2013: The Year in Review
New Year’s is always a special time to reflect – to look back on the year behind us and toward the year before us.
Hanover County and Ashland had a big year in 2013 and it’s worth going back in time to revisit our top stories from the past year as we launch into 2014.
California-based Craig Realty Group announced they had finalized a deal to purchase 43 acres of undeveloped land at the corner of Lakeridge Parkway and Lewistown Road to develop The Outlets at Richmond, an upscale factory outlet center.
The Hanover Board of Supervisors reorganized for 2013 during their first meeting of the New Year with Mechanicsville Supervisor W. Canova Peterson elected chairman and Henry District Supervisor Sean Davis named vice chairman. Both officials were beginning the second year of their first term on the board.
South Anna District Supervisor Wayne Hazzard’s vote to repeal the county’s cash proffers policy came under fire after it came to light that he owned 160 undeveloped acres rezoned for residential use in the Cold Harbor District, meaning he would not have to pay the roughly $14,000 fee to develop those lots.
In response to a fifth consecutive year of multimillion-dollar budget shortfalls, numerous supporters of Hanover Public Schools appeared before the board of supervisors, pleading for restoration of funding.
The Hanover School Board was examining implementing extracurricular fees as a means of sparing teacher positions from budget cuts. The school system was spending upwards of $900,000 on middle and high school athletics programs.
The Chickahominy Health District, which encompasses Hanover County, received its first dedicated director in four years with the hire of Dr. Tom Franck. He previously served as deputy director for the Chesterfield Health Department and health director for the Rappahannock Health District.
In their final work session in a long budget process, the school board restored eight teacher positions from the chopping block. Still a total of 16 positions were cut in the proposed spending plan.
Hanover authorities charged Kimberly Shepperson with aggravated malicious wounding and arson related to a house fire at her Bultaco Trail home. Investigators claimed that Shepperson lit two fires in her home after attacking her 11-year-old son with an ax, with the intent of killing all three of her children and herself.
A lease dispute between Bon Secours and the VCU Massey Cancer Center which operates at Hanover Medical Park was threatening local cancer treatment. The Cancer Center was told they would have to vacate the center where it had provided radiation treatment for 20 years after attempting to purchase the facility.
Ashland officials were weighing the future of the Carter Park Pool in the face of rising maintenance costs. The town had spent close to $40,000 patching up the pool since fiscal year 2010. Town manager Charles Hartgrove was recommending setting $100,000 aside annually in the town’s capital fund to help pay for an extended renovation or replacement of the facility.
Participants in the Ashland Variety Show build toward a big finale.
Ashlanders were preparing to take part in “Ashland’s Bandstand: Raise the Roof,” the 17th Ashland Musical Variety Show benefitting the Hanover Arts and Activities Center. The biennial production features musical numbers by members of the community and helped repair the roof of the local arts center.
In a brief ceremony at the Virginia Department of Fire Programs, Mechanicsville native Kirk Rohle was presented with the “Governor’s Civilian Lifesaving Award” for entering a burning building at Hampden-Sydney College to rescue a longtime friend. The incident left Rohle severely burned, but he had since recovered fully and graduated.
The Herald-Progress announced it would be moving the weekly community newspaper back to its ancestral building at 112 Thompson Street in downtown Ashland. The H-P had operated out of the Hanover Industrial Air Park since 1991 when the paper moved its printing operations and offices there as a way to consolidate operations.
Lacrosse joined the list of Hanover Public Schools’ extracurricular activities for the first time. It had previously been a club sport at Hanover’s high schools. Official Virginia High School League status created more competitive opportunities for student athletes.
The owners of the Henry Clay Inn requested a change to Ashland’s zoning ordinance that would allow the historic downtown building to operate as a dormitory for Randolph-Macon honor students with a conditional use permit.
David Myers was hired as assistant superintendent for business and operations with Hanover Public Schools after serving in Richmond, Henrico and Chesterfield school districts. Myers was hired to oversee the divisions finance and budgeting, transportation and food service operations as well as facilities maintenance and construction.
The Ashland Main Street Association and Ashland Museum dedicated a historical marker on the 100-year-old building currently housing the Iron Horse Restaurant and McKinney & Co. at the corner of Railroad Avenue and Thompson Street. The building was home to “the Miller & Rhoads of Ashland,” the D.B. Cox Department store, from 1913 to 1960.
The board of supervisors decided that four chimpanzees housed at Windy Oaks Animal Farm, a private zoo in Mechanicsville, would have to be rehomed. The owner had failed to obtain vicious animal permits for four of his six chimpanzees, which came to the county’s attention during two earlier incidents where a chimpanzee escaped.
Ashland Town Council voted to raise local taxes on cigarettes and lodging as a way to help funding their $8 million operating budget and $3.2 million of capital projects. The two tax increases were expected to generated a combined $222,000, which, along with a $670,800 transfer from the town’s savings, were used to balance the budget.
In addition to arson and malicious wounding charges, Kimberly Shepperson was charged with two counts of attempted capital murder related to the Feb. 21 incident where she attacked her son with an ax and tried to burn down her house with herself and her three children inside.
It came to light that Elton Wade Sr., Cold Harbor supervisor, was earning more than double the annual pay usually allotted for his position as traffic guard at two county schools. Wade was earning $30,030 when the most anyone could earn under the school system’s job description for that post was around $14,000.
Two decades of citizen-led efforts paid off for the “Center of the Universe” with the announcement by Gov. Bob McDonnell that the town had been designated as an official Virginia Main Street Community – one of only 26 statewide – which opened the door for economic and cultural benefits.
Cold Harbor Supervisor Elton Wade Sr. announced his retirement from the traffic guard position he’d held since 1988, following intense media scrutiny over his inflated salary for the post. It had previously come to light that he earned more than double the maximum amount allowed for the position.
Henry District Supervisor Sean Davis hosted a public forum on the lack of high-speed Internet in some areas of the county. Representatives from the communications industry told the crowd of about 200 that extending high speed Internet in rural areas becomes cost-prohibitive.
Hanover County received an exemption from the Voting Rights Act, which applies to states with a history of discrimination at the polls, which allowed the county to sidestep a provision requiring it to notify the department of justice of any changes to polling places.
Contestants in the Little Miss/Tiny Miss Hanover Tomato Pageant wave to the crowd during the 35th Tomato Festival held in July.Contestants in the Little Miss/Tiny Miss Hanover Tomato Pageant wave to the crowd during the 35th Tomato Festival held in July.
The Hanover Tomato Festival was prepared to kick off its 35th year highlighting Hanover’s famed produce while benefiting the Black Creek Volunteer Fire Department. The event was being dedicated to Oscar Watson, a longtime event organizer and Black Creek fireman who had passed away in September.
The race to fill the 55th District House of Delegates seat being vacated by John Cox was in full swing as Democrat Toni Radler, Republican Buddy Fowler and Libertarian Chris Sullivan all announced plans to run for the post leading up to November.
During a flight from Salisbury, Md. en route to the Hanover County Municipal Airport, Pilot Paul Boulden, of Mechanicsville, safely landed his single-engine plane outside of Tappahannock during an inflight engine failure with three passengers onboard.
Hanover supervisors unanimously agreed to ask the legislature for a change to Virginia’s Freedom of Information Act, which would allow local elected officials to meet in groups of three to discuss public business outside of open meetings. Current law limits the number of officials allowed to meet outside of public meetings to two.
Hanover Sheriff Col. David Hines reported that although homicides had fallen in 2013, overall crime in the first half of 2013 had increased nearly 7 percent over the same time frame in 2012. The county had seen no murders in 2013 compared to five slayings in 2012, the most since 1993.
After agreeing to block school employees from exceeding their set pay range, Hanover school officials found that nearly 50 employees earn more than their pay scale allows. Examination of employee contracts began shortly after former traffic guard and current Cold Harbor Supervisor Elton Wade Sr.’s pay came to light
Some school board officials expressed concerns that older schools in the county were overfilled while newer schools had spare student capacity. Overall, school facilities were at 85 percent capacity countywide, but the complaints kicked off a full review of all county schools.
Mechanicsville residents were becoming increasingly vocal in opposition to a proposed 12-screen Mechanicsville movie theater, with claims that the cinema would attract crime and increase traffic congestion in the area of Lee-Davis Road and Mechanicsville Turnpike.
Work began in downtown Ashland on a streetscape project that officials said would enhance public safety and accessibility to downtown businesses while also addressing infrastructure problems in the heart of town. Work on the first phase of the two-phase $600,000 concluded in November.
Virginia Freedom of Information Act advisory council declined Hanover County’s request to review the state’s current definition of a public meeting after the board of supervisors agreed to ask the legislature to allow up to three officials to meet without having to give notice.
Ashland Town Council agreed it needed to review its ordinance for political signs, which was in conflict with state in federal law. The issue came to the town’s attention after a citizen complained that signs were being displayed prior to the 30-day allowable window before an election.
Ashland officials announced that Jean and A.D. Whittaker had donated the circa-1948 Ashland Theater to the town. The town hoped to attract private sector partners to help transform the long-vacant facility into a thriving entertainment hub, which would play into ongoing downtown revitalization efforts.
Kimberly Shepperson pleaded guilty to charges of attempted capital murder, arson and malicious wounding related to the February incident where she attacked her 11-year-old son with an ax and tried to burn down her Mechanicsville home with herself and three children inside. In court documents, Shepperson confessed she had modeled the crime after a similar domestic murder-suicide plot carried out by a friend.
Tourism in Hanover County was at its highest level in five years. A total of 24,500 travelers had visited one of the county’s two main visitor centers – one in Ashland and another at Bass Pro Shops – during the previous fiscal year.
Vitamin Shoppe opened its new distribution center in Ashland, where they planned to ship health products to stores in four states from their 311,740 square-foot warehouse. At the time of the opening, the facility employed about 50 workers, but company officials hoped Vitamin Shoppe would eventually generate more than 170 local jobs.
Republican Buddy Fowler claimed the 55th District House of Delegates seat in an election that saw Democrats take all three top state-wide offices: governor, lt. governor and attorney general.
The Hanover School Board voted in favor of extending teachers’ probationary period to five years, claiming the change gives principals more time to observe and evaluate teachers before moving forward to continuing contract status.
The board of supervisors set a public hearing on a proposed $44 million courts facility after the project had been on hold for several years. The first designs emerged in 2008, but the project was delayed in 2009 due to lack of funding.
Hanover’s representatives in the General Assembly deemed some of the board of supervisors’ legislative goals unrealistic during a meeting between the board and state officials.
An ordinance to free up land currently in agricultural or timber production for commercial use narrowly passed a divided board of supervisors. Proponents said it would give Hanover a better competitive edge for attracting new businesses, while opponents claimed it was unfair to a number of county landowners.
The Henry Clay Inn reopened for business after failed bid to sell the iconic bed and breakfast to Randolph-Macon for use as an honor student dormitory. Ashland Town Council had previously rejected a request from the inn’s owners to allow the inn to operate as student housing.
Ashland Town Council agreed set a public hearing on a budget amendment that would dedicate $100,000 to repairs at the circa-1948 Ashland Theater. The facility was donated to the town in late September and the town did not have any line in the budget that would allow for repairs.
County public works staff was working on how to pay for upcoming work needed to comply with pending federal and state stormwater mandates tied to Chesapeake Bay restoration. All localities have to have plans in place by July.