Fluvanna Review

The Fluvanna County Board of Supervisors learned Wednesday afternoon (May 4) that the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) plans to lower the speed limit on a stretch of Rt. 53.
The section of Rt. 53 between the roundabout and Ruritan Lake Rd., which is about eight-tenths of a mile, currently has a speed limit of 55 miles per hour (mph). But the county has been “bugging” VDOT to lower the speed limit to 45 mph for quite some time, said County Administrator Steve Nichols. “It’s a bad curvy stretch,” he said.
Supervisors have often commented on what some see as a dangerously fast speed limit on a short stretch of road bookended by a roundabout, which requires slow speeds, and the 45 mph section of Rt. 53 that stretches between Ruritan Lake Rd. and the Fluvanna County High School.
“This makes it more contiguous from the traffic circle to the high school,” said Nichols. “It just makes a lot more sense.”
Supervisor Don Weaver also noted the lack of visibility for drivers attempting to turn onto Rt. 53 from Ruritan Lake Rd.
Stacy Londrey, communications manager for VDOT, said that the new speed limit should take effect within a few weeks. “VDOT studied that stretch of road and determined the lower speed limit was appropriate,” she said. “It’s certainly safer for traffic to approach a roundabout at a lower speed. The 45 mph speed limit also gives a little more consistency, rather than having such a short stretch of road at a higher speed limit.”
Supervisors also allocated $9,975 toward the demolition of what Nichols described as four “extremely dilapidated structures” on Rt. 6 in the floodplain in Columbia. The money is a 5 percent match required by a grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
None of the buildings are occupied. Once the buildings are razed, the plots they stand on will be owned by the county and will be kept as green space, said Nichols.
Not only are the buildings unsightly, but they pose safety hazards to people, such as adventurous children, who may try to enter them, said Nichols.
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It’s a simple matter of routine for members of the Board of Supervisors to make decisions about different aspects of Fluvanna County life. After all, that’s why they were elected.
But sometimes those votes affect the lives – and the pocketbooks – of supervisors themselves. In those cases, Fluvanna residents sometimes begin to wonder whether their supervisors are involved in a conflict of interest.
The questions arise every few years, usually during a time of controversy. Right now some eyebrows are raised over the savings most supervisors gain from the county’s land use program. A few years ago, questions surfaced about a supervisor’s ties to the school system during a particularly bitter budget year.
So what exactly constitutes a conflict of interest – and are any of the supervisors in the midst of one?
Conflict of interest
Different criteria exist for when an elected official can or can’t vote on a matter, said Phyllis Errico, general counsel with the Virginia Association of Counties. “But generally speaking, when you’re part of a larger group, you can usually disclose that you’re a member of the affected group, then vote,” she said.
“The principle is when something is of direct benefit to that one person, they really shouldn’t be making the decision,” Errico said. “But if something is going to affect a group of people in exactly the same way, you certainly don’t want to take away someone’s voting ability because that’s what they’re elected to do – if it’s something of broad application.”
Land use
Currently the county’s land use program is under the microscope. Land use – which gives tax breaks of up to 90 percent to landowners who keep their property in rural uses such as agriculture, forestry or open space – benefits four of the five Board members.
Supervisor Trish Eager tops the list with $28,515 in tax savings last year through land use. Next is Supervisor Don Weaver with tax savings of $1,995. Supervisor Mozell Booker saved $944 and Chairman Mike Sheridan saved $445 through land use. Supervisor Tony O’Brien has no land in the program.
Board members don’t set the values of land in land use – that job falls to Mel Sheridan, commissioner of the revenue, who saved $1,157 in land use last year. But supervisors do decide whether Fluvanna has a land use policy.
“I don’t feel that that is a conflict of interest as long as they’re not voting on whether they’re allowed into the program,” said Ginger Stanley, executive director of the Virginia Press Association. “They can apply to go into the program – anyone can do that, anyone should be able to apply – but no one should be able to vote on their own application.”
Employees in the commissioner of revenue’s office – not supervisors – process land use applications.
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Sage Garden owners Roberta and John Mann and their golden retriever Tara.The proposal. It’s one of those family stories their now grown children have heard countless times. John and Roberta attended the same high school in New Jersey, but never met until they ran into each other in Colorado several years later. They started dating and discovered how much they had in common. When John felt it was time to pop the big question, Roberta had a question for him.

“Yes, but only if we live on a farm,” she replied. “I’m going back East to be closer to my family, and I’m going to buy a farm. Are you on board?”

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Erin Edgerton won Best In Show.There were not many entries in this years’ annual photo contest sponsored by Fluvanna County Parks and Recreation but those who participated showed some awe-inspiring work including Erin Edgerton, one of the youngest entrants at age 15.

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Best in Show, Sara Gondwe’s March of the Dancing Zebra Trees. Photo by Page H. GiffordAs you walk into the meeting room at the library, the room is lined with 98 pieces of art, including sculptures. A variety of mediums are featured, including painting and pastel, prints, photography, and pencil.
Most of the winners stuck with tradition and watercolors, acrylics, pastels and oils took most of the prizes but photographer Paul Stams broke away from the pack with his vibrant montage of “Cuba” to win third in the advanced category. He weaves a story about Cuba’s culture and history with striking and colorful icons and, as a master of photographic manipulation, creates something unique.
Sara Gondwe turned her passion for trees and vivid abstract art into a mixed media musical of images and took Best in Show for her “March of the Dancing Zebra Trees.” An animated piece, rich in color, it is whimsical and, like her other pieces in the show, eye-catching. She is the first to win for a mixed media piece and was pleased to be recognized for her work.
Along more traditional lines Liz Ellis, known for her animals, took first in advanced for a pastel of a humorous blue pig, aptly named “Bertie-a Blue Pig.” She captures Bertie’s inner mischievous spirit, which Ellis masters well with her animal portraits, always seeing the essence of her subject.
It was clear that the judge Beth Nichols of the Nichols Gallery, gravitated toward not only the traditional or classic subjects but those that showed more whimsy or humor. Nichols has always been one to choose artists work featuring bold, bright colors.
William Snow, always a winner with his flawless watercolors, took second in the advanced for his “Tidal Overlook.” His other two entries are also worth mentioning for their classic subject; “Pickin’ Time” and “Hay Wagon” show his attention to detail and harmonizing his scenes.
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