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Board delays public hearing on Lake Anna Shoreline Ordinance

Supervisors delayed a public hearing to consider a partial repeal of the Lake Anna Shoreline Ordinance, a section of county code that lays out development and design standards for overwater structures like docks, boathouses and boardwalks. 

The ordinance overlaps with Dominion Energy’s development guidelines. Dominion owns the lake and its shoreline but allows adjoining property owners to construct overwater structures via individual use agreements. The 13,000-acre waterway serves as a cooling reservoir for the North Anna Power Station. 

Louisa County’s professional planning staff has recommended that supervisors repeal two components of the ordinance, which address “Safe navigation” and “Neighbor policies,” arguing that they mostly duplicate Dominion’s regulations.

Both sets of rules lay out standards for the orientation of overwater structures including how far they can extend onto the lake and how large and tall they can be, among other regulations. Of the three localities home to Lake Anna shoreline—Louisa, Spotsylvania and Orange—only Louisa has a shoreline ordinance regulating overwater structures.

Staff’s recommendation would leave intact a third section of the ordinance related to erosion and sediment control, which isn’t covered in Dominion’s guidelines. A fourth section addressing dredging, which refers to Dominion’s rules, would also remain.

A provision that mandates the use of dark-sky compliant lighting on overwater structures would be moved to another code section. 

Staff has said that Dominion and the county’s overlapping rules cause confusion and eat up staff time even though the company, not the county, ultimately controls what’s built on the lake.

Even if the county repeals its rules, staff has made clear it would retain some say in overwater structures via the building permit process. Property owners and developers would still have to secure a building permit from the county, but staff wouldn’t apply a duplicative review after Dominion signs off on a project.

Cuckoo District Supervisor Chris McCotter, who represents most of the lake below the Route 208 bridge, requested that the board remove the public hearing from Monday night’s agenda. Though he didn’t discuss his request during the meeting, in a follow-up interview, McCotter told Engage Louisa that he wanted more time to carefully study how the repeal would impact the lake.

“I personally didn’t fully understand the implications of what was being proposed, so I went on a mission to collect information to help me better understand, considering that my district has a lot of shoreline in it. Whatever we do would affect my constituents, both residents and businesses, profoundly,” he said.

McCotter said that while there are similarities between Dominion’s rules and the county standards, the documents aren’t identical, and it may be worth keeping some of the provisions in the two sections proposed for repeal. While he didn’t offer specifics, he expressed concern about axing regulations for overwater structures built in commercial areas and subdivisions’ common areas. 

“In my mind, there are certain elements that Louisa County still needs to be involved in, that being commercial structures…as well as common area structures,” McCotter said. “Whether or not we will retain those in Louisa’s [ordinance], we’ll see.”

While McCotter has expressed some concerns about the repeal, Mineral District Supervisor Duane Adams, who represents the upper end of the lake, has signaled that he’s in favor of staff’s proposal.

When supervisors initially discussed the issue in December, prior to McCotter joining the board, Adams said that the shoreline ordinance might’ve been a good idea in 2005 when it was adopted, but it’s turned into a burden for staff, particularly as the lake’s shoreline gets more crowded. He said that staff is taking on an increasingly complicated task, even though Dominion has the final say on structures built over the water and their orientation. 

McCotter said that “a compromise” might be considered that could address a range of concerns. He said the board could hold a public hearing on the ordinance as soon as its April 8 meeting.

Mineral District resident John Wayne, the chair of the Lake Anna Civic Association’s land use committee, was the only community member to weigh in on the proposed changes when the Planning Commission held its public hearing in February. Wayne said that his organization is mostly concerned about “ceding a governmental responsibility to a company.”

He said that Dominion’s rules essentially amount to a business agreement with individual property owners, which can be changed at any time and for any reason. He argued that county involvement provides a safeguard to ensure that residents aren’t “waking up to find that the guy who started the boathouse yesterday [is building] to 40 feet and counting.”

“It is not clear to me how the county will be in a position to manage issues that arise, particularly in the area of boathouse size and height, even though the county will still issue a building permit for the structure,” Wayne said in an email to LACA members that he shared with Engage Louisa. 

After discussing the item at two work sessions, the Planning Commission voted 5-2 to recommend that supervisors approve the partial repeal. Louisa District Commissioner Matt Kersey and Green Springs District Commissioner Jim Dickerson cast the no votes.

March 11, 2024 Engage Louisa© 2024 Tammy Purcell





Board appropriates $1 million in state funding to LAAC for HAB mitigation: Supervisors voted unanimously to appropriate $1 million in state funding to the Lake Anna Advisory Committee for Harmful Algal Bloom mitigation and remediation treatments in the upper end of the lake. The funding was allocated to the Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) last September in an amendment to the state budget. 

LAAC is an interjurisdictional panel comprised of representatives from Louisa, Orange and Spotsylvania counties, the three localities home to Lake Anna shoreline. It advises the counties on lake-related issues and oversees the placement of no-wake buoys on the lake’s public side as well as treatment for invasive hydrilla. The panel will add administering the state-funded HAB mitigation and remediation program to its duties. Louisa County will act as the program’s fiscal agent.

Composed of toxin-producing cyanobacteria that can be detrimental to human health and harmful to wildlife and pets, HAB has become a persistent problem at the lake in recent years, prompting the Virginia Department of Health to issue no swim advisories for parts of its upper reaches every summer since 2018. In 2022, the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) named Lake Anna to its list of impaired waterways because of the blooms.

The HAB mitigation program aims to lessen the impact of the blooms in the short-term. Cuckoo District Supervisor Chris McCotter, who represents part of the lake and serves as LAAC’s chair, said that the committee had issued a request for proposals from companies interested in handling the treatment program, receiving two responses. He said that LAAC will soon begin negotiating with the companies.

As HAB advisories repeatedly disrupt the height of tourism season, county officials and grassroots activists have sounded the alarm and lobbied for the state’s help. Supervisors and activists with the Lake Anna Civic Association have argued that the blooms are an immediate threat to the local tourism industry and a long-term threat to the health of the lake. 

Those arguments have led to some help from Richmond on both fronts. Beyond the $1 million for short-term mitigation, the current state budget appropriated $3.5 million to DEQ to study the blooms at the lake and in the Shenandoah River, where they’re also a persistent problem, and to craft long-term strategies to address the problem in both waterways.  

While the exact cause of HAB at Lake Anna is complex, the blooms’ growth is generally attributed to excess nutrients, like phosphorus and nitrogen, in warm, stagnant water. Those nutrients can come from runoff from development and agriculture, among other sources.

The three-year long DEQ study, which began last year, includes extensive data collection to determine exactly what sorts of algal species are present and to identify pollutants contributing to the blooms and other causal factors. The study will also focus on developing prediction models for early detection, identifying management approaches, and working with stakeholders to develop a watershed plan. (Read more here). 

More state aid could be on the way in the state budget lawmakers are currently crafting. Budget bills introduced by the House of Delegates and Senate last week both include funding for near-term mitigation and remediation with the House version allotting $1 million to DCR in FY25 and the Senate version appropriating $250,000. Lawmakers will spend the next several weeks hammering out a compromise budget to send to Governor Glenn Youngkin for consideration.

Feb.28, 2024 Engage Louisa© 2024 Tammy Purcell





Louisa ranks as Virginia’s third fastest-growing locality

As anyone who drives around Louisa County can attest, new homes are going up at a steady clip from Gordonsville to Gum Springs.

But there’s more than anecdotal evidence to suggest that the county’s population is on the rise. 

According to the latest estimates from the University of Virginia’s Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service, Louisa County’s population now exceeds 40,000. At the mid-point of 2023, the county had 40,434 residents, per Weldon Cooper, up from 37,596 in 2020, the year of the last census. From April 1, 2020 to July 1, 2023, the county grew 7.5 percent, making it Virginia’s third-fastest growing locality.

Weldon Cooper provides the state with annual population estimates for localities outside of census years, drawing on a range of sources to compile its data including tax records, new home construction, school enrollment, and birth and death records. The state relies on the estimates to allocate funding and guide its decision-making. 

A closer look at Louisa’s estimate shows that while the county’s death rate outpaced its birth rate over the last three years, strong in-migration drove its population upward with 2,981 more people moving to the county than leaving it.

Louisa’s growth is indicative of a larger statewide and national trend in which residents in densely populated urban and suburban areas are flocking to rural and exurban communities. The four counties that notched the highest percentage of population growth over the last three years—New Kent (11.9 percent), Goochland (7.7 percent), Louisa (7.5 percent) and Caroline (7.0 percent)—are all mostly rural localities that lie on the edge of the Richmond metro area.

Demographer Hamilton Lombard, esimates program manager for the center’s Demographics Research Group, said in an email to Engage Louisa that while the population gains some rural areas are experiencing come as a surprise, that’s not the case for Louisa. He pointed to a few factors driving the county’s growth including its proximity to several sizable metropolitan areas, its lower cost of living than nearby cities and a rise in remote work prompted by the Covid-19 pandemic. Based on IRS data, Lombard said that many of Louisa’s new residents are coming from Spotsylvania, Fairfax, Henrico, Albemarle and Orange counties.

“The large share of remote work that is still taking place is likely helping drive some of the migration. Louisa, with its proximity to nearby job centers, likely is attracting a decent share of remote workers who may go into the office occasionally,” Lombard said. 

Lake Anna, which has become a haven for retirees, is also contributing to the county’s steady growth, Lombard said. But, he noted, the county is attracting residents of all ages.

“Though Louisa has attracted a decent amount of retirees, it has also attracted younger residents, particularly families with children, which has helped boost its school enrollment even as enrollment declines in most counties around the state,” Lombard said.

According to preliminary public school enrollment projections released by Weldon Cooper in January, Louisa County Public Schools is among 15 school divisions expected to see enrollment climb by more than three percent over the next five years. LCPS currently enrolls 5,046 students in grades K-12, according to Weldon Cooper. That figure is expected to rise to 5,307 by the 2028-29 academic year with much of that growth driven by new elementary school students.

Weldon Cooper projects that enrollment in most of Virginia’s 131 public school divisions will decline in the same timeframe driven, in part, by a steady drop in the state’s birth rate.   

Just as Lombard predicts rising enrollment for local schools, he expects the county’s population to continue to grow. 

“For Louisa, provided the county has a good number of lots available to be developed or is willing to allow more development, it's position between DC, Richmond and Charlottesville will cause it to continue to grow at a relatively fast pace,” he said.

Grappling with population growth has emerged as one of the key tensions in Louisa County government. The 2040 Comprehensive Plan, approved by the Board of Supervisors in 2019, states that its chief goal is to preserve the county’s rural character. To do that, the board shrunk the county’s designated growth areas and, in a rewrite of the zoning code that followed, increased to 1.5 acres the minimum lot size in most zoning districts. 

Still, supervisors have approved two significant mixed-use developments at Zion Crossroads in the last five years—the 300+-unit Crossing Pointe and the 649-unit Zion Town Center—that could draw several thousand new residents once they’re built. The county also has a solid supply of buildable lots in its more rural areas.

In population projections published in July 2022, Weldon Cooper anticipated that Louisa’s population would climb to 41,436 by 2030, a figure that will be easily surpassed if current trends continue. (Tammy Purcell, Engage Louisa)

  Louisa County Short-Term Rentals

Final Louisa County Short-Term Rental Ordinance

Last Monday, October 2, the Louisa County Board of Supervisors passed short-term rental (STR) regulations on a 5-2 vote after nearly two years of debate and discussion.  The ordinance provides STR operation by-right in residential areas if certain conditions are met.  This applies to the vast majority of STR’s at Lake Anna.  STR’s operated in agriculturally zoned areas are not subject to these rules per the ruling of the Attorney General earlier this year. (FAAR)

STR operators in residential areas must meeting the following conditions:

  • provide a point of contact for their property to Louisa County and its subdivision’s governing body, if applicable;

  • provide to tenants a copy of Louisa County code sections pertaining to noise and solid waste as well as the definitions for Special Occasion Facilities and Gatherings as part of short-term rental contracts.

  • inform tenants that using the property for a special event typically held at a special occasion facility—a wedding, for example—is prohibited unless the property has a valid Conditional Use Permit;

  • provide to Louisa County documentation of septic system inspections and repairs whenever they are completed, if applicable;

  • comply with all applicable state health department, building code and safety regulations.

STR owners unable to meet these requirements are prohibited from operating a short-term rental unless they obtain a Conditional Use Permit from the Board of Supervisors.  

Louisa County Short -Term Rental Ordinance
STR Ordinance

September 17, 2023

PC rejects draft short-term rental regulations, recommends substitute ordinance

The Louisa County Planning Commission on Thursday night recommended that the Board of Supervisors adopt rules for short-term lodging that could shake up the vacation rental market at Lake Anna.

Commissioners voted unanimously to reject a draft short-term rental ordinance sent to them by supervisors in June that would permit property owners in residential zoning in the county’s growth areas to rent dwellings for 30 day or less by-right with some restrictions. The commission instead suggested that the board adopt far tighter regulations.

In a 6-1 vote, commissioners recommended that supervisors require STR owners in most residential zoning (R-1, R-2), inside or outside of growth areas, to obtain a Conditional Use Permit. The CUP process typically requires a public hearing in front of the Planning Commission and the Board of Supervisors and an up-or-down vote by the board. Louisa District Commissioner Manning Woodward was the only member to oppose the substitute proposal.

The commission’s recommendation came after a series of meetings where members discussed the proposed regulations that they ultimately rejected, expressing concerns that they failed to address issues raised by community members impacted by STRs.  The draft was crafted by county officials behind closed doors after a public stakeholders’ group, formed last year, couldn’t agree on how to move forward.

Broadly, the draft would allow STRs by-right with some general restrictions in residential (R-1, R-2) and resort development zoning in growth areas, permit the rentals by-right with no restrictions in agricultural zoning and require STR operators to obtain a CUP in other zoning districts. The restrictions would require STR owners to provide contact information to the county, offer one off-street parking space per bedroom and space for a trailer, and submit to the county any work or inspections done on a dwelling’s septic system, among other rules. 

Before motioning to recommend that supervisors reject the draft, Cuckoo District Commissioner George Goodwin said he didn’t see how it benefitted the community. 

“I’m going to go back to the Zoning Administrator’s presentation, Mr. (Josh) Gillespie. He had three slides. One was reasons for the ordinance. One was strategic goals, and one was benefits of the proposed ordinance. What was listed was quality of life, public health and safety, and compatibility. I gotta say I don’t see what has been presented to us as addressing any of those issues,” Goodwin said, referencing a presentation by county staff earlier in the meeting. 

Commissioners also voiced concern about allowing a commercial use in residential neighborhoods by-right with only broad restrictions.    

“What we have before us is not specific enough. I think we’ve got some work to do…we’ve got to have clear guidelines on what can be done since it’s going to be a by-right use (in some) residential zoning,” Mountain Road District Commissioner Gordon Brooks said.

For over a year, county officials have struggled with how to regulate short-term lodging, which has exploded in popularity in recent years especially around Lake Anna. Currently, county code doesn’t explicitly permit the use, meaning STRs technically require a Conditional Use Permit. But the county hasn’t enforced that rule and more than 460 rentals operate here, per figures from the Commissioner of Revenue’s Office, largely free of official oversight. More than 90 percent of the rentals are clustered around Lake Anna, according to county staff, mostly in residential neighborhoods in the Lake Anna Growth Area. 

The proliferation of STRs in lakeside neighborhoods has stirred controversy. Some year-round residents have argued that the rentals are businesses operating in residential areas and threaten the character of their community, public safety and the health of the lake. They’ve expressed particular concern that overcrowded STRs could lead to failing septic systems that harm the lake’s water quality and pushed for a two-person per bedroom occupancy cap, a standard generally in accord with state health department guidelines for septic systems and the state building code. 

Many STR operators and members of the business community have taken a different view, contending that strictly regulated the rentals would decimate the local tourism industry and, in turn, hurt small businesses. In meetings last year, some strongly opposed the occupancy limit and the idea that STRs should require county approval via the CUP process. 

Community concerns

Both sides reiterated their concerns during Thursday night’s public hearing. Many of the 13 speakers urged the county to cap occupancy at two people per bedroom and impose regulations for septic system maintenance. They said the draft rules fail to address concerns that overtaxed septic systems are a long-term threat to the lake. Some argued that the draft does little to ensure public safety. 

“(The proposal) misses the elephant in the room: discharge of waste from overloaded septic systems, not just the smell, the damage that does to the lake,” said Christine Hunt, a resident of the Wyndemere subdivision in Spotsylvania County.

Hunt linked runoff from septic systems to the Harmful Algal Blooms that have plagued the upper end of the lake in recent years. While the causes of the blooms are complex, they’re generally attributed to excess phosphorus and nitrogen, nutrients that can come for sewage systems, fertilizer and other sources. 

“It starts with an algae bloom…and gets worse. Excess nitrogen and phosphorus is leeching and running off into the lake. It will be the end of the Lake Anna cash cow. It’s in danger of being sacrificed,” she said. 

Larry Zemke, president of the Windwood Coves Homeowners Association, echoed Hunt, saying that septic system failure is a significant threat to the lake and noting that a two-bedroom STR in his neighborhood routinely advertises that it sleeps more than 10 people. “That’s a lot of butts on the seats in a very compressed period of time,” Zemke quipped. 

“A septic system failure in my community will find its way into the lake. Many of the area lake businesses look to the lake as a goldmine for revenue and profit. But what happens when the lake starts to stink? How many years of cleanup will be required before the goldmine returns to full operation,” he said.

Harry Looney, speaking on behalf of the 850-member Lake Anna Civic Association (LACA), said that the organization doesn’t oppose STRs but supports limits that comport with “state septic system permit and state building code levels of occupancy.”

 “With the HAB issues we experience each year at Lake Anna, we are especially sensitive to the issue of septic system overuse and, as important, overcrowded rental homes, with individuals sleeping in rooms without proper egress, pose significant safety issues to the visitors of the county,” Looney said. 

Some speakers warned the commission against allowing STRs as a by-right use in residential zoning, saying that it runs counter to current code.  

“The present ordinance doesn’t allow commercial activity in R-zoned districts and STRs are clearly a commercial entity. The new zoning proposal would allow by-right STRs. This contradicts the current code and does not help solve the problem. It exacerbates it,” lake resident Dennis Wallingsford said.  

But several speakers who operate short-term rentals at the lake said that an occupancy cap and other rules would unfairly single them out and urged the county to permit the use by-right, noting that the rentals are a boon for county coffers and local businesses.

Daniel Kauffman said that, as an STR owner, he too wants to keep the lake clean, and he understands the need for some septic system regulations. But he said the occupancy cap doesn’t make sense and pointed to the ripple effect of short-term rentals on the local economy.

“Short-term rentals are really valuable to this county,” Kauffman said. “The real income is from the people visiting the county because they spend money at all the local businesses. There’s also a lot of money that goes into the cleaning fees. We pay our cleaning team $300 to $500 per time to come and clean the home.” 

Kate Killham, another STR owner, said the proposed ordinance would implement “reasonable” regulations. She said imposing a two-person per bedroom occupancy cap and mandatory septic system pump outs, which were included in a draft considered by county officials last year, unfairly singles out STR owners and that proponents of such regulations are playing a game of “what if.” 

“You might hear from residents who claim that failing septic systems from rentals will compromise water quality. However, all they offer is supposition not evidence. Even LACA’s own research does not show that failing septic systems are to blame for HAB despite what LACA leadership might say,” Killham said. “Community what ifs are not conclusive, and they have yet to present anything but supposition.” 

Substitute proposal

After rejecting the draft ordinance considered during the public hearing, commissioners turned their attention to crafting a substitute proposal.

Most notably, the commission’s recommendation requires a CUP for short-term rentals across all county zoning designations except resort development (RD) and agricultural districts (A-1, A-2). The county wouldn’t impose rules on STRs in agricultural zoning to comply with an opinion that Attorney General Jason Miyares published earlier this year, which essentially says that localities can’t use their zoning code to regulate short-term rentals on agricultural land because the use is considered agritourism.

In RD zoning, which includes Spring Creek at Zion Crossroads, Cutalong at Lake Anna and several other areas, STRs would be allowed by-right with restrictions.  Those restrictions have been beefed up significant from the rejected draft, drawing mostly on a proposal submitted by Commission Chair John Disosway. The restrictions include a two-person per bedroom occupancy cap, which exempts children under two and allows for two additional people. 

Disosway said that an occupancy cap is just as important to ensure fire safety as it is to guard against septic system failure. 

“The last thing I want to read about in the paper is a fire at a weekend rental on the lake with grandchildren and children (in an) unfamiliar (space who) could not find their way out. Six dead,” he said.

The restrictions also require STRs owners in RD zoning to register with the county and pay a $50 fee unless they’re a licensed real estate agent or represented by a realtor, submit a property management plan to the county, and provide at least one designated parking space per bedroom and space for a trailer, among other rules. 

The Board of Supervisors has the final say on STR regulations. At the publication time, supervisors hadn’t advertised a public hearing to consider either proposal.  (source: Tammy Purcell, Engage Louisa)

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