By BRAD FAUBER
WOODSTOCK — Shenandoah County’s Board of Supervisors settled Tuesday night on a redistricting map and will proceed with a future public hearing to field input on the proposed changes to the boundaries of the county’s voting districts.
Supervisors are tasked with approving the necessary changes to the districts following the recent release of U.S. Census data that shows Shenandoah County’s population has grown to 44,186 people, an increase of approximately 2,200 since the last census a decade ago.
Chris Way, the county’s geographic information system coordinator, presented supervisors with three potential redistricting options at their Nov. 9 meeting, and after more discussion on Tuesday night the board chose one of those options to advertise for an upcoming public hearing. The Board of Supervisors has yet to set meeting dates for the 2022 calendar year, so a date for the public hearing is not yet in place, although County Administrator Evan Vass indicated it would likely take place at the January night meeting.
The county’s redistricting efforts seek to equalize the total population among its six districts, which if done perfectly would place 7,364 people in each district. It was noted during Tuesday’s discussion that state law requires districts to have population totals within 5% of the average.
The version supervisors agreed to proceed with on Tuesday would place 7,358 in District 1, 7,332 in District 2, 7,368 in District 3, 7,360 in District 4, 7,381 in District 5 and 7,387 in District 6. Currently, according to 2020 population figures from the latest census, there are 7,263 people in District 1, 6,888 in District 2, 7,212 in District 3, 7,763 in District 4, 7,360 in District 5 and 7,700 in District 6.
Though each option Way presented to supervisors showed slightly different ways of achieving the desired equalization by moving different census blocks — by which the districts’ boundaries are bound — each decreased the geographic footprint of districts 4 and 6, which saw the greatest increase in population since the last census in 2010.
District 6 Supervisor Tim Taylor did express some concern about the option that supervisors ultimately agreed to proceed with, which would move the southern portion of District 6 located to the south and east of the Shenandoah River into District 5. Such a shift would require people who live in the vicinity of Sandy Hook Elementary School, located directly across the river from Strasburg High School, District 6’s polling place, to drive all the way out to Lebanon Church Community Center to cast their votes in District 5.
Taylor did note during Tuesday’s meeting that he’d discussed his concern with Way, who indicated that there wasn’t another way to move the necessary number of people out of District 6 to achieve equalization.
The census block that includes Deer Rapids, which represents the southernmost part of District 6 and rides the east side of the river all the way to Toms Brook, is large geographically and includes 265 people. The block also nearly fully envelopes the census block within the direct vicinity of Sandy Hook Elementary and borders another census block of 30 people located across the river from the town of Strasburg.
Any effort to keep that area within District 6 would force drastic changes to districts elsewhere to compensate for the approximately 350 people, Taylor admitted, and Way noted that the proposed shift presents the simplest option when considering the next redistricting efforts that will need to take place in 2030.
District 1 Supervisor Josh Stephens also noted a portion of his district in the area of Bryce Resort that juts into a surrounding area that is all located in District 2, which creates an irregular shape for the southernmost district that otherwise spans straight across the bottom of the county.
Also on Tuesday, supervisors voted 6-0 to adopt a resolution making the county the fiscal agent in the distribution of funds from the American Rescue Plan Act Municipal Utility Relief Program to the towns of Edinburg, Strasburg and Woodstock. The funds can be used to recover lost revenue resulting from unpaid utility bills due to the financial constraints of COVID-19.
According to the resolution, the town of Edinburg will receive $15,838.15, the town of Strasburg $35,082.55 and the town of Woodstock $23,721.14.
Supervisors also continued — and ultimately ended — discussions that began during the Nov. 9 meeting regarding proffers tied to the Creek Valley Subdivision located in District 1, which achieved the proper rezoning for development in 2005 but was sold a couple of years later and went largely undeveloped until recently, when property owners applied for building permits.
Property owners in the subdivision were seeking the removal of two proffers — one requiring that one resident in 80% of homes be 55 years of age or older and another that requires $1,900 be paid to Shenandoah County per approved lot, to be paid at the time of a building permit is issued — that they said they had no knowledge of when they purchased the lots.
Two supervisors — Stephens and District 4’s Karl Roulston — stated that the property owners shouldn’t be held accountable for proffers they weren’t aware of and favored the county initiating a rezoning process that would allow removal of the proffers, which are tied to the original rezoning request made by a developer that has been out of the picture for nearly 15 years.
The other four supervisors did not support pursuing such action — a couple of them expressed concern about setting a precedent that could affect the county’s ability to enforce current and future proffers — and the discussion was ended there with no further action to be taken.
Information shared by Lemuel Hancock, Shenandoah County’s community development director, during Tuesday’s discussion showed that the county has $4.65 million in existing cash proffers, including the $38,000 — $1,900 per lot — tied to the 20 lots at Creek Valley.