Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Planninng Commission does its job

The July 19 meeting of the Goochland County Planning Commission was short and sweet. Gone are the days when this appointed body deliberated about land use matters into the wee hours of the morning. The commissioners asked thoughtful questions before casting their votes and fulfilled their charge to review land use changes.

Commissioners James Atkinson, District 1, and Matt Brewer, at large, were absent.

Public hearings involved extension of two existing conditional use permits in the eastern part of the county and amendment of county ordinances to be consistent with state law.

The commission recommended that Louise Hanscom be granted a 15 year extension for her riding school on Millers Lane. This business has been in operation for 37 years with no complaints. As equestrian activities are an important part of Goochland’s rural character, preservation of this business is important. Commissioner Thomas Rockecharlie at large asked about lighting the ring where riding lessons take place.

Ms. Hanscom stated that the ring is lighted mostly during afternoon and early evening hours when days are short. Exterior lights are turned off at the conclusion of lessons.

Extending the duration of the CUP also represents an easing of regulatory burden on local small businesses. The $750 CUP filing fee can be better spent enhancing Ms. Hanscom’s operation.

The other CUP extension was for Richmond Strikers who converted a portion of the former Motorola site in West Creek into an attractive and heavily used youth soccer venue. Although some county residents opposed this use when the CUP was initially granted five years ago, the Strikers have been a good neighbor. Conditions agreed to include willingness to share the field with Goochland soccer organizations as schedules permit.

Scott Turner, executive director of the Strikers, reported that tournaments held at the West Creek site have attracted thousands of people. These events were the number one 2011 driver for hotel occupancy in the Richmond region. Sadly, as there are no hotels in Goochland, these dollars probably went to Henrico.

Turner explained that the Strikers are working with Matt Ryan, Goochland’s Director of Economic Development to promote sports tourism. He contended that soccer tournaments increase the national visibility for West Creek.

“You never know when a corporate CEO looking to relocate his company is standing on the sidelines watching his kid play soccer,” said Turner.

The application for extension of this CUP included a request for a sign along Rt. 288 similar to that constructed by the West Creek Emergency Center.

Tuner credited the Strikers’ program with teaching great life lessons, “learning to win with dignity and lose with grace.” He also pointed out that the Strikers built a restroom facility connected to Tuckahoe Creek Service District utility lines and paid $99,000 in water and sewer costs last year.

The Strikers use a portion of one of the three lots built by Motorola and their fields are not lit. He explained that Capital One is using the other parking lots on a temporary basis and deploys some lighting during evening hours in the winter for employee safety.

Ordinance amendments concerned the Board of Zoning Appeals. One change states permits decisions made by a zoning administrator that are reviewed by the governing body (Board of Supervisors) to be appealed to the Circuit Court.

The other amendment states that if a BZA decision results in a tie vote, which essentially upholds the county’s side of the argument, the person filing the appeal may have the matter carried over to the next meeting.

This change removes another opportunity for mischief on the part of a locality. A few years back, a matter before the BZA resulted in a tie vote because one of the members was on a previously scheduled mission trip. This resulted in a defeat of the appeal. The county postponed the hearing several times, presumably until conditions existed to ensure that it would prevail.

Commission Chair Courtney Hyers, District 5, appointed Ty Querry, District 2 and Rockecharlie to a dark sky ordinance committee. They will work with Hyers and county staff to draft language for a proposed ordinance on this matter.

Principal planner Tom Coleman explained to the commission that the supervisors will no longer refer rezoning applications to the commission. Instead, when an application for rezoning, conditional use permit or other land use change is deemed complete by staff, a public hearing date will be set. This policy change will not remove any opportunity for public input on these matters. Community meetings will be followed by public hearings before both the planning commission and supervisors.

Eliminating this step from the rezoning process will streamline land use matters and encourage some economic development.

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