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Virginia localities take precautions to protect voters, workers

Virginia localities are taking a number of precautions to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 at polling places even though masks will not be required.

Capital News Service

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By Sam Fowler

Virginia localities are taking a number of precautions to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 at polling places even though masks will not be required.

 Saturday marked the last day to cast early, in-person ballots before Election Day, but voters can still cast in-person ballots on Nov. 3. They also can mail or return absentee ballots by that day. Election officials have been working to keep voters and workers safe during an election that has yielded a record number of early votes.

More than 5.9 million Virginians were registered to vote as of Oct. 1, with the cut off date in late October. Early voting commenced 45 days before Election Day, due to a new law. Legislators also recently changed laws to allow no-excuse absentee voting and made Election Day a state holiday. More than 2.7 million Virginians had voted as of Nov. 1, with around 1.8 million individuals voting or casting an absentee ballot in-person, according to the Virginia Department of Elections website. More than 886,000 voters have cast absentee ballots by mail and nearly 1.1 million mail-in ballots have been requested.

Voters are encouraged to wear a mask, and will be offered one, Andrea Gaines, director of community relations at the Virginia Department of Elections, said in an email. They will also be offered the opportunity to vote without leaving their vehicles.

“Ultimately, a voter will not be turned away if they are not wearing a mask but the Department strongly encourages them to do so to keep themselves and others around them safe,” Gaines said.

Even though there is a state mandate requiring individuals to wear masks when in close proximity with others, it’s against state law to “to hinder or delay a qualified voter in entering or leaving a polling place,” regardless of whether they have on a mask, Gaines said.

Poll workers and voters will be buffered with a number of measures. Such precautions include enforcing social distancing as well as placing plexiglass between voters and poll workers, according to Gary Scott, general registrar and director of the Fairfax County Office of Elections. Virginia Medical Reserve Corps volunteers will assist at polling places to ensure social distancing and sanitization measures are followed, according to Gov. Ralph Northam’s office.

Fairfax County workers will also have shields, gloves and masks, which will be replaced throughout the day, Scott said. To avoid the chance of voters sharing pens, Fairfax County will provide voters with “I voted” pens that they can use to fill out their ballots and keep instead of offering stickers.

The Virginia Department of Elections distributed $9 million in Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act funding that could be used to help secure personal protective equipment needed by local election offices, Gaines said.

In Charlottesville, poll workers will have sanitizing wipes and ponchos to help provide an extra layer of protection, said Taylor Yowell, the city’s deputy general registrar.

“We have plenty of sanitizing wipes and the sterilizing spray and paper towels in order to wipe down each polling booth after every voter throughout the day,” Yowell said.

Danville poll workers checking identification will be buffered by the use of a shower curtain placed on PVC pipe, said David Torborg, a chief poll worker at one of the city’s 16 precincts.

Torborg, who has been an election worker for about 20 years, decided to serve as an election worker again this year because he believes the precautions in place are good and will be enough to protect workers and voters from the coronavirus.

“I’m aware of COVID, I’m cautious as I can be,” Torborg said. “I’m not freaking out over it.”

Others, like former Danville poll worker JoAnn Howard, have decided against working at the polls this election to mitigate the chance of contracting the coronavirus.

“I was given the option and I did feel guilty because I’ve been working the polls for 10 years, and I really enjoy it,” Howard said. “Something could go wrong, I just didn’t want to take a risk.”

Election workers in Fairfax County are trained every three years or when laws impacting election workers or voters change, Scott said. The county has been training election workers since July on how to follow and implement social distancing measures. In Charlottesville, training sessions for new election officers were kept small to stay within Centers for Disease Control guidelines.

“All election officers do get trained on protection and making sure they’re wiping down, sanitizing,” Yowell said. “Our chiefs get trained more thoroughly with helping with de-escalation and sanitizing throughout the day.”

Virginia Department of Elections also provides training along with each locality’s specific training, Gaines said over email.

Around half of registered voters had voted in Fairfax and Charlottesville, according to Scott and Yowell.

Around 9,000 people have voted in Charlottesville as of Oct. 28. Around 5,000 to 6,000 mail-in ballots were sent out, Yowell said. The number of in-person and absentee requests accounts for nearly half of the city’s 33,000 active registered voters.

“We’ve already gone over 50% of our anticipated turnout in five days of in-person voting,” Scott said. “We anticipate close to 60% of our voters will have voted prior to elections.”

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The Capital News Service is a flagship program of VCU’s Richard T. Robertson School of Media and Culture. In the program, journalism students cover news in Richmond and across Virginia and distribute their stories, photos, and other content to more than 100 newspapers, television and radio stations, and news websites.

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Business

Henrico endorses proposed $2.3 billion GreenCity ‘ecodistrict’ development at Parham, I-95, I-295

The $2.3 billion ‘ecodistrict’ is planned around former Best Products headquarters; the project would generate nearly 2.3 million square feet of office and retail space, 2,400 housing units, 2 hotels, a 17,000-seat arena at no financial risk to taxpayers.

RVAHub Staff

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Henrico County officials are endorsing a developer’s vision for GreenCity, a $2.3 billion private, mixed-use “ecodistrict” development that would promote economic development and environmental sustainability as well as include a 17,000-seat arena for major concerts, sporting events, and other entertainment.

Officials with Henrico and GreenCity LLC announced plans for the development today at the county-owned former headquarters of Best Products, which is northeast of East Parham Road’s interchange with Interstate 95 and where the 250-acre community would extend north to Interstate 295.

“We are thrilled to endorse this bold, visionary opportunity as it is in sync with everything that Henrico County stands for and has been working hard to achieve – inclusion, resiliency, mobility, innovation, and job growth,” County Manager John A. Vithoulkas said. “We’re talking about a new kind of community that is intricately planned, inclusive for all, and thoughtfully designed to be not only livable but also to set new standards for environmental sustainability. GreenCity will be a community that preserves, embraces, and showcases open space, and it will drive economic development and tourism in new and exciting ways while remaining respectful to county taxpayers. The arena will put this region back on the entertainment map. It also will provide tremendous benefits to our county while creating no financial risk to our taxpayers.”

Envisioned as an “ecodistrict,” GreenCity would be designed around principles that promote environmental sustainability, civic engagement, and inclusion. The development would integrate extensive parks, trails, and open spaces among about 2 million square feet of office space, 280,000 square feet of retail space, 2,400 housing units, two hotels, and a $250 million arena.

The arena is planned to be the greenest arena venue in North America and would accommodate up to 17,000 patrons in flexible seating configurations to accommodate touring concerts, family shows, and potentially new sports teams, including ECHL Hockey and G-League Basketball.

The former Best Products headquarters, including its iconic Art-Deco eagle statues, would be renovated and repurposed to Living Building Challenge standards, which features the world’s highest level of sustainability design and operations. “Living buildings” provide net-positive energy and water, and produce zero waste.

The developers anticipate a formal submission of plans and an application for rezoning to the UMU, or urban mixed-use, classification in early 2021.

In anticipation of those filings, the Board of Supervisors will consider at its Jan. 26 regular meeting a proposed transfer of the Best Products site to the county’s Economic Development Authority (EDA). The EDA anticipates entering into an agreement to convey the land to the developers pending approval of the rezoning. The developers would then finalize the purchase of the land at $6.2 million – the amount Henrico paid when it bought the property in 2011.

GreenCity would seek the creation of a community development authority, or CDA, to finance the construction of the arena through a sale of bonds. Under the financing model, certain taxes generated onsite by the GreenCity development would be used to make debt payments over a period of 30 years. Once the debt is retired, all taxes generated by the development – an annual amount estimated at more than $20 million – would go to the county’s general fund.

Henrico officials expect to conduct a detailed review of the financial projections as part of its due diligence of the proposal.

“In Henrico, we have extensive experience with CDAs and understand how they can help deliver large-scale development projects that are rich with amenities and potentially transformative for the community,” Vithoulkas said. “CDAs have been used successfully in the development of Short Pump Town Center, White Oak Village, and Reynolds Crossing. Each of these projects either met or exceeded its revenue targets and now makes significant tax contributions that help us fund schools, public safety, and other core services.”

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Crime

New report says legal state marijuana sales could overtake illegal trade by year four

Virginia’s commercial marijuana market could yield between $30 million to $60 million in tax revenue in the first year, according to a new report by the state’s legislative watchdog agency.

Capital News Service

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By Sam Fowler

Virginia’s commercial marijuana market could yield between $30 million to $60 million in tax revenue in the first year, according to a new report by the state’s legislative watchdog agency.

The Joint Legislative Audit & Review Commission released a report this month that explores how the commonwealth could legalize marijuana. The agency, however, did not give its take on legalization. Shortly after the report was released Gov. Ralph Northam announced that “it’s time to legalize marijuana in Virginia.”

The state’s tax revenue could grow to between $150 million to more than $300 million by the fifth year of sales, according to JLARC. The revenue depends on the tax and demand of marijuana products.

 Most states with commercial marijuana markets tax the product between 20%-30% percent of the retail sales value, JLARC said. Colorado, one of the most mature and successful U.S. marijuana markets, currently has a tax rate close to 30%, showing that while the tax may be high, the market could still be successful, said Justin Brown, senior associate director at JLARC.

“But in reality, there’s no magic rate that you have to use, and I think that’s one thing that the other states’ experience shows,” Brown said.

Virginia decriminalized marijuana possession earlier this year. The substance is still not legal, but possessing up to an ounce results in a $25 civil penalty and no jail time. In the past, possessing up to half an ounce could lead to a $500 fine and 30 days in jail.

If the Old Dominion makes marijuana legal, it will follow in the footsteps of 15 states.

The legal marijuana market should overtake the illegal market in marijuana sales by the fourth year of legalization, JLARC said. The legal market could likely have two-thirds of sales by the fifth year of legalization. JLARC looked at the reported use rates compared to the use rates of other states to determine this figure, Brown said.

“In the first year the minority of sales will be through the legal commercial market,” Brown said. “But then over time, particularly if supply and demand works out, you’ll capture at least the majority of the full market through the legal market.”

JLARC said that if the General Assembly legalizes marijuana, the total sales tax would come out to around 25%-30%. This figure also came from the analysis of other states and how they taxed marijuana.

The industry also could create over several years between 11,000 to more than 18,000 jobs, JLARC said. Most positions would pay below Virginia’s median wage.

The revenue would cover the cost of establishing a market by year three, according to JLARC.

Northam said in a press release last week that his administration is working with lawmakers to finalize related legislation in preparation for the upcoming Virginia General Assembly session, which starts Jan. 13.

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Government

City Thanksgiving Holiday Schedule

RVAHub is not a city-run production but just like most of the city services we’ll be taking a break and be back on Monday.

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City of Richmond government offices, including City Hall, will be closing at noon on Wednesday, November 25, 2020 and will remain closed Thursday, November 26, through Friday, November 27, 2020 in observance of the Thanksgiving holiday. City offices will reopen at regular business hours on Monday, November 30, 2020.

The Department of Parks, Recreation and Community Facilities’ administrative offices will operate from 8 a.m. until Noon on Wednesday. All city community centers will operate from 11:30 a.m. until 3:30 p.m. on Wednesday and will be closed Thursday and Friday.

Richmond Animal Care and Control is currently only available by appointment and will be closed Thursday and Friday. All city libraries will be closed Thursday and Friday. All library branches will resume normal scheduling on Saturday.

This closing will also affect the city’s Solid Waste Management Division. Refuse collection will take place on Wednesday off Thursday and Friday and resume on Saturday, November 28, 2020 at regular schedule from 8:30 a.m. until 2 p.m.

The East Richmond Road Convenience Center will be closed Thursday and Friday and resume on Saturday, November 28, 2020 on a regular schedule from, 8:30 a.m. until 2 p.m.

For more information on city services and schedules, please visit RichmondGov.com.

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