Taxes, election loom large over James City in 2015

abogues@vagazette.com

Editor's note: There was no lacking for big stories in the Williamsburg area this past year. Politics, tourism and electrical power were among some of the mostly hotly debated topics among readers.

The Gazette's staff has put together a series of stories outlining the top stories of 2015. We will then take a look at the stories we expect to see in the upcoming year in the Saturday, Jan. 2 edition.

JAMES CITY — Fierce political battles, controversial land use decisions and the first real estate tax increase in nearly 20 years dominated 2015 in James City County. Meanwhile, the Army Corps of Engineers is still determining whether to grant Dominion Virginia Power a federal permit to build transmission lines across the James River to a proposed substation in James City County.

The year's political scene hit a crescendo in November where three seats on the Board of Supervisors were contested and two incumbents were unseated.

Here are some of the biggest stories that took place in James City in 2015:

Board of Supervisors election

Incumbent supervisors Jim Kennedy and Mary Jones lost their re-election bids to two newcomers in November's election in a race that largely centered on the controversial real estate tax increase the board passed in the spring.

Jones, a Republican who represented the Berkeley District, was opposed to the tax increase and was the sole member of the Board of Supervisors to vote against it.

She lost to School Board member and political independent Ruth Larson. Kennedy, an independent who identifies as a Republican, backed the tax increase but was defeated by Republican challenger Sue Sadler, who was making her first run for office.

Democrat John McGlennon fended off a challenge from Republican School Board Vice Chairwoman Heather Cordasco, winning the Roberts District by a razor-thin 42 votes.

Jones, Cordasco and Sadler campaigned in-kind, pledging to roll back the tax increase if elected and increase transparency and accountability in local government. The election left the bloc supported by Board Chairman Michael Hipple in power, with 4 votes backing the tax increase to one in opposition.

Tax increase

After being warned by their Richmond-based financial advisor Davenport & Company, that the county was in jeopardy of losing its AAA bond rating if it continued to tap into reserve accounts, the Board of Supervisors considered the first tax increase since 1996.

The increase, which raised an additional $7.8 million in tax revenue, helped fund five strategic initiatives outlined by County Administrator Bryan Hill, including stormwater management, economic development, cleaning the county, education funding and replenishing reserves.

The 7 cent hike in the tax rate means the average homeowner in James City County pays about $20 more per month in their real estate tax bill. The tax increase met vigorous opposition from outside conservative groups, including Americans for Prosperity.

The tax increase also set the stage for the county to begin dealing with its water needs, as the state looks at nearly halving the amount of water the county can use with its groundwater withdrawal permit. The county estimates it could cost as much as $120 million to handle its water needs, by either purchasing the water elsewhere or building a river desalination plant on the Chickahominy.

Dominion power line fight continues

After the State Supreme Court ruled in May that the county had to seek authorization from the James City County Board of Supervisors to build a switching station, a federal review process continued to see if the utility giant could build the transmission lines across the James River.

Dominion has said it needs to build 500-kilovolt transmission lines across the James to ensure adequate power on its Peninsula grid. The Planning Commission rejected the plan from Dominion in August, citing concerns about its compatibility with the county's comprehensive plan.

Meanwhile, the Army Corps of Engineers continued to discuss whether or not Dominion could receive a federal permit to put 17 transmission towers, some as high as 295 feet, in the water.

The Corps is considering environmental, historical and economic impacts as it considers the process. The National Parks Service Director, Jonathan B. Jarvis, sent a letter to the commander of the Army Corps in Washington D.C., urging him to reject the project citing the impact it could have on the historic views of the James River.

Peninsula Pentecostals get their church

After a nearly two year fight, the Peninsula Pentecostals got permission to build a church in the Grove area of the county. Although the church was rejected by the Planning Commission for a rezoning application, the Board of Supervisors unanimously approved the group's application to build a church.

BASF rezoning denied

BASF Corps. was rejected by the Board of Supervisors and Planning Commission in its bid to rezone one of the largest waterfront tracts in the county.

The property has sat vacant for the past 25 years, and the company hoped to get it rezoned to mixed use in an effort to solicit a wider range of businesses, including a possible waterfront developer. Fort Eustis officials opposed the idea of a neighboring waterfront development and Secretary of Defense and Veterans Affairs John C. Harvey sent a letter urging the company to do a joint land study with the county and military partners to avoid potential hazards.

The biggest stories of 2015

There was no lacking for big stories in the Williamsburg area this past year. Politics, tourism and electrical power were among some of the mostly hotly debated topics among readers.

The Gazette's staff has put together a series of stories outlining the top stories of 2015. We will then take a look at the stories we expect to see in the upcoming year in the Saturday, Jan. 2 edition.

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