several parcels of land. The total change is a net decrease from 91 acres to 81 acres, and will reduce the amount of wattage the farm produces.

Jeff Francisco, ED-2, said, “It’s not really changing aesthetically what you’ll see there.

At the behest of Tom Stutts, the board signed a letter requesting to make a section of the Staunton River a Virginia Scenic River. The section, which is an 11-mile reach from the US 360 bridge down to Staunton River State Park, is bordered by U.S. Army Corps of Engineers land and will connect to 41 1/2 mile stretch of the Staunton River from the 360 landing up to Long Island.

J.T. Davis, ED-1, has property on the Staunton River on a section already classified as a scenic river. He assured landowners the designation would not affect them.

“It’s nothing but a piece of paper,” Davis said. “I have had no negative effects.”

Stutts did not ask the Board to make a motion, but rather that they would sign onto a letter to the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation, a letter that Stutts will also present to neighboring counties. The letter requests that the DCR conduct a survey of the river. The actual designation is a task that will fall to the Virginia General Assembly.

After Stutts, the Board heard reports from Virginia Department of Transportation. There were three roads damaged in the recent spate of storms, one of which will be closed for roughly a year while VDOT replaces a washed-out bridge. That road, Route 683 Oak Level Road, will reopen in the summer or fall of 2020.

VDOT representatives Rick Youngblood and Reina Rosado told the Board about VDOT’s SMART scale system for transportation project prioritization, and noted that they had expedited the expansion of the intersection of Route 360, Mountain Road and 501/Main Street in the Town of Halifax. This is the intersection between the courthouse and the Halifax County War Memorial.

Youngblood said, “We may be able to move this [project] to this year.”

Youngblood explained that VDOT had managed to bundle several related projects into a single larger one, and that it would be a good time to do it so that the construction would be simultaneous to that at the courthouse, resulting in having a new courthouse block sooner.

“You’re only disturbing the area once,” Rosado said.

Rosado, an engineer involved in the project, said that VDOT had calculated a new intersection that would minimize the damage to the war memorial.

“In our review we concluded that we can minimize the changes to the war memorial. We want to minimize any impacts to landscaping,” Rosado said.

Rosado also assured the Board that VDOT would be willing to remain in contact about the project.

“We hope to come back to share as much or as little information as anyone would want to know,” Rosado said.

Youngblood said that VDOT would need the Board’s support for the project. The decision would need to be made before September. Stanley Brandon, ED-6, had questions about the specifications of the project, which the VDOT representatives said they could answer by the July 9 meeting on the project.

“I would like to commend Mr. Youngblood for his professionalism in shepherding these projects through,” Davis said.

The Board also agreed to let Halifax County Social Services hold onto $320,000 from their 2018-2019 budget in order to find and furnish offices for new employees. The organization is understaffed, but due to a windfall after receiving $91,271 from the state to help expand Medicare in Halifax County, and due to an increasing automation of services, Social Services actually managed to save money in their budget. They need to hire four to six more employees.

Pannell, who serves on the board of directors for Social Services as the Board’s representative, said, “Some of the employees are working two or three in a room.”

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