The promise of a strategic planning session on economic development for Goochland’s supervisors held on July 6 at Courthouse Company 5 remains unrealized.
Indeed, remarks made by citizen Michael McDermott of Maidens during the evening public comment period offered more suggestions for enhancing the county’s business tax base than the four and one half hours the board spent “discussing” the subject.
No developers and only a few citizens bothered to attend the session. They were joined by both candidates for the District 5 republican nomination for supervisor: Courtney Hyers, currently a planning commissioner and Ken Petersen. Several other planning commissioners, one member of the EDA, the executive director of the Chamber of Commerce, the Sheriff, Fire-Rescue Chief and several department heads and members of county staff were also in attendance. Those who did not have to stay melted away when it became apparent that no new ground would be broken.
Once again, District 5 supervisor James W. Eads, as is his habit, dominated the conversation with barely relevant and long-winded remarks that derailed the entire session.
(Please listen for yourself. A recording of the debacle has been posted on the county website www.co.goochland.va.us click on supervisors and go all the way to the bottom on the left side of the page.)
Facilitator, Lou O’Boyle had not been warned about Eads’ delight in listening to his own voice and was unable to move the discussion back to the subject of economic development.
The failure of board chairman William Quarles, Jr., District 2, who usually does a superb job of controlling meetings, to help get the conversation back on track was troubling. It was almost as if Quarles and Eads has conspired to torpedo the session. This is especially curious because Quarles has long advocated the need for strategic planning.
About the only positive action to come out of the session was a general consensus among the supervisors to investigate filling the vacant economic development director slot.
Eads tried to sabotage this too by insisting that the job be funded by adding a few more pennies to the ad valorem tax paid by property owners in the Tuckahoe Creek Service District.
Ned Creasey, District 3 contended that an economic development director’s duties should include: working to develop and support small business; establishing a business incubator and marketing the entire county, including the TCSD and West Creek, to the world.
Rudy Butler, District 4 said that people in his district want services like dry cleaners closer to home. Currently, said Butler, people in eastern Goochland leave money for these services in Short Pump.
Eads said that small business will not fund the TCSD debt and that the county needs large businesses. He later declared that the TCSD debt will be paid by the ad valorem tax ignoring the fact that the TCSD debt service model was based on a six percent annual increase in property valuations forever. Recent economic conditions and other revelations have proved that premise false.
Andrew Pryor, District 1 contended that the West Creek landowners move in powerful economic development circles every day and have more contacts that the county could ever hope to make. He further contended that the reason West Creek has not developed is that landowners are “not ready” to sell their land.
Eads declared Courthouse Village a jewel that should be developed with high-end restaurants for all of those pesky rich people in Goochland, many of whom live in his district. Does he not realize that a good number of those same people only sleep in Goochland and have little inclination to travel west for entertainment.
In the past year two upscale restaurants in the eastern end of the county fell prey to the bad economy. Fast food may not be elegant, but it tends to be recession proof providing a dependable revenue stream.
During initial discussions on changes in county government, Eads alluded to the previous malevolent dysfunction of county administration as “unacceptable and inexcusable” as though someone other than the supervisors who enabled those conditions to persist was responsible.
Quarles did state at the outset that, “in order to be successful, the county must change paradigms to attract business,” but failed to elaborate on his comment.
McDermott suggested that the county market itself to data centers that need large tracts of land and significant amounts of water for their operations that generate well paying jobs. Given its location, easily accessible from all parts of the Richmond metro area, the TCSD would seem an ideal location for this type of business. Why has no one in county government thought of this?
In spite of repeated entreaties from county administrator Rebecca T. Dickson for guidance the board failed to set priorities and identify key economic development objectives to guide county staff in its work.
This means more sloshing around in circles.
The board needs to find ways to work with the landowners in the TCSD to encourage development there. This means they must abandon the premise that West Creek will be filled with corporate headquarters. The county also needs to ensure that its development rules nurture rather than penalize investment.
Plans for a hospital in West Creek are still on track. Why not add a continuous care senior community to the mix? Proximity to the hospital, utilities and easy road access make this an ideal location this kind of use. Yes, it is residential in nature, but will generate tax revenues and job and use water and sewer.
Baby boomers will begin to turn 65 next winter. Demographic forecasts indicate that there will be an extreme shortage of retirement communities. Goochland should capitalize on this coming demand.
Courthouse Village is indeed the heart of the county. Development there should be done carefully and soon.
Goochland must hire a skilled economic development director with the personality of a salesman. As Butler pointed out, there are many talented people living in the county with contacts and insight. Their expertise should be tapped to help market Goochland as well.
Talk of the troubled TCSD occupied a good part of the discussion. A map of the TCSD included in the handouts showed a saw tooth boundary south of Rt. 6, which would seem to indicate that there are people benefitting from the TCSD and not paying the ad valorem tax because Rt. 6 is the statutory southern border of the district. Yet another indication that the mantra: “those who benefit from the TCSD will pay for it” is a lie.
Goochland needs some hotels. Creation of a B3 zoning district to permit buildings up to 100 feet high was passed to late to attract them. Interstate interchanges are the ideal place to locate lodging facilities.
The time to decide that Goochland will be very rural is long past. Had the supervisors wanted to keep the county all country, they should never have approved rezoning West Creek and had the courage to tell the voters that they will pay high taxes for few services.
While we don’t want Goochland to become uber-developed like Henrico, we don’t want to emulate Cumberland whose only prayer of enhancing its tax base is a landfill for out of state refuse.
The board needs to get its act together, set parameters for economic development and get out of the way so staff can do its job. Developers are allowed to make profits. The county needs to stop playing chicken with those who would invest here.
No one knows what the future will bring. Clinging to old models that ignore today’s economic realties is folly that Goochland simple cannot afford.