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Hanover officials discuss General Assembly priorities

The interior of the Virginia General Assembly
Shaban Athuman
VPM News
House Speaker Don Scott Jr., D–Portsmouth, delivers his first remarks as Speaker during the first day of the Virginia General Assembly on Jan. 10, 2024.

County administrator talks bills to "keep an eye on" during the 2024 session.

As legislators in Virginia’s General Assembly continue their ongoing efforts to make codifiable changes in the state, rural localities like Hanover County are keeping an eye on which bills will have the greatest impact locally.

Hanover County Administrator John Budesky told VPM News that the county continues to monitor bills which could affect school funding and bills related to land use, public utilities and energy infrastructure.

“We want to protect school funding and find out where our opportunities are doing, but there are also other bills that could impose undue burdens or costs on localities are always something we monitor as well,” Budesky said.

One issue Hanover officials have voiced concerns over is the balance between local and state control in land use issues. A bill that illustrates such concerns, House Bill 636, was heard in a subcommittee Tuesday night.

The bill introduced by Del. Richard “Rip” Sullivan (D–Fairfax), would allow energy developers to obtain a certificate of approval from the State Corporation Commission for individual facilities rather than from the governing body of a locality.

Developers could apply directly to the commission if a locality fails to approve or deny an application within 120 days after filing, an application complies with certain requirements set forth by the commission and a host locality denies the application, or the locality amends its zoning ordinance after a developer is deemed compatible with commission approval.

The bill would apply to solar and wind energy facilities in Virginia and potentially affect existing local ordinances like Hanover’s own solar energy framework, which was an issue Sullivan acknowledged in his remarks Tuesday.

“I've told every local government official coming to me to talk about this bill, in fact and I've had good conversations with all of them,” Sullivan said. “It was meant to shine a spotlight on a challenge that we have … How do we as a state and a collection of localities get to where we need to get with respect to our energy mix here in Virginia?”

Budesky said he believes the county has established a good framework under which to consider the potential development of solar projects that incorporates feedback from residents on case-by-case concerns.

“From our perspective this is a local, land use decision and prefer that it be dealt with at the locality,” Budesky said.

Ultimately, concerns from multiple stakeholders led Del. Sullivan to ask that his bill be deferred from committee to 2025’s session, but this is just one of several bills that highlights the concerns Hanover officials have expressed in preserving the county's character while addressing pressing issues like housing and economic opportunity.

“We have purposely worked to maintain a substantial part of our county as rural,” Budesky said. “Some of the bills that have been introduced impact not only the land use side, but our residents' utilities and housing costs. We share those concerns as well and so we’ve been monitoring that as the session continues.”

Other bills Hanover officials may monitor this legislative session include:

HB 800 authored by House Majority Leader Charniele Herring (D–Alexandria) which was heard in a subcommittee Tuesday. This bill would apply regulations to Virginia’s electric cooperatives, but have the SCC administer them.

If passed, this bill could affect Hanover’s ongoing initiative to provide affordable broadband services as they look to replace polling and install fiber optics in some of Hanover’s more rural and isolated areas.

Del. Kannan Srinivasan (D–Loudoun) and state Sen. Saddam Azlan Salim (D–Fairfax) have introduced similar if not identical bills with SB 304 and HB 900, which require a locality to include in its zoning ordinances allowances for accessory dwelling units, commonly known as ADUs.

Although Hanover has explored allowing these housing units on a case-by-case basis, Budesky said the county is still determining the best method to provide suitable housing for its residents.

“We recognize the problem that the bills are attempting to solve, but requiring recalc localities to accept that every parcel is allowed one additional unit doesn't work for how we have planned and envisioned Hanover,” Budesky said.

Finally, HB 337 brought forth by Del. Josh Thomas (D–Prince William) and SB 284 from state Sen. Danica Roem (D–Prince William) are about land use requirements for local governments. These bills would only allow data centers in areas that have a minimal impact on historic, agricultural and cultural resources such as national park, state park, or other historically significant site.

“Again, we think that this is a more local land use item,” Budesky said. “There are appropriate locations for data centers and some that are less so and I think our process allows us to vet each application as it comes through.”

Lyndon German covers Henrico and Hanover counties for VPM News.