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.

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