Sunday, February 19, 2012

Breaking eggs

Facts were as scarce as hen’s teeth during consideration of a proposed zoning ordinance amendment that would permit apartments in a morsel of West Creek at the February 16 meeting of the Goochland planning commission. The commissioners danced around the chicken/egg conundrum of which should come first, homes or businesses.

After a bizarre but relatively brief public hearing the commission split its vote five to five on recommending approval of the amendment. The tie vote moves the matter to the board of supervisors for final disposition.
At issue was a proposed amendment to M-1 zoning that applies only to 60 total acres in the West Creek business park. If approved, this change will pave the way for construction of a gated upscale apartment complex, some sort of retail operation and medical offices.

The 30 acre parcel of land currently under the microscope is located east of Rt. 288, south of Broad Street Road and west of Tuckahoe Creek opposite of the Wawa gas station. Even though this proposal had been before the commission in December, January and last week, staff should have had a map that clearly illustrated the location.

The three commissioners who rejected a request to resign from the commission from the new board of supervisors— James Atkinson District 1; Ty Querry District 2 and board chair Courtney Hyers District 5—worked hard to stall the matter.

Atkinson indicated that he and Hyers had previously discussed the matter “on the telephone.”

In previous sessions, the commission raised concerns that the apartments might exceed the utility capacity of the Tuckahoe Creek Service District. Principal planner Tom Coleman reported that the TCSD currently uses 13.5 percent of its water capacity and one point five percent of its sewer capacity.

Atkinson got snippy because the change would apply to 60 acres, down from the initial 75 acres, but still more than he requested at a February 8 workshop. He seemed unaware that the ordinance change applies only to M-1 zoning in West Creek, not the entire county. If only 30 acres was included in the ordinance amendment, West Creek would need to repeat the process for additional acreage. This is the kind of attitude that drives development dollars to other jurisdictions.

Hyers contended that any action on multifamily housing in West Creek should be deferred until the county hires an economic development person. She said that position has been vacant since the former economic development director left “six or seven years ago.” He moved to greener pastures in 2010.

Much of the discussion about the proposed amendment to the M-1 zoning that applies only to West Creek revolved around the issue of the number of children a large apartment complex would add to our school system.

It was quite interesting that no one mentioned either the Parke at Manakin or the Parke at Centerville, two relatively high density communities that were also supposed to swamp the local education system. Both of those subdivisions are essentially built out and have brought only a handful of children to county schools. More hard facts omitted from the discussion.

Hyers repeatedly contended that the county cannot afford to permit apartments because our schools cannot handle the significant influx of new students from the apartments. She also argued that the additional real estate tax generated by the increased property value would not be enough to fund the impact of more residents on law enforcement and fire-rescue.

Could Hyers really be unaware that personal property taxes, including those levied on motor vehicles, are a significant funding source for non-school services? A passel of upscale apartments occupied by young professionals who own expensive cars registered in Goochland would add money to county coffers. Now those cars are registered elsewhere.

Lowe Lunsford District 5, who, as a courtesy, tendered his resignation without being asked, deftly shut down that line of thought by reminding his fellow commissioners that they are charged only with making recommendations about land use issues. Worrying about the fiscal impact of a zoning is the responsibility of the board of supervisors because they have to pay for the consequences.

It’s hard to imagine a more appropriate site for upscale apartments in Goochland than this one at the eastern edge of the county, with access to a six lane road, served by public utilities contained from expansion by roads and Tuckahoe Creek. Access to Broad Street Road will be controlled by a traffic signal.

Any project in West Creek is subject to a wide array of proffers and covenants to uphold design and development criteria that exceed those in zoning ordinances. These apartments will set a precedent of high standards to guide any development that follows.

Only a handful of people commented during the public hearing, which seems to indicate that few people are concerned about the issue.

One man believed that the land in question fronted Route 6 and that he would see it from his front window. There are no homes anywhere near the proposed site on the south side of Broad Street Road.

A very confused citizen argued that the county is unable to handle a fire in an “80 story building” because the county’s sole ladder truck is in Courthouse Village.

According to Tommy Carter District 3 commissioner, who is also a past chief of Goochland Fire-Rescue, there are now two 105 foot ladder trucks in the county, one stationed at Manakin on the edge of West Creek. Carter further explained that a new apartment building is required by building code to have a sprinkler system to extinguish fires when they start.

Bob Rich, who represented District 4 on the commission and served as its chair, spoke in favor of the change. “This is a fiscal opportunity for Goochland that will set quality standards for what follows,” Rich said. “Get it done right and get it done now.”

Paul Costello opposed the 19 unit per acre density and contended that the amendment would give too much control of this project to corporate developers. Given the county’s spotty track record of using zoning ordinances as cudgel rather than carrot, an exception in this case is warranted.

Querry seemed to support the idea of using development on the 30 acres as a test case to gauge the impact of multifamily housing on the county but ultimately voted against it.

A planning commission that cannot put aside its own agenda to make land use recommendations based on the merit of the proposal, not the name of the developer, serves no purpose.

1 comment:

Pat said...

"A planning commission that cannot put aside its own agenda to make land use recommendations based on the merit of the proposal, not the name of the developer, serves no purpose."

Well said, Sandie. I've never been able to figure out the purpose of the PC, since everything ends up in front of the BoS anyway.