Just when you thought things couldn’t get weirder in Pittsylvania County politics they do anyway.
The Backdrop – The 58 Axton Development Vote and County Elections
The November elections are going to be key for the Pittsylvania County Board of Supervisors. For the past few years the board has been split between the Scearce/Warren faction and a reform group led by Supervisor Vic Ingram and Darrell Dalton. The last election saw current chairman Darrell Dalton win, along with Timothy Chesher and Jesse Barksdale, both of whom have resigned for health and personal reasons. Bob Warren is not running this time. Six of the seven board seats are up for election and how that plays out will determine who holds the most sway in the county for the next few years. Already, a peculiar alliance has developed between Ronald Scearce and Josh Austin, who announced that he was running against Ingram right at the June deadline. It’s a troubling development for those who want the county to move past the “clown show” antics of the past few years.
Now recent developments are not all bad.
Indeed, last month saw a huge win for Pittsylvania County. By a 5-2 vote the Board of Supervisors approved the rezoning permit application from A-1 to RPD (Residential Planned Development) by Southside Investing LLC of 580 acres off highway 58 West, in the Axton community, for a mixed use retail and residential development, that once fully complete is projected to have up to 1,900 housing units. As the developers described it in a press release, they are planning “a mix of single-family homes, townhouses, apartments, a senior independent and assisted-living campus, hotel, day care center, community center and a retail shopping center anchored with a neighborhood grocery store.” “Approval of the project will also assist the County and its partners in attracting businesses to the Megasite by providing housing and services for an enhanced labor force that will drive continued growth in the region,” they wrote. A May editorial on the Cardinal News website , which has been the best source of calm factual reporting on the development, said that the latter makes the project a practical necessity for economic development in the county and Joey Faucette, who is the chairman of the county’s Industrial Development Authority, read a statement last week at the board meeting in support of it on behalf of that organization.
Supervisors Vic Ingram, Darrell Dalton, Tim Dudley, Bob Warren, and Robert Tucker all voted in favor of the rezoning. At times they have had split votes at key meetings, so when the five of them can come together and agree on something I think that means it must be the best decision for the county. While there was a lot of vocal opposition at last month’s meeting (more on that in a moment), I think it’s safe to say that the vote reflects a silent majority throughout the county that supports the development. For one thing, once fully built it will mean as much as $3 million in badly needed tax revenue for the county.
But more importantly, it will help with a huge housing problem in the entire area. People’s rents are going up due to a lack of housing. Danville City Council just approved a 195 unit apartment complex on Stewart Street with units that will rent for $1,200 and $1,500 a month. It’s hard to build a home now with a shortage of contractors and rising costs. That just isn’t a problem in Danville. Across the county people are moving less, holding on to their homes longer, and the homes now being built are smaller. The reason is the cost to buy and build a home has skyrocketed. The average 30-year mortgage is now 7.49%. So, smaller families are deciding to go for smaller homes. The era of the McMansion is over and the type of community and homes being planned by Southside Investing matches with what many who are choosing to move to a new area to make their start are going for.
Over the past decade, the lack of good jobs and housing has caused many young people to make the decision to move out of the county. The census shows that from 2020 to 2022 the county lost 1,135 people. It now has about 59,000 people living in it. If the population continues to decline taxes must go up to maintain services. The Danville temporary tent casino opened in May and employees 415 people, 25% of whom are commuting from North Carolina. Maybe they would move to Pittsylvania County if they could find a place to live there. The only thing that will make the population go up is if there are more good housing options and places to live. That’s why I am certain that a silent common sense majority throughout the county is in favor of this development. The vote makes it more likely that something will come to the MegaPark and those that move to work there will move in Virginia to do it when it happens.
Despite all of that, two people on the board voted against it.
They were Supervisors Ronald Scearce and Nancy Eanes.
Both are running for re-election, Eanes having been put on to the board by Scearce/Warren/and Dudley group as a Scearce/Warren “team member” to take the place of Timothy Chesher, after he resigned from the Dan River Board of Supervisors Seat due to health reasons. Ingram voted against her and Dalton and Tucker abstained from voting.
Scearce and Eanes are not just trying to get re-elected, but also are trying to help Josh Austin beat Vic Ingram in the Tunstall District for their own political purposes, by catering to those opposed to the development in the Tunstall district. Bob Warren is leaving the board at the end of the year. He wants his friends to win bad, to keep some things in place he has put in, and to stay important behind the scenes, but Scearce has been obsessed with beating Ingram and if he can do it he will seek to create a new team combination of his own to control the board.
It looks like he is aiming to turn the Scearce/Warren machine into a potential Scearce/Austin combination.
The Clown And The Confederate Team Up To Form A Strange Alliance
Many people got so fed up with the antics of the Scearce/Warren team, especially those of Ronald Scearce and his brother Jim, that they nicknamed them the clown show. In response, last year, Supervisor Scearce decided to mock his critics by wearing a clown shirt at a Board of Supervisors meeting. That’s where the picture of him in a clown shirt comes from – yep it’s real.
Right at this year’s June filing deadline for candidates, Josh Austin threw his hat in the ring to run against Vic Ingram – Scearce’s nemesis – in the Tunstall District. Although Austin has been pretty much an unknown in Pittsylvania County, having moved to the county three years ago, he is not a newcomer to politics elsewhere. He lived across the border in Rockingham County, North Carolina where he had a stint on the school board there and then tried to run for the Board of Commissioners in 2016, getting about 12% of the vote in an at large election. Before he ran for that office, he was an activist against the removal of a Confederate statue in Reidsville, standing at guard, in protest, after it was taken down.
This was in 2012.
And it was a tense time.
Do you believe that the United States represents tyranny?
You could say it was a time in which Austin felt he had to make a stand.
You might think, well, this was eleven years ago and his campaign page has a picture of the American flag on it now.
Yes, but the other week Austin changed his Facebook personal profile page to that of the Confederate secession flag of the state of North Carolina.
And he did this on August 21 – three days after the Pittsylvania County Republican Committee decided to endorse him as their candidate in the Tunstall District. Then seven days later he changed it to a picture of the Virginia State flag – maybe someone told him that flag thing was a bad idea.
I doubt that most of the members of the Republican Committee agree with Austin’s views on the Confederacy, but I have no doubt that the endorsement was something Ronald Scearce wanted, as the two had announced that they were teaming up on Facebook a few weeks earlier. Supervisor Scearce made a post endorsing him, and Austin thanked him for it.
Two Saturday’s ago, I went to a dinner that had just about all of the county political leaders at it. Someone wiser than me, really a county statesman, spoke and said that the county needs people in office who make people want to be a part of what is happening in Pittsylvania County. That’s what will make good people want to move here to live or do business. We don’t need people who make people think it’s a weird place to live. That’s why so many are sick of the “clown show” of the past few years and want to get past it. Attacking fire and rescue volunteers makes the place look like madness. A Scearce/Austin combination could even be worse.
Austin’s main issues, so far, have been being against the Axton development and attacking Ingram for supporting it.
He seems to wish he could turn back time to 1861 – before there were even paved roads and much less freedom.
We don’t live in a time in which every new family can go out and buy a bunch of land and start to farm.
Austin spoke in opposition to the development during a planning commission hearing and made it sound like it was an invasion of communities that are seen in northern Virginia and Delaware (one of the developers has experience building them there) coming down South. Housing development communities like this have been built up there, so they must be bad he suggests. Well, Henry Ford built the Model T in Detroit and no one has a problem with owning a car today.
You can see what he said for yourself at the 56:33 mark in this video.
He made similar comments at the July BOS meeting – saying that he did not want the grocery store, day care, and mix of multi-family homes and single family homes that would come with the development, as putting them all in one spot would mean turning the county into Charlotte, North Carolina.
Charlotte has a metro population of over two million people, while Pittsylvania County doesn’t have 60,000 people in it.
That comparison is crazy talk designed to play on some people’s fear of any change.
People on Martin Drive and that live bordering the development spoke against it and Austin joined their cause, becoming one of their leaders. Supervisor Ron Scearce gave them advice on how to proceed and communicated with some of the people on Martin Drive to make them believe that Supervisor Ingram was their enemy. I did a FOIA request with the county and got back an email showing that Ron Scearce told some of them that Ingram was using his PI license to investigate them – something that was not true. I mentioned this in an article I wrote in early August. In response, he did a post on his Facebook page saying that my article was full of lies. Now, last week, in the Chatham Star-Tribune he boasted of talking with these people to undermine Ingram, telling the paper that “I met with that group once at their request to discuss their options in opposing the development early on when no one was listening to their concerns and supplied them the same information that I gave the neighborhood of Vandola Church Road with the RV Palace project.”
So, in other, words there was an economic development project in a district outside of his own and he met with people against it to help them figure out how to oppose it simply to undermine the supervisor in that district.
That’s pretty wild!
Scearce simply saw an opportunity with people with a reason to now be against Ingram, due to the development, and with Mr. Austin, worked to build them into a fear crowd for November over this issue.
Many of these people claimed to have not been aware that the development was being proposed at the planning commission meeting – despite three meetings about it and plenty of newspaper coverage and talk on Facebook – until two days before that meeting. This meant they had not been paying attention to county developments and were newcomers to county politics. They were blank slate people and that is exactly what Mr. Scearce needed in order to find new people to look up to him as a good leader.
To cater to them he voted no on the development last month and so did Nancy Eanes of the Dan River District.
I doubt that was a vote that most people in the Westover and Dan River Districts approved of, but one that Scearce and Eanes saw as necessary for their own political purposes, simply to try get people to vote against Ingram. People in the county know that more housing is necessary to reverse the county population drain and economic development is needed or their taxes will go up.
They don’t want these antics anymore and if Austin and Scearce win in November it will get worse.
Unfortunately, last week Supervisor Ingram announced that he is not going to campaign for re-election – citing a desire to avoid what would be a nasty political campaign, with Supervisor Scearce and others working against him, giving dirt to use on him, with the anti-development people and Josh Austin. In the last election, the Board of Supervisors, under Scearce/Warren control, tried to smear him with a censure right before the election. Their candidates then lost anyway, but that precedent makes another October smear campaign against Ingram something thought could happen again.
However, Ingram is still on the ballot.
If voters in the Westover District don’t want Scearce anymore then they have Murray Whittle to vote for and Eddie Hite is running against Nancy Eanes too. Hite had a seat for ten years on the Pittsylvania County Industrial Development Authority board, serving as Chairman. So, he is serious and experienced in economic development.
Soon after the 5-2 zoning vote for the development, some of the people against it speculated that they had been played. On Facebook, one of them wrote, of a code change that set up the zoning approval, “I guess I’m slow. I knew it would pose a battle but I didn’t realize the BOS had all agreed upon it back in January. I learned that at ‘the meeting’. Then the code was rewritten to fulfill the developers’ requests. This week they voted on the changes that they had already agreed upon. And the vote itself 4-3) was the citizens’ pat on the head to say ‘but it was close.'”
Supervisor Scearce had written on Facebook before the vote that he supported the development even though he voted against the zoning for it.
Josh Austin wrote an editorial in the Chatham paper with the headline “Axton citizens now organized.” In it he claimed that with his help and “the support we received from those board members that listened to the voice of the people” they “were influential in protecting the property rights of the citizens in the community with no assistance from our representative, by keeping pressure on the issues of privacy and high-density developments.”
When the development was announced Supervisor Ingram and the developers held three community meetings about it before the planning commission meeting took place.
I went to two of them and Mr. Austin was not there.
And I have heard he was not at the other one either.
He started to attend them after he filed to run for office.
In the end, changes were made so that Martin Drive would not border the development, making highway 58 the only access point to it, and the set-back buffer was increased to 100 feet.
Supervisor Ingram has been working for the entire Tunstall district, and the entire county, for years before Austin came on the scene – really decades if you consider his career in law enforcement with the Pittsylvania County Sheriff’s Department.
And that’s a reason why he is still likely to win again in November, despite all of this madness.
He is still on the ballot.
Are you registered to vote?
Have you decided when you are going to vote?
For the past fifteen years I have voted early every election, to simply avoid election day crowds, by going to my voting and registration office. Now many people are voting absentee by mail early too.
You can find out if you are registered to vote, check on your polling place, and even request an absentee by mail ballot online at the Citizen Portal at the Virginia Department of Elections website. The Governor is now promoting absentee voting by mail and you can find an application to do so, if you wish, and more info, at the website link here.