“We have been informed by the Virginia Department of Elections that they consider a referendum to always be a special election, even though it is on the same ballot as a general election, and therefore it must be in compliance of a deadline of 81 days,” said Phillips. “This means it must be ordered by a circuit court judge to be placed on the ballot 81 days in advance of the general election.”

That means the referendum should have been placed on the ballot by Aug.  16.

Columbia’s town council must now decide whether to hold a special election early next year, or wait until next November.   Should the council decide to hold a special election early next year, it will come at a cost.  “The preliminary estimate is somewhere between $2,500 and $4,000.” said Phillips.

“Our preference would be to hold the special election in January or February,” said Columbia’s Mayor John Hammond.  “Based on discussions that I have had with residents, members of the greater Columbia community and county officials, we feel that we have support for an early 2015 time frame and the cost of a special election.” The council did unanimously approve that the referendum be sent to the circuit court so the judge may order the matter be placed on a ballot in the future.

Aside from town council, there were 38 people in attendance at the meeting.  Hammond said that was “more people than we have ever had at a council meeting before.”  Despite the large number of attendees, only a handful of people addressed the council.

Paul Grady, who owns property on Rt. 6, Columbia’s main street, said “When I heard in February that the town council had come out adamantly opposed to a historic district, I considered that to be a declaration of war against property owners on Saint James Street (Rt. 6) which is why I nominated Columbia to Preservation Virginia to be on their Endangered Historic Places List.”

“Without an historic district, property owners on Saint James Street are unable to do anything with their properties because we cannot apply for grants or low interest loans and are not eligible for historic tax credits,” Grady said. “So, in essence, the lack of action by current and past town councils towards these two goals is the main reason the town of Columbia is in the condition it is in today.”

Columbia Town Council member Kerry Murphy-Hammond disagreed with Grady’s comments.  “Through the public comments and conversations after the meeting, it’s clear that the vast majority of people engaged in this process know that you can’t blame the town council for failing to maintain dilapidated properties that are privately owned.  That responsibility is with the property owners.”

Columbia District Supervisor Mike Sheridan emphasized his family’s long history in the town of Columbia. “The gateway to Fluvanna County to me is right down here about 200 yards,” he said, gesturing towards Rt. 6.  “If we are going to draw tourism into our county we have to develop from here west.”

Sheridan said he has dreams that one day Columbia will host wine festivals, or perhaps be like Brown’s Island in Richmond – a venue which, in a flood plain like Columbia, hosts outdoor concerts.

Columbia resident Nate Layne said, “The bottom line is the town doesn’t have the revenue, doesn’t have the means to collect the revenue, to improve conditions for the community.  From my perspective (disincorporation) is a sacrificial act of love to move the community forward and bring more services and make the quality of life for the residents of Columbia better.  The town council in an incorporated state is unable to do that.”




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