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.

1 comment:

Michael M. McDermott / Maidens, Virginia said...

As usual, Sandie, "Well done!" I wish all those commenting on Goochland's current "issues" would take the time to 1) regularly attend public meetings, and 2) use the "brush strokes" to paint the larger "picture." One thing that really frosts me is ex-county attorney Satterwhite representing whichever side of a planning/zoning issue that "shows him the money!" We spent tax dollars over the years paying his salary so he can now very profitably play our local officials like a violin!