News in 2021

By Heather Michon

2021. What can we say?

If COVID-19 wasn’t quite the all-encompassing story it was in 2020, it was still very much at the forefront of public life.

Since the start of the pandemic in the spring of 2020, more than 3,000 Fluvanna residents have been diagnosed with the virus, almost 130 have been hospitalized, and at least 30 have died.  

On the bright side, Fluvanna residents have embraced vaccinations, with 93 percent of the total eligible population fully vaccinated as of Dec. 22.

But COVID-19 wasn’t the only story in Fluvanna in 2021. Here’s a look back at some of the events making headlines in the last twelve months.

A $25 million facelift for
the county

The county’s annual budget season took an exciting turn in March when a discussion over lighting for Pleasant Grove Park morphed into a $25 million upgrade to county buildings and infrastructure.

In recent years, supervisors have taken a fairly conservative approach to funding capital improvement projects, balancing the need to keep debt levels low against the pressures of aging county properties. But with interest rates at historic lows, many supervisors were open to taking on significant debt to fix long-standing problems.   

The $25 million package will fund a new county office building near the Fluvanna County Library, a fleet of new school buses, new vehicles, and host of smaller repairs and projects that should result in a modernized face for the county and lower long-term costs for maintenance and repair. 

With that additional $25 million, the total county budget came to $110,600,979 for FY2022. Residents will see an increase in their real estate taxes averaging 2.19 percent. 

Mask mandates and transgender rights roil school board meetings

All across the county, school boards have become a forum for parents to speak out against the hot-button social issues of the day, and Fluvanna was no exception. 

Throughout the summer and into the fall, Fluvanna parents sparred over the school mask policies, the rights of transgendered students, and “critical race theory” in marathon meetings often stretching to well over five hours. 

“Welcome to the fire,” one parent greeted new school superintendent Dr. Peter Gretz during one particularly contentious gathering.

Even Congressman Bob Good (R-5th Dist.) got into the fray, showing up unannounced at an August meeting and given the floor to speak against universal masking and arguing that transgender students should not be given protections.

Citizen action delays developments

Housing developments grew in 2021, with Village Oaks on Lake Monticello Road continuing to expand, and major infrastructure put in place at Colonial Circle on Rt. 53. 

But at least two other projects ran aground, in part because residents organized against them.

Ballenger Bluff, originally slated for a 143-acre parcel off Courthouse Road, faced stiff opposition from neighboring residents who feared the development would reduce the already-scarce water supply in the area. After months of delays and deferrals in front of the Planning Commission, developer Tim Miller failed to win a critical permit from the Board of Supervisors to build a major septic system on the property.   

Village Gardens, a 300 plus housing development proposed by Southern Development for a parcel abutting Lake Monticello at Garden Lane, also faced sustained opposition from area residents, who argued that the project would increase traffic on an already-congested stretch of Rt. 53 and put too much pressure on Aqua Virginia’s antiquated water system.

After months of deferrals and a last-ditch effort by a new developer to salvage the project, the Planning Commission voted to deny the needed rezoning permits at its Dec. 7 meeting. 

It is unclear whether these projects will be reconfigured and brought back before the commission in 2022.

Election 2021 brings (some) new faces to local boards

Virginia is one of only five states that holds off-year elections, so Fluvanna residents were off to the polls in November.

Cunningham Supervisor Donald W. Weaver announced he would not run for a ninth term, opening the seat for the first time in 32 years. Chris Fairchild, who had served a term as supervisor from Rivanna prior to 2011, ran for the seat and carried the district by 86 percent over write-in candidate Jason Hamshar.

Columbia Supervisor Mike Sheridan and Rivanna Supervisor Tony O’Brien ran unopposed for new four-year terms.

Three seats on the School Board were up for grabs, with Andrew Pullen (Columbia District) running unopposed and Charles Rittenhouse (Cunningham District) easily defeating challenger Eric Anderson. 

With Shirley Stewart opting not to run for another term in Rivanna District, the race between Gequetta Murray-Key and Darrell Byers came down to the wire, with Murray-Key winning by just 172 votes.


A nail-biting redistricting debate

By law, all Virginia localities must submit redistricting plans to the state by the end of the calendar year following the national decennial census. Normally, this process is completed in the spring, ahead of the June political primaries and well ahead of the November elections. 

But 2021 was not a normal year.

Thanks to delays in releasing the data from the 2020 Census, localities didn’t get the information they needed until October – giving them just weeks to design, debate, and finalize redistricting maps before the Dec. 31 deadline.

Fluvanna supervisors were split. Supervisors Mozell Booker and O’Brien supported staying with five districts, with the borders of the Columbia and Fork Union redrawn to encompass areas around Lake Monticello to balance the population more equally within each district. Supervisors Sheridan, Weaver, and Eager supported adding one or two districts to give residents of the more populated areas greater representation on the board and reduce the population each supervisor must serve.

However, many residents were opposed to expanding the political map and they made their views known at public hearings, meetings, and through letters to the county. There were also accusations that the pro-expansion supervisors were trying to disenfranchise voters by potentially districting school board member-elect Gequetta Murray-Key out of taking her seat in January.

Going into their final debate on Dec. 15, it was anyone’s guess which side would prevail. During their deliberations, Palmyra Supervisor Patricia Eager said that she had supported the move to six districts because she had believed Lake Monticello residents would want more representation, but public comments had shown her this was not the case. The final vote for a five-district map passed on a vote of 3-2.  

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