Vote preserved county’s legacy, future

The occasion of Henrico’s 400th birthday this year has been the cause for celebration throughout the county in a variety of ways during the past 10 months. But in 1961, it appeared possible that the county may have celebrated its last meaningful birthday at the age of 350.

Henrico found itself on life support that year, its lengthy and rich history threatened by the possibility of a merger with the City of Richmond. The impetus for such action: Henrico’s success and rapid growth – made clear to city officials by the 1960 Census, which showed the city’s population had fallen by more than 10,000 residents since 1950, while Henrico’s had grown by nearly 60,000 during the same period.

The idea was spurred in large part by the Greater Richmond Committee, an umbrella organization created by three Richmond civic and business associations whose members felt the city would become stronger by enveloping its neighbor, author and historian Nelson Wikstrom wrote in his 2003 book County Manager Government in Henrico, Virginia: Implementation, Evolution and Evaluation.

Ultimately, the push for a merger came to a public vote in each jurisdiction Dec. 12, 1961. Voters in Richmond largely favored the plan, with nearly 70 percent voting in support of it. But Henrico voters, perhaps encouraged by the public opposition of the chairman and vice chairman of the county’s Board of Supervisors to the plan, shot it down by a vote of 61 percent to 39 percent.

Their decision prompted the city to file an annexation lawsuit seeking the forceful acquisition of nearly all of Henrico; led to a three-year legal debate on the matter; and ultimately helped to preserve the county in the form citizens know it today, ranking it fourth on the Henrico Citizen’s list of the most significant moments in Henrico’s 400-year-history.

A desirable neighbor
By the late 1950s, Henrico County had built itself into a strong and progressively urbanized community. The county maintained its own secondary road system, which allowed it to carefully plan for sensible growth in a systematic way. Interstate 64 soon would cut a path from one end of the county through the other, providing quick access to and from the city and beyond. Henrico was becoming the location of choice for many who worked, shopped and played in the
city, and Richmond officials realized it.

City officials felt they needed Henrico and its growing tax base in order to survive, according to a Sept. 25, 1961 Associated Press article, since there was little room for expansion left in Richmond’s 40 square miles. Conversely, Henrico’s 232 square miles offered endless potential. Merging the two would provide the tax revenue necessary to sustain Richmond, city officials believed.

The Greater Richmond Committee and Richmond Regional Planning District Commission commissioned a study by the Public Administration Service in 1959 to analyze the benefits of a merger. Perhaps predictably, the report concluded that the idea would be mutually beneficial to both localities and their residents. Henrico’s Board of Supervisors, as Wikstrom wrote, commissioned its own study the following year, which concluded the county was serving its citizens
efficiently and didn’t need the city’s help.

Still, the county agreed to study its options with the city, so both jurisdictions established three-member committees of businessmen to analyze options jointly. The six men met frequently in early 1961, but Henrico citizens began to question the process, which seemed too secretive to some, Wikstom wrote. Soon, an editorial in the Henrico
Herald newspaper blasted the idea of a merger.

“The more we think about the present ‘negotiations’ of the Richmond and Henrico commissions to study the feasibility of consolidation, the more convinced we become that Henrico has been ‘sold down the river,’” it read, according to Wikstrom’s book.

By August 1961, the six-member committee had formalized a proposal: the localities would merge as of Jan. 1, 1963 into a five-borough jurisdiction – Brookland, Fairfield, Richmond, Three Chopt and Tuckahoe – encompassing the entirety of both city and county. The proposal called for a 66-month interim period during which an 11-member council would govern the new jurisdiction (to be known as Richmond) – one member from each of the county districts, four from the old city of Richmond and three at-large members from the new jurisdiction. Afterwards, the plan proposed that the council consist of nine members elected on an at-large basis.

The proposal would have made the new-look Richmond the fifth-largest city in land area at the time, increasing it to 232 square miles and bumping up its population from about 220,000 to about 337,000.

Opposition grows
But the proposal seemed flawed to some observers and Henrico citizens, including several prominent ones who championed loudly against it. For example, it proposed gradually raising Henrico’s real estate tax rate – which was slated to decrease by 10 cents per $100 of assessed value in July 1961 – to the higher city rate during a 14-
year period.

Though the county’s Board of Supervisors officially endorsed the plan, its chairman, Simeon Burnette of the Fairfield District, and vice chairman, B. Earl Dunn of the Brookland District, soon thereafter voiced their opposition to it publicly. As Wikstrom described in his book, both men felt the proposal would unfairly raise taxes on county residents without providing them services that would be on par with the higher costs.

When county voters went to the polls Dec. 12, 1961, they did so with the words of Richmond City Manager Horace Edwards perhaps ringing in their ears. Edwards had promised that if the vote didn’t pass, the city would sue to annex Henrico instead. Following the overwhelming rejection of the plan in Henrico, the Richmond City Council gave his
statement legs by filing a lawsuit seeking 142 square miles of the county, which contained all but 8,000 of Henrico’s residents at the time.

“In pursuit of such a large area,” Wikstrom wrote, “Richmond was effectively seeking to acquire the entire county. In reality, Henrico’s remaining area of approximately 90 square miles would have hardly contained a nearly sufficient population and resources to support and fund a county government able to provide public education and other essential services.”

The annexation suit, in essence, was a direct threat to Henrico’s existence.

During the annexation case, heard by the Henrico Circuit Court, Henrico County Manager Ed Beck testified that the county didn’t need any help providing for its citizens and that in fact, annexation would result in less efficient provision of services for those residents. The court delivered its verdict in April 1964, awarding the city just 17 square miles (containing 45,000 residents) of Henrico, mostly in the Near West End and Northside – regions that included Willow Lawn, the Azalea Mall and the Reynolds Metals headquarters, Wikstrom wrote.

Following some wrangling by both sides about what the land was worth, and the slight adjustment of the actual boundaries of the land to be annexed, the court ordered Richmond to pay Henrico $55 million for its acquisition.

More than three years after the debate about a merger began – and nearly a year after the court’s decision was delivered – the Richmond City Council considered the offer, weighed the fee, and then voted in early 1965 to decline the offer, which it felt was too steep. Several years of consideration, debate and legal contests ultimately had
resulted in nothing.

In the 46 years since that decision, the city has seen its population drop by more than 15,000 residents. In the same period of time, Henrico’s population has grown by more than 180,000.
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Henrico Democrats nominate Lynch, Rodman

APR. 29, 6:15 P.M. – Henrico Democrats today selected their party's nominees for the Brookland District Supervisor seat and the 73rd District House of Delegates seat during a party caucus.

Courtney Lynch, the founder of a leadership development company, was somewhat of a surprise winner in the Brookland District supervisor's race. She defeated Virginians for High Speed Rail Executive Director Danny Plaugher, who had been the party's nominee two years ago in the general election for the seat.

Debra Rodman, a Randolph-Macon College professor, earned the party's nomination for the 73rd House District seat, defeating Chelsea Savage, a nurse, in a runoff. Attorney Sarah Smith was third and Bill Coleman, a project manager for a health organization, fourth.
> Read more.

Therapeutic healing


In a room labeled the garden room, a bright space with lavender-colored walls and pebble-gray chairs, art therapist Becky Jacobson might ask her patients to imagine a safe place, but she doesn’t ask them to describe it to her — she wants them to draw it.

The patients are free to draw whatever they envision, expressing themselves through their colored markers, a form of healing through art therapy.

“Some people might not feel safe anywhere because they have had hard things happening to them, and I have the background to help that person reground and feel safe in the group,” Jacobson said. > Read more.

Eight’s enough? Crowded race for 56th District develops


Following the retirement of Delegate Peter Farrell [R-56th District], a number of candidates have thrown their hats into the ring to vie for the open seat in the Virginia General Assembly district, which contains a portion of Henrico’s Far West End.

Democratic challengers include Lizzie Basch and Melissa Dart, while Republican contenders include George Goodwin, Matt Pinsker, Graven Craig, Surya Dhakar, Jay Prendergrast and John McGuire. In addition to a section of Henrico, the district also includes portions of Goochland and Spotsylvania County, as well as all of Louisa County. > Read more.

On the trail to Awareness


Twenty-five teams, composed of some 350 participants, gathered at Dorey Park in Varina April 8 for the Walk Like MADD 5k, to benefit Mothers Against Drunk Driving Virginia. The event raised more than $35,000, with more funds expected to come in through May 7. > Read more.

Leadership Metro Richmond honors St. Joseph’s Villa CEO


Leadership Metro Richmond honored St. Joseph's Villa CEO Kathleen Burke Barrett, a 2003 graduate of LMR, with its 2017 Ukrop Community Vision Award during its annual spring luncheon April 6.

The award honors a LMR member who demonstrates a purposeful vision, a sense of what needs to be done, clear articulation with concern and respect for others with demonstrated action and risk-taking. > Read more.

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The Modlin Center for the Arts at the University of Richmond will broadcast Bolshoi Ballet’s production of “Contemporary Evening” at 12:55 p.m. in Camp Concert Hall, Booker Hall of Music. Pathe Live's Bolshoi Ballet program brings the best Bolshoi Ballet productions direct from Moscow, Russia to cinemas and performing arts centers across the U.S. Each production features behind-the-scenes programming, including interviews with the cast and creative teams, either prior to the start of the production, or during intermission. Tickets are $7 to $14. For details, call 289-8980 or visit http://www.modlin.richmond.edu. Full text

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