Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Marathon




The September 20 meeting of the Goochland County Planning Commission was the longest session for this group in quite some time. The meeting began at 6 p.m. and adjourned approximately six hours later. (An audio recording and live stream of the meeting is available on the planning commission portion of the county website: www.co.goochland.va.us)

Placing two emotional and contentious public hearings on the same agenda shows callous disregard for the citizens. This ignorance of the passion that land use matters can stir in Goochlanders is a consequence of decisions made by people who do not live here or understand the dynamics of our community.

Zoning laws provide a mechanism to ensure balance between property rights of a land owner and the health, safety and welfare of the community. As an advisory body to the Board of Supervisors, which rules on land use matters, the planning commission is charged with investigation of land use changes and making recommendations on pending applications.

Attendees at the public hearings filled the board meeting room and three other viewing rooms.

An application for a conditional use permit to allow operation of a sporting clays shooting course on Orapax Plantation, which is just west of Courthouse Village south of Rt. 6, was deferred pending completion of some sort of sound test.

This is at least the third time in more than 20 years that Orapax has sought the county’s blessing for a sporting clays course. That path wound its way past the board of supervisors, which repeatedly denied permission for the shooting range, and through Goochland Circuit Court. The last attempt, in 2007, included a tie vote at Board of Zoning Appeals upholding the county’s denial, which seemed to have been carefully orchestrated by the former county attorney. During the last trip to Circuit Court in 2009, the BZA appeal was dismissed.

Even before the public hearing began, it was quite clear that the application was not ready for planning commission consideration because it did not contain any objective information about the impact of sound and vibration on the immediate area. The applicant, said Coleman, declined to provide a sound study demonstrating that the noise generated by the proposed course would not exceed 60 decibels at the Rt. 6 entrance to Orapax.

Tom Dykers, son of applicants Andrew and Nancy Dykers, spoke on behalf of his parents. He said that the proposed range is much farther away from Rt. 6 than the previous range and that his parents received a request for a sound study from the county on September 15.

For almost three hours, people spoke for and against the CUP. Although comments were limited to three minutes, many speakers rudely ignored the rules and continued to talk.

Longtime neighbors of Orapax told the commission said that when Orapax operated a shooting range without a county permit, about twenty years ago, it generated unbearable and constant noise that could be heard miles away.

One Dogtown Road resident stated that her husband, a military veteran, suffers from post- traumatic stress disorder (PTSD,) and operation of a shooting range nearby would be devastating for him.

Gun enthusiasts generally supported the CUP, contending that responsible shooting is a rural pastime and should be allowed. A gentleman from York County said that he lives quite close to an active shooting range there and said that he and his neighbors have grown accustomed to the noise.

Although there was much discussion of the loudness and distance the sound of gunfire carries, no one mentioned that, depending on atmospheric conditions, train whistles can be heard miles from county railroad tracks.

County assessor Glenn Branham said that noise from shooting ranges has a negative impact on property values and that he has reduced valuation of some properties on Lee Road, which are near the Department of Corrections shooting range.

Happily, the hearing did not degenerate into a pro and anti-gun debate. All speakers acknowledged that the main issue is noise. The application did not include any information about the intensity of noise expected to be generated by the range, which will be farther away from Route 6 than the previous range.

The Commissioners ultimately determined they were unable to make a ruling on the application without an objective way to gauge the intensity of the sound and vibration generated by the proposed range.

Although commission chair Courtney Hyers, District 5, contended that the county should pay for a professionally conducted sound study, her fellow commissioners agreed that taxpayers should not pick up the tab. Thomas Rockecharlie, at large, who is an experienced engineer, said that a consultant report couched in in terms of decibels, would have little meaning to him.

A real time demonstration of the proposed course in operation with the commissioners and public in attendance will be scheduled. At least one commissioner should be stationed at the home of the veteran with PTSD. Others should be stationed neighboring homes to judge the impact of the noise and vibration for themselves. Staff and Orapax will work out other details.

The Orapax CUP application must receive fair treatment. The supervisors must judge the application objectively and on its merits. They must also be willing to take heat for the consequences of their decision, whatever that may be.



It was well after 10 p.m. when the commission addressed the last matter on its agenda, a rezoning application for land at the entrance to the Bellview Gardens subdivision. This is the same site where the landowner wanted to locate the Goodwill facility, which is currently under construction near the Broadview shopping center.

Coleman’s presentation of the application seemed a tad vague. He replied “I don’t know” to several questions posed by the commission. He should be able to anticipate queries from the commission and have pertinent information at his fingertips.

The rezoning application proposes a one story medical office park with two buildings totaling 19,000 square feet and an appropriate number of parking spaces. The application includes the usual elevations of attractive well landscaped buildings.

Access to the project would be from Mills Road, the two lane residential street that provides the sole access to Bellview Gardens.

Thomas Kinter, speaking for the applicant, contended that the proposed use is very compatible with a residential development and that it would be in use during business hours when the residents are at work.

Residents of Bellview Gardens, some of whom sat through more than four hours of public hearings on other matters with their children, once again pleaded passionately for their neighborhood.

They pointed out that Bellview Gardens residents include retirees and stay at home mothers, who are around during the daytime.

They contended that the proposed office use would bring a great deal of unwanted traffic into the neighborhood. The specter of Mills Road, the entrance road to the subdivision, becoming a major, and heavily trafficked, entrance into the large and undeveloped parcel of land just north of Bellview Gardens loomed large over the proceedings.

Hyers commented that the issues in this matter are the same as they were with Goodwill. She labeled the proposal as the worst kind of spot zoning. She said that an incursion of commercial use into a close knit neighborhood is not acceptable.

District 4 commissioner Joe Andrews, observed that the proposal is consistent with residential office zoning. He said that it fits and was the only planning commissioner to vote against the recommendation for denial.

 Rockecharlie  said that he agrees that the application is not consistent with the comprehensive plan but cautioned that there will be future attempts to place commercial development of some sort there.

Derrick Murray, District 3 commended Bellview Gardens for its organized resolve to oppose this rezoning application.

If the ultimate goal of placing commercial development on Mills Road is to pave the way for an entrance road to the parcel behind Bellview Gardens, developers should channel their energies elsewhere. The people who live in Bellview Gardens are smart, energized and determined to protect their little slice of heaven. If the owners of the front parcels, whoever they may be, really want to develop this land, they need to work closely with the homeowners and come to a mutually acceptable conclusion.

Given that the parcel of land on the north side of Broad Street Road just east of Rt. 288 is for sale and zoned for commercial use, the repeated attempts to rezone land on Mills Road lend credence to suspicions that a hidden agenda is in play here.

The Board of Supervisors, which makes the final decision on the application, is expected to vote on the matter on November 7.













Thursday, September 13, 2012

White smoke


Following a search done with all deliberate speed, Goochland has a new superintendent of schools.

At its September 11 meeting, the School Board voted unanimously to appoint James F. Lane, Ed.D. the current superintendent of schools in Middlesex County, as superintendent of schools. A four year contract with him was also approved. Lane’s salary will be $130,000 and he will report for duty on December 12.

According to a statement read by School Board Chair Beth Hardy, District 4, Lane was among 45 applicants and seven finalists from 13 states who applied for the position.

Hardy cited Lane’s expertise in the areas of finance, student achievement and innovation as factors that propelled him to the front of the pack. His experience also includes a stint as a middle school band director, which should bode well for Goochland’s music programs.

In a brief statement, Lane said that he is excited about moving to Goochland with his wife and three year-old son and becoming part of the community. He said that he has been drawn to Goochland and that being superintendent of schools here is his “dream job.”

Providing further evidence that he does not plan to hunker down in the central office, Lane said that he plans to do a listening tour before he starts work to find out what makes Goochland special and learn the community’s expectations of its school system.

Dr. Pete Gretz, assistant superintendent since 2008, has served as interim superintendent since late spring and will be Lane’s second chair.

“We express our sincere gratitude to Dr. Gretz for his hard work. His focus and leadership skills have been a critical part of managing through this transition, and he will continue to lead us in many of these areas even after Dr. Lane officially assumes his role,” said Hardy.

Board vice chair John Wright District 5 echoed Hardy’s sentiment thanking Gretz for his “insight and professionalism.”

The selection of Lane was the culmination of a thorough, yet speedy search for a new superintendent. The School Board actively sought, received, and incorporated community input during the selection process. This was yet another new way of doing things in our school system.

Middlesex, whose county seat is Saluda, has about half as many people and public school students as Goochland. Its school budget for fiscal 2012 was just under $12 million.

Lane’s appointment bodes well for the future of public education in Goochland and confirms the wisdom of county voters who replaced the entire school board last November.

To be sure, our school system still faces many challenges. Funding is perhaps the most serious concern. Until real estate values rebound and aggressive economic development policies generate additional revenue, doing more with less will be the new norm.

The September 11, meeting, the first regular meeting since school started on August 20, was a textbook example of conducting the people’s business. (Meetings are streamed live. Recordings are posted under the school board tab of the website: www.glndk12.va.us, which is well worth a visit.)

Gone are the mute bobble heads of yore, replaced with elected officials who are engaged and informed about the matters at hand.

The school year began with a new attitude.

Sekou Shabaka, President of the Goochland NAACP, told the board that he was “overjoyed” with the new order in the high school, where students are expected to be ready to learn and sagging pants unacceptable. He thanked the board for implementing a “new way of doing things” in our schools.

Shabaka also wanted to know why, in the 18 years that Goochland has participated in the Maggie L. Walker Governor’s School, we have sent just two African American students to this prestigious institution. He asked the school board to put a clear and transparent system in place to illustrate how decisions about who goes to the Governor’s School are made and who makes them.

During last year’s campaign, Kevin Hazzard District 2 proposed creation of volunteer advisory committees to address matters including grant writing, energy conservation, and community and minority involvement.

Of particular importance, contended Hazzard, is a committee to secure grant money to supplement the school budget. To date, only two people have stepped forward to join this group.

Hazzard likened the grant writing process to a machine with many parts working together for a particular outcome.

These “parts” include: hunting and gathering to identify grant opportunities; working with teachers to understand and identify resources they need to meet a particular goal; determining if Goochland schools can deliver demonstrable results after a grant been obtained, and compiling supporting data for the actual grant application.

To find out more, go to: http://www.glnd.k12.va.us/index/site/news/advisory_committees/

This school board is working hard to ensure that each student in our school reaches their full potential in spite of fiscal challenges. The good news is that the board has just gotten started.









Monday, September 10, 2012

On a perfect Tuesday morning


Eleven years ago ordinary people went about their business on an ordinary Tuesday morning. Before the day was over, many were dead and America forever changed.

Thousands of people in New York, Virginia, and a field in Pennsylvania made the ultimate sacrifice, casualties in a war few knew we were fighting.

In the days, months, and years following the 9/11 attacks, America came together. During the immediate aftermath, we watched, numbed by horror, as abominations of the attack were revealed in dreadful detail. Our hearts beat as one in grief for the dead, for our country, for our future.

The wanton slaughter of ordinary people and the firefighters, police officers, and EMS providers, who tried to save them, will forever be etched on our consciousness. Our generosity shined bright as we collected money for the survivors of the lost, knowing too well that money cannot fill the hole in a life left by a departed spouse, parent, or child.

Flags were everywhere. We went out of our way to thank firefighters, EMS folk, and law enforcement officers across the country. We understood that they stand between us and calamity every day.

We wanted revenge. Our most valuable treasure—the men and women of America’s military—was sent to foreign lands in pursuit of an ethereal enemy. There was a measure of retribution, but the cost was enormous.

During the ensuing years, we’ve adjusted to a new normal. We’re not quite as free as we used to be, but rationalize that this is for our protection. We remove our shoes and watch our carry-ons searched as we go through airport security, praying that no fellow passengers have secreted a bomb in their checked luggage. Some of us “close our eyes and think of America” as we are pulled aside and “patted down” by TSA officials.

As a nation trained to expect instant gratification, we’ve grown weary of an extended shadow war with few battles and too much maiming, whose justification we’ve forgotten, if we ever knew.

We wonder if the absence of terror attacks since 9/11 was luck, or the result of hard work by people who toil in obscurity to foil the bad guys.

As an inherently good people, we argue about locating a mosque near Ground Zero rather than prohibiting it outright. We want to think the best of everyone, but cannot squelch suspicion when a young couple, she in a head scarf, chat in a foreign language as they point and smile at lower Manhattan.

We pause to remember the fallen, and pay homage to the police, firefighters, and EMS responders, who see us at our worst and always give us our best. If we cannot rekindle the spark of unity forged in grief and anger eleven years ago without the catalyst of catastrophe, what has America become since that perfect Tuesday in September?











Thursday, September 6, 2012

A parade to the future


Goochland’s new supervisors seem to have hit their stride as they settle in for the long haul. Following its budget sprint in the first few months of 2012, the board is now working its way through a very long and complicated to-do list.

Although there are many matters that seem to require the supervisors’ attention, they move quickly through their monthly meeting agendas.

Being proactive, the Board approved a parade permit ordinance. Sheriff James L. Agnew asked that the issue be addressed to ensure that large, mobile gatherings have adequate traffic control to keep people safe and minimize disruption for Goochland citizens.

Agnew explained that, because the Goochland Sheriff’s office is a relatively small agency it needs time to respond to request for law enforcement officers at an event. He said that the county needs to have processes and people in place to prevent problems. Regardless of the circumstances of problems, Goochland will be blamed if something goes wrong.

The proposed permit fee was reduced to $25 after discussion. The law enforcement cost is $40 per hour per officer with a three hour minimum, said Agnew. That expense is paid by the sponsoring organization.


In the afternoon portion of the September 4, routine matters were dispatched in fewer than 90 minutes. The board then entered closed session to confer with County Attorney Norman Sales “...regarding specific legal matters requiring the provision of legal advice relating to meetings of the Board of Supervisors, as permitted by Section 2.2-3711(A)(7) of the Code of Virginia.”

Following the closed meeting, the supervisors and other county officials met with Goochland’s delegation to the Virginia General Assembly. As all of these legislators: Senator Tom Garrett and Delegates Lee Ware and Peter Farrell, have represented Goochland only since January 1, this session was a good opportunity for them to learn about challenges facing our county.

Items on the meeting’s agenda included revision of the composite index used by the state to determine the amount of tax dollars returned to Goochland. The method used to compute this index does not reflect the wide income disparity among our citizens.

 Let’s hope that our new delegation understands the need for reform. Whenever state Senator Walter Stosch, who formerly represented the eastern portion of Goochland, was asked about the issue his comments often referenced airborne swine.

Other issues scheduled for discussion with legislators included future use of Department of Corrections’ land and VDOT reform.

Except for District 4 supervisor Bob Minnick, this board campaigned together with a common vision for Goochland, something the county has never seen before. Once in office, the new supervisors, including Minnick, set about putting that vision in place.

This board promised to concentrate on a few core issues, including public safety and economic development. Items addressed in the evening session’s public hearing brought the supervisors’ resolve into focus.

They lost no time tackling an issue that the previous regime avoided like the plague — cost recovery for ambulance transport by Goochland EMS personnel.

During budget workshops held in the first few months of the year, the supervisors supported the concept of cost recovery to provide a non-tax dollar revenue stream to fund fire-rescue. On September 4, they voted unanimously to implement the program.

Cost recovery, which bills insurance companies for ambulance transport is an administrative procedure. There will be no change in the way that emergency medical services are delivered in Goochland. The important thing to understand is that NO ONE WILL BE REFUSED EMS CARE. This is a user fee plain and simple. Many jurisdictions in Virginia successfully use this system.

The program will take effect January 1, 2013. Based on information presented during budget workshops, the county expects to realize about $500,000 in revenue in the first year. An outside firm will be retained to handle the billing. The supervisors asked for periodic updates to measure the effectiveness and success of the program.

Cost recovery will allow the county to generate revenue to cover the cost of responding to a large and growing number of EMS calls on Interstate 64 and state route 288. Patients transported from these incidents tend not to live, or pay taxes in Goochland.

The previous board rejected the notion of cost recovery for many years. Sherwood Sackett, president of the Goochland Volunteer Fire-Rescue Association Board of Directors told the board that all of the county’s fire-rescue volunteers support implementation of cost recovery.

As a practical matter, few people will realize, or care, that the change has been made. Citizens give little thought to fire or EMS until they have an emergency. Then, they want an ambulance or fire truck at their door as fast as possible. Currently, fire-rescue is funded by a combination of tax dollars and citizen contributions to the county’s six fire-rescue companies. Paid responders have augmented the volunteer corps for several years.

Cost recovery will also help to ease the way as Goochland moves inevitably toward a fully career provider system. Delivery of EMS is physically, intellectually and often emotionally demanding. Our county is blessed with a dedicated corps of extraordinary individuals who give huge of amounts of their time and talents in the most vital of community services. Their numbers are dwindling and few new residents have the time or inclination to join their ranks.

Earlier in the evening, a conditional use permit extension granted to Markel Properties and the Richmond Strikers Soccer Club for a soccer complex in West Creek morphed into an economic development initiative.

The initial CUP was grudgingly granted five years ago in spite of citizen complaints about the county accommodation of a Richmond soccer club while Goochland kids were forced to play soccer on barely adequate fields built over an old landfill.

In the interim, the county has acquired land for soccer fields and the Strikers have built an impressive eight field soccer complex in West Creek, on 38.7 acres of the old Motorola site, which includes extensive parking lots. A restroom facility uses, and pays for, TCSD water and sewer. Dire predictions that Goochland EMS would be overwhelmed by the complex never materialized. In fact, Strikers provides its own EMS coverage for events.

The Strikers simply requested an extension of the original CUP, which includes a prohibition on lighting. The board, realizing the economic impact of the thousands of people who visit the site annually for tournaments, amended the application to increase the number of tournaments allowed from six to a maximum of 12 per year.

According to Striker official Scott Turner, its events are the largest driver of hotel occupancy in the Richmond region, more than NASCAR. While there are currently no hotels in Goochland, Turner said that Striker events will fill any future hotels. That would mean full occupancy for 12 weekends per year.

He also said that the Strikers would work with the county to promote restaurants and other businesses in Goochland to tournament attendees who tend to head to Short Pump. Reportedly, Wawa has asked the Strikers for advance notice of tournaments so that it can be adequately stocked to handle tournament driven demand for items like bottled water.

Turner explained that, although extensive discussions about sharing Striker fields with GUSA were held, little happened. He did report that other community groups have used the facility for other purposes.

Marshall Bowden, chair of the Goochland Economic Development Authority spoke in support of the CUP and the increase in tournament days. He urged the board to consider dark sly compliant lighting because “there will be lights in West Creek.”

Jonathan Lyle, a Director of the Monacan Soil and Water District pointed out that sports tourism is a growth area in the region and an excellent opportunity for economic development.

The supervisors also asked staff to investigate the possibility of permitting the Striker fields to be lit, following dark sky protocols, to increase its use. County administrator Rebecca T. Dickson said that lighting prohibition for private school athletic fields could be a factor in this matter.

Staff will also pursue additional signage with VDOT to help tournament attendees find the place. Perhaps a numbered street address that could be plugged into a GPS would help there.























Sunday, September 2, 2012

Desperately seeking broadband




Volunteer committee searches for options

Editor’s note: This entry of GOMM was intended for publication on August 14. Due to a poor internet connection, the entry  has been revised.

Goochland is a land of contrasts.

A “digital divide” separates the county into those that have access to broadband and those that do not. Homes without internet access are more difficult to sell. Students have trouble keeping pace with their “connected” peers. Residents who could work from home over high speed connections must trek to their offices instead. Small businesses that need broadband to operate competitively go elsewhere.

Until recently, dial-up was the only avenue to internet access for much of the county. Thanks to wireless devices, improved speed is now available in areas served by cell towers. Results are spotty and vary widely.

Since spring, the Goochland High Speed Internet Committee GHSIC,) comprised of volunteers with professional telecommunications expertise, has worked to document broadband availability throughout the county and craft recommendations about the situation. District 2 Supervisor Manuel Alvarez, Jr. was elected chair and Marshall Bowden vice chair of the GHSIC.

Town hall meetings to share the findings of the committee so far and gather input from citizens were recently held at Byrd School and the Centerville Company 3 fire-rescue station.

While a significant number of eastern Goochlanders have broadband access through Comcast, many do not. One man at the Company 3 meeting explained that he has public water and sewer, but no high speed internet access.

Data presented at a recent GHSIC meeting showed that 2.6 percent of Henrico residents do not have access to Broadband while 69.9 percent of Goochlanders are in the same boat.

The GHSIC decided that its primary goal was to find strategies to bring a reasonable speed of broadband at a reasonable price to most of Goochland. They’re still seeking exact definitions of those goals.

The GHSIC used information included in the broadband study conducted by the county in 2008 as its starting point. (Go to the county website www.co.goochland.va.us under broadband efforts to see the complete report. Recordings of all meetings may be found there too.)

For some parts of Goochland, satellite may be the only option. In other areas, wireless equipment will provide internet access, but not the superfast speed needed for online gaming or sophisticated business applications.

Meeting every few weeks, the GHSIC has gathered, with the help of staff, detailed data about existing broadband availability. These maps are on the website. Past meetings have included presentations by Verizon and people with real world experience in deploying broadband in rural areas.

While Goochland sits in a geographical sweet spot for transportation, we are in a definite “sour” spot for universal broadband deployment.

We are too urban to qualify for rural broadband initiatives yet too sparsely settled in most of the county to easily entice either Verizon or Comcast to plant cables.

Verizon representatives explained that their company’s financial allocation to deploy FIOS nationwide is nearly depleted and will not be replenished. The company has decided it’s “a wireless world” and will invest accordingly.

One Verizon representative actually said out loud, in public, that his company has “looked hungrily at Goochland residents” as new customers. He explained the Verizon Home Fusion system, which is a stand-alone fixed device that provides wireless broadband, could supply broadband to many homes in the county. Responses to questions about cost and distance form towers were a little vague. He said that 4G should be deployed throughout Goochland by the end of 2013.

The fly in the wireless ointment may be a dearth of towers. Creating a map of existing towers to identify dead spots was a high priority task for the group.

Some residents in extreme western Goochland, those in the 434 area code, reported that they have quite acceptable broadband through their telephone provider, which is not Verizon.

Committee members reported that the distribution of bandwidth and other telecommunications infrastructure resulting from the breakup of the old “Ma Bell” have created roadblocks to some internet deployment.

Comcast, the sole wire in the ground cable and broadband provider in Goochland, is under no obligation to add customers that do not fit its corporate guidelines. State regulatory laws regarding cable deployment as well as the local contract with Comcast give the county no leverage in the matter.

Cable customers are generally east of Route 522, although there is a line that goes up sparsely populated Cedar Plains Road, Comcast has shown little interest in connecting the Mill Forest community.

Most meetings of the GHSIC were streamed live and recordings are available on the website. Unfortunately, the folks without broadband, who have the most interest in the subject, were not able to follow along this way. The files can be downloaded, but this could take a while. (GOMM’s connection took more than 18 minutes to download the July session, for example.)

The GHSIC hopes to create a broadband options database so that residents can weigh their options and find some connectivity.

Finding a way to help most residents access the internet in an affordable manner will be tricky. The county has no money, and little inclination, to get into the broadband business.

Although it has become an important part of 21st century life, broadband is not a regulated utility, which, though frustrating, is a good thing in the long run. The private sector can respond to changes in technology far faster when not burdened with cumbersome regulation.

The GHSIC is expected to present its finding and recommendations to the board of supervisors in October. The report will contain no silver bullet easy solution to the problem. Goochland has never been a one size fits all place. The broadband solution will be no different. Some residents’ only option may be satellite, others wireless.

Thanks to the GHSIC members for giving their time and talents to the community.