Tuesday, March 13, 2012

No rubber stamps

Citizen Service

The Goochland Board of Supervisors approved a new process for filling county boards and commissions at its February 7 meeting. An application is available on the county website, www.co.goochland.va.us) that any citizen may complete and submit to indicate their interest in a particular appointment and their qualifications to hold that position.
The website will also include a list of pending vacancies on boards and commissions.

Over the years, Goochland has been blessed by the efforts of citizens who volunteered their time and talents to serve in an advisory capacity. It has also been cursed by clueless people put in place to further an agenda with little regard for the impact on the county as a whole.

Ideally, an advisory committee or commission is charged with making impartial recommendations to the supervisors following an in depth review of a particular matter. As the board has the final say on most matters, it needs all of the objective evaluation possible to make sound, informed decisions.

Sounds good in theory, but reality, at least in the past, is quite different. The current planning commission is simply an embarrassment. The seven commissioners who complied with a request for their resignation from the new supervisors should be commended for their exit.

The supervisors are expected to change the number of planning commissioners to seven, one from each district and two at large, in April.
Appointing people to advisory bodies who go through the motions and rubber stamp whatever comes before them is a waste of time and money. The new board needs to be mindful of this.

Another case in point is the county’s Design Review Committee, which is charged with ensuring compliance with design standards in the county’s overlay districts.

Overlay districts were created to give the county control over new construction in certain areas including the Centerville and Courthouse Villages.

The overlay districts sort of include the “gateways” to Goochland along Broad Street Road and Patterson Avenue, which are characterized by attractive new construction and grandfathered eyesores.

The entire concept of design standards and overlay districts is controversial. Some believe that the design standards, which include acceptable building materials, signage and landscape buffering, should apply to any new construction in a village. Others contend that the entire process is just another method to discourage expansion of business in the county and should be discarded.

As the overlay districts extend only a certain distance from the roadway, they are kind of a joke. For instance, because the Goochland Library sits on River Road West it is subject to all of the requirements. The YMCA, however, is back just far enough that its space ship design gets a pass even though it is just as visible from the street.

Since its creation, the DRC has been comprised in the majority by serving members of the planning commission. This, according to John Lewis, who has served District 5 on the DRC for eight years, questions the possibility of impartial review. Lewis has never been on the planning commission.
The DRC’s task is to objectively consider plans for a proposed use and decide if it adheres to the design standards.

On the one hand, the DRC ensures attractive and high quality construction. On the other hand, it can and has, been used as a bludgeon to discourage enterprises from locating here.

In the February 7 evening citizen comment period Lewis urged the supervisors not to appoint planning commissioners to the DRC.
Lewis contended that the DRC was created to advise the planning commission and that a board cannot advise itself. He also said that the DRC is not an arm of the Economic Development Authority and is charged with ensuring that design standards set for the county’s overlay district are met, nothing else.

At the March 5 DRC meeting Lewis contended that concurrent service on the planning commission and DRC could give the appearance of conflict of interest. He made a motion, which died for lack of a second, to recommend amending the ordinance governing the DRC to prohibit concurrent membership on both bodies. (His comments begin about minute 52 of the meeting recording, which is available on the county website under the DRC page.)

Other members of the DRC, most planning commissioners, pooh-poohed his objections, contending that the new board of supervisors will appoint sympathetic persons to the planning commission to rubber stamp its agenda. They defended concurrent membership on both bodies and denied that their decisions on one board were influenced by actions on the other.
If DRC review is destined to become little more than going through the motions, it should be eliminated.

The new board is anxious to encourage economic development to offset falling real estate values and deal with escalating debt service for the Tuckahoe Creek Service District. Care must be taken to ensure that development is high quality and appropriately located.

Let’s hope that the Goodwill store coming soon the Broadview Shopping Center is not a troubling portent of things to come.

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