Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Planners reject UDAs

The issue moves to the new board

Goochland’s planning commission voted 8-0 at its November 17, 2011 meeting to recommend that the new board of supervisors table the urban development area UDA) issue until the Virginia General Assembly adjourns next spring.
District 3 planning commissioners Tommy Carter and Derek Murray were absent.

After more than a year of research by a VDOT funded land use consultants and input from community meetings, discussions with landowners and a public hearing on the issue before the planning commission in September, the county’s final UDA proposal was confusing at best.

When the planners got their first shot at the UDAs in September, they were clearly befuddled by the “plan,” which was little more than maps of both Courthouse Village and Centerville with various parcels of land outlined in bright colors.

The parcels, presumably selected because their owners indicated a willingness to entertain high density development, seemed randomly selected. The proposals lacked even the vaguest explanation of how the parcels could fit together to craft the new urbanism nirvana touted as the cure all for that dreaded sprawl.

In fact, the entire UDA exercise, as manifested in Goochland, is an example of government waste and intrusion on the private property rights of citizens.

The $3 million spent by VDOT statewide to hire so called land use experts to take a look at “high growth “ localities and help them save their open space, is a classic boondoggle. Somehow, the Commonwealth found these funds in a rapidly shrinking budget choosing instead to save money by closing Interstate rest areas throughout Virginia.

An initial proposal, created without any boots on the ground visit to the land in question, would have permitted high density residential and commercial development on environmentally sensitive land in Courthouse Village near the James River and did not even suggest improvements to existing roads so narrow that two cars passing must perform maneuvers appropriate for porcupine mating.

Parcels seem to have been added with no justification other than landowners were receptive to higher density zoning options. No doubt these landowners are so tired of paying taxes on land they cannot profitably develop that they would agree to pretty much anything to make their property economically viable.

Detractors of the UDA mandate believe that the initiative is a part of a global conspiracy to herd populations into small areas where they can be easily controlled. That theory has way too m much credibility for comfort.
In September, following a great deal of thoughtful and well- founded public comment the planners deferred a decision and requested that staff to return with a UDA proposal that met the minimum requirements as to land area and density.

Instead, staff, perhaps anticipating the mood of the planners, brought back what was essentially the same proposal presented in September.
Some of the commissioners acted as though the November 17 hearing was their first exposure to the UDA concept. Indeed, few planning commissioners bothered to attend any of the community meetings held to gather citizen input.

This issue has been on the agenda for quite some time. Some of the more vocal and better organized UDA opponents have been sending commissioners information supporting their contentions for months. You would think that they would have done some homework on such an important matter.
Yet, James Crews, District 4 for instance, seemed unaware that VDOT selected and paid for a land use consultant to prepare a UDA proposal for Goochland.

The elephant in the corner remained possible state imposed sanctions if Goochland fails to comply with the UDA mandate. Concern that the county would be forced to repay the $50,000 was mentioned several times. There seems to be no state policy in place to deal with failure to comply with UDA mandates. There are several initiatives at the state level to repeal or revise the legislation to make the addition of UDAs to a locality’s comprehensive land use plan optional.

(Please listen to the discussion and draw your own conclusions. A recording of the meeting is available on the county website www.co.goochland.va.us)

There was discussion about the feasibility of high density development in Goochland and whether any developers would be interested in operating here given all of the proposed projects just over the Henrico line.

Tom Coleman, the county’s principal planner observed that overall economic conditions ultimately dictate the degree of demand for high density development in Centerville.

Although the idea of punting on the UDA mandate surfaced early in the discussion, some commissioners expressed concern about failure to make any effort to comply with the mandate.

Eugene Bryce, District 1 said that he would hate to be sorry in ten years that nothing was done regarding UDAs. James Atkinson, also District 1 said that he would rather regret doing nothing than taking the wrong action.
Other concerns were the fiscal impact of high density development on other services, especially the school system; fire-rescue services and roads. Coleman said that every UDA project would need to submit a fiscal impact statement as part of the rezoning process.

Bryce cautioned that the county must be very careful about future growth. He contended that past growth caused the massive changes at the polls, electing “imports” to offices formerly held by lifelong residents, including several of his relatives.

Citizens made important points during the public hearing.
Patricia Hendy of the Centerville area likened the current widening of Broad Street Road to what UDAs could bring to Goochland. She recalled the plethora of public meetings held by VDOT over the past several years to trot out various versions of the new, improved road and allegedly gather citizen input.

Now, said Hendy, we have an eyesore that we didn’t want and it is clear that no one at VDOT paid any attention to the desires and concerns of local citizens. She contended that UDAs could well turn out to be the same sort of disaster.

Hendy said that New Kent Village, which was touted as a prime example of the benefits of the new urbanism to create a cash cow for tax revenues, recently declared bankruptcy becoming economic road kill instead.
Patti Rosner of District 2 contended that the UDA mandate is nothing more than social engineering designed to deprive citizens of their property rights. She urged the planners to tell the state to keep its nose out of Goochland’s affairs.

Paul Costello of the Centerville area pointed out that neither proposed UDA bothered to identify the center of the village. He said that in a successful village highest density uses are at the center of the village and decrease toward its boundaries. The proposed UDAs have high density parcels all over the place, reminiscent of newspaper used to paper train a puppy.

No matter what the motivation for the UDA mandate, we do not need a one-size-fits-all solution to problems we do not have.

Goochland does need to include more development friendly zoning options in areas served by public water and sewer, especially the Tuckahoe Creek Service District. Those zoning rules, however, must be determined locally and be of a scale and density appropriate for Goochland.

We can only hope that the General Assembly repeals the legislation.

No comments: