Friday, December 21, 2012

Of lists and evergreens

Having spent the best part of 2012 putting out inherited fires, the Goochland Board of Supervisors took some time in December to make a to do list for the coming year.

At workshops held in early December the supervisors discussed the Capital Improvement Plan with staff, school administration, and members of the school board; and economic development with the Economic Development Authority. Both sessions were geared to setting priorities. Much needs to be done, but resources are limited.

County Administrator Rebecca Dickson began the CIP session with an overview of the process. A capital improvement, she explained, is a non-recurring expense of generally more than $50,000. The CIP helps the county plan large expenditures for both the county and schools over several years. Projects in the CIP are funded by debt, cash, often from the general fund, and other sources, including cash proffers.

The CIP is prepared in conjunction with the annual budget. Items under consideration included the school bus maintenance facility, which has been an unresolved item in the CIP for at least a generation and what to do with the old middle school.

Our new Superintendent of Schools Dr. James Lane was an active and informed participant in the discussions. (Rumor has it that Dr. Lane took his trumpet to the football playoffs in Salem and played with the band. What a great way to start his tenure!)

Another evergreen item in the CIP is a replacement for Goochland Elementary School. Lane gave a rough estimate of $24 million to build a new elementary school. Capacity and current utilization for each school was also presented.

A proposal to investigate the purchase of an existing building in Oilville to replace the decrepit bus garage was enthusiastically received.

District 2 supervisor Manuel Alvarez, Jr. said that, because there is no clear and compelling use for the old middle school at this time, he does not believe it should be included in the CIP.

The scope of the meeting was too broad to permit detailed discussions of any item. However, a build out analysis, the number and location of lots currently zoned for residential use, (about 1,356) was included in the packet. There are approximately 8,200 existing homes in the entire county. (See part A of the December 4 board packet at for details.)

Other non-school CIP items included a new emergency communications system, which is mandated by the Federal Communications Commission and well underway; vehicle replacement; software upgrades for the county’s information technology department; and grounds and facility maintenance. Priorities for the CIP will fall into place as the budget process unfolds during the first quarter of next year.

The bottom line of the CIP discussion is that the county needs more revenue.

The economic development workshop raised more questions than it answered, but it was a good start. Attracting new business to Goochland to bolster our revenues and fund core services, as well as items in the CIP, is crucial to preservation of the quality of life expected by citizens. Nurturing existing businesses is also important.

Matt Ryan, who joined the county staff as Director of Economic Development last spring, explained that companies looking to move to Goochland operate on the premise that time is money. If processes needed to set up shop here are too cumbersome or tentative, they will go elsewhere. The current business climate is very competitive because every jurisdiction wants to attract new revenues and jobs.

A new economic development website is expected to be in operation soon, which should help make the county more visible to prospects.

Goochland has done a great job of repelling, rather than attracting new business. We have few cleared shovel-ready sites with utilities and roads in place. The supervisors are working to streamline the rezoning process, but that will take time. The dearth of rooftops to attract retail was also touched on.

A bridge over Tuckahoe Creek, another evergreen issue, would bring the businesses of West Creek, especially the new medical center, close to homes in Henrico. Growth in the northwestern corner of Henrico puts many upscale homes close to eastern Goochland. It’s way past time for us to turn the tables and poach sales tax dollars from our neighbor to the east the way it has been doing to us forever.

Economic development activities must be prioritized. The supervisors indicated that the TCSD, West Creek, Centerville, the Oilville Interstate 64 interchange and Courthouse Village will be on the front burners. Courthouse Village has a unique set of opportunities and challenges and needs its own work session and strategic plan.

The Oilville interchange must be high on the priority list. Since at least the turn of the century, the EDA has offered several ways for the county to partner with VDOT to bring water and sewer to the interchange through expansion of the nearby eastbound I-64 rest area’s wastewater plant. These partnership initiatives seemed like no brainers, but were regularly shot down by the previous board with no justification.

About two years ago, an effort by the county to pre-zone some land on Oilville Road to help attract prospects was derailed by a massive and false disinformation campaign. The motives behind that failure are murky but can probably be traced back to someone who felt they were not getting a big enough piece of the potential pie. That nonsense has got to stop.

The supervisors also need to rebuild bonds of trust between landowners and the county that were shattered by the treachery of the previous regime.

Goochland needs a good mix of small, medium and large businesses to provide a stable tax base able to weather the vagaries of the larger economy.

John Joyce and Gracie Easely of the EDA pointed out that regulations placed on small businesses are often excessive and confusing, especially when compared to neighboring jurisdictions.

The absence of any discussion about ways to ensure that that law enforcement and fire-rescue grows apace with development was troubling.

Each item on the economic development agenda could probably use its own workshop. In the current fragile fiscal climate, attracting new business to Goochland presents huge challenges. Care must be taken to ensure that benefits outweigh costs. The supervisors seem eager to move forward with all deliberate speed. They must, however, be mindful of long term consequences of their actions.






Sunday, December 16, 2012


We don’t know why a disturbed young man went to a Connecticut elementary school last Friday morning and committed unpardonable crimes. We may never know what triggered his mind to reject the instinctive taboo against harming a child that is hardwired into the human soul.

We cannot fully grasp the suffering of the survivors. Our hearts break for the parents who should be shopping for toys, but are instead buying coffins for their children. There are no words to express our sympathy; there is no way to assuage their grief.

We are angry because shooting rampages seem to be occurring more frequently. Experts, however, contend that the number of mass shootings in America has been relatively steady for the past few decades. Our 24/7 news cycle and hyperconnectedness just makes us more aware of these horrors.

Above all, we don’t ever want this to happen again. At first blush, banning all guns seems to be the answer. A worldwide news digest on Friday included a piece about a man in China who wounded 22 children with a knife. Okay, let’s ban knives too, just in case.
Fists were the weapon that injured a Goochland teacher in a recent incident in the parking lot of the high school.
The common denominator in most of these situations seems to be mental health issues. Some of the perpetrators have gotten “help” in the form of anti-psychotic medications; others may have had some contact with mental health professionals with mixed results. Still others hover like bombs waiting to go off.
How do we, as a free society, protect ourselves those who may pose danger to the community without impinging on their rights? Who gets to decide if someone poses a threat? Who is liable for the havoc wreaked when one of these troubled people--who seem to be mostly young, bright, white men—fall through the cracks?
Do we lock all quiet loners and hyperactive kids up in mental hospitals? How much will that cost, and who will pay? Suspending rights of those deemed to be unable to function in society is a slippery slope.
The questions are many. The answers are few. This long overdue discussion must begin now.
Banning guns will not end mass killings; it will only change the methodology.
We all want to find a way to make this evil stop forever, but acting in haste is not the answer.
Pray for all of the bereaved in Connecticut and pray that the person planning the next incident will find help before it is too late.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Bulldogs win state!

The Goochland Bulldogs football team won the state championship game 41-14 against Essex. The game was played in Salem, and ended a few minutes ago. Congratulations to the players and coaches for their hard work and to parents and others who supported them.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Stocking stuffers


Since taking office last January, Goochland’s supervisors have been busy. They started by crafting a balanced, but very lean budget, using the process to get acquainted with every facet of county operations. Then, they averted the county’s own fiscal cliff by refunding a portion of the Tuckahoe Creek Service District debt.
At their December 4 meeting, the work continued.
The Certified Annual Financial Review (CAFR) for fiscal 2012, which ended on June 30, was presented by newly retained auditors PBGH. The county has adopted the sound business practice of changing auditors to ensure objectivity. By all accounts, PBGH did an excellent job of reviewing the county’s finances.
While there a still a few operational weaknesses, these have been identified and action plans to fix them are in place. There were no restatements, or, in technical accounting terms “oopses,” as to numbers. This is a huge improvement over the massive dysfunction of yore.
There is still work to be done, but things are going in the right direction. The Supervisors and School Board are committed to excellence and transparency in this matter. The CAFR document is posted on the county website under the Finance Department. It contains lots of interesting general information in addition to the numbers and is well worth perusal.
The Board authorized County Administrator Rebecca Dickson to sign a contract to purchase 7.5 acres at the intersection of Three Chopt and Old Fredericksburg Roads for the long overdue replacement for the Company 6 fire-rescue station in Hadensville. The purchase price is the assessed value of $88,900.
Money for this purpose was allocated in the current fiscal year. This parcel of land is the triangle roughly opposite the existing station. One time revenues generated by the shift to a semi-annual collection of personal property taxes will fund the construction. This will be the first fire-rescue station built, and owned, by the county.
A possible solution to a decades-long problem may have been found. The supervisors authorized Dickson to place an option on a property to replace the school bus maintenance garage. If this works out, it will provide out of the weather repair space in a multi-bayed building that is only a few years old and high enough to accommodate double decker buses. The property is listed at $795,000. It is doubtful that the county could build a new bus garage for that. The option will permit a thorough investigation to determine if it is a good fit and estimate the cost of converting the space for bus maintenance.
Other long standing matters were not so easily resolved.
During citizen comment at the start of the afternoon meeting, community activist Anne Rockecharlie, who generally supports the new board, took it to task for voting to approve commercial use of land at the entrance to the Bellview Gardens subdivision in Centerville. She also cautioned the board about its upcoming vote on the application for a conditional use permit for a sporting clays shooting range at Orapax. Until they adopt a noise ordinance, said Rockecharlie, the supervisors have no business to threaten the peace and quiet of others.
Linda Trice, who lives near Orapax, suggested that the Board request Orapax to conduct a full day sample of the operation of the sporting clays course before they vote on the conditional use permit application. She contended that the few volleys shot during the sound test conducted in October were not a true representation of the negative impact of the courses on area landowners.
Earlier in the year, the supervisors indicated interest in removing the Elk Island Bridge, and its high maintenance costs, from the state road system. Making this happen, however, is quite complicated. County Attorney Norman Sales explained that liability issues could result in Goochland, rather than VDOT, picking up the considerable tab for maintenance.
The bridge, located in the far western end of the county, spans the remnants of the Kanawha Canal and accesses an island that is entirely private property. Initially part of a crossing to Cumberland County, the span over the James River on the south side of the island was washed away and never replaced. Elk Island is owned by a handful of land owners who use their property for agriculture and recreation.
In the past two years, VDOT has spent about $1 million for bridge upkeep, far more than VDOT allocates annually to maintain all roads in Goochland County. One of the largest ongoing expenses is removal of debris that accumulates against the bridge abutments. Environmental regulations add to the cost.
Sales explained that he has asked the Virginia Attorney General for an opinion on several issues. These include: ownership of the bridge--the canal is state property, but ownership of the bridge is unclear; liability for mishaps that might occur on the bridge; and who, if anyone, pays to maintain the bridge if it is removed from the state system.
Sales also pointed out that money VDOT might save by removal of the bridge from state maintenance will not necessarily be added to Goochland’s road maintenance allocation. More information is needed before any action is taken.

Public hearings drew no comments and all matters were approved unanimously.





Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Savors of the season

It’s that time again! The elections are over and the turkey digested. A certain Jolly Elf is loading his sleigh. Right here in Goochland County, a cornucopia of seasonal delights is overflowing with opportunities to get you into the holiday spirit.

Bethlehem Walk, sponsored by Salem Baptist Church, begins this afternoon, November 28 at 6 p.m. and runs through Sunday, December 2. The free event takes place at the Salem site on the south side of Broad Street Road a bit west of Centerville. For more information call 784-4171 or visit the website at  Go back to Bethlehem and remember that the real meaning of Christmas has nothing to do with maxing out a credit card.

On Saturday, December 1, Fire-Rescue Volunteers at both Centerville Company 3 and Fife Company 4 hold their annual breakfast with Santa. A hot cooked breakfast is prepared and served to all comers. The little ones get to have a chat with the aforementioned Elf. This is a great opportunity to meet our amazing volunteers.

In the afternoon, your Goochland Bulldogs football team will meet Wilson Memorial in the next step of the state playoffs. The game will be played in Fishersville, starting at 1 p.m. Listen live at or WZEZ at 100.5 FM.

Later that day, the Field Day of the Past grounds on Ashland Road will be open and decorated for an old fashioned Christmas. Take a few minutes to walk back in time to a simpler era. This event is free of charge and a nice way to get some fresh air.

On Thursday, December 6, Grace Episcopal Church, located on River Road West in the heart of Goochland Courthouse Village, beginning at 7:30 PM EST,  will be host its annual free community music event featuring the Virginia Benefit Chorale. As always, the event is open to the public with the suggested donation of canned goods for the Goochland Free Clinic & Family Services. The evening activities will include a Choir Concert, the dedication of the Grace Church's new organ, and special organ recital by Charles Lindsey, organist and choirmaster of St Paul's Episcopal Church, Bristol Parish in Petersburg, Virginia. Virginia Benefit Chorale directed by Steve Davis will present numerous classical hymns and songs. They will be joined by Grace Episcopal Church's Sunday Choir.

On Friday, December 7 from 6:30 to 8 p.m., the Goochland Community Christmas Tree will be lit. Open to all, the event will take place on the corner of River Road West and Dickenson Drive on the grounds of the Goochland Young Men’s Christian Association site. (Note the “C” in YMCA. No politically correct whining about calling it a Christmas tree, please.)

Warm up your vocal chords to take part in the Hallelujah Chorus of Handel’s Messiah, which will be presented by the Richmond Symphony and Chorus at the Goochland High School at 4 p.m. on Sunday, December 9. Made possible by the Goochland Rotary, proceeds will support local charities. For tickets ask any Rotarian or visit

On Saturday, December 15, the Goochland Christmas Mother distribution will take place. This fine grass roots organization, which helps those in need at Christmas, has had more applications than ever in our troubled economic times. If you are able, please send a donation to P. O. Box 322 Goochland, VA 23063. Visit for more information. Donations are welcome, and needed, all year long.

All this is happening right here in Goochland County!




Monday, November 19, 2012

The fulcrum

At its November 15 meeting, Goochland County’s Planning Commission voted 6-1 to recommend denial of an application for a conditional use permit to operate a sporting clays shooting range at Orapax Plantation, a 672.6 acre hunting preserve owned by Andrew and Nancy Dykers. The property in question is located between Route 6 and the James River, west of Courthouse Village.

Commission chair Courtney Hyers, District 5, cast the dissenting vote after nearly three hours of a passionate public hearing and extensive deliberation among the commissioners.

Hyers characterized the matter as a “difficult case,” which is a gross understatement. For the past 20 or so years, Orapax has unsuccessfully tried to obtain county sanction to operate the course after operating one in the late ‘80s, which was shut down following a huge outcry from those who lived nearby.

This case illustrates the delicate, and often elusive, balance between property rights of landowners and the health, safety, and welfare of the citizens that land use law is supposed to find.

The Dykers claim that a sporting clays course is permitted under county zoning law as a conditional use for their hunting preserve, which is zoned A-1. Opponents, mostly neighboring land owners, contend that it will, literally, threaten their sanity, quality of life, and property values.

Action on the matter was deferred from the Commission’s October meeting so a sound study to provide objective data about the degree of noise that would be generated by the course could be completed.

Conducted on the afternoon of October 25, results of the study, performed by Backstage, Inc. were presented by Orapax as evidence that the course, which is located in floodplain closer to the river than the previous incarnation of the shooting range, will not generate objectionable levels of noise.

In general, the study indicated that noise from the shooting range was barely higher than ambient, or normal background, levels. (The report is included in the November 15 information packet, which is posted on the Planning Commission page of the county website,

One opponent of the CUP claimed that the test shots were clearly audible over the noise of working bulldozers on the Leake’s Mill Park site, 1.6 miles west of Orapax.

GOMM attended the sound test and listened at Irwin, which is about a mile east of Orapax, halfway between Route 6 and the River. While facing Orapax with hands cupped behind ears, lest any sound be missed, GOMM noticed that traffic passing on Route 6, birds, insects, and even dry leaves blowing in nearby trees made significant noise. Between 2:33 and 2:53 p.m. GOMM heard six separate distant volleys of what sounded like gunfire but felt no associated vibration. Without paying careful attention, those sounds might not have been noticed. Given this experience, it’s difficult to give credence to people from Holland Hills, a mile or so northeast of Irwin, who said they often hear the shooting from Orapax in their backyards

Orapax did a very poor job of presenting its case for the shooting range. They contended that the range will bring more revenue to Goochland by helping a small business expand. Yet, when pressed for details, Orapax stated that no new jobs will be created. Additional tax revenue generated by removing the four acre shooting range site from land use will net less than a $100 increase in real estate tax revenue.

Initially, only a few shooters per week are expected to use the course, according to Orapax representative Neal Kander, the Dykers’ son-in-law. However, the application requests permission for up to 24 shooters per day. That’s a pretty wide range. Orapax wants to operate the shooting range 365 days per year from 9-5.

It is hard to understand why the Dykers would endure the cumbersome and expensive--the CUP permit alone is $750--process to secure a CUP to generate revenue from a mere handful of shooters who will pay $25 each to use the shooting range. The application states that in calendar year 2011, Orapax attracted 1,200 clients from 41 states and seven foreign countries. There were anecdotal contentions that these folks, after they left Orapax, patronized local business to the tune of about $45 per head, but no supporting evidence was provided.

Indeed, some commissioners noted that Orapax made no effort to explain what sort of return on its investment was expected from operating the shooting range.

Supporters of Orapax contended that it provides an excellent opportunity for wholesome and safe use of firearms. Opponents of the CUP, none of whom proposed any curtailment of current Orapax operations, raised concerns about the negative impact of noise on health, property values, and lead leaching into the water supply. Orapax stipulated it will put a lead mitigation plan in place to support the shooting range.

Supporters also pointed out that private shooting ranges are already permitted by right. They said that many people shoot targets in their backyards in Goochland. This time of year, the sound of gunfire is often audible in the entire county. Camp Brady Saunders, operated by the Boy Scouts on Maidens Road, has such a range, which can be clearly heard by its neighbors.

Shooting enthusiasts contended that a sporting clays course will produce many continuous volleys of gunfire and expend a lot of shotgun shells. They said that this is very different from the random sporadic gunfire resulting from hunts at Orapax.

County assessor Glenn Branham, who attended the sound study, stated that, based on what he heard on October 25, 2012, he would not be inclined to reduce valuation on parcels of land in the vicinity of Orapax. He also said that he might reconsider based on actual conditions in the future.

In a previous hearing, Branham stated that he had lowered valuation on some properties on Lee Road in Crozier, which are close to the Department of Corrections shooting range.

The DOC range operates at all hours of the day and is exempt from local ordinances. According to people who live nearby, shooting at the DOC range, where law enforcement officers train with automatic weapons, sounds like a war zone.

Orapax contended that sporting clays is akin to golf with a shotgun and sounds nothing like a war zone.

Opponents also raised the question of enfrocemnt of the CUP. This is a zoning issue, so the Sheriff’s Office will not be involved. Who will count the shooters? How will allegations of violation be handled?

After the hearing was closed, the commissioners wrestled with the matter. Many stated that they believe people have the right to do as they wish on their property, unless it negatively impacts others.

Joe Andrews, District 4, said that he could not support the conditions on the table, but suggested hours from 9-1, which would not impinge on afternoon activities, and an effective period of no more than one year. Tom Rockecharlie, at large, said that he would prefer to require the use of inly lead-free  to eliminate all paperwork and envirionmental concerns. Vice chair Ty Querry, District 2 argued that the commission should recommend denial of the application as presented, which they did.

Although many of the commissioners attended the sound test and heard the sound for themselves, they seemed to be swayed by the opponents.  Perhaps the comment that resonated most was “would you want this near your home?”

Hyers, clearly exasperated with her fellow commissioners, said that the county A-1 zoning ordinance allows shooting ranges as a conditional use to support agriculture and open space. She worried that “we’re going to get to the point where we’re not going to let people make a living from agricultural use of their land. It is unrealistic to talk about Goochland as if this is a park.” Hyers questioned the rationale for conducting the sound study if the results were ignored.

Her remarks underscore comments made by new residents who claim they moved to Goochland to enjoy rural peace and quiet yet whine endlessly about slow moving farm equipment; the odor of manure spread on fields, and the ugly aftermath of timbering. Agriculture, a big part of “rural,” is often noisy, dirty, smelly and unsightly.

The Board of Supervisors is expected to hold its own public hearing on the matter in January. If the Board grants the CUP without further restricting the conditions, it will essentially make itself a lame duck body, bringing back the bad old days of granting favors to friends, regardless of other considerations.

However, granting a very limited CUP, say with hours of 9-1 Monday through Saturday for a one year period, could provide a sliver of middle ground. This would give Orapax more exercise of property rights and the neighbors a chance to live with actual conditions. Orapax might decide that the sporting clays course is not worth the bother, or the neighbors realize that the noise impact is less than they feared. Or, it could be déjà vu all over again.





Wednesday, November 14, 2012

November musings

Goochland’s supervisors tended to business at their November 7 meeting. The session began with good news of the successful Tuckahoe Creek Service District bond refunding, which resulted in a significant portion of the debt now carrying a true interest rate of 3.78 percent. This will provide some badly needed breathing room to permit the TCSD to grow toward self-funding.

Electoral board chair, Herb Griffith reported that initial figures indicated that 87.4 percent of county voters cast ballots in Tuesday’s presidential election. He said that Registrar Frances C. Ragland is “a monument to what good people in important posts can do and do well.”

As 2012 wanes, the board and staff are already looking ahead to the budget process for the next fiscal year, which begins July 1, 2013. The county now uses a two year budget to facilitate better fiscal planning. John Wack, Deputy County Administrator for Financial Affairs gave the supervisors a budget update.

The county had a revenue surplus of about $2.7 million for the fiscal year that ended on June 30, 2012. A list of recommendations for the funds was presented. For details, see Part B and Part C of the November board packet on the county website,

Some of this money will be placed in the general fund, the remainder spread among several areas including: Virginia Retirement System funding; utilities projects; vehicles for the Sheriff’s Office and schools.

Real estate valuations are expected to remain steady at $4.3 billion—down from the all-time high of $4.72 billion in 2009--next year. Personal property tax collection is also expected to remain unchanged at $9.21 million. No raises will be in the offing next year and the school board is working on yet another lean budget. These are very preliminary numbers, but the process is underway. Doing more with less is the new normal. Is the only thing we have to fear is fear itself?

County Administrator Rebecca Dickson said that this is preliminary information, that the process, which will include ample opportunity for public input, is just getting underway and that things may well change between now and adoption of next year’s budget in the spring.

A request to refer a draft “Dark Sky” ordinance to the planning commission for a public hearing was deferred until the supervisors can study the matter. Concerns about the broadness of the language and enforcement were cited as reasons for the postponement.

Supervisor Manuel Alvarez, Jr. District 2 reported that a working group will be formed to draft requests for information and requests for proposals to gauge further possibilities for widespread deployment of high speed internet options. These are expected to be complete by March. A survey of existing communications assets is also expected to be completed by then.

A suggestion was made to include high speed internet information on planning and zoning applications.

A draft of the county’s legislative agenda, our position on matters addressed by the Virginia General Assembly, was presented by County Attorney Norman Sales. In September, the supervisors met with Delegates Lee Ware and Peter Farrell and Senator Tom Garrett to discuss issues of concern to Goochland and ask for their help in promoting these matters in Richmond.

The agenda includes a request that the boundaries of service districts, like the TCSD, may be amended. Currently, these boundaries can be changed only be repealing the existing ordinance creating the old district and passing another to approve the changes. The repeal method opens the door for landowners to leave the TCSD.

The supervisors also would like to be able to disallow land use taxation in the TCSD without ending the practice in the whole county. This would provide incentive for some landowners to sell or develop their TCSD property instead of using it for agriculture at a much reduced tax rate.

Support for reduction of regulation on farm stores and farmers markets was also included. In an attempt to protect the public, the state is regulating cottage industry almost to the point of extinction. It is possible to relax these standards without jeopardizing public health.

Apparently, state regulations are now being cited as the main obstacle in resolving, once and for all, the exact location of portions of the border between Goochland and Louisa Counties. This discussion has been in the works for generations. Although it would seem that GIS technology should be able to plot the boundary with pinpoint accuracy, we still need the state’s blessing to use this methodology.

Perhaps next year the supervisors could suggest that Virginia cease to be a Dillon Rule state, a condition that gives all authority to the state, which then cedes certain powers to localities. This often absurd and cumbersome game of “Mother may I” squanders resources better used elsewhere.

During a discussion of existing and upcoming vacancies on boards and commissions, it was revealed that not a single citizen expressed interest in serving the county in this manner.

To counter the perception that “you had to know somebody” to be appointed to one of these bodies, the supervisors placed a section on the county website inviting anyone to be considered for appointment. Guess now we know why it seemed like the same twelve people were on every board—no one else wants to be bothered! In case you missed it, information is located under the heading “serving Goochland” on the supervisors’ tab on the county website.

In the evening, the board approved a change to sign setback rules; granted Luck Stone approval to use a portion of its Ashland Road facility for overburden as the pit grows; approved an ordinance change to clarify the rules for hunting during muzzleloader season; and approved the expanded overlay district for the Centerville Village. One small parcel of bare land on Plaza Drive, which is surrounded by “grandfathered” metal and cinder block structures, was exempted to make it more attractive to a buyer.

The board also granted a conditional use permit for land in Bellview Gardens, which was discussed in a previous post.

A public joint workshop between the supervisors and members of the Economic Development Authority will be held on Wednesday, December 5 at 6 p.m. in the library.















Thursday, November 8, 2012

Where the buck stops

Goochland County’s Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a rezoning application for 2.7 acres of land on the corner of Mills Road and Rt. 250 in Centerville at its November 7 meeting.

District 4 supervisor Robert Minnick moved for approval. This is an indication of the integrity of this board. Under the old regime, the motion for a zoning change opposed by neighbors would have been made by a supervisor from another district. If he was confident that there were three votes to confirm, the “local” supervisor could then vote against the measure, saving face among his constituents while ensuring that the measure passed.

Following a long public hearing on the matter, during which residents of Bellview Gardens, which is joined at the hip with the property in question, contended that approval of the proposal for a medical office park would destroy their neighborhood.

The proposal includes about sixty percent of green space with extensive landscaping. Two buildings, for a total of no more than 19,000 square feet served by 95 parking spaces were illustrated in elevations. Extensive proffers and attractive elevations of proposed buildings accompanied the application.(Go to the supervisors’ page on the county website for Part C of the November 7 board packet.)

In 2011, Bellview Gardens residents raised such vigorous opposition to construction of a Goodwill Store on the same property, that the application was withdrawn. That store is currently under construction near the Centerville Food Lion in what seems like a much better location for all concerned.

The land in question, four lots on the west side of Mills Road that border the Tuckahoe Creek floodplain, was part of Bellview Gardens, platted about 50 years ago. Because many of the original lots did not perc, the subdivision was never built out.

About eight years ago, shortly after completion of the Tuckahoe Creek Service District trunk lines, the subdivision was rezoned to permit higher density using public water and sewer, resulting in the construction of many upscale homes. Little thought was given to development of the surrounding land.

Bellview Gardens residents have organized to fight any business or commercial development between their community and Broad Street Road. Until November 7, they were successful in their efforts as the county planning commissions voted 6-1 to recommend denial of the application in September.

The supervisors listened to comments from the residents, no one except the developer, Tom Kinter, spoke in favor of the rezoning.

From their questions, it was clear that the supervisor have given a lot of thought to the matter and seemed to wrestle with the close juxtaposition of commercial uses with homes. There are other places in the county—even the uber upscale Kinloch-where similar development may be in the offing.

District 2 supervisor Manuel Alvarez, Jr. asked about vacating the end of Mills Road, to prevent its future use as an access road to the 600 acre parcel behind Bellview Gardens. This seems to indicate that development efforts for land surrounding Bellview Gardens should include access other than Mills Road.

Alvarez also observed that the proposed high quality and relatively low intensity development might be better than alternatives that would come along later. He also said that it would set a high standard for future projects. By approving this application, uncertainty about the property will be eliminated.

Residents pointed out that this rezoning request was the first to reach the supervisors, previous attempts being shot down at the planning commission level, and that a rejection by the supervisors would send a signal to the bank that holds the land that it will not be commercially developed any time soon.

District 1 supervisor Susan Lascollette pointed out that the supervisors cannot prevent anyone from filing a rezoning application. Given the desirable location of the Mills Road land, it could well come up year after year until rezoned.

The condition of the pavement on Mills Road was brought up both by residents, who contend that it is only tar and gravel and unable to withstand the traffic generated by the proposed office use. Kinter said that he had dug next to the road and it has good underlayment and several layers of asphalt. He also observed that it had withstood construction traffic of heavy vehicles when the new homes were built. He said that his group is prepared to bring the road up to VDOT standards, which could include widening it.

Principal planner Tom Coleman explained that the developer must submit an engineering study of the road as part of the building permit process.  

Residents contended that Kinter and his associate Mike Carroll have been maneuvering to secure this rezoning for some time. Some of them contended that the rezoning violates the eminent domain amendment just approved to the Virginia State Constitution.

Eminent domain is when government takes private property and conveys it to another party for development. The Bellview Gardens issue is a zoning case. The transfer of the land is from its current owner, a bank as the result of foreclosure, and Kinter’s LLC. This is a private transaction between two parties. The county’s only involvement is to approve the change of land use.

Bellview Gardens residents contended that the project will have a negative impact on their property values Kinter contended that it will have no impact.

Minnick asked what sort of use would be favored by Bellview Gardens’ residents for the land in question. The answer was that they don’t know, perhaps a library, but nothing for a good while. Some contended that any kind of residential use is preferable to commercial or office.

Following the public hearing and a protected discussion among the supervisors and residents, there was a long pause. Then Minnick made the motion.

The fallout from this decision will be interesting. This was the first really contentious matter this board has handled. They listened, they discussed and, at the end, they decided.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Goochland votes

Goochland votes

Today is election Day, the High Holy Day of American Democracy. This is the day that citizens who are so inclined—remember we are not forced to vote-cast ballots to choose who will govern us.

Goochlanders are good about voting. In 2008, our county had the highest percentage of voters in the state, more than 85 percent!

A completely unscientific mid-afternoon survey of all of Goochland’s voting precincts found heavy turnout with more expected in late afternoon and early evening before the 7 p.m. closing time.

GOMM voted at the District 4 precinct, St. Matthew’s Church in Centerville. At 12:48 a long line snaked out the door and along the front of the building. The line moved quickly, thanks to the hard work of election workers and GOMM had voted by 1:15.

Herbert R. Griffith, Chairman of the Goochland Electoral Board said that voter turnout had been robust throughout the day and he expected it to continue thus until the polls close.

Beth Beazely, Precinct Captain at St. Matthews said that, so far, all voters had been cordial and responsible.

Some other precincts reported something of a hold up caused by voters waiting until they were in front of voting machines to read, and decide upon, the two amendments to the state constitution.

Party faithful of both Republicans and Democrats were outside all polling places, except Three Square, and again, this is a random, mid-afternoon activity snapshot, hoping to encourage voted for their side. The Three Square turnout was about 50 percent at that time.
No Republican workers were at Three Square in mid-afternoon!

The Dover Church precinct in District 5 reported more than 50 percent votes around 1 p.m. At County Line Baptist Church in District 1 at 3 p.m. about 900 voters had been through the polls with the bulk of the remainder of the 1900 to come between 4 and 7 p.m.
Both parties hope to change minds at Dover

Activity at the Recreation Center District 2 precinct had been robust since the doors opened at 6 a.m. and the parking lot was filled at 3:30.

The two District 3 precincts, both at the Company 5 Fire-Rescue Station, also saw heavy voting throughout the day with a final after work surge expected.

Thank you to every one of the election officials who rose before dawn to perform the myriad of tasks that make our electoral system work. Thanks to Goochland County Registrar Frances C. Ragland for her high personal standards that ensure elections in our county are conducted with the highest integrity. Thanks also to Griffith and fellow electoral board members Melinda Sledd and Robin Lind, all of whom work very hard to help us fulfill our duty as citizens.  


Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Are you ready to vote?

Are you ready to vote?

Next Tuesday, November 6 is Election Day. In Goochland County the polls will be open from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. By now, you should know where your voting precinct is. If not, please call the registrar’s office at 556-5803.
If you live in Goochland County’s District 4 and vote at St. Matthew’s Church, it is especially important that you make up your mind and be ready to cast your ballot when you get into the voting booth. Also, as voter turnout is expected to be high, please try to vote during late morning or mid-afternoon if you can, to shorten lines during morning and evening rush hours.
There are probably 16 trillion other places online to help you decide which candidates will get your vote.
However, you will also have the opportunity to vote for or against two amendments to the Virginia State Constitution. PLEASE DO NOT WAIT UNTIL YOU GET INTO THE VOTING BOOTH TO READ AND THINK ABOUT THESE AMENDMENTS.
The amendments concern eminent domain, the power of government to take land from its owner, and changing the method used to determine the starting date of a “veto” session of the General Assembly.

The eminent domain amendment prevents governments from taking private property for any purpose other than public use and ensures just compensation to the owner of that property including lost profits. This amendment is intended to make it very difficult and expensive for governments to take private property for economic development or private use.
For instance, this would permit government to use eminent domain to take land to build a road or school, but not to sell to a private developer. It also ensures that the legislature cannot “change the rules” by passing laws without citizen approval at the polls.

The text of this amendment is:

Shall Section 11 of Article I (Bill of Rights) of the Constitution of Virginia be amended (i) to require that eminent domain only be exercised where the property taken or damaged is for public use and, except for utilities or the elimination of a public nuisance, not where the primary use is for private gain, private benefit, private enterprise, increasing jobs, increasing tax revenue, or economic development; (ii) to define what is included in just compensation for such taking or damaging of property; and (iii) to prohibit the taking or damaging of more private property than is necessary for the public use? 

Any measure that protects private property rights is good. Please vote “yes” for this amendment. 

The timing change of the veto session seems to be a housekeeping issue to ensure that the veto sessions do not begin on a religious holiday like Passover.  

It reads: “Shall Section 6 of Article IV (Legislature) of the Constitution of Virginia concerning legislative sessions be amended to allow the General Assembly to delay by no more than one week the fixed starting date for the reconvened or “veto” session when the General Assembly meets after a session to consider the bills returned to it by the Governor with vetoes or amendments?” 

As turnout for the presidential election is expected to be heavy, the less time each of us spends in the voting booth, the faster the lines will move.
Please visit for more information about  these ballot issues to ensure that you are an informed and efficient voter on Election Day, next Tuesday, November 6. Be a good citizen, be ready to vote!






Monday, October 29, 2012

Ode to joy

If the October 24 District 4 Town Hall meeting was any indication, all the parts of Goochland County government are working in harmony to make beautiful music. This is a nice change from the past decades of discord and dysfunction.

The first round of town hall meetings held last spring were a little rough. Staff did most of the talking and the newly elected supervisors and school board members made brief comments and fielded a few questions.

This time, the supervisors are comfortable with their role in government. Bob Minnick, District 4 supervisor, seemed happy to talk about the TCSD debt remediation. As furor over the high and escalating water and sewer charges and ballooning ad valorem tax rate swept him into office, this was good news for many of his constituents.

The District 4 meeting was well-attended. Newcomers seemed to outnumber long-term residents, which bodes well for the county’s future.

Minnick also outlined the board’s strategy for governing that focuses on areas including economic development, quality of life, and safety and security.

As the Centerville area is expected to be the epicenter of efforts to bring new business to the county, Minnick mentioned the expansion of overlay district controls from a swath on both sides of Broad Street Road to most of the village. This is intended to ensure quality as development occurs.

While this may be less precise than a village plan that designates particular areas for specific uses, it also provides the opportunity for greater flexibility. So, instead of mandating the sterile perfection of theme park style storefronts, businesses will have freedom, within certain parameters, to create space appropriate for their operations. This should result in a Centerville with an appearance different from Short Pump, which, after all, looks a lot like places in Atlanta or Minneapolis.

Some landowners in Centerville raised concerns that more stringent design requirements on new construction while “grandfathering” the stuff that’s already there will not attract new money to the area.

Minnick said that there is “lots of economic development in the works” in addition to that already revealed.

A strange discussion, led by county administrator Rebecca Dickson, explored the special character of Centerville architecture. In fact, it is the people, not the buildings that set Centerville apart. As the northern gateway to Goochland, the appearance of Centerville is important. We need to move away from the feeling that you’ve left civilization and are “in the sticks” to the notion that Centerville is a unique place worthy of exploration.

School Board Chair Beth Hardy, who represents District 4, talked about positive developments in our school system. She said that she said that there is lots going on to enhance an already wonderful school system “and it’s all good.”

She said that the past ten months have been a heady experience with lots of emails, phone calls and conversations in the Food Lion concerning the schools. She skipped over the enormous amount of time the new school board put in getting things on track.

Hardy said that the school board is working on a wide range of initiatives to improve the rigor and quality of education to ensure that every county student is ready to succeed in the next phase of their lives when they graduate.  Hardy praised acting superintendent Dr. Pete Gretz for doing “a phenomenal job” during the transition from old regime to new.

She also said that the school board is very cognizant of the lean economic times and now includes budget reports in monthly meetings to ensure that things stay on target. Advisory committees that seek to engage the entire community for the betterment of our schools are also forming. (Please visit the great school system website at for more information. There is a lot of good stuff here for your perusal.)

Hardy then introduced Dr. James Lane, recently appointed superintendent of Goochland Schools. Although Lane’s first official day of work will be in mid-December, he has been hard at work on a listening tour to glean the community’s perceptions and expectations for our education system.

Lane and his family plan to move to the county and take an active part in the community. He and his wife are actively house hunting and he expects that the chimney Santa will use to deliver gifts to his son this Christmas will be in Goochland.

Lane said that Goochland has an excellent reputation among school divisions in the state and he hopes to make it even better.

Information presented at the meeting was generally not new. What is new for the county is the active solicitation of citizen input and willingness to listen to ideas and concerns.

Now that the new boards have tackled the most pressing items on their agendas—the TCSD debt for the supervisors and a new superintendent for the school board—they are moving down a carefully triaged laundry list of tasks.

Long ignored matters are being addressed. Mistakes will be made, but they will be acknowledged and fixed, not swept under the rug as in days of yore. As all the parts of county government work together and with the community, the tune we all sing will be sweet.




Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Eating local never tasted better

More than 100 people gathered at the Deep Run Hunt Club on October 21 as an autumn sunset kissed the land, to celebrate the bounty of Goochland.
Delectable appetizers on the terrace of the Deep Run Hunt Club

A Farm to Table dinner, sponsored by the Center for Rural Culture(CRC) combined the skill of three of Central Virginia’s finest chefs with local food to produce an exquisite meal. The experience will be long remembered by everyone there.

The evening began on the terrace with an extravaganza of locally sourced sumptuous finger food and regional wine or beer. Good food and conversation was enhanced by the autumn glory of the surrounding trees.

A four course meal prepared by three of the area’s premier chefs: Executive Chef Randall Doetzer of Julep; Executive Chef Lee Gregory of the Roosevelt, and Chef Carlos Iga, personal chef and specialty caterer, who donated their skill and time for the event.

Although every morsel was delectable, the centerpiece of the repast was the braised short ribs prepared with grass-fed beef from Brookview Farm in Manakin-Sabot. Local foods enjoyed by the diners included shitake mushrooms, butternut squash, pumpkin, chard, goat cheese and greens. Wines from the Barboursville Vineyards were paired with each course to further enhance the meal.

Volunteer servers did a great job moving food from kitchen to table; others wove burlap tablecloths, country flowers, greenery, and handsome candles into an elegant backdrop for the feast.

Held as a fund raiser for the CRC, the inaugural Farm to Table Dinner highlighted the quality and variety of locally produced edibles, not to mention the culinary talent of the region.

Founded about eight years, the CRC, a non-profit organization, works to pass along our rural heritage to newcomers and the next generation to ensure it is not devoured by the steam roller of progress.

It sponsors the online Local Roots Food Co-Op that connects consumers with area food producers on a year-round basis. A series of homestead workshops that include mushroom growing and deer processing are offered to pass along “rural” skills. For more information about all of these, visit the CRC at




Monday, October 22, 2012

Sounding off

The Goochland Planning Commission voted unanimously to defer action on the Orapax Plantation sporting clays conditional use permit at its October 18 meeting. According to Tom Coleman, the county’s principal planner, the Orapax requested deferral until November 15 to permit completion of a sound test on the proposed shooting range site.

Coleman also said that Orapax plans to retain a sound consultant to perform the study. It was unclear if commissioners or citizens will be notified of the time of the study, which presumably includes actual weapon discharge.  When the commissioners deferred the matter at their October meeting, it seemed as though they preferred to attend a test shoot to get a feel for the loudness and vibration of the shooting. The change to a professional study seems to indicate compilation of objective data that could be used to justify the Orapax contention that the proposed sporting clays range will not generate objectionable levels of sound.

The commission also voted to hold a public hearing on the Orapax application at its November meeting, after the sound test. This will give both sides the opportunity to comment on the sound study and provide the commission with enough input to make a recommendation to the supervisors.

Ironically, the people who attended the planning commission meeting, which started at 6:30 p.m. to accommodate expected extensive public comment about shooting range, had no compunctions about noisily leaving the meeting when the commission moved on to another agenda item. They then proceeded to hold an extended discussion in the hallway outside the meeting room that was loud enough to be distracting to those trying to follow the rest of the meeting.

There is plenty of space on the front steps of the administration building, or in the hallway leading to the rear entrance for public hearing after parties.

Rudeness is not an acceptable part of any public hearing. Although time limits for speakers are made quite clear at the outset, many folks believe that they have a right to natter on as long as they like. Often, these extended comments wander from the point and needlessly extend the hearing.

County boards and commissions do a good job of providing opportunities for public input. Citizens should do their part by being succinct and respectful of others in attendance at meetings.

Although the Orapax CUP recommendation was deferred, the planning commission packet, which is available on the county website, is worth taking a look at.

According to a brief history of attempts by Orapax to legally establish a sporting clays course, in 2007, county zoning law was amended for the purpose of discouraging sporting clays. This happened under the guise of changing the accessory use clause of A-1 zoning to prevent construction of illegal garages or sheds.

The proposed ordinance was proposed, on an emergency basis, following the conclusion of the annual budget hearing. It seemed as though the “emergency” was the recent filing of an application by Orapax to establish a sporting clays course as an accessory use to a hunting preserve, as a putting green is to a golf course.

That attempt by Orapax to secure approval of sporting clays failed after what seemed like a very irregular hearing before the Board of Zoning Appeals ended in a tie vote, upholding the county’s denial of the use.

Regardless of the appropriateness of a shooting range at Orapax, and compelling arguments can be made for and against that, the matter must be handled fairly. If the county can get away with manipulating the zoning process to obtain a certain outcome for Orapax, it can do it to any landowner, which is not acceptable.

This matter will test the mettle of the new board. No matter what the outcome of the board vote is, significant constituencies will be furious. Their discontent may well lead to legal action and hard feelings will fester, perhaps until the next local election. This board has said it is committed to doing the right thing for Goochland regardless of the impact of their decisions on future elections. Stay tuned.  

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Thinking about tomorrow

If you caught a glimpse of the magnificent cavalry troop that traversed Goochland in the last days of September, you saw “rural” in action.

Phyllis Silber, executive director of the Goochland Historical Society, which sponsored and orchestrated the event, thanked the Board of Supervisors at its October 2 meeting for support from the Sheriff’s Office, Paul Drumwright of administration, and Dr. Pete Gretz, acting superintendent of schools.

Re-enactor Rick Smith of the Second US Cavalry (,) who portrayed the ill-fated Col. Eric Dahlgren, also thanked the community at large for a warm and enthusiastic welcome.

“There are no words to tell you what a great community you have here,” Smith, who wore his Union cavalry uniform, told the supervisors.

The reenactment, which began at the Rockville Equestrian Center on Thursday, September 27, finished with cavalry “skirmishes” at Tuckahoe Plantation the following Sunday. On Friday afternoon, the troop staged an educational program for county students at the home of Judee and Ed Wilson, which, according to Smith, “left about 200 elementary students grinning from ear to ear.” The 100 or so re-enactors, who came from as far away as Oregon to participate, had a good time too.

Smith said that the re-enactors were honored to put on the program for county schools. (Visit the school system’s great website at for details of this event.)

The re-enactment traced the route of the 1864 raid, staged to free Union prisoners on Belle Isle and either capture of kill Jefferson Davis and his cabinet. It failed, essentially because no one thought to bring a GPS. They got lost, the James River was too high to safely ford anywhere in Goochland, and Dahlgren was killed.

Staging the event was the result of nearly two years of careful planning and hard work by Silber and Dr. Bruce Venter, a local historian and Dahlgren expert, and the collaboration of many Goochlanders.

Goochland’s equestrian tradition, respect for history, and little change on much of the land traversed in the “raid,” made it the perfect venue for this re-enactment.

The very fact that Tuckahoe Plantation, where Thomas Jefferson may have learned to read, is pretty much as it was during the Civil War, and not a subdivision, is no accident.

Thanks to some generous and farsighted landowners, who have, at their own expense, placed conservation and historic easements on their property, parts of Goochland will never sprout crops of houses.

Leigh Dunn, the county’s environmental planner, gave the supervisors a primer on this form of land use.

Currently, there are 5,374 acres under conservation easements in Goochland, said Dunn. (Details are included in part A of the OCT. 2 board packet on the county website: Some easements are held by the county, but most are handled by outside entities, especially the Virginia Outdoors Foundation (

Hank Hartz of Oilville, who represented District 4 on the Goochland Planning Commission for eight years, and is former chairman of the VOF Board of Trustees, explained that the program is entirely voluntary. While landowners do receive federal tax credits for placing an easement on their land, it is usually far less than the development value of the property.

Landowners, said Hartz, place easements, which are donated, because they are committed to their property, not for the money. He also explained that the county must confirm that easements conform to the comprehensive land use plan before they are approved. That prevents a landowner from placing a “spite” easement on property to reduce its taxable value. For example, a conservation easement could not be placed on West Creek, because it is designated for economic development.

Placing a conservation easement on a parcel permanently reduces its value, hence the federal tax credit for the difference between highest and best use and easement value. The cost of appraisals and legal work involved in placing an easement is borne completely by the landowners.

During the days of ballooning property assessments, the reduction in land values as a result of an easement also shrank estate taxes, which made it possible for families to hold onto land over generations.

Hartz pointed out that the easements on Tuckahoe Plantation, for example, make it economically viable for its owners to keep it undeveloped. Without the easement, he opined, it would be a subdivision.

Dunn explained that most of the land currently under easement is taxed at the land use rate, although not in the land use program. (Under land use, property, which must be actively used for either agricultural or forestall purposes, is taxed at state determined per acre rate.) As the easement land was mostly in land use before the change in classification, there was little impact on collected revenues.

The latest iteration of the county’s comprehensive land use plan promotes the conservation of 20 percent of the county’s undeveloped agricultural and forestal land. This follows a similar state initiative endorsed by governors on both sides of the aisle to ensure that Virginia is not developed from the ocean to the mountains.

The holder of an easement, the county or VOF, is responsible for monitoring the property to ensure that it adheres to agreed upon conditions.

Purchase of development rights, said Dunn, is a different animal that involves one entity, often a local government, buying outright the difference between the agricultural and developed value of a parcel of land. Goochland did this in 2009, when it spent $155,000 to match state funds to purchase development rights.

There have been instances in other places, where localities decided that purchasing development rights was more cost effective than building schools and other infrastructure to serve new residents attracted by large subdivisions. Right now, it seems like Goochland is a long way from that sort of scenario.

Susan Lascollette, District 1, said that the use of tax dollars to permit some land to be taxed at a lower rate it not an appropriate use of public funds and wanted it stopped.

Dunn explained that the county’s purchase of development rights program has been inactive for several years. It is highly unlikely that this board will ever resurrect it.

A conservation easement is a gift of open space to the future. Goochland is blessed to benefit from the generosity of some of its citizens.