Tuesday, September 25, 2012
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.