Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Planning commission punts

At its September 15, 2011 meeting the Goochland planning commission voted unanimously to defer a vote on an urban development area proposal for 60 days. It also asked county planning staff to downsize the proposal to the minimum acreage and maximum density.

Commissioners also voted 6 to 3 to amend the county’s comprehensive land use plan to designate the Bellview Gardens subdivision for residential use only.

The Bellview Gardens change generated far more discussion than seems to have been anticipated. When the last comp plan review was approved in 2009, the supervisors pledged to consider amendments between the usual five year reviews if conditions on the ground changed.

The last comp plan review got off to a great start in the spring of 2007. Meetings held around the county were well attended and generated useful citizen comment and suggestions. However, plan revisions were presented at a sparsely attended second round of meetings held the week after Thanksgiving.

Nothing happened with the comp plan until the supervisors approved the revisions in February 2009. Changes that seemed to favor some landowners near the Hadensville village were incorporated with no explanation or discussion. The supervisors were no doubt distracted as the former county administrator had recently slithered out of the administration building leaving county government in disarray.

At best, leaving Bellview Gardens designated as flexible use was an oversight. When the comp plan was overhauled in 2003, Bellview Gardens consisted of a few aging homes on a tract of land that mostly did not perc making it undevelopable without water and sewer.

In 2004, the remaining raw land there was sold to a developer who rezoned it for smaller lots and connected to Tuckahoe Creek Service District utilities. Many upscale homes were built and Bellview Gardens blossomed.

Its residents were probably unaware of the 2003 comp plan review and raised no objections. It was not until a proposal to locate a large Goodwill Store on the three lots at the front of the subdivision that the problem came into focus.

Owners of the front lots are angry that the Goodwill proposal fell apart and residents are angry that the values of their homes and safety of their neighborhood were threatened by the possibility of commercial development there.

Much of the kerfuffle could have been avoided with a bit of foresight by the county.

If the owners of the front parcels wanted to develop the land behind Bellview Gardens on a flex use basis, they should have been told to make a new entrance into the subdivision off of Three Chopt Road. That would close all access to the residential lots from Mills Road leaving it in place for access the larger flex use parcel.

No one seems to have looked beyond the notion that more lots in Bellview Gardens would mean more users for the TCSD.

Joe Andrews and Jim Crews, District 4 commissioners, contended that the highest and best use of the front three lots, which are located on or near Broad Street Road, is for some sort of commercial use. Andrews joined James Melton and Eugene Brice, both District 2, in dissenting votes.

Developer Mike Carroll, who represents the front three lots contended that incumbent District 4 supervisor Rudy Butler initiated the comp plan amendment to buy votes. Carroll characterized Goochland as a “third world country” and said that few businesses want to locate here because the county does what it wants to.

Both sides of this issue made some good points. At the end of the day, the interests of the people who bought houses and built a community in Bellview Gardens must be protected. The inability of anyone on the county level, including the planning commissioners and supervisors, to foresee the potential for disaster without addressing possible development of the parcels surrounding Bellview Gardens is shameful.

In this case, protection of the community must trump other concerns.
The commission then turned its attention to the urban development area proposal.

Virginia General Assembly in House bill 3203 mandates that all areas with high growth rates designate specific parcels of land for high density development. Ideally, the UDAs will be served by public water and sewer and have adequate road access.

The legislation contains a formula to determine the minimum amount of land for a UDA based on the population growth for the previous decade. Supposedly, the higher density housing will absorb all of the residential and commercial demand for new development for the next 20 years.

Goochland’s magic number is somewhere between 470 and 1,056 acres.
While UDAs might make some sense for northern Virginia whose growth is driven by its proximity to Washington, D.C., the concept is absurd for Goochland. People move here to pursue a certain lifestyle, not for its proximity to jobs.

The Goochland UDA proposal as presented by principal planner Tom Coleman was an embarrassment at best.

Allegedly the result of two sets of community meetings held in Courthouse Village and Centerville, the plan features clots of land randomly scattered with no apparent thought given to the interconnectedness that is supposed to be part of a UDA.

The “walkable” component of a UDA applies only to internal circulation for each parcel. Crossing parts of Fairground Road or the new improved Broad Street Road speedway in Centerville on foot requires a death wish and will only get worse.

Several commissioners asked Coleman how the specific parcels of land came to be included in the UDA. His response was vague. Some parcels along River Road West opposite the high school seem to have been designated by the consultants hired for us by VDOT with $50,000 tax dollars. Others were included at the request of the property owners. Parcels were being added after the informational packet for the meeting was prepared and Coleman said that parcels could be added or deleted up until the final vote by the board of supervisors and could be changed going forward.

Coleman also said that staff has not spoken with all of the landowners whose property was included in the Courthouse Village UDA but offered no explanation for this.

Brice observed that the parcel selection process is a mechanism to make the “rich richer” while excluding others who own land in the targeted areas but are unaware of the initiative. He contended that the county failed to make an “earnest effort” to get the word about UDAs out to the community.

Indeed, notices about the first round of community meetings allegedly sent to landowners who might be affected by the issue were sparsely received because they were mailed to the address on the property records and, in cases where property taxes are escrowed as part of a mortgage, went to banks instead of owners.

Given that Courthouse Village is accessible only via narrow, winding two lane roads from any direction and that utility capacity there is limited, any UDA compliance in the county should be in Centerville.

The parcels in Centerville are located along Broad Street Road, easily accessible to utilities and roads but seem to have little relationship to each other. That only paves the way for disparate development.

Paul Costello, who has organized a thoughtful series of community meetings exploring the village concept and what that can mean to Goochland, told the commissioners that no UDA should be designated before a coherent plan to develop Centerville is in place.

Various iterations of a “Centerville plan” have surfaced for that past decade or so, but none have been approved by the supervisors. While such a plan would never be written in stone, it would provide a starting point to create the sense of place that defines a village. It’s well past time for the supervisors to stop worrying about who they will offend if they put some sort of Centerville plan in place.

The commissioners seemed overwhelmed by the proposal. They asked some questions, but appeared unprepared for the discussion. Few commissioners bothered to attend the community meetings for the UDAs even though they knew that the matter would come before the planning commission.

Melton suggested deferring a vote on the matter so that the commission could “marinate” on the proposal, an apt choice of verbs. A great deal of thoughtful consideration must go into any decision on UDAs made by county leaders.

Several speakers contended that UDAs are part of the United Nations Agenda 21 policy, which they characterized as a mechanism to destroy property rights. They also said that a movement to repeal the UDA legislation failed in the General Assembly in 2011 and will be reintroduced in 2012. Governor McDonnell is also reportedly investigating repeal of the UDA mandate.

The commission voted unanimously to defer the matter for 60 days, which will put if before the supervisors no earlier than January 2012. They also asked staff to return with a proposal for the minimum acreage and maximum density permitted under teh mandate.

Any decisions will be made by a newly elected board. Hopefully, the General Assembly will repent and get its nose out of local land use matters.

Regardless of whether or not UDAs are implemented in Goochland, we do need some more realistic development options in the Tuckahoe Creek Service District, which includes the Centerville Village.

As presented the UDA favors some landowners and puts others at a disadvantage. A better alternative would be to make the higher density zoning available in the entire TCSD mindful that all changes must go through the rezoning process. That would give the supervisrs the option of deciding when there was too much development. Let market driven competition rather than politically motivated mandates and preference guide the speed and density of development. The time for dithering is long past.


Anonymous said...

This situation addresses the need for new, competent leadership in Goochland. Rudy Butler, District 4Supervisor, demonstrates what happens when the "good ole boy" way of doing things goes unchecked.
He needs to be replaced. Mr. Butler should do the honorable thing and step aside as he said he would do in 2007. His time has come and gone. Put him out to pasture so he can observe the turnaround of Goochland with his buddy Jim Eads. New Leadership in 2012!!!!

Anonymous said...

Nice job, as always, love some of the quotes you picked up.