Planners waste time and opportunity
The January 19 meeting of the Goochland Planning Commission shows why the Tuckahoe Creek Service District is dead in the water.
Discrete items on the meeting’s agenda included discussion of an amendment to the M-1 zoning for West Creek to permit apartments and condominiums and creation of a new by right multifamily zoning category in the Tuckahoe Creek Service District.
These separate matters quickly became intertwined in an incomprehensible discussion that did little but underscore the incompetence of most of the commissioners, who were mostly clueless about the difference between West Creek and the TCSD.
By now the county’s principal planner Tom Coleman, who presented the proposals, should know that he must spoon feed information to the commissioners using short words and simple sentences.
West Creek is the 3,500 acre office park located between Broad Street and Route 6 at the eastern edge of the county. It has stringent design covenants and proffers to ensure only high quality development occurs there. It was zoned M-1 in its entirety when created about 20 years ago.
The TCSD is bounded on the north by the Hanover border the east by the Henrico border, Manakin Road, roughly to the west and Route 6,roughly to the south. The land in the TCSD is supposed to be served by public water and sewer. Land in the TCSD has many different zoning categories, including agricultural. All property in the TCSD is subject to an ad valorem tax, which was intended to service the at least $63 million bond debt incurred by the county incurred to build utility trunk lines.
Parts of West Creek are not in the TCSD because they obtained sewer and water before the TCSD was created in 2002. Planning commissioners should know all this.
The confusion was exacerbated by contentions that plans to build a gated, upscale apartment complex with more than 300 units in West Creek east of Rt. 288 just south of Broad Street would swamp county schools.
Commissioners turned a deaf ear to contentions made by developers that high end apartment are generally occupied by young professionals or aging baby boomers without school aged children.
Concerns about the fiscal impact of residential development on local schools are valid. County attorney Norman Sales was tasked by the planners to add language with “teeth” to the proposal to ensure that the county has recourse to curb a potential flood of school children.
Cash proffers were mentioned in passing by Coleman, but none of the commissioners latched on to the concept. Amending the M-1 zoning for West Creek to permit limited residential use would sidestep the proffer issue.
(Cash proffers, are, essentially, an entry fee levied on land rezoned for residential use since 2002. They are supposed to slow growth and help recover the capital costs generated by new residents including school construction. The current maximum cash proffer is $14,292, which became effective July 1, 2009.)
The proposed change to the West Creek M-1 zoning would apply to 75 acres throughout the planned park, slightly more than two percent of total acreage. About 30 acres would be in the project currently under consideration. Hopefully, the remainder would be used for a continuous care retirement facility, which would increase property values, create jobs and add no children to the school system.
To their credit, District 4 commissioners Jim Crews and Joe Andrews indicated that they were working their way through the details of the West Creek proposal, not dismissing it out of hand, as their fellow commissioners seemed intent on doing.
The planners were unable to understand that there were two very separate issued on the table. They concentrated instead on details of the proposed multifamily zoning ordinance for the rest of the TCSD.
A scary number of comments indicated that they believed that if the West Creek change was approved the entire TCSD would be covered with apartments at a 19 unit per acre density.
The proposed multifamily zoning ordinance is not ready for prime time. It should require a fiscal impact analysis that includes developer funded remedies for deficiencies.
However, because that will be a new zoning category every parcel of land must be rezoned, which includes community meetings and public hearings before both the planning commission and supervisors. Nothing will happen without copious oversight. Why were the commissioners unable to grasp this simple fact?
Several speakers mentioned the county’s strategic plan for economic development, which states on page 7, that limited mixed use with multifamily housing for workers is needed in the TCSD. It recommends high architectural design and landscape standards, which is what West Creek requires. Given the ad valorem tax, high land costs and development standards, these apartments will be high end housing.
Bizarre remarks made by several commissioners indicate that they had no knowledge of the strategic plan, which should have been required reading for anyone remotely involved in land use matters. (The plan is on the EDA section of the county website www.co.goochland.va.us)
This is what economic development, at least in the short term, will look like in West Creek, which will develop in a different manner than the Centerville village and the rest of the TCSD.
There are a number of good reasons to approve the West Creek request. First of all, something needs to jump start development in the TCSD. Pruitt Properties has a reputation for high quality development. This will not be a low income housing project. The real estate market has changed and Goochland remains mired in the past waiting in vain for the gentleman caller of corporate headquarters to show up.
Like it or not, eastern Goochland competes with Henrico for business. Development dollars that we badly need to bolster our real estate tax base and service the TCSD debt will continue to go elsewhere if we pretend otherwise. Some retailers to generate meaningful sales tax revenues for our schools would also be quite helpful.
The county will need to build new schools regardless of what happens in West Creek. As more than 3,000 homes at $7,040 per cash proffer, are needed to fund one elementary school, they are not the answer. We need a better way to deal with an increase in the school population than rejecting opportunities.
The proposed West Creek apartments could be the only ones ever built in Goochland. Or, they could be one more missed opportunity that paves the way for Goochland to be a place with high taxes and low expectations.