While COVID remained part of our collective vocabulary this year, the global pandemic didn’t stop Chesterfield County from moving forward in several key areas. Fueled by a vibrant local economy that continues to outperform the region, state and nation, Chesterfield made targeted investments that will produce tangible quality-of-life benefits for county residents far into the future. Here are highlights from the year that was 2021.
COUNTY'S ONGOING RESPONSE TO COVID-19
As the national strategy for combating COVID-19 shifted from a focus on testing to delivering newly developed vaccines, Chesterfield saw a need to assist the state and better help residents obtain access to the vaccines. Therefore, Chesterfield offered and ultimately provided vital planning, logistical, IT, and communication support to the Virginia Department of Health. The county also took the initiative and used public libraries to help people register online for vaccines, supported community vaccination clinics at the county fairgrounds and Virginia State University, administered vaccines to homebound residents through its own Mobile Integrated Healthcare program, provided free rides to vaccine appointments via Access Chesterfield, launched a dashboard to track progress in getting shots in arms and augmented the commonwealth’s communication efforts. As of Dec. 27, more than 220,000 county residents are fully vaccinated and more than 242,000 have received at least one dose.
Work has begun on the $8.5 million renovation of the former Beulah Elementary School building, which is being converted into a recreation center and administrative offices for Chesterfield Parks and Recreation. The Board of Supervisors allocated $25 million in federal COVID-19 relief funds to other parks projects, including initial development of Cogbill Park in northeastern Chesterfield. Funding for the replacement Midlothian Library was approved and construction of a new Midlothian fire station will be completed next year. The county also is partnering with a local nonprofit, Project: HOMES, on the revitalization of the Bermuda Estates mobile home park on Route 1, and with the Maggie Walker Community Land Trust to redevelop the former Ettrick Elementary Annex property for an affordable housing community of single-family residences.
Falling Creek Middle School
FUNDING FOR TWO NEW MIDDLE SCHOOLS
By reallocating $27 million from its fiscal year 2021 operating surplus to fully fund a supplemental retirement plan for Chesterfield County Public Schools (CCPS) employees, the county government is freeing up about $12 million annually in the school system’s budget. Part of that money will be used to pay off $130 million in bonds Chesterfield is issuing to build two much-needed new middle schools: one in the western Route 360 corridor to relieve overcrowding at Tomahawk Creek, and the other to provide a larger, modern replacement for Falling Creek. The schools are expected to be open by August 2024 – at least a year earlier than if CCPS had waited to use the proceeds from a planned 2022 bond referendum.
STRATEGIC LAND ACQUISITION AND DEVELOPMENT
To ensure that strategically located parcels are developed (or redeveloped) for the highest and best use, Chesterfield took a proactive approach to land acquisition in 2021 – finalizing purchases of five properties totaling approximately 2,600 acres. It released plans to redevelop the Spring Rock Green shopping center into a mixed-use development at a key county gateway (Midlothian Turnpike and Chippenham Parkway) and use the former Southside Speedway site to enhance sports tourism in the Genito Road corridor. The county also acquired two waterfront properties with a focus on recreation, enhancing residents’ access to the James River and expanding an existing conservation area along the Appomattox River. Currently, the county is working with residents to consider rezoning the 2,400-acre Upper Magnolia property for an employment center, public facility sites and low-density residential.
COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT REIMAGINED
Chesterfield has always focused on engaging with residents by hosting community meetings prior to the pandemic. However, as restrictions for gatherings continued throughout the year, Chesterfield expanded its efforts. Engaging with the community in a variety of digital formats, the county increased its dissemination of important information where residents most commonly access it and offered unprecedented opportunities to provide feedback to their elected leaders. In addition to a growing audience on its social media channels (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, NextDoor and YouTube), the county continued to provide its weekly e-newsletter (Happening in Chesterfield) and launched a video podcast (Chesterfield Behind the Mic) and a blog (Chesterfield On Point) in early fall. A priority to Chesterfield has also been to collect public input. Streaming community meetings on Facebook Live and creating meeting and project specific online comment portals allowed Chesterfield to reach more residents giving them a voice in the county’s decision-making process without leaving their homes.
Perkinson Center for the Arts
CURTAIN RAISED ON ARTS CENTER
After more than 30 years of planning, construction of the Perkinson Center for the Arts was completed in fall 2020, but COVID-related capacity restrictions and social distancing requirements delayed any in-person programming until this year. The $17 million, 23,000-square-foot facility’s grand opening and ceremonial ribbon-cutting took place in June. Located adjacent to the Chester Library, it includes a 354-seat main theater, a gallery for displaying visual art works, performing arts studios, classroom space and a brick patio for outdoor performances. It’s the first of its kind south of the James River, and will enhance access to arts and cultural opportunities for both Chesterfield residents and the entire Richmond region.
INVESTMENTS IN QUALITY OF LIFE
Money magazine included Chesterfield on its 2021 list of the top 50 places to live in the U.S, following on the heels of its recognition by Forbes as a best-in-state employer. But the county isn’t resting on those laurels. It continues to focus on quality of life issues such as connectivity, with the creation of a dedicated funding source for sidewalk construction using a portion of revenue from vehicle registration fees. State and regional transportation funding has been committed for the multi-use Fall Line Trail, 16 miles of which will traverse eastern Chesterfield and promote safe outdoor recreation. There’s also a new concert series that launched with two shows in the county this year; a full schedule of concerts is expected in 2022, expanding opportunities for residents to enjoy live music in Chesterfield.
ZONING ORDINANCE REWRITE
In one of its most ambitious initiatives, Chesterfield’s Planning Department is working with a team of consultants to update the county’s rulebook for managing land use. Called “ZOMod,” short for zoning ordinance modernization, the project aims to completely overhaul Chesterfield’s zoning ordinance to consider new development trends, update land use categories and align with the future vision of the countywide comprehensive plan. Over time, the ordinance should be updated to accommodate changes in regional development trends, address the needs of residents and the needs of businesses to attract workers and serve people in our community. But even as Chesterfield has grown, its zoning ordinance has not been significantly amended in more than 30 years; with community input, planners think ZOMod will set the stage for quality development in Chesterfield over the next two decades.
Chesterfield's approved magisterial district map
As required every decade in conjunction with the U.S. Census, the Board of Supervisors finalized a plan for redrawing the boundaries of Chesterfield’s five magisterial districts. It allocates the county’s 365,000 residents evenly among the Bermuda, Clover Hill, Dale, Matoaca and Midlothian districts, while satisfying requirements under state law that the districts be compact and contiguous, and has very little effect on racial demographics in each district. Chesterfield launched a dedicated census webpage soon after receiving its census data, helping residents navigate the redistricting process and providing them an online portal to submit comments and concerns. Feedback also was gathered by mail, during two Facebook Live community meetings and a public hearing hosted by the Board of Supervisors. The county received more than 350 comments in total and residents’ input was incorporated into the approved map.
SALARY INCREASES FOR PUBLIC SAFETY WORKERS AND TEACHERS
After hiring a consultant to conduct a compensation study for police officers, firefighters, sheriff’s deputies, teachers and other school-based workers, then receiving the findings in late 2020, the Board of Supervisors allocated $36.7 million this year to implement new pay plans for about 7,000 employees. The historic investment alleviates severe compression in their salary scales, rewards Chesterfield’s veteran employees for their experience, wisdom and loyalty, and aids the county government and school system in recruiting and retaining a high-quality workforce. Chesterfield is in the process of performing a similar study for thousands of employees not covered by the new pay plans and expects to receive the results early next year.
Chesterfield County Administrator Dr. Joe Casey touched on these and many other topics when he gave his annual State of the County address in early December. You can view his full presentation below.