Saturday, August 25, 2012

Same old, same old?

As the Benedictine issue, which seems to be more about settling old scores than educating young men, continues to fester, it’s hard not to compare the situation to the Paws Inn matter. In both cases, zoning regulations seemed to be used for purposes other than orderly development.

In the four or so years since the notion of moving Benedictine Prepatory High School (BHP) from its venerable, but landlocked, location Sheppard Street in Richmond to River Road first surfaced allegations of all sorts have flowed freely.

Those in favor of the move contend that the school will enhance property values in the River Road corridor. Those against the move contend just the opposite.

During many discussions of the move, representatives of BHP cited its traditions of honor and integrity and pledged to be a good neighbor.

Last December, an eighty percent lame duck board of supervisors voted 3-1-1 in favor of granting the conditional use permit that BHP needed to proceed with the move. That vote followed a lengthy public hearing before an overflow crowd. Current Board of Supervisors chair Ned Creasey District 3 voted against the measure. Former District 5 supervisor James Eads abstained, contending that an outgoing board had no business voting on a matter that would unfold after it was out of office.

Land use regulations are tricky. Ideally, they are applied fairly to protect all parties involved. The can also be extremely complicated to enforce or can be used as a cudgel.

As the BHP matter moves toward its second round in Goochland Circuit Court – the first was dismissed because the judge found that no one had yet been wronged - the details of the dispute grow more opaque.

If the sole bone of contention that prevents BHP from completing its move is indeed construction of access lanes, it should find a way to comply with county rules. During the public hearing, BHP representatives waved its honor code and integrity while pledging to follow county regulations. If BHP operated on the premise that once a CUP was secured it could do as it pleased, that’s not going to fly.

On the other hand, the county should not pick every nit of the zoning laws to prevent the BHP move. It looks too much like the new board is granting favors to friends, one of the reasons their opponents were voted out of office. However, the county is obligated to safeguard the health, safety and welfare of the citizens. So, it must stand fast to ensure that BHP meets its obligations.

There is just too much about the entire situation that is not, and probably never will, be widely known. That vacuum of information is being filled with personal interpretations.

Both sides must come together and find common ground to end this mess.

The supervisors need to resolve this issue because it is a distraction from the more important matters they must address. They must remember that perception is not necessarily based on fact.

If BHP really wants to move to Goochland, it too must do whatever is necessary to resolve this.

Goochland cannot be taken seriously until the drama ends.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Tuning in

Tuning in

Last November’s historic local elections, which replaced the entire school board and eighty percent of the board of supervisors, happened because Goochland voters finally paid attention.

As our county continues to grow and change, citizen engagement is more important than ever. One of the best ways for Goochland residents, old and new, to learn about the government of the county, and many other organizations that make our community a great place to live is the Goochland Leadership Enterprise (GLE) program.

The next GLE class, its 17th session, begins on September 20. Graduates of the program include several of the new supervisors and school board members. GLE alumni are actively involved in virtually everything that makes life in Goochland good. This is a great way to gain insight about the issues facing the county and understand the complexities our elected officials must consider when making decisions.

Comprised of 15 sessions, mostly held every other Thursday at locations around the county beginning 7 p.m., GLE explores aspects of Goochland ranging from local history to our agriculture and the environment. One session is devoted to getting involved in the community. The graduation dinner is scheduled for March 28, 2013.

Class members will have the opportunity to meet informally with elected officials including the supervisors, school board, sheriff, commonwealth’s attorney, and clerk of the court. The program includes a day at the Virginia General Assembly and meetings with our delegates and senator.

Registration for this class is open. For additional information, brochure, and applications call the Goochland Extension Office at 804-556-5841 or visit

Friday, August 17, 2012

Upscale apartments coming soon

The Goochland planning commission voted 6-0 to approve a conceptual master plan for a West Creek apartment complex at its August 16 meeting.

Commission chair Courtney Hyers District 5, who expressed opposition to the concept of apartments in Goochland earlier this year, was absent.

The multifamily community, named “The Notch at West Creek,” will ultimately consist of nine buildings and an expected total of 254 units. The project is expected to contain only one and two bedroom apartments.

Phase I of the project, which includes three apartment buildings and resident amenities such as a clubhouse, pool and walking trails, should be under construction in the next few months. Edward T. “Chip” Kassinger, a principal in Kassinger Development Group, said that he expects leasing to begin in the summer of 2013.

Kassinger explained that The Notch at West Creek will be an Energy Star Certified community. This means that the buildings will meet the highest standards of energy efficiency and great care will be taken during construction to save as many trees as possible. Exteriors will feature rock and Hardieplank siding. The site plan indicates that the buildings will gently scattered among the trees on the 60 acre site. The project will be located south of Broad Street Road and east of Route 288 on the east side of a new four lane divided road to be built opposite the Wawa.

Some of the units will be able to access garages and all will be built with wide doors to accommodate handicapped access. Kassinger said that all buildings will include elevator shafts, but that only one of the inaugural apartment buildings will contain a working elevator. This will allow them to gauge market response and build accordingly.

The Notch at West Creek will be a very upscale community. Kassinger said that his company plans to retain ownership of the project and expects to manage it for years into the future. “We are big on 24 hour service and have employees on call all the time,” said Kassinger. He estimated that The Notch at West Creek would have six or seven full time employees at completion.

Rents are expected to range from about $1,200 per month to $1,500 for two bedroom units. This will not be “affordable” housing. Those who feared that these apartments would be filled with low income single mothers flooding the school system can rest easy.

Kassinger said that he expects The Notch at West Creek will appeal to young executives who work nearby and seniors who want to get out from under the burden of maintaining a house.

Indeed, Kassinger said that some of the communities his company has created include garden spaces for the residents.

There was no public comment on the matter and sparse discussion by the commissioners.

Principal planner Tom Coleman never quite responded to questions from the commissioners about requiring the Kassinger Development Group to escrow funds for installation of a traffic signal at the entrance on Broad Street. It’s hard to imagine that funds for a traffic signal would not be forthcoming, but it probably should be in writing somewhere.

Coleman did point out that traffic must breach those pesky VDOT warrant thresholds before an intersection can be signalized.

The Notch at West Creek will significantly increase the number of TCSD utility customers, increase the property value and have more folks paying ad valorem tax. This will add another dimension of residential options to eastern Goochland. Once built, few people will even know they are there.

On a related note, community meetings to discuss proposed changes to the Route 250 overlay standards will be held at Centerville Company. The first session will be on August 21 from 4 to 6 p.m. and the second will be on August 28 from 6 to 8 p.m.

The planning commission’s dark sky subcommittee will meet on August 22 at 7 p.m. in room 233 of the Goochland County Administration building, 1800 Sandy Hook Road in Courthouse Village.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

The bridge to nowhere and other delights

During a workshop with the Virginia Department of Transportation before their August 7 meeting Goochland supervisors took a hard look at road projects. They also expressed interest in removing a bridge in western Goochland whose light use does not justify its upkeep.

The Elk Island Bridge on State Route 608, which connects the mainland with the approximately 1500 acre unoccupied Elk Island, is maintained by VDOT. Fair market value of land on the island is just over $3.25 million. (The chart of land values, included in Part A of the August 7 board packet, provides an excellent illustration of land use taxation. Go to to view in its entirety.)

Property on the island is used for agricultural purposes; some is in conservation easement and some in a wetland mitigation bank.

There is also a private bridge to the island.

Originally part of a crossing to Cumberland County - the James River span was washed out years ago and never replaced - the Elk Island Bridge is used by a handful of people.

Maintenance costs, borne by VDOT and chalked up to Goochland’s road expense, are considerable. Acting as a dam on the narrow channel between the island and the mainland, the Elk Island Bridge supports accumulate a great deal of debris. The deck elevation is nine feet below ten year flood levels. The bridge is narrow with substandard railings.

In the past two years, the bridge generated just over $1 million in debris and restoration costs, while other, more heavily used county roads remain unimproved. According to the VDOT presentation the least costly option for continued use of the bridge is about $100,000 while the most expensive alternative – replacement of the bridge- is estimated at more than $2 million.

A sacred cow to the previous regime, the Elk Island Bridge should not be funded by tax dollars, which should be used for needed road improvements in other parts of the county.

The board was clearly interested in removing the Elk Island Bridge from the state system. Steps to achieve this include public hearings and clearance from state agencies. Staff and VDOT will provide the board with a detailed analysis of the matter at a future meeting.

District 2 supervisors Manuel Alvarez, Jr. observed that the county annually collects about $8,000 in taxes from Elk Island and could spend more than $800,000 to rebuild a bridge that serves a handful of people.

VDOT is responsible for all road construction and maintenance of county roads. The supervisors prioritize projects under consideration. However, as Goochland’s annual allocation for transportation projects is less than $100,000, funding roads and getting anything completed is a frustratingly slow endeavor.

Moving any project from conception to completion takes a long time because funds are allocated over several years and construction begins only after enough allocations accumulate to fund the project. This is all further complicated by declining allocations and rising costs.

In a nutshell, Goochland, and most other Virginia counties pretty much beg for every road dollar in a method not unlike the “please sir, may I have some more” scene in the movie Oliver as the starving orphan begs for gruel.

The representatives from VDOT discussed the rural addition and pave in place programs, both of which are mechanisms to improve gravel roads.

Supervisors asked staff to determine criteria to be used to objectively designate roads for improvement. These could include the number of homes and properties served by a particular road; the cost of moving utilities and interest of adjacent residents.

Funds would be allocated during the secondary six year road plan event.

Establishing a set of objective criteria for all road projects will add transparency to the process and eliminate another opportunity for mischief.


The supervisors also voted unanimously, and with little discussion, to forego membership in both the Virginia Association of Counties(VACo) and the National Association of Counties (NACo.) As membership fees in these organizations are determined by population, jurisdictions with small populations, like Goochland, have little clout.

Susan Lascollette, District 1 stated that VACo did not support Goochland’s position on eminent domain and that membership in the organization does not provide enough value for the county to justify the membership fee.

Alvarez said that VACo “tells us one story and lobbies for something else in the General Assembly.”

In 2005, the previous regime used the NACo annual conference as an excuse for a taxpayer funded trip to Hawaii for all supervisors, the county administrator, and the county attorney.

When the NACo conference was held in Richmond, the county paid for hotel rooms downtown. The supervisors paid the school system $5,000 to create a video touting Goochland to entertain visitors on a trip to Williamsburg that same year. The video could have been used as a tool for economic development. It gives a flavor of the county to prospects and says good things about the school system.

Board vice chair Ken Peterson District 1 said “as to those annual conferences, we’re too good stewards of public resources to fall for that.”

The speed with which what passes for mainstream media in Richmond latched onto the NACo VACo news and used it to vilify the Tea Party is quite interesting. Guess the folks who spend a bundle on advertising have given the media marching orders about reporting on the proposed eminent domain amendment on the November ballot.