Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The people speak

Citizen input alters plan

Misguided social engineering rammed through the Virginia General Assembly during the Kaine administration is withering on the vine, at least in Goochland. The mandated designation of urban development areas (UDAs) to provide high density zoning options is drowning in the devil of its details. Strong opposition to the entire concept nearly repealed the legislation this year and may well do so in 2012.

The state has spent about $3 million to hire consultants to craft UDA policies for county like Goochland. That money would have been better spent on asphalt than hot air.

In April, consultants hired for Goochland by VDOT—an agency that should be placed on the endangered species list— presented their recommendations for size and location if UDAs in Goochland. That scheme included high density housing along the James River behind Courthouse Village and placed the lion’s share of UDA acreage there. That same scheme designated fewer acres for UDA use in Centerville.

Under the UDA legislation Goochland is required to designate between 470 and 1056 acres, depending on the degree of permitted density, for UDAs.
A revised proposal presented to the supervisors for informational purposes at their June 13 meeting recommends only 112 acres in Courthouse Village along River Road West for what is called “traditional neighborhood development.” The proposal cautions that this land could be threatened by strip development, which describes virtually all commercial development in Goochland.

(Details are in the board packet for June 13, which can be found under the supervisors’ tab on the county website www.co.goochland.va.us.)

The June plan also designates the land along the river as environmentally sensitive and indicates that it could be a candidate for some sort of permanent conservation use. While this protects land along the river, it could also punish the landowner by limiting development opportunities.

The June version of the proposed UDA shifts the concentration to Centerville, where 757 acres, fronting Broad Street Road are designated for UDA use. That’s a total of 869 acres, or one half of one percent of the county’s land area.

More community meetings will be held to gather citizen feedback about these two proposals. Please read the compendium of comments from the first round of meetings. No decision has been made how or if Goochland will address the UDA issue.

The response of county administration and the consultants to the citizen outcry about the bizarre initial UDA proposal is heartening. There are still some important questions about the UDAs that remain unanswered.
The most important unknown is what happens if Goochland fails to comply with the UDA mandate? The consultants and others seem to indicate that sanctions, if any, for failing to designate UDAs and make necessary zoning changes, are vague at best.

The UDA mandate does provide a metaphorical two by four to get Goochland supervisors to create higher density zoning options in areas served by public utilities. Aside from all of the rhetorical nonsense about absorbing growth to prevent dreaded sprawl, the county is drowning in debt. Adding more customers to our dreadfully under subscribed water and sewer lines makes sense. Denser residential configurations, which do not translate into housing projects, make sense in Centerville.

At the June 13 meeting, the supervisors voted to forward a request to amend the proffers on land in the southeast quadrant of the Rt. 250 and Manakin Road intersection to the planning commission. The amendment would change the existing zoning from an age restricted town house use to a traditional single family subdivision and pay the full cash proffer on each lot.

As the application was filed by the same group that developed the Parke at Centerville, it will probably be a similar set up. In spite of the hue and cry about building more homes that will flood the school system, both of the Parke developments tend to be settled by empty nesters.

More homes in the Centerville Village will add to its sparse population making the area more attractive to additional development where we want it. Market forces are driving this and it makes sense.

We still do not know if the county, once it has UDAs in place, will no longer be permitted to rezone land in other parts of the county for residential communities or even allow “by right” subdivision to occur. This is a huge issue for people who bought land years ago with the intention of selling lots to realize the appreciation of the property for their retirement.

The proposed UDAs target specific parcels of land, whose owners have expressed interest in the concept. Why not designate the entire Centerville village as appropriate for UDAs, make higher density zoning applicable there and let market forces guide development. As any land destined for UDA use will need to be rezoned, the supervisors retain control of what goes where. Exclusion of parcels only reduces the possibilities and arbitrarily favors some landowners.

In April, Citizens Concerned with Goochland Growth and the Partnership for Smarter Growth held a workshop to further explore the village concept as it applies to Centerville. While some of the speakers made good points, they seem to be fighting the last war.

They worried that Goochland will be inundated by runaway growth and assumed that a booming economy is just around the corner. The economy is dead in the water. Competition for scarce new business is fierce. Financing is scarcer than hen’s teeth. Every time we close a door to possibilities fewer people knock.

The time for creating a unified plan to develop the heart of Centerville is long gone. It will develop on both sides of the new improved Rt. 250 speedway. Only those with a death wish will cross that road on foot. Forget traffic calming devices and a totally walkable community there. Nodes suitable for pedestrian activity already exist, at least in the imagination of some landowners.

Iterations of plans for Manikintowne include retail and commercial use at grade with apartments or condos above and town houses along the golf course. George Andrews, who owns the land roughly behind the Shell station, envisions multistory mixed use with a commons area anchored by a fountain or other water feature. Zoning does not exist for these visions so there is little incentive for landowners or investors to further explore the possibilities.

The UDA mandate is yet another example of mega government intrusion into local matters. It could pave the way for zoning opportunities to enable creative development.

Market forces will decide what actually gets built here, but without some meaningful changes in zoning laws the money will go elsewhere. If the UDA mandate is a lemon, we need to find our own recipe for lemonade.

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