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Former Columbia School will become K9 training facility

The two-year saga to sell to two closed Fluvanna County school buildings finally came to an end Wednesday (Oct. 18) as the Board of Supervisors approved the sale of the former Columbia Elementary School to Rivanna K9 Services for $85,000.

Approval came despite an eleventh-hour request by the local branch of the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW). 

Richard T. Harry, commander of VFW Post 2613, told supervisors that their membership of about two dozen had outgrown their small building on Stage Junction Road in Columbia. Moving to the schoolhouse would not only alleviate the space issue, but would allow the post to become more of a “benefit to the community” by allowing them to function as a community center and food bank, he said.

Finance Director Eric Dahl told supervisors that because the VFW had not put in a bid during the time in which the county’s request for proposals (RFP) was active, “We’d have to issue a new RFP and start the process over.” 

“I’m very eager to set up this building for canine training,” Armin Winkler, owner of Rivanna K9 Services, told the Board. Established in 2003, his company trains dogs for military and law enforcement agencies. “We’ve been here almost 15 years and most people don’t know we’re here. We’re pretty low-key.”

Winkler noted he had followed all the rules and had not asked for any extensions during the lengthy process. Three local supporters spoke on his behalf, including a young veteran named Zane Hodge who talked about the importance of the work Winkler does in providing dogs to support and protect troops in the field. 

While supervisors were sympathetic to Harry and the VFW, they decided after some discussion not to reopen the bidding process. They voted 4-0 (Supervisor Patricia Eager absent) to approve the sale.

The Board also approved a rezoning plan for Columbia presented by Brad Robinson of the planning and zoning department. The county took on the task of creating a new zoning plan when the town dissolved its charter in 2016.

Due to the risks posed by the floodplain, parcels below Route 6 will be zoned for agricultural use, with the exception of a couple existing industrial sites. Parcels along the north side of Route 6 will be zoned as businesses, with remaining parcels zoned as residential.

The amended map was approved 4-0.

Another planning issue on the agenda was an amendment to the zoning documents of Village Oaks on Lake Monticello Road. In the original 2013 plan, the developer planned on building a certain number of units for residents 55 and older, but Charlie Armstrong of Southern Development explained that the market has changed in recent years and potential residents are not as interested in buying in age-restricted neighborhoods. Older homeowners are looking for units that have ground-floor master suites, so the amendment removes the age restriction, but guarantees that a minimum of 35 percent of units in the development have main floor bedrooms. The motion was approved.

Jason Smith, director of community and economic development, delivered an upbeat quarterly report. He told supervisors about more than a dozen potential businesses exploring a move to Fluvanna County and teased the official announcement of one major new facility that may be coming in the next few weeks.

The meeting closed with the passage of two motions: a fireworks display for Fluvanna County High School’s Homecoming celebrations Oct. 22, and a resolution recognizing local Girl Scout Lauren Houseknecht for winning the Gold Award, the highest achievement in Girl Scouting. Houseknecht is the first Girl Scout in Fluvanna to win the award.