Sunday, December 26, 2010

More strange critter sightings

Christmas birds One horned goat

Earlier in the month reports of a strange creature began to circulate in the county.
Although the description of the anomalous creature (AC) was not remotely simian, it was dubbed the devil monkey.
Other folks reported seeing odd things.
Last week, the Goochland sheriff’s Department posted photos of a one horned goat spotted in the Maidens area as an answer to sightings of the AC.
It’s good to have a photo, but this goat does not seem to have the long long, fluffy tail that was a feautre of the initial sighting.
Other sightings have been reported.
On Christmas Eve, a black deer was spotted running along Manakin Road in the daytime.
An entity calling itself the Goochland Public Safety Network contends that some sort of creature had been sighted on Rt. 250 moving westward from Gum Spring toward Hadensville but offered no description of whatever was sighted.
On Christmas morning, a huge flock of black birds was swarming in the Oilville area. This could have simply been a precursor to the big storm, but it was creepy.

Perhaps all of these phenomonena are the result of animal response to the weired weather we’ve been having, or something else entirely.
We’ve got more snow on the ground, which should provide an opportunity to spot strange tracks if there are any.
We all ejoy a scary story, especially as a diversion on snowy days. However, if there is something odd lurking in our woods, we need to be careful and alert.
Keep an eye out for anything strange including tracks in the snow! It’s probably not Frosty!

Saturday, December 18, 2010

By the numbers

Can formulas mandate behavior?
Last week, the Goochland Board of Supervisors learned from a consultant, whose services were mandated and funded by the state, that the county must permit high density housing options on between 470 and 1,055 acres of land. (There are about 181,760 acres in the county.)
According to District 4 supervisor Rudy Butler, failure to comply with the state mandate could put the county at risk to lose state money for roads and schools.
These numbers are the product of calculating the acreage consumed by the population increase of the past few years and moving them forward.
The assumption is that high density housing will absorb the entire demand for new housing in Goochland over the next few decades and remove development pressure from land in the “rural” part of the county.
Without this change said the consultant, between 5,000 and 11,000 acreages could be consumed by traditional land use, which includes homes and new roads to access them.
Goochland’s Comprehensive Land Use Plan, which includes language encouraging higher residential densities in both the Centerville and Courthouse Village areas, is already in compliance with the state mandate, said the consultant.
The supervisors unanimously agreed to give staff the go ahead to put this change in motion. Upon recommendation from Butler exploration of some sort of mixed use zoning option for the Tuckahoe Creek Service District was included.
The county has long needed a higher density zoning option, especially in Centerville and the TCSD to provide opportunities for reasonably priced housing.
This could easily become a gateway precedent for local governing boards to permit only high density housing curtailing the property rights of landowners in other parts of the county. By limiting the number of developable lots supply is reduced regardless of demand, paving the way inflated property values and higher real estate taxes.
Members of the Goochland Tea Party expressed serious concern about the downside of smart growth options during public comments at the afternoon session of the December 7 supervisors’ meeting. It is good to see people taking an interest in land use matters and articulately expressing their opinions.
The high density housing options, per se, are not the main threat of the “smart growth” movement. Use of those options to deprive landowners elsewhere in the county of their right to develop their land could well be the first step on a slippery slope to population control.
When zoning came to Goochland, about 35 years ago, a system of by right division was put in place. This permitted property owners to subdivide relatively large parcels of land into smaller lots in a descending size order without county approval. As property values increased, landowners started chopping the larger parcels into more lots, which required rezoning and created many of the subdivisions that sprouted all over the county.
The by right divisions result in random growth that located modest and upscale homes in the same area, which is a feature of rural character.
Somewhere along the line, people began to panic that all of the open space was going to disappear and Goochland would resemble northern Virginia.
True, Goochland has experienced a healthy population increase, but the percentages seem to distort the reality. Our population is expected to be around 21,000 when the results of this year’s census are in. In 2000, our population was 16,863, which translates into something like a 26 percent increase; not really a lot of people when you consider that the population density is about 59 per square mile.
In response to the allegedly burgeoning population, Goochland devised something called rural preservation zoning, which basically permits clustering a clutch of high end homes on relatively small lots surrounded by a common area referred to as a preservation tract that cannot be developed - ever.
There is nothing rural about rural preservation. It is simply a mechanism to maximize a developer’s profits, which is not necessarily a bad thing.
Advocates of smart growth are really trying to recreate the cities and towns of sentimental memory. Had these locales not failed for social and political reasons, the development pressures that create the dreaded “sprawl” would not exist.
Public transportation in certain circumstances is wonderful, but it has limited appeal. People like the freedom of traveling by personal vehicle.
Yes, the whole issue of land use is very complicated. That is why it is vital for every citizen to pay attention and try to understand the issues at stake.
Please go to the county website and listen to the consultant report. It is in the board of supervisors’ section under recordings for December 7 and labeled as work session.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

More on the Goochland "devil monkey"

Keeping the lid on

The recent “devil monkey” post generated a few snide comments and a video on another site. All of the responses give little credence to the sighting.
The actual account of the initial sighting is quite different from the fatuous comments about a “devil monkey” floating around the YMCA.
The creature, according to the stable, sober folk who saw it and wish to remain anonymous, stood on all fours. Its front legs were shorter than the rear legs. It had a long furry tail, pointy ears, and a long nose and was larger than a standard deer.
The creature did display menacing behavior, including bearing its teeth. It bounded away in very long powerful strides. In short, this was not a deer, coyote or anything else normally seen roaming around the county. The sighting was made in the Courthouse Village area early in the morning a few weeks ago.
Little credence has been given to the sighting, even though those at its source have no reason to fabricate such a tale. The next person who sees this creature will probably keep it to themselves, unless they happen to have a camera.
Emily Neal has put up a blog dedicated to the sightings at
The folks at Channel 12 must have had a slow news day, because they did a story about the situation and decided that the creature was a spider monkey. It seems like they called the Sheriff’s office, which declared the matter a hoax ; the implication being that people in Goochland are seeing things due to the cold weather and long nights. If the Richmond media is going to report on Goochland, its representatives should get in their trucks and come out here and investigate in person.
Neal’s site has some interesting information. Please visit The sketch on the right over the “animal” heading seems to embody the description of the Goochland whatever it is.
As none of the reports indicate that the creature flies, it is curious that there have been no reports of strange tracks in the snow. If hunters have spied the creature they are keeping mum. There also seem to be no actual photos of the creature on those automatic cameras deployed in the woods to locate deer.
While many people are ready to dismiss the notion of a strange creature found in the dark days of the year as a scary but entertaining story, what if there really is a new kind of critter roaming in Goochland?
First of all, if it poses a threat to anyone, people should be made aware that these critters are not warm and fuzzy and will eat out of their hands.

What if it turns out to be a new and endangered species? That could draw all sorts of environmentalists into our midst. What if they were to declare certain parts of the county protected habitats off limits to any activity? Let’s see the supervisors devise a new property tax rate for protected habitat.
On the other hand, that could also spawn a new local industry, photo safaris to see and photograph the strange new creature. That would be an opportunity to create local jobs and revenue.
Using ridicule to suppress information outside the realm of “normal” is a subtle yet effective form of mind control designed to discourage questioning of the status quo. It’s also a way to will the boogey man away from your door.
Let’s see what sort of evidence may appear in the coming weeks before declaring these episodes a hoax. The people who have reported the sightings are solid, sober folk who have no reason to fabricate such stories.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Last board meeting for 2010

Girding for more hard times

The last meeting of 2010 of the Goochland County Board of Supervisors included usual year-end housekeeping matters. Streamlined procedures have shortened monthly sessions to a few hours in the afternoon and early evening.

It’s good to see new faces attending these meetings, especially Susan Lascollette from the Goochland Tea Party. There is just no substitute for watching these proceedings in person. However, recordings posted on the county website a few days after the meetings are a second best way to follow local government and make up your own mind.

The December board meeting agenda usually includes the annual inclusion and deletion of parcels of land in the Tuckahoe Creek Service District. This year, however, major changes are planned. Instead of simply amending the TCSD ordinance, according to county administrator Rebecca T. Dickson, the Virginia Attorney General has opined that the entire ordinance should be repealed and a new, improved ordinance enacted in its place.

In addition to adding and deleting parcels, the new TCSD ordinance will address matters including mandatory granting of easements and connection policy, which were not part of the original ordinance.

This is a welcome and long overdue action. Confusion and inequity about easements and connection policy have plagued the TCSD since its inception in 2002. Failure to properly address wastewater treatment funding mechanisms in the original ordinance led to the dramatic rate increases that began this year and are expected to continue for the foreseeable future.

It will be interesting to see how this unfolds. There will be several public hearings on the matter. Stay tuned and pay attention.

The new year will bring renewed fiscal headaches as the board grapples with the task of funding county services with a revenue base that is expected to continue its decline as a result of a continued decline in real estate assessments.

Initial salvos in that battle were quietly fired by board chair William Quarles, Jr. District 2, who requested that Dickson present, as she did for fiscal 2011, several options for the county budget based on different tax rates. This could provide justification for a real estate tax rate hike.

James Eads, District 5, however, was adamantly opposed to an increase and suggested that Dickson base next year’s budget only on revenue generated by the current 53 cent per $100 of valuation rate.

Eads also suggested that the county explore outsourcing all vehicle maintenance and janitorial services; combine school and county general maintenance personnel; combine school and county purchasing activities and prepare an inventory of small parcels of land owned by the county with an eye toward selling some.

Eads also said that the school system should be strongly urged to present a budget dealing with expected revenues, which it did not do for the current year.

He repeated his entreaty for the school board to hold its meetings in the administration board room where adequate seating, good microphones and an efficient recording system are in place. This would save the school system a little money while enabling it to hold more transparent meetings.

Eads’ comments on outsourcing make a great deal of sense. One way to resolve the perennial debacle of the school bus maintenance garage is to pay someone else to do the job. Given the constraints of the situation, this would require a location in the county, probably Courthouse Village, so that buses and other vehicles could be serviced nearby.

One great advantage outsourcing has is to lessen the number of permanent county employees, which in turn lowers benefit costs including pension liabilities.

The board also approved its 2011 legislative agenda, which notifies the General Assembly Goochland’s stance on a variety of issues. It did not endorse a measure to permit the Virginia Retirement Authority to explore alternative defined contribution funding options for local employees. Few private companies provide defined benefit pension options because of prohibitive costs. Governments at all levels should follow suit or risk being swamped by ever increasing pension liabilities.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Have you seen a devil monkey?

It’s that time of year again. Darkness of long nights can play tricks on our minds, perhaps.

According to scuttlebutt at the Goochland YMCA, there have been several recent sightings of a creature described as a devil monkey.

In some of these encounters, the alleged creature became aggressive and gave the people who saw it quite a scare.

A brief internet search indicates that devil monkey sightings have occurred around the southeast, including several sightings in southwest Virginia.

The DM is described as being money like with long hair and a simian face. Size ranges from about three to eight feet in height. There are no photographs on the internet.

In a time when most people carry photo capable cell phones, this makes the entire subject a bit suspect.

However, truth is often far stranger than fiction.

So, if you have spotted a devil monkey or any other unusual beings — it should be about time for the Druids in Gum spring to make their annual appearance — post a comment to share information.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas

Holiday delights close to home

There are many things to do right here in Goochland to get you into the holiday spirit.

From December 1 through 5 Salem Baptist Church presents Bethlehem Walk. Located on Broad Street Road a few miles west of Centerville Bethlehem Walk gives new meaning to the Christmas story. Visit for details. Salem members and the Goochland Sheriff’s Department do an amazing job to ensure that the event’s impact on regular traffic is minimal.

On Saturday, December 4, fire-rescue stations in Centerville, (Company 3) and Fife, (Company 4) open their doors for annual Santa breakfasts to thank the communities they serve throughout the year. Thanks to Christmas magic Santa is able to be in both places at once, ready to listen to gift requests from good little girls and boys. Delicious cooked to order breakfasts are served to everyone. Centerville opens its doors at 7:30 and Fife at 8 and breakfast ends around 10.

Later on December 4 Field Day of the Past opens its show grounds on Ashland Road just north of Broad Street Road for a celebration of the season. Travel to a simpler time from 4 to 8 p.m. Admission is free.

On Tuesday, December 7, the Grace Episcopal Church Concert Series will present The Virginia Benefit Chorale at 7:30 p.m. at Grace Episcopal Church, 2955 River Road West, Goochland, VA 23063. Sponsored by Grace Church Mission and Outreach
to benefit the Goochland Food Pantry and the Christmas Mother.
The fifteen member a cappella group sings choral music by Holst, Rachmaninoff, Brahms, and from the rich tradition of American folk music. The concert is free, but please make a donation or bring non-perishable food items. For more information call: (804) 556-3051.

On Friday evenining December 10 from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. come to the inaugural lighting of a Goochland Community Tree located at the corner of Dickinson Road and River Road West in Courthouse Village. Visit the county website at for additional information.

A Candlelight Christmas Tour of Tuckahoe Plantation will take place on December 10th-12th from 4 to 7 p.m.

Tickets will be sold at the door. No reservations or advance purchase necessary. The tour of the home is $12.00 per person. For more information please visit

The Goochland Farmers Market is pleased to present its second Holiday Market of the season on Saturday, December 11 from 10 to 2.

It will be held indoors at J. Sargeant Reynolds Community College Western Campus, 1851 Dickinson Road in Courthouse Village.

Many of the regular market vendors will be participating in this special market. Pastured poultry, beef, pork, seasonal vegetables, honey, herbs, indoor plants, baked goods, eggs, cheese, prepared foods, and many fine arts and crafts will be available, including plenty of holiday goodies - perfect for gift giving! Local musicians will serenade you as you shop. For more information call 804-332-3144 or email

Most of these events are sponsored by community groups and are offered at no charge. Donations are always welcome to these groups who do so much good. If you are blessed to have a little extra this year, please share. Don’t forget non-perishable food for the concert at Grace Church.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Good reasons and real reasons

How smart is smart growth?

Buzzwords have replaced simple declarative sentences to explain important concepts. A request for a concise definition of a buzzword will often draw a blank stare of derision. If you don’t know, you should be too embarrassed to ask, is the not so subtle message sent in reply.

One such term that seems to be everywhere and is touted as the cure for pretty much everything but the heartbreak of psoriasis is “smart growth.”

This is a broad land use concept that allegedly seeks to protect us from the dreaded “sprawl,” which, according to its proponents, is eating up land at an alarming rate. Once land is covered with houses, shopping centers and roads to connect them, it will never revert to open space.

Proponents of smart growth contend that we “sprawl” is destroying the environment, society and running up a huge unsustainable tab in infrastructure costs.

What they advocate is basically recreation of healthy cities by allowing construction of only high-density housing options close to stores and services. Mixed use — putting housing, retail, business and other types of zoning on the same parcel of land governed by a master plan — is an example of smart growth. Proponents of mixed use contend that its residents can work, shop and play within walking distance of their homes. This requires fewer roads, less driving reducing traffic and protecting the environment.

West Broad Village in Short Pump is touted as such a place. The townhouses and apartments there seem nice enough, but on site employment opportunities are limited. It’s questionable if many of the people who work in its tenant businesses, mostly stores, earn enough to afford to live there. People who work in nearby Innsbrook still must drive to work except for those with a death wish who insist that Broad Street at rush hour is a suitable bicycle venue.

Walking within West Broad Village is easy and pleasant. Yet, even a trip to Target or to a movie requires a car.

Anyone who questions the validity of smart growth tenets is branded as a right wing nutcase.

A counter movement contends that “smart growth” is shorthand for the local implementation of the United Nations’ Agenda 21, Google the term for more information, which seems to advocate that concentration of population into small areas to easily control people for sinister purposes.

To further confuse the issue, the Commonwealth of Virginia has mandated that all “high growth” jurisdictions, which include Goochland County, must establish something called an Urban Growth Area (UDA) with residential densities higher than the established norm to absorb growth for the next few decades.

Higher density housing also, in theory, is supposed to lower the per-unit home cost.

Sounds great on paper.

People tend to move to Goochland for its rural lifestyle, whose definition is in the eye of the beholder, but generally includes a bit of peace and privacy.

However, given the high cost of land, which translates into expensive houses, there are a fair number of people, including teaches and deputies, who would like to live in the community they serve, that simply cannot afford to live here.

Many other long-term county residents are getting to the point in life where they are unable or unwilling to maintain large houses and property, but don’t want to leave Goochland.

Why not use the state mandate for higher density housing to target a very small area to be used for townhouses and even a continuing care senior citizen community?

A perfect location is east of Rt. 288 between Broad Street Road and Interstate 64. The roads are in as are sewer and water lines desperately in need of customers. Natural boundaries would prevent this zoning from bleeding into adjoining areas.

Detractors contend that apartments or townhouses will become slums in a few years. Housing value is more dependent on the general economy and well-managed government than density.

Many urban areas now considered slums were once homes of affluent people who abandoned them because of economic or political conditions. There is no guarantee that existing communities in Goochland including currently exclusive Kinloch and Randolph Square will not fall on hard times as the population ages and tastes in housing and economic conditions change.

It’s absurd to believe that folks who want to move to Goochland for peace and privacy would consider a townhouse. But it would be nice for aging Goochlanders, or those whose parents are getting on in yeas, to have care options closer to home. This would also be a source of revenue for the county and jobs for our citizens.

Townhouses and apartment would also provide homes for young people starting out who all too often move out of the county to live in an apartment and buy a first house.

Apartments over retail shops in parts of Centerville would help create the village that everyone seems to want in theory. This is not a new concept to Goochland. Many of our more seasoned citizens started out as young married couples living in apartments after World War II.

While it is absurd to assume that allowing only high- density housing will absorb all of the demand for large lots, it is time to permit limited land use for apartments or townhouses. A wide rage of housing options paves the way for a thriving community.

Healthy neighborhoods evolve. They cannot be engineered but can be encouraged by the proper environment. Goochland needs to seize this state mandate as an opportunity and not a punishment.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

On to election Day

Matters close to home

Basking in the glow of Election Day 2010, the Goochland Tea Party turned its attention to local matters at its November 11 meeting. The high school auditorium was about half filled with faces not usually seen at local gatherings, a good portent for change.

Tea Party chair Susan Lascollette urged all present to attend local government meetings, whose schedules, along with a wealth of detailed information about the county is posed at the county website

After a tribute to veterans, Dr. Jeff Spence urged everyone to donate generously to the Goochland Christmas Mother, a locally operated all volunteer charity that helps the people that need it most during the holiday season. (Contributions to this worthy 501 c (3) group may be sent to P O Box 322 Goochland, VA 23063.)

The main topic of the evening was one of vital importance, Goochland County finances.

Ben Slone, who lives in Maidens, runs a successful business in Courthouse Village, is a member of the county’s Economic Development Authority and chairman of the Goochland Republican Committee was the speaker.

Before delving into the county’s finances, Slone spoke about the importance of every vote cast in an election. In the District 1 supervisor race in 1999, said Slone, the six vote margin of victory was tainted by allegations of voter fraud.

John Wright, a CPA by trade who lives in Manakin, spoke briefly about the county’s 2009 comprehensive annual financial report. (The county’s auditors, KPMG will present the CAFR for the fiscal year ended June 30, 2010 at the December 7 supervisors’’ meeting.)

Although the 2009 CAFR was reported on in an earlier GOMM post, Wright’s reflections deserve attention. This audit created a blueprint of the monumental mismanagement in the previous regime, which will haunt the county for years to come.

Before 2009, Goochland County employed the same accounting firm to both close and audit its books. This, said Wright, is counter to accepted best practices of accounting, which require at least the appearance of objectivity.

The fact that the same firm prepared and audited county financial reports for decades “raised some red flags” in Wright’s opinion.

To maintain objectivity, businesses and other entities change auditors every so often to give fresh eyes an opportunity to catch errors.

The 2009 CAFR resulted in 40 separate restatements, or corrections. Its completion resulted in accurate numbers to serve as a foundation going forward.

Wright reiterated concerns voiced by others about the previous auditors’ failure to notice irregularities in the utilities’ department, which led to a change in county administration.

As a result of the 2009 CAFR, said Wright “we know what we own and what we owe.”

Slone then began his discourse on county finances, whose picture is now clearer, but less pleasing than before the 2009 CAFR.

The county’s general fund, whose exact size was a matter of conjecture and had been thought to be more that $25 million, now stands, stripped of all of the smoke and mirrors used by the previous administration, at $12.4 million.

In 2002, the supervisors borrowed money from the Virginia Resource Authority to cover the cost of building water and sewer lines to foster economic development in the Tuckahoe Creek Service District. At the time, that amount was touted as $63 million. Instead of building its own facilities, Goochland entered into agreements with Henrico County and the City of Richmond for these services.

The loan was back loaded, payments increasing as, supposedly, the area built out, which in theory, should have generated more tax and other revenue to service the debt.

Growth in the TCSD, in spite of the burgeoning economy in the early part of this decade, was disappointing at best. The area has never come close to using the five million gallon per day utility capacity even though infrastructure construction costs paid to build perhaps the largest capacity wastewater pumping station on the east coast. Current usage is estimated at 688,000 gallons per day. An additional TCSD water line, to further increase capacity, is currently under construction in Henrico County whose cost bled about $3 million from the amazing disappearing fund balance.

The TCSD debt is the 800 pound gorilla looming over Goochland’s future.

The 2009 CAFR also discovered that the wastewater agreement with the City of Richmond included a $21.3 million cost that was supposed to have been paid incrementally through user fees. This obligation was never included in the county’s debt projections. That’s a little like forgetting that you have a home equity loan in addition to your mortgage. Because usage has been far lower than expectations, Richmond has insisted on increases in user fees, which will probably be repeated for the next few years.

Slone presented a graph of the various TCSD financial obligations burdening Goochland. The lines rise steeply toward the future. This does not include other debt incurred by the county.

Why is this important? In the next few years, Goochland County must pay a $10 million balloon payment. Our total current annual budget is about $59 million.

The VRA is keeping a close eye on Goochland’s finances. The county cannot borrow any additional money without the VRA’s blessing. This means no new schools in the foreseeable future even though all three elementary schools are aging and filling up.

Goochland must pay its debts. Slone speculated that the ad valorem tax, paid only by TCSD landowners in addition to real estate taxes, may increase. Unfortunately, that could discourage economic development, perhaps the only hope to get out of this mess.

To further exacerbate the situation, about eight miles of force main, pressurized pipe, may be faulty and improperly installed and maintained. There has already been at least one failure when a section of this pipe shredded spewing raw sewage along River road.

Slone beleives that there way to restructure the debt and reorganize the TCSD itself to make the county’s obligations more digestible. However, the majority of the current board of supervisors, who must approve any such action, blithely whistle past the graveyard on the whole issue.

He contended that the refusal of a majority of current supervisors to even investigate the possibility of legal action against the former auditors, is very troubling.

Slone urged all present to pay close attention to the actions of the board of supervisors, especially how its members vote on important matters and educate themselves about issues facing Goochland.

Real change, he said, will come about when the voters have spoken at the ballot box on November 8, 2011. Good thoughts all.

Unless candidates come forward who can both win elections and govern wisely, little will change. So far two candidates have come forward in District 5 to fill the seat currently held by James W. Eads. While it is still early in the game, Goochland’s future is in peril and there must be ongoing substantive discussions about issues before the next local elections.

The Goochland Tea Party is a welcome addition to public discourse in the county. Hopefully, it will sponsor several candidate forums to explore a wide range of local issues and educate the voters who will have the final say.

Monday, November 8, 2010

This could be the start of something big

Random thoughts on the election

The shock waves of last Tuesday’s elections are still reverberating around the country. Winners bask in the glow of victory while contemplating the hard cold reality of the task before them.

Voters indicated that they are paying attention to government and did not like what was going on. All members of congress have been put on notice that they too can be sent packing.

Our own Eric Cantor received more than 50 percent of votes cast. While that is a very respectable margin, it could have been much higher. He seems to understand that he too can find himself in the loser column if he does not deliver on the promises of campaign rhetoric.

In a relative non-event election wise, 57 percent of Goochland’s registered voters troubled themselves to cast ballots last Tuesday. Hopefully, that will translate into a very high voter turnout next year to implement real change closer to home.

The length and depth of the electorate’s attention span, however, remains to be seen.

At it’s birth, the Tea Party advocated change at all levels of government from local school boards to the White House. They believe that both parties need fundamental change. So far, folks have gotten all riled up about Congress, but will they do the same next November here in Goochland when we elect local officials?

In the 2007 elections, only one sitting school board members was unsuccessfully challenged at the polls and two sitting supervisors ran without opposition.

Almost two years have passed since the upheaval in county administration precipitated by the discovery of, at best, mind boggling incompetence in the utilities department.

Incumbents seem to be confident that by the next election local voters will have forgotten all about that mess. Indeed, their refusal to investigate the possibility of legal remedies against former auditors who missed the mess indicates a strategy of sweeping past transgressions under the proverbial rug.

Redistricting as the result of the 2010 census may also play a role in local elections.

Goochland is currently grappling with the consequences of years of gross mismanagement. Just last Wednesday the supervisors were reminded once again that the size of the county’s general fund was significantly overstated as a mater of course for years. While the county is not broke, yet, it must find a way to handle a staggering debt load and provide necessary services to its citizens.

An October 18 joint meeting between the supervisors and members of the county’s Economic Development Authority that included input from representatives of the Virginia Economic Development Partnership offered some interesting insights into Goochland’s inability to attract significant economic development in spite of its strategic location.

The conversation at that meeting outlined basic mechanisms of successful economic development. The upshot is that Goochland needs to decide what it wants to be when it grows up. The majority of board members still seem to believe that Goochland can pick and choose among lucrative economic suitors and does not need to compete for business.

Goochland has held itself apart from the Richmond Region and is rarely included in presentations to out of town businesses interested in moving to central Virginia.

The companies that have significant presences in Goochland, especially Capital One, which did not develop its West Creek campus to its full potential, are positioning themselves more with the Richmond region than Goochland.

Innocent or wacky questions and remarks offered by board chair William Quarles, District 2; supervisors James Eads District 5, and Andrew Pryor District 1 indicate that they are just gaining awareness of the importance of economic development.

Had this meeting been held about ten years ago before creation of the Tuckahoe Creek Service District, the county would probably be in better financial shape.

Economic development is just one of the important issues that confront Goochland and will impact every taxpayer in coming years. Will county voters maintain their interest as the conversation turns to mind numbing local policy discussions or return to the status quo? Will candidates who can win elections and govern wisely step forward? Stay tuned.

Governmental reform at all levels begins at the ballot box.

Don’t forget the Goochland Tea Party meeting this Thursday, November 11 at 7 p.m. at Goochland High School. The main topic will be the county’s finances.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Watching the paint dry

Supervisors slog though tedious meeting

At their regular monthly meeting on November 3 Goochland County’s supervisors addressed a myriad of routine matters.

Ned Creasey District 3 was absent, recovering from surgery. Please pray for his swift and complete recovery.

George Gill, chairman of the board of director of Goochland’s Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) program presented a brief overview of the program. Its function is to act as the voice of abused and neglected children and ears of the court in situations to ensure that decisions are made in the best interest of the child. The non-profit program is funded by grants and donations and overseen by the court.

Extraordinarily dedicated volunteers give their time, talent and compassion to help children. He introduced Anne Casey the CASA executive director who said that more volunteers are needed and classes begin in January. For more information about being part of this program, contact the CASA office at 556-5876.

Discussion of a land purchase by the county was deferred to the December board meeting when all of the details will be in place. This is a major change in board proceedings. The supervisors should be commended for this step toward government transparency.

Goochland Fire-Rescue Chief Bill MacKay reported that a home was destroyed by fire in the upper end of the county in October with no injuries. Had the fire occurred while the family was sleeping, the outcome would have been different because the home’s smoke detector was not in working order.

SMOKE DETECTORS SAVE LIVES. WHEN YOU TURN YOUR CLOCKS BACK THIS WEEKEND, CHANGE THE BATTERIES IN YOUR SMOKE DETECTOR AND TEST TO ENSURE THAT THEY ARE IN WORKING ORDER. If you need a smoke detector or have any questions about fire safety, please call fire-rescue administration at 556-5304 for assistance.

MacKay warned that dry weather and falling leaves will increase the danger of brush fires and urged all residents to use extreme caution with outside burning activities. Keep your fires small and do not burn when it is windy!

County Sherriff Jim Agnew reported that roving burglars are still plaguing parts of the county.

Happily, he said, there were no incidents on Halloween or at polling places. Agnew said that a former employee of the county’s social services department was arrested for embezzlement as the result of an investigation sparked by another employee and charges are pending. Sadly, this sort of activity occurs in even the best run organizations but thanks to principled employees it was eliminated.

Both Agnew and MacKay urge caution when traveling through construction zones in Centerville especially during the short days and bad weather of the months ahead.

Among the many housekeeping items on the agenda was an update of the county employee handbook. Changes include the establishment of a culture of “non-retaliation for reporting fraud and abuse” by county employees.

What a change from just two years ago when the previous regime in collusion with some supervisors attempted to establish a reign of terror threatening dissenting employees with immediate termination.

Handbook changes also address the amount of annual leave carryover permitted and include a code of ethics. Although the handbook says that the county will be a drug and alcohol free workplace, random, unannounced testing does not apply to all employees. Why not?

Then the board moved on to money issues, specifically, how much is left in the county’s fund balance.

In the last year or so, the supervisors agreed, at least in theory, to tap the county’s savings to pay for a water line installed along Three Chopt Road in Henrico as part of the Tuckahoe Creek Service District; some school items; creation of a utilizes master plan and other things needed but not funded in the annual budget. At the end of the day, according to John Wack, Deputy county Administrator for financial affairs, the county fund balance will be about $12.4 million.

District 4 Supervisor Rudy Butler was very distressed about this. He wanted to know what happened to all of the money that used to be in the county fund balance.

According to county administrator Rebecca T. Dickson, the figures presented by Wack are based on the county’s 2009 CAFR. She said that in past years the amount in fund balance had been overstated because it did not reflect the amounts that the supervisors planned to remove from that account. In other words, the previous regime used the rosie scenario method of accounting and the board had no clue how much money was left in county coffers.

Board chairman William Quarles, District 2 attributed the anomaly to the fact that the county “previously had not used best practices when accounting for fund balance.”

James Eads, District 5, attributed the differences to “past years’ turbulence in the budget.”

For many years the county paid good money to outside auditors to supposedly inspect the county’s books and present the supervisors with an accurate picture of the county’s financial condition to enable them to make decisions. As last year’s CAFR (see county website for complete report) illustrated, Goochland’s finances were, at best, confused in previous years.

Now, Quarles and Eads and probably Andrew Pryor, District 1, who has said little about the fiasco, want to forget about the bad old days and move forward. Unfortunately, that long-term inattention to best practices in financial matters cost the county money in many ways.

Last year, for instance, the county expended $475,000 just to get a handle on the finances of the Tuckahoe Creek Service District, which glaring evidence of incompetence by the previous auditors.

For some reason, the majority of supervisors are unwilling to explore legal remedies against those auditors even to recoup the cost of last year’s CAFR.

Next year Goochland elects its local officials. We must keep asking questions about fiscal matters past and present and not let anything be swept under the rug!

Monday, October 18, 2010

Rep. Cantor comes to Goochland

A missed opportunity

Eric Cantor, who represents the 7th U. S. Congressional District, which includes all of Goochland County, was the featured guest at a Republican rally held at the Orapax Plantation Hunting Preserve, just west of Courthouse Village on Saturday, October 16.

Sadly, only about 50 people took advantage of perfect autumn weather to interact with Cantor.

His visit to Goochland in the waning days of the current midterm election campaign was a big deal. As Republican whip, Cantor, a frequent guest on news commentary shows, is in the center of congressional action.

Should the predictions of a GOP landslide in November come true, Cantor will be a very powerful man indeed and it could be a long time before he returns.

Why come to Goochland? He is in no danger of losing the county to his two opponents, though some supporters find his refusal to debate them a troubling indication of arrogance. He brought no press entourage.

Cantor’s demeanor was cordial and inclusive. He spoke to everyone who wanted his ear, listened and responded appropriately as an elected official should. He seemed to enjoy a few minutes in the sunshine a bit off the beaten path.

Perhaps this visit to a hunting preserve where guns are welcome, unlike the site of the local Republican Round Up a few weeks ago, was designed to reassure the NRA that Cantor does indeed revere and support Second Amendment rights. While several attendees sported side arms and cheerfully distributed blaze orange stickers proclaiming “guns save lives” guns got little notice.

The main concern of the day was jobs, getting the economy rolling and the impact of policies and programs of the Obama administration on the country’s future.

Cantor contended that this election is about work and the need to put plans and common sense policies in place to get things going again. With an unemployment rate hovering near double digits for the past 17 months, it makes no sense to attack the U. S. Chamber of Commerce or put the crippling energy taxes of “cap and trade” in place, he said.

In response to a question about regulatory agencies circumventing congressional oversight, Cantor said that Congress is able to “deny, delay and defund” those regulations.

Cantor admitted that pork filled earmarks that grow on pending legislation like barnacles on the hull of a ship must be eliminated across the board. He also admitted that many of his fellow legislators are addicted to earmarks and their elimination will be difficult.

He urged everyone there to vote and get ten other like- minded citizens to do the same. He was cautiously optimistic, putting his faith only in the November 2 poll.

“This could be a banner year for the Republican Party,” Cantor observed. “Lord knows we need it.”

Several people at the rally, who also attended the Virginia Tea Party Convention, listened attentively and a bit skeptically to Cantor’s remarks.

They believe that if Republicans do manage to wrest control of one or both houses of Congress from Democrat control the GOP must act swiftly and decisively to counter Obama policies or it will be destroyed.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

October meeting of the Goochland supervisors

Government in action

The Goochland County board of supervisors opened its October 2010 meeting with the annual employee recognition ceremonies. Local governmental employees marking service in multiples of five years were honored.

The toil of these earnest folk represents more than three centuries of government service on behalf of the citizens of Goochland.

County government has a good reputation among residents. Newcomers who visit the administration building to register to vote or pay taxes for the first time often comment on the high quality of service they received and the cordiality and helpfulness of the county staff.

Indeed, during the meeting, county administrator Rebecca T. Dickson informed the supervisors that a grateful citizen made an anonymous $1,000 donation for uniforms and supplies for the county's animal control officers. The donor cited the exceptional response by those officers to an animal related issue in her area.

The board also recognized Robert A. Hammond, who retired at the end of September for his 30 years of service. Hammond wore many hats during his years with the county. He also worked on virtually all of the growth and development that took place as Goochland morphed from a bucolic backwater into whatever it is today. Achieving a workable balance between the property rights of landowners and the public good is often a thankless task at best. Hammond’s longevity in the position is evidence of a rare skill set.

Once again the meeting was notable for its blandness. In spite of much oration about increasing the transparency of local government, the supervisors seem content to permit the county administrator to run things and vote on items requiring their blessing.

Now that we have a county administrator who is working for the citizens of Goochland instead of pursuing her own agenda this makes sense.

Beth Moore, chair of the Tucker Park at Maidens Landing public private task force, updated the supervisors on the park’s progress. Nearly a mile of walking trail, potentially with handicapped access, has been completed thanks to the hard work of volunteers and the coordination of Chuck Pebble.

McKinney and Company of Ashland donated a parking lot design and Moore is seeking donors to build the parking lot and a concrete pad to stage events.

This project is a great example of collaboration between citizens and government to make things happen. Thanks to the creativity and hard work of a lot of people, a centrally located access point to the James River will be a reality. There is still much to be done and more volunteers needed to contribute sweat equity to the park.

Plans for Leake’s Mill Park, west of Courthouse Village on the south side of Route 6, are also moving forward. The Virginia Outdoors Foundation accepted a conservation easement on a portion of the property. This will enable the county to pursue grant money to develop the park, leveraging county resources to get a very large bang for our tax bucks. Thanks to those with the vision to make this happen.

Going forward the parks are a worthwhile pursuit.

Another matter that came before the supervisors, funding a fireworks display for July 4, 2011, seemed all too reminiscent of Marie Antoinette’s comment about cake.

If you received and read the last county newsletter, which was sent to every home in Goochland a few months ago, you may recall an opinion poll about the kind of events the county department of parks and recreation should fund.

According to county administrator Rebecca T. Dickson, of the 186 responses to the survey, 52 per cent cited the fireworks as their favorite event. Indeed, this year’s display was splendid and did much to foster a sense of community as people gathered around Courthouse Village to watch.

However, as District 4 supervisor Rudy Butler pointed out, there are more than 20,000 people in the county (including inmates at the two Department of Corrections facilities) and interpolating about 90 positive responses into an expression of the majority of citizens is a stretch.

Butler said that the FY 2012 budget process will very difficult as revenues may decline even further.

Board chair William Quarles, Jr. District 2 contended that “you can’t just cut out everything because people are still paying their taxes.” He also said that the expression of wonder in a child’s eye when he watches the fireworks is important too. Perhaps, but would it not be preferable to educate that child so that he has the tools to participate in the American Dream and be master of his fate rather than dependent on government for everything including a fireworks display?

Ned Creasey, District 3, said that he is seeking private donors to help defray the $13,600 cost of next year’s display. Half of that amount is paid in the current fiscal year, the rest next year.

A motion made by Andrew Pryor District 1 and seconded by Creasey was affirmed by all supervisors except Butler, who abstained on the vote.

Goochland Fire-Rescue Chief Bill MacKay said that October is Fire Prevention Month. He declared that it is a national disgrace that Americans are four times as likely to die in a house fire than people living in Great Britain.

MacKay urged everyone to check their smoke detectors to make sure that they are in working order. If anyone needs a smoke detector or has any questions about fire safety, call the Fire-Rescue office at 556-5304 for assistance. Smoke detectors will be provided free of charge to those who need them.

Sheriff Agnew commented on the shooting that took place in the upper end of the county and said that it was a “Richmond style murder in Goochland.” Agnew said that there are “one or two shooters out there that have not yet been located” and the incident involved gang activity, which he characterized as an “everywhere issue.”

The Sheriff’s Department is working hard to find the person responsible for the hit and run that killed a Goochland High School student on Route 250. Anyone with information is urged to call the sheriff’s office at 556-5349.

On a positive note, Agnew reported that Goochland deputies worked with the Drug Enforcement Administration on a drug take back program to dispose of prescription drugs that resulted in 40 pounds of unwanted pharmaceuticals being kept out of landfills and the water table.

The first phase of the HCA medical facility planned for West Creek should be under construction soon with completion expected in a few years.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Odds and ends

Major bodywork has put GOMM on hiatus for the past few weeks. To no one’s surprise, the world did not end. Thanks for the kind words and encouragement along the way.

Below are a few items of note that may have escaped your attention.

In order to be eligible to vote in the General Election to be held on Tuesday, NOVEMBER 2, 2010, you must register no later than 5:00 pm on October 12, 2010.

For the convenience of eligible citizens, the Voter Registration Office of Goochland County located at 1800 Sandy Hook Road, Goochland, Virginia, will be open Saturday, October 23rd and October 30th from 9:00am to 5:00pm for registered voters who need to vote by absentee ballot for the General Election.

If you have recently moved to Goochland or moved within the County, please call the office at 556-5803 to verify that your address has been changed.

This year we will elect one member of congress and vote on three state constitutional amendments. Please visit and click on the list of proposed amendments. Please read these and decide how you will vote before you go to the polls to enable you to cast your ballot quickly and keep the lines moving.

On Sunday, October 10 at 3 p.m. the Goochland County Historical Society will hold its October meeting at the Grace Church Parish House at 2955 River Road West in Goochland Courthouse. Local author and historian Maria Rippe will speak about her latest book “Opening Pandora’s Box, The Tinsley Brothers of Goochland and Hanover.”

One week later, local amateur Civil War historian and author Emerson “Willie” Williams will be the speaker at the Friends of the Goochland Branch Library annual day. He will discuss his books “Sinkhole Justice,” Roaring Creek” and “Constant Yen,” which chronicle experiences of his ancestors during the conflict and its aftermath. This event will be held at the Goochland Library 3075 River Road West in Goochland Courthouse and begin at 3 p.m.

Come out to hear these local writers and historians bring Goochland history to life. The Historical Society and Friends of the Library are both worthwhile organizations that do a great deal to build community spirit in the county.

The Goochland Rotary is once again sponsoring a concert by the Richmond Symphony to be held in the Goochland High School auditorium on Saturday, November 6 at 7:30 p. m. to benefit Goochland Free Clinic and Family Services. The theme is kicked back classics. Tickets are $20 for adults and $10 for children and may be purchased from any Rotary member or online at There is still room in the program for ads and sponsorships with special benefits are also available. This concert has replaced the polo match as a prime fund raiser for GFCFS whose services are in high demand thanks to the troubled economy.

This is a great way to gently expose your kids to classical music and help a great charity at the same time.

Monday, September 13, 2010

The worst of all worlds

Back to the Stone Age

On September 8, a public hearing before the board of supervisors clearly illustrated that Goochland County is on a disastrous path. Our supervisors, being of different mindsets, often vote on issues with a 3-2 split, which in and of itself is not a bad thing. Lockstep unanimous voting is the trademark of decisions made in secret.

James Eads, District 5, is often the tie breaker. He sides both with the supervisors who decline to increase the real estate tax rate and with those who seem hell bent on discouraging meaningful economic development. The result, a stalemate worse than the stagflation of the Carter administration in the late 1970’s that crippled our nation, that will ensure that Goochland returns to its backwater status.

Eads seems to delight in asking tangentially relevant questions during public hearings. It’s hard to tell if he is unprepared for the session or merely delights in kibitzing to ensure that serious issues are never resolved.

The matter before the board concerned prezoning of 132 acres land near the Interstate 64 Oilville Road interchange from business and agriculture to B-3 to facilitate economic development there. At the planning commission meeting, rumors of a truck stop coming to the area caused the planners to recoil from the application and fire a silver bullet of recommendation to deny approval to the supervisors.

Included with the application for the supervisors’ consideration was a proffer to exclude truck stops; land for rights of way for road widening and cash money on the table. They also proffered that no buildings would be higher than 60 feet even though the B-3 zoning district permits 100 feet. Owners of the land in question spent at least $200,000 on traffic and water studies. Their proffers included significant amounts of cash money to get projects underway, all to no avail.

Director of Community Development Don Charles reminded the supervisors that they had expressed some interest in the prezoning concept a few years ago to encourage economic development and be proactive for prospective businesses.

Eads obsessed on the forever nature of proffers included in the applications. While landowners have the right to apply for a change in proffers, the supervisors are not obligated to grant those changes.

Although Eads repeatedly asked for “clarity in the process” he ignored any remarks counter to his thesis and did a good job of muddying the waters of fact presented by the county staff..

Residents of the Autumn Breeze subdivision in Oilville who protested the prospect of a truck stop were clearly unaware of the opposition to the creation of their community because it would increase traffic; its cookie cutter nature was not an appropriate design for the Oilville village and would flood the school system with children, all of which came to pass.

It would also be interesting to know if any of the people who live in that subdivision realize that their property borders potential commercial development. What do they think is going to be built on the south side of Rt. 250? Locals still contend that the creation of Autumn Breeze is a severe disruption of the rural beauty that these new residents claim to love so much. Building those large houses served by well and septic on small two acre lots is not rural and helped to set a precedent for the sprawl they all decry. It was interesting to note that no one mentioned the threat to the water table posed by Autumn Breeze.

What about the property rights of the landowners? People move here, buy a few acres and scream if anyone wants to develop anything else. Then, they complain about the long drive to Short Pump. Those who have lived here for generations and held onto their land with an eye to realize some financial gain are being held hostage by a handful of new residents who pay no attention to land use issues until the bulldozers are next door.

One of the property owners explained that they have been approached over the years about developing their land. However, when told that it would take three to five years to develop prospects went elsewhere taking their tax revenues with them.

Speakers chose to ignore the fact that the subject property is located in the Oilville Village overlay district, which means that, before any plans can be put into place, they would have to be approved by the fearsome Design Review Committee, which enforces these rules. Ask any business that has located here recently about trying to get away with inadequate landscaping; lights that do not protect the night sky or use of low end building materials.

Andrew Pryor, District 1 contended that the prime property at the interchange, parcels on Rt. 250 near Oilville Road, is already zoned B-1. Charles opined that those parcels are too small for significant development. Sadly, Pryor lacks the imagination needed to move the county forward. His constituents will be most harmed by lack of economic development. There will either be less money for government services, including schools, or higher property taxes.

Eads moved to decline the application, Pryor seconded.

Chairman William Quarles Jr. District 2 observed that since the comprehensive plan defines the location and boundaries of a village and identifies acceptable land uses therein, citizens must realize that they may not be happy with the reality of those uses.

This decision puts the local development community on notice that Goochland County has little interest in working with landowners and developers for mutual benefit. It’s a good thing that Goochland has a high per capita income because we’re not going to get money for services from anywhere but our own pockets.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Between a rock and a hard place

Regulate with a scalpel not an axe

Rezoning applications considered by the Goochland Planning Commission at is August 19 meeting illustrate the challenges facing the county as it tries to enhance its commercial tax base.

Republic Services, Inc. owner of the 623 Landfill on Ashland Road wants to build a materials reclamation facility on its property and use land between the existing landfill and the Henrico border for “borrowing” activities to provide cover soil for the eventual closing of the facility, expected in about 15 years, depending on the economy.

The 623 Landfill accepts only construction debris, not household garbage or medical waste. Unlike the county’s landfill under Hidden Rock Park, the 623 Landfill was carefully constructed to protect the environment and is heavily regulated by the state Department of Environmental Quality.

The reclamation facility, which will recycle some of the material brought to the landfill, had no opposition. Its building will be located near the existing facility, operate only during normal business hours and have doors that face west.

To no one’s surprise, Henrico residents, whose property abuts the land in question, oppose the borrowing activity, which would remove many of the trees that currently form a natural buffer between the landfill and their homes.

Accessed by Kain Road off of Pouncey Tract Road, this area is a charming rural enclave in the shadow of Short Pump. People settle in here for a generation or two, not until the next transfer or promotion. The only cookie cutters here are found in kitchens. Modest homes sit cheek by jowl with upscale dwellings, all on large lots.

One resident of this area told the planning commission that his home is close enough to the quarries and other existing heavy industry in the area that backup alarms already form part of the soundtrack on his land.

The extension of Gayton Road north of I64, whose construction is already under way, will have a greater impact on this area than the Republic proposals. The only access point to the Republic property from the Henrico side is a track secured by a locked gate for emergency service use only.

Goochland has always considered the area east of Ashland Road destined for industrial uses, the kind that make noise and sometimes shake the ground.

Cecil Wise, who lives and owns a business in the area, said that he built his home relatively close to rock quarries knowing that the house would rattle from time to time. His father, said Wise, was a member of the county’s first planning commission and he understood the necessity of bringing business to the county. This area, anchored by quarries mining large granite deposits, is the logical choice for heavy industry.

According to the attorney representing Republic, in similar circumstances, Henrico requires a much smaller setback from nearby homes than the 1,000 feet mandated by Goochland. In fact, he said, land adjacent to a nearby platted but undeveloped subdivision is currently zoned for heavy industry by Henrico and protected by smaller buffers.

One of the applications presented by Republic asks to rezone a parcel from A-2 to M-2, heavy industrial. Proffers accompanying that application, said the attorney, indicate that most uses on this parcel of land would be of the lighter M-1 zoning, except for a vehicle maintenance facility.

He contended that anomalies in Goochland land use ordinances permit borrow activities as a by right use in land zoned M-2 and a conditional use for land zoned for agricultural use. There is no M-1 borrow option.

According to the Republic presentation, the borrow activities, in addition to preparing cover soil for the landfill, will level existing rolling ground preparing the way for its eventual use as an industrial park. The proposed borrow activities will not enter the water table.

Local attorney Darvin Satterwhite, representing the owner of land in Goochland adjacent to the site, objected to the M-2 zoning. He contended that the county’s comprehensive land use plan has always indicated that the property between the landfill, the county line and the interstate is destined for “flexible use” not heavy industry.

Satterwhite contended that vehicle maintenance is heavy industry, an M-2 use, and therefore not appropriate for the site in question.

To further complicate the situation, Republic also wants to shrink the 350 foot buffer mandated by Goochland on the portion of the borrow site that does not abut existing homes to 180 feet with a landscaped berm. (Think high earthworks with bushes on top.)

Republic’s attorney contended that the proffers included in the application devote about 32 percent of the land in question to setbacks and buffers, including those bordering existing streams, on the property and that should be more than adequate without the addition of a 350 foot buffer for vacant land.

Republic’s presentation included an attractive rendering of the berm and photographs of existing berms in other locations. The berm would screen the homes from the borrow land once it has been cleared and absorb sound better than trees.

There was a lot of “inside baseball” discussion of setbacks and land use.

The planning commission voted to defer a vote for 30 days so they could consider the proffers presented by Satterwhite.

Until Rt. 288 came along, few people realized that the landfill was there. Even though it is close to I64, trees hid the large debris pile. Now it is revealed. The Kain Road residents fear that a similar fate will befall their homes when the existing tree cover is removed.

When this landfill was created decades ago, eastern Goochland was rural. Things have changed, but the landfill is still there. Republic has been a responsible member of the business community. It is hard to fault the Kain Road folks for their concerns. However, by the time that the borrowing activities are in full swing — not until at least mid-2012 according to the presentation— changes on the Henrico side will have a greater impact on these homes than the Republic plans.

This sweet spot close to Interstate 64 and Rt. 288 is a prime location for industry. Rock quarries, asphalt plants and other heavy uses are nearby and have been in operation for years. Concentrating heavy uses in the interior of industrial land will pave the way for lighter uses around the edges. This follows the existing pattern of setting heavy industry development well back from Ashland Road.

The 623 Landfill is an economic bird firmly clasped in Goochland’s hand.

Neighboring land owners have a right to voice their concerns about a use change but it is unrealistic to expect that a significant portion of this land will remain undisturbed forever.

Republic is making a herculean effort to mitigate the borrowing activity. The vehicle maintenance shop should be closer to Ashland Road for sound and sight considerations. In the long run, the berm may provide a better buffer option for the Henrico folk than trees, whose ongoing health is an unknown.

A more subtle subtext of the Republic proposal is its representation by the Williams Mullen law firm, which is working with companies interested in relocating to Virginia. If Goochland enhances its reputation as being difficult to work with, it could find itself once again on the outside of regional economic development initiatives.

The planners and supervisors have to carefully consider this proposal, but the interests of Goochland in the long and short term must be their prime concern.

At its 623 Landfill, Republic Services does a good job in a dirty business. It jumps through a maze of environmental regulations as a matter of course. It’s been a good corporate citizen. Planning for the productive (read tax producing) use of its property when the landfill is closed is good business and should be encouraged.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Blinded by the light

How rural are LED signs?

The Goochland planning commission sent the issue of electronic signs back to the locker room at its August 19 meeting after holding a second public hearing on the matter. A workshop is planned to consider all of the ramifications of electronic signs before making any recommendations to the supervisors, who have the final say.

Currently, there are two such signs in the county, one at the Wawa, the other at the Oilville BP/Bullets. Both are on Rt. 250 in commercial use areas with no homes nearby.

Presumably, the electronic signs make it easier to read gas prices while driving down the road. The Wawa sign seems to be part of the standard design. The sign at Oilville is relatively new, often out of order and hard to see from some directions due to overgrown bushes.

The county sign ordinance is in the process of consolidation and clarification.

Hopefully this action will prevent a repeat of the 2007 “signgate” incident, in which hyper-zealous enforcement of a vague sign ordinance was used in a failed attempt to intimidate supporters of candidates challenging incumbent supervisors. The resulting flap was perhaps the first torpedo to blow a hole in the control of county administration by the old regime.

As written, the sign ordinance neither permits nor prohibits electronic signs. As long as the sign otherwise observes rules of size, setback and design, it is permitted the same as any other sign.

The proposed ordinance would allow electronic signs pretty much anywhere in the county and would include churches as by right users.

Some churches in Henrico, for instance, do have LED signs. There is one relatively small such sign on a church on Hungary Spring Road between Springfield and Staples Mill. It looks so out of place, that, at first glance, it seems to be a hallucination.

It would be interesting to know if there is any data indicating that LED signs increase the size of church congregations. It also seems like a frivolous use of funds.

Picture the charming churches found throughout the county. Now put an electronic sign in front. Not a pretty picture.

However, those signs do make it easier to read, say gas prices. The Wawa sign is small, the Bullets much taller. No matter what happens with the ordinance, those two signs are grandfathered in.

Unless the sign ordinance includes language to address electronic signs they will be permitted as long as they meet other sign requirements.

Several people spoke against allowing electronic signs anywhere in the county. Not one voice was raised in their support. Following the initial public hearing on electronic signs at the June 17 planning commission meeting, a committee comprised of District 3 commissioner Bill Neal and District 5 commissioner Courtney Hyers was formed to study the issue. They reported back at the July meeting.

At that time the commission voted to defer the matter until the August meeting and hold a second public hearing.

Some regulations are in order because the signs are available and strange things will happen if the sign ordinance does not address them.

The proposed regulations for electronic signs would limit their size to one half of the permitted size of static signs. The minimum frequency of message change would be 60 seconds.

Given the hazardous nature of many Goochland roads, anything that distracts drivers is dangerous. Broadcasting gas prices, for instance, is a minimal distraction. If you are interested in the gas price, you are looking for a number. Once you see it, your mind, hopefully, goes back to the road.

Other messages are more troublesome. Complex thoughts require more concentration and less attention to the road. Put several of these signs along the road and the attention lapse intensifies.

After a while though, the sings would fade into the woodwork and be ignored by passersby. This could lead to escalation of the complexity of the message and ancillary attention getting enhancements like changing colors and so forth.

For safety’s sake, limiting electronic signs to static displays seems to be the best idea.

Unfortunately, there is a fine line between restrictive sign regulations and freedom of expression guaranteed by the First Amendment.

The dreadfully ugly signs sprouting around the county are mandated by the regulations of the sign ordinance in place. These degrade the rural character everyone wants to preserve but few can define.

Charming unique signs set local businesses apart from generic chains. Limiting the style and shape of signage paves the way for urbanization.

Size and placement of signs should be regulated for public safety reasons including blinking LED displays. Signs should be well anchored and sturdy to withstand winds. Perhaps there should be a limit to the number of signs per parcel in commercial areas to prevent the dreaded visual clutter. Beyond that, government should keep its nose out.

Without trying too hard, you can drive down any major road in Goochland and find clusters of “temporary” signs. Some have been in place so long they have weathered to illegibility. The folks who deployed those signs did not bother to go through the long and expensive process of sign approval.

Should Goochland permit Led signs? Yes, small ones in commercial areas with static messages. Other than that, make the approval process painless so it will be honored more in the observance than the breach.

The LED issue should be addressed soon and not permitted to wallow in indecision for years, as has been county practice in the past. Signs should celebrate local enterprises. Goochland County must do all it can to support and celebrate those businesses not regulate them out of existence.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Don't stop thinking about tomorrow

Commission on the future revisited

District 4 planning commissioner Bob Rich revisited the Report issued by the Commission on the Future, which he chaired, on its fifteenth anniversary at the August 3 meeting of the Goochland Board of Supervisors.

Created at the urging of the late District 5 supervisor Eva Foster, the Report, crafted by a wide range of Goochland citizens, was a clear agenda for moving Goochland into the 21st century. (A copy of the Report is available at the Goochland library in the historical reference section to the left as you enter the main library entrance.)

Commission members were drawn from every part of the county and all walks of life. Additional citizens served as task force volunteers and addressed several arenas of concern for the county. These were: economic development; education; government; leisure services; public safety; utilities and human services.

The Report makes fascinating reading. Some of the goals have been achieved, some ignored, others, including meaningful economic development, have been so badly botched the results would be comical were they not so important to the county’s future.

Painting a beautiful picture the vision statement says: “In the year 2010, Goochland County is a community of which all its citizens can be justifiably proud. We have a cooperative alliance of public citizens and elected officials whose implementation plan for orderly growth has preserved the rural character of the County while maintaining the fiscal integrity of its government. We have a superior school system, kept pace with the growing demands of public safety and provided citizens with the opportunity for compassionate care and leisure time activities such that Goochland County is an enviable place for its citizens to live, work and enjoy life.”

Some of the goals, like a paid fire-rescue chief, are in place. The excellence of our school system may be in the eye of the beholder, but is far better than it was in 1995. Economic development might as well be a phrase in Urdu for all of the attention or understanding it gets from the supervisors.

Each category was examined separately. While this provided a snapshot of major facets of our community, it failed to address the importance of their interconnectedness.

Economic development, the source of funding for the Commission’s worthy goals, was treated as though it was in place and assumed that education, law enforcement, fire-rescue and utilities would have ever increasing funding.

When the Report was written, the Motorola chip to be built in the West Creek office park was just over the horizon. Everyone assumed this plant would fill county coffers and act as a magnet for additional investment in Goochland. The future was bright, but there was no Plan B and stuff happens.

Unfortunately, those oft counted chickens never hatched. The good news is that the county is not stuck with a white elephant manufacturing plant. The bad news is that West Creek looks more like a nature preserve than an economic engine, although the two are not mutually exclusive, and the county is scrambling to find new revenue sources.

While Motorola never came, the completion of Rt. 288 as a four lane limited access road brought eastern Goochland closer to all portions of the Richmond metro area providing a different set of possibilities. The Report’s generic warnings about growth pressures in eastern Goochland became all too true as “beautiful downtown Short Pump” morphed from ironic comment to bounteous reality.

The most cautionary comment is in the Report’s executive summary that recognizes a need to move beyond “personal preferences, individual differences and past ways of doing business” by means of a “cooperative effort between the citizens, their elected representatives and county officials” to create a “sense of total community spirit” to fulfill the destiny of Goochland.

Until the loose thread of stale checks in the utility department began to unravel the fabric of stranglehold by a few individuals on county government and policy there was no chance that such cooperation would materialize. Now there is hope and change has begun.

There is still much to be done.

Goochland needs a comprehensive county wide utilities plan more now than in 1995. The Report was the first formal mention of transforming the county government system to one with a county manager eliminating the elected Treasurer and Commissioner of the Revenue. This matter comes to the fore every few years and crawls back under the table after meaningless discussion on the part of the supervisors.

By state law, the county’s form of government cannot be changed without public hearings and approval by voters in a ballot referendum.

The Report envisioned an excellent school system with “cost efficient management and cost effective facilities.” We still have no clue if the schools have cost effective management and taxpayers need a greater degree of trust that their money is being well spent for education, which is a worthy use of public funds.

As to facilities; not too long after the Report was issued, there was a movement for a new high school/middle school complex. During one session of public comment on the subject Andrew Pryor District 1, who was not convinced of the need for a new high school, asked for the number of children in the third grade. He applied the drop out rate, which was abysmally high at the time, licked his pencil, carried the two and declared that, given the number of third graders and drop out rate, there would be plenty of room in the high school for years to come. Oddly, no one gasped when the drop out rate was mentioned.

Current Board chair William Quarles Jr. should recall the discussion because his God daughter made eloquent remarks in support of a new school.

It is long past time for Goochland elementary school to be replaced. Aside from school system needs, GES would be an ideal location for a community center and provide eventual expansion room for county administration. Economic conditions will prevent this from happening in the near future, and band aid solutions will cost more in the long run than building a new elementary school a few years ago.

The Report urges increasing availability of natural gas in the county. Although several natural gas pipelines traverse Goochland, only one subdivision is connected. If the county had any say in the location of these pipelines, why didn’t it insist that landowners be able to tap into them? Has anyone investigated locating a natural gas electricity cogeneration plant here?

Going forward, lack of broadband options for a large portion of Goochland is of greater concern than natural gas. When the Report was issued, the internet was in its infancy. This is an area where local government’s role should be that of a catalyst to create an environment that attracts private sector investment rather than becoming an ISP with tax dollars.

One goal that Rich said he never thought would come to pass was an additional James River access point for recreation. The nascent Tucker Park at Maidens Landing proved him wrong.

Paul Drumwright of the county staff ( has been charged with compiling a list of unmet Report goals and adding new ones. He will Report back to the supervisors later in the year with his findings.

As we near the end of the first decade of the new century, it is definitely time to put on the face of Janus and simultaneously look back and forward to figure out how we got off course, where we need to go and, more importantly, how to get there.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

How do you solve a problem like Oilville?

Cash cow or Trojan horse?

At its July 15 meeting, eight of the ten appointed members of the Goochland Planning Commission (Eugene Bryce District 1 and Bob Rich District 4 were absent), recommended denial of a proposal to pre-zone land near the Interstate 64 Oilville exit. Bill Neal District 3 cast the lone aye vote.

The planning commission is a powerless advisory body. The significance of its vote was to move the matter to the board of supervisors for a final vote, expected to occur at its September 7 meeting.

This was the first meaningful attempt by the county, acting as applicant for the zoning change, to break the logjam of ineptitude and malaise that has long crippled economic development in Goochland.

The vote followed a confusing and lackluster presentation by county staff, which allegedly favored the concept.

Citizens of District 4, location of the proposed zoning change, had no representation during the discussion because Jim Crews, one of the District 4 planning commissioners, also the listing agent for most of the land in question recused himself and Rich was absent.

Rumors preceding the hearing indicated that a modest chain hotel and family restaurant were planned for the area.

Yet, William and Helen Carter owners of the Oilville Exxon said that large companies, including Pilot and Wilco, had expressed interest in establishing truck stops there. Although county staff said that all landowners around the Oilville interchange had been consulted about participating in the prezoning, the Carters said no one from the county had approached them.

Although some of the land around the Rt. 250/Oilvile Road intersection has been zoned for business for decades, only gas stations with associated businesses have materialized.

The major fly in the development ointment is the lack of sewer and water in the area. Possible solutions to this problem have been ignored by the supervisors for more than a decade.

The latest proposal would encourage commercial uses as permitted in the B-3 zoning classification, which allows structures up to 100 feet high, using commercial drain fields and wells until $14 million in development is up and running. At that point, the county would partner with the businesses and landowners to build a package wastewater treatment plant whose cost would eventually be covered by revenues generated by a service district.

Partnership with VDOT for the wastewater treatment facility at the Oilville rest area is no longer an option.

While truck stops are a necessary part of the interstate transportation system, Oilville Road is not the place for them.

The Piney Grove exit off of Interstate 81 in central Pennsylvania is a worst case outcome of this scenario. At Piney Grove, a rural area, a Pilot truck stop perches on scarce flat land across the road from a three-story chain hotel whose lack of landscaping or other aesthetic amenities make it look as though it had been dropped on the site from a helicopter.

Proximity to the interstate guarantees custom from travelers who fear to wander too far from the main road lest they be accosted by the locals.

With little nearby competition, this interchange provides some jobs and tax revenues for the area. It is, however, dismal at best. Oilville can and should develop at a higher level.

Reasonable design standards included in the Oilville Village overlay rules will ensure inclusion of landscaping, vegetative buffers and dark sky lighting. This will not only enhance the appearance but increase the profitability of the businesses that locate there. Care must be taken, however, to prevent these standards from becoming punitive in their restrictions.

A few years back, a B-3 zoning category was created for areas within about a half-mile radius of interstate interchanges. This category permits everything allowed in existing B-1 and B-2 zoning, but increased the height limitation to 100 feet and includes convenience stores as a by right use.

The height increase, proponents contended, was needed to lure hotels to Goochland. Years after the zoning change, the county is still hotel free.

Evie Scott of Maidens, an architect by trade, pointed out that all major hotel chains have configurations that conform to 60 foot height restrictions. She said that all of the new hotels in Short Pump meet the 60 foot limit. So why the 100 feet? Scott also urged the county to add design element requirements to the B-3 zoning to ensure attractive development. She contended that the 100 foot height limit in B-3 be reduced to 60 feet because higher buildings are out of scale for the rural nature of Goochland.

This is why the county needs an economic development person who knows that hotel chains have these options and how to sell a location in Goochland.

Ideally, the Oilville interchange should develop in a manner similar to that of the Gaskin Road/ I64 interchange with small chain hotels, family restaurants, single story professional offices and neighborhood scale businesses.

Blanket prezoning of the Oilville interchange, an attractive concept at first blush, leaves too many opportunities for mischief. A better alternative would be for the county to craft a fast track zoning process, perhaps holding hearings before the supervisors and planning commission back to back. This would considerably shorten the almost year long zoning process currently in place yet provide opportunity for citizen oversight and comment.

Ultimately, market forces will determine which businesses locate in Goochland. The supervisors need to create an attractive, workable economic development plan, or make it clear to their constituents that rural character does not come cheap.

Goochlanders must realize that “don’t raise my taxes,” “don’t lay off any teachers” and “don’t allow any more development” are mutually exclusive statements.

Due to their whistling past the graveyard approach to long-term strategies for county funding, the supervisors may be left with a choice between truck stops and higher property taxes. The chickens are coming home to roost and leaving behind lots of manure.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Paddling through summer doldrums

August supervisors’ meeting

The August 3 meeting of the Goochland Board of Supervisors was short and relatively sweet. There were so few controversial items on the agenda that the “local” newspapers didn’t bother to attend.

During a workshop held before the regular 3 p.m. session, the supervisors learned that work on the multipurpose room additions to Byrd and Randolph elementary schools are nearing completion with costs expected to come in under budget.

According to Goochland County Administrator Rebecca T. Dickson, the RES project will cost about $155,000 less than projected and the BES $194,000 less, which will return about $500,000 to the capital improvement budget. District 5 supervisor Jim Eads suggested that some of the savings be used to fund needed safety improvements at the existing school bus maintenance facility. The matter will be addressed at the September 7 meeting.

A report on final bids for the Centerville RT. 250 widening project also came in below estimates, $2.7 million versus the planned $6 million. Because the bids were so much lower some of the difference will fund a traffic signal in front of Company 3, sidewalks on the south side of the road and some street trees. This will free up about $150,000 in the county’s capital improvement budget, earmarked for that signal, for other uses. No word on how those trees will be watered. Work is expected to begin in September and be complete by October 2011.

Ned Creasey, District 3, asked if “sleeves” will be installed under the road beds to simplify future utility work. The noncommittal answer seems to indicate that contingency was not considered.

Staff initiated a discussion on the inclusion of wind turbines as a by right use in some zoning districts, which the board referred to the planning commission. At least two public hearings will be held on the matter before a possible vote by the supervisors to change the zoning ordinances providing ample opportunity for citizen input.

Wind turbines offer a way to be more environmentally sensitive and save money on energy.

As presented by Leigh Dunn, modern wind turbines generate little noise and only monopole versions would be permitted in Goochland. A draft ordinance included in the presentation restricted the turbines to one per parcel of land.

Supervisors Andrew Pryor, District 1 and Creasey contended that farmers with large tracts of land should have leeway to install multiple turbines, especially if those turbines are well out of sight and hearing of neighbors. Dunn explained that modern turbines operate with little sound. (See the board packet on the county website under the supervisors’ tab for complete information.)

The proposed height limit of 100 feet was also question by Pryor and Creasey because the higher the turbine, the greater the wind speed.

County maps of prevailing wind speeds presented by Dunn indicated that only a small part of the county has prevailing wind speeds in excess of 10 miles per hour.

The estimated current cost of the turbines, $15,000 each, will probably limit the number of interested parties. Power generated by the turbines could result in reduced use of electric provided by local power companies, or, perhaps, permit the user to go “off grid” to generate all energy needed on the property.

Dunn explained that the proposal was not the result of interest expressed by anyone in the county, but rather an attempt to be proactive about the possible use of wind turbines in Goochland. She also said that research indicates that turbines in small concentrations have little impact on migratory birds.

Another proposed zoning change would make parks a by right use in some zoning districts. The county owns several parcels of land throughout the county, which could be used as parks in the future and this will ease the way.

Land located south of Rt. 6 and just west of Rock Castle Road formerly known as the Borne property will henceforth be known as Leake’s Mill Park. Originally acquired by the county for use as a landfill, the parcel will be a multiuse park with playing fields and passive recreation options.

The name reflects the longtime ownership of part of the land by the Leake family, who once operated a mill on a creek near the rear of the parcel. This naming is the result of a careful collaboration among the county’s Recreation Advisory board and the Goochland County Historical Society. Carol Salmon, a member of the GCHS helped with the research. Thanks to all involved for a meaningful approach to the task.

Don Charles director of community development explained that the county could receive a generous monetary grant form the Community Foundation to develop the park if a portion of the land is placed under a perpetual conservation easement.

The supervisors voted to approve application for such an easement to be held by the Virginia Outdoors Foundation, which is expected to consider Goochland’s application at its September meeting. Charles said that if all of the conditions are met, the county could receive up to $500,000 to develop this park freeing up funds in the county’s capital improvement plan for other uses.

Isn’t it interesting how all of these pieces of what seemed like an unsolvable puzzle have come together in the past year?

In another long overdue action, the supervisors voted to combine the schools and county into one entity for health insurance purposes going forward. While costs are determined, at least in part, by the experience rating — how many claims are filed in a particular period— the more people in a group the better.

Dr. Jeff Spence, who spent part of the year as a census worker, reported that about one third of the homes in the county are nearly impossible to locate because they have no numbers displayed at the street. He urged the supervisors to encourage residents to clearly mark their homes so that emergency responders can easily locate them in an emergency. Chairman William Quarles, Jr. District 2 said that the county should investigate ways to help the economically disadvantaged mark their homes.

One citizen said that he believed that the government already pays for too many things that people should take care of for themselves. He also expressed his displeasure with the supervisors using tax dollars to take trips to Hawaii and the Homestead.

He also wanted any change in county government to be decided by ballot referendum. Quarles tried to reassure the citizen that the supervisors would make no changes without pubic input, but failed to say that such changes, to a county manager form of government for instance, must be approved by referendum according to state law.

Fire-rescue chief Bill MacKay reported on two structure fires, one a garage, the other a barn, in the east end of he county were handled well by fire-rescue crews in spite of punishing heat. He said that there had been no brush fires, a worry in hot, dry weather and attributed this to care taken by citizens when burning trash, etc.

Goochland EMS, said MacKay, has received much favorable publicity for its leading edge pre-hospital care and a successful resuscitation through CPR performed by a volunteer and off duty career provider at a health club in Henrico.

Sheriff Agnew told the board that suspects in the rash of lawn tractor and four wheeler thefts had been identified to a grand jury. Indictments will soon be filed, ending that crime spree. Our law enforcement officers are busy and short handed due to the budget casualty of a position, deputies on sick leave and one called up for active military duty, said Agnew.

We are blessed with amazing deputies and fire-rescue volunteers and career providers. Be sure to thank them for their hard work and commitment to public service in spite of budget cuts.

The board went into closed session late in the afternoon to discuss in part “…specific legal matters requiring the provision of legal advice pertaining to the County’s recent financial audit…” We can only hope that the supervisors are finally investigating ways to recoup the cost of the audit and the $434,000 expended by the county to decipher the financial end of the Tuckahoe Creek Service District.

During the evening session, the supervisors voted to declare Goochland a drought disaster area.

Public hearings were held on applications for conditional use permits filed by owners of two long established local businesses.

Edward and Lucy Tyler whose land close to the Fluvanna border has been the sight of an automobile sales and graveyard business for more than 50 years, were told that they needed to obtain approval for the graveyard when they applied for a building permit.

According to comments made by Bob Hammond, director of planning and zoning, neighbors have no problems with the situation. The large number of cars on the property was discovered by examination of an aerial photograph of the property during the permit process.

The permit was granted with little fuss, although some residents of the eastern end of the county objected to an automobile graveyard and contended that leaking fluids could contaminate ground water.

Sylvester and Robin Bryce were told that they needed to obtain a CUP for the house they use as an office for their heating and air conditioning business. Although similar businesses operate from private residences in the county without the need for a CUP, use of the structure solely as an office triggered the CUP requirement. This too was approved.

At the onset of the discussion about the Bryce application, Quarles stated that Bryce is his brother. County attorney Normal Sales advised that, under Virginia conflict of interest laws, Quarles was deemed to have no conflict. When the vote was taken, Quarles wisely abstained.

Both of these applications illustrate the quandary of zoning laws.

The Tyler business was in operation long before zoning came to Goochland around 1969. By all accounts, Tyler is an asset to the community, yet the county decides to, in essence, punish him for applying for a building permit.

Automobile graveyards, especially those unintentionally created by inertia, are not appropriate for more densely populated areas.

However, conditions in remote western Goochland are quite different. While having one size fits all zoning regulations seem fair on the surface, their enforcement can cause undue hardship to citizens who are just trying to make a living.

Goochland needs more small businesses like those operated by the Tyler and Bryces. We need to find a way to balance the good intention of zoning laws with nurturing our entrepreneurs.