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.