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.

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