Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Textbook public hearing

Belleview Gardens defines civic engagement

The Goochland County Planning Commission unanimously recommended denial of an application filed by Goodwill Industries to rezone land currently designated R-1 residential to B-2, business limited at its Thursday, March 17 meeting.

Located just north of Broad Street Road and east of Rt. 288, the property in question consists of four lots, two with frontage on Broad Street Road, the other two front Mills Road.

Goodwill wants to build a 17,450 square foot building, whose height would not exceed 40 feet, for “retail and related uses” there. The application includes two access points to a 78 space parking lot from Mills Road and one exit onto westbound Broad Street Road. The county ordinance for B-2 zoning, however, says that the maximum height permitted in that land use classification is 35 feet.

Counsel for Goodwill James Theobald explained that, even though Goodwill is a non-profit organization, it would pay real estate, ad valorem (it’s in the Tuckahoe Creek Service District) and sales taxes to Goochland County.

This all sounds great, the only problem is that it’s in the wrong place.

Mills Road is the sole access to Belleview Gardens, a community of about 37 mostly new and upscale homes. About seven years ago, the subdivision, which was originally platted in the 1950’s but had many lots that failed to perc, was rezoned to permit smaller lots served by water and sewer.

In the interim, the county’s comprehensive land use plan, a purposely nebulous document, which can be used to support or refute any land use change, was updated. The last revision left unchanged a designation of the land west of Rt. 288 north of Broad Street Road for flexible use, which is not intended for homes.

It’s pretty clear that in the latest review of the comp plan the new and improved Belleview Gardens was overlooked. The supervisors pledged to revisit the comp plan between the mandatory five-year reviews and make changes to reflect actual conditions. Belleview Gardens would be a good place to start.

Currently, Belleview Gardens is a peaceful and private enclave with a convenient location. It also sits between Broad Street Road and a large tract of raw land whose value would be enhanced by access to Broad Street Road through Mills Road.

When the residents of Belleview Gardens learned of the pending rezoning application they organized and took action. Some retained attorneys.

Although the public hearing on the rezoning matter had been advertised, Goodwill requested a deferral to the next scheduled meeting of the Planning Commission on May 19. In spite of notification of the request for deferral, Belleview Gardens residents filled the board meeting room and convinced the commission to hear the case. They were well prepared.

Planning Commission chair James Melton, District 2 permitted public comment on the deferral request before the commission voted 8-2 to hear the case that night. Bob Rich, District 4 and James Atkinson, District 1 cast the dissenting votes.

There were contentions that the owners of the lots in question planned to amend the restrictive covenants and remove that land from Belleview Gardens if the hearing was delayed.

Some speakers discussed the consequences of the pending Goodwill rezoning application on their lives and property values. They made it quite clear that the proposed rezoning has adverse consequences for homeowners in Belleview Gardens.

Other speakers contended that Goodwill had ample time to prepare for the public hearing and there were no new issues to address. Any delay would only exacerbate the anguish of homeowners.

Principal planner Tom Coleman presented an overview of the application. He said that the planning staff believes that Goodwill needs to offer more protection for Belleview Gardens and reduce the impact of its facility on that community. He offered no suggestions about achieving those goals.

District 3 Commissioner Bill Neal asked if the two lots fronting Broad Street Road, which were reduced in size when that road was widened about eight years ago, were large enough to be built on as a stand alone project, Coleman replied that he did not know.

Questioning by Neal and Eugene Bryce District 1 revealed that there may be some interest in developing the large parcel of land north of Belleview Gardens, which is currently zoned for agricultural use. Coleman said that land could be split into by right divisions without rezoning and that Mills Road could provide access to Broad Street Road.

Neal then asked why Goodwill was seeking B-2 zoning. Coleman said that B-2 is a “less intense” use than B-1.

Undaunted, Neal contended that B-2 uses are intended for neighborhood scale shops. A 17,450 square foot Goodwill facility does not fit B-2 criteria.

Courtney Hyers, District 1 waded in to support Neal’s argument by adding that B-2 zoning, which excludes odors, dust, large vehicles and long hours of operation, is inconsistent with the proposed Goodwill facility.

James Theobald, counsel for Goodwill, said that the B-2 zoning was selected on the advice of the Goochland planning staff.

Neal asked if any of the “room full of folks” on the planning staff with whom Theobald conferred believed that the proposed location was a conflict. Theobald said “no.”

Theobald explained the planned facility will be a retail operation that also accepts donations of used items for resale. Of the proposed building’s 17,450 square feet, 11,000 square feet will be used for retail purposes and the remainder will be used for offices. Hours will be from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Sunday. The facility is expected to have between 12 and 15 full time employees.

Only one daily truck delivery is anticipated, said Theobald and the exit onto westbound Broad Street Road is intended to reduce traffic on Mills Road. The proposed facility is expected to generate about 500 vehicle trips per day for customers and people dropping off items.

Goodwill was attracted to the site, said Theobald, because of its location on the corner of a main road with proximity to Interstate 64 and Rt. 288 with a daily traffic count of approximately 11,000 vehicles. The 2.8 acre parcel is served by public water and sewer and was available at an acceptable price, which was not disclosed.

Theobald characterized contentions that Goodwill employs convicted sex offenders and felons as slander. The organization provides jobs and keeps unwanted items out of landfills, he said.

During the public hearing, which lasted about 90 minutes, about 25 people spoke. Each made thoughtful, civil comments about the proposal.

A recoding of the meeting is available on the county website www.co.goochland.va.us. It is well worth the time to listen to the this public hearing. Every comment presented on behalf of Belleview Gardens was thoughtful, well articulated and covered a different facet of the situation.

The proposed Goodwill facility is far too large an entity to “shoehorn” onto a modest two-lane road at the entrance to a neighborhood. It will be in line of sight of at least two homes and no amount of fancy landscaping will be able to mitigate that intrusion.

If the people who own the land behind Belleview Gardens want access to Broad Street Road, they need to build their own road.

This entire episode seems to have been the result of a lot of bamboozling. In recent years, the four lots in question were purchased by the same individual operating under different limited liability corporations.

While it is unrealistic for the residents of Belleview Gardens to expect that there will be no commercial development on land fronting on Broad Street Road near Mills Road, development there should be of a scale appropriate to the entrance to a neighborhood.

This application is very troubling. The premise that locating a large retail operation — an upscale store would be just as objectionable — is appropriate for the entrance to a subdivision with no regard for its impact on the property values of nearby homeowners seems contrary to good planning practices.

Goochland needs economic development, but not at the expense of our citizens. There are many parcels of land for sale that could suit Goodwill’s purpose as well as the Mills Road property. Goodwill cited an acceptable land price as one reason for its interest in the Mills Road land. The cost to our citizens in this case, is just too high.

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