Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Savors of the season

It’s that time again! The elections are over and the turkey digested. A certain Jolly Elf is loading his sleigh. Right here in Goochland County, a cornucopia of seasonal delights is overflowing with opportunities to get you into the holiday spirit.

Bethlehem Walk, sponsored by Salem Baptist Church, begins this afternoon, November 28 at 6 p.m. and runs through Sunday, December 2. The free event takes place at the Salem site on the south side of Broad Street Road a bit west of Centerville. For more information call 784-4171 or visit the website at  Go back to Bethlehem and remember that the real meaning of Christmas has nothing to do with maxing out a credit card.

On Saturday, December 1, Fire-Rescue Volunteers at both Centerville Company 3 and Fife Company 4 hold their annual breakfast with Santa. A hot cooked breakfast is prepared and served to all comers. The little ones get to have a chat with the aforementioned Elf. This is a great opportunity to meet our amazing volunteers.

In the afternoon, your Goochland Bulldogs football team will meet Wilson Memorial in the next step of the state playoffs. The game will be played in Fishersville, starting at 1 p.m. Listen live at or WZEZ at 100.5 FM.

Later that day, the Field Day of the Past grounds on Ashland Road will be open and decorated for an old fashioned Christmas. Take a few minutes to walk back in time to a simpler era. This event is free of charge and a nice way to get some fresh air.

On Thursday, December 6, Grace Episcopal Church, located on River Road West in the heart of Goochland Courthouse Village, beginning at 7:30 PM EST,  will be host its annual free community music event featuring the Virginia Benefit Chorale. As always, the event is open to the public with the suggested donation of canned goods for the Goochland Free Clinic & Family Services. The evening activities will include a Choir Concert, the dedication of the Grace Church's new organ, and special organ recital by Charles Lindsey, organist and choirmaster of St Paul's Episcopal Church, Bristol Parish in Petersburg, Virginia. Virginia Benefit Chorale directed by Steve Davis will present numerous classical hymns and songs. They will be joined by Grace Episcopal Church's Sunday Choir.

On Friday, December 7 from 6:30 to 8 p.m., the Goochland Community Christmas Tree will be lit. Open to all, the event will take place on the corner of River Road West and Dickenson Drive on the grounds of the Goochland Young Men’s Christian Association site. (Note the “C” in YMCA. No politically correct whining about calling it a Christmas tree, please.)

Warm up your vocal chords to take part in the Hallelujah Chorus of Handel’s Messiah, which will be presented by the Richmond Symphony and Chorus at the Goochland High School at 4 p.m. on Sunday, December 9. Made possible by the Goochland Rotary, proceeds will support local charities. For tickets ask any Rotarian or visit

On Saturday, December 15, the Goochland Christmas Mother distribution will take place. This fine grass roots organization, which helps those in need at Christmas, has had more applications than ever in our troubled economic times. If you are able, please send a donation to P. O. Box 322 Goochland, VA 23063. Visit for more information. Donations are welcome, and needed, all year long.

All this is happening right here in Goochland County!




Monday, November 19, 2012

The fulcrum

At its November 15 meeting, Goochland County’s Planning Commission voted 6-1 to recommend denial of an application for a conditional use permit to operate a sporting clays shooting range at Orapax Plantation, a 672.6 acre hunting preserve owned by Andrew and Nancy Dykers. The property in question is located between Route 6 and the James River, west of Courthouse Village.

Commission chair Courtney Hyers, District 5, cast the dissenting vote after nearly three hours of a passionate public hearing and extensive deliberation among the commissioners.

Hyers characterized the matter as a “difficult case,” which is a gross understatement. For the past 20 or so years, Orapax has unsuccessfully tried to obtain county sanction to operate the course after operating one in the late ‘80s, which was shut down following a huge outcry from those who lived nearby.

This case illustrates the delicate, and often elusive, balance between property rights of landowners and the health, safety, and welfare of the citizens that land use law is supposed to find.

The Dykers claim that a sporting clays course is permitted under county zoning law as a conditional use for their hunting preserve, which is zoned A-1. Opponents, mostly neighboring land owners, contend that it will, literally, threaten their sanity, quality of life, and property values.

Action on the matter was deferred from the Commission’s October meeting so a sound study to provide objective data about the degree of noise that would be generated by the course could be completed.

Conducted on the afternoon of October 25, results of the study, performed by Backstage, Inc. were presented by Orapax as evidence that the course, which is located in floodplain closer to the river than the previous incarnation of the shooting range, will not generate objectionable levels of noise.

In general, the study indicated that noise from the shooting range was barely higher than ambient, or normal background, levels. (The report is included in the November 15 information packet, which is posted on the Planning Commission page of the county website,

One opponent of the CUP claimed that the test shots were clearly audible over the noise of working bulldozers on the Leake’s Mill Park site, 1.6 miles west of Orapax.

GOMM attended the sound test and listened at Irwin, which is about a mile east of Orapax, halfway between Route 6 and the River. While facing Orapax with hands cupped behind ears, lest any sound be missed, GOMM noticed that traffic passing on Route 6, birds, insects, and even dry leaves blowing in nearby trees made significant noise. Between 2:33 and 2:53 p.m. GOMM heard six separate distant volleys of what sounded like gunfire but felt no associated vibration. Without paying careful attention, those sounds might not have been noticed. Given this experience, it’s difficult to give credence to people from Holland Hills, a mile or so northeast of Irwin, who said they often hear the shooting from Orapax in their backyards

Orapax did a very poor job of presenting its case for the shooting range. They contended that the range will bring more revenue to Goochland by helping a small business expand. Yet, when pressed for details, Orapax stated that no new jobs will be created. Additional tax revenue generated by removing the four acre shooting range site from land use will net less than a $100 increase in real estate tax revenue.

Initially, only a few shooters per week are expected to use the course, according to Orapax representative Neal Kander, the Dykers’ son-in-law. However, the application requests permission for up to 24 shooters per day. That’s a pretty wide range. Orapax wants to operate the shooting range 365 days per year from 9-5.

It is hard to understand why the Dykers would endure the cumbersome and expensive--the CUP permit alone is $750--process to secure a CUP to generate revenue from a mere handful of shooters who will pay $25 each to use the shooting range. The application states that in calendar year 2011, Orapax attracted 1,200 clients from 41 states and seven foreign countries. There were anecdotal contentions that these folks, after they left Orapax, patronized local business to the tune of about $45 per head, but no supporting evidence was provided.

Indeed, some commissioners noted that Orapax made no effort to explain what sort of return on its investment was expected from operating the shooting range.

Supporters of Orapax contended that it provides an excellent opportunity for wholesome and safe use of firearms. Opponents of the CUP, none of whom proposed any curtailment of current Orapax operations, raised concerns about the negative impact of noise on health, property values, and lead leaching into the water supply. Orapax stipulated it will put a lead mitigation plan in place to support the shooting range.

Supporters also pointed out that private shooting ranges are already permitted by right. They said that many people shoot targets in their backyards in Goochland. This time of year, the sound of gunfire is often audible in the entire county. Camp Brady Saunders, operated by the Boy Scouts on Maidens Road, has such a range, which can be clearly heard by its neighbors.

Shooting enthusiasts contended that a sporting clays course will produce many continuous volleys of gunfire and expend a lot of shotgun shells. They said that this is very different from the random sporadic gunfire resulting from hunts at Orapax.

County assessor Glenn Branham, who attended the sound study, stated that, based on what he heard on October 25, 2012, he would not be inclined to reduce valuation on parcels of land in the vicinity of Orapax. He also said that he might reconsider based on actual conditions in the future.

In a previous hearing, Branham stated that he had lowered valuation on some properties on Lee Road in Crozier, which are close to the Department of Corrections shooting range.

The DOC range operates at all hours of the day and is exempt from local ordinances. According to people who live nearby, shooting at the DOC range, where law enforcement officers train with automatic weapons, sounds like a war zone.

Orapax contended that sporting clays is akin to golf with a shotgun and sounds nothing like a war zone.

Opponents also raised the question of enfrocemnt of the CUP. This is a zoning issue, so the Sheriff’s Office will not be involved. Who will count the shooters? How will allegations of violation be handled?

After the hearing was closed, the commissioners wrestled with the matter. Many stated that they believe people have the right to do as they wish on their property, unless it negatively impacts others.

Joe Andrews, District 4, said that he could not support the conditions on the table, but suggested hours from 9-1, which would not impinge on afternoon activities, and an effective period of no more than one year. Tom Rockecharlie, at large, said that he would prefer to require the use of inly lead-free  to eliminate all paperwork and envirionmental concerns. Vice chair Ty Querry, District 2 argued that the commission should recommend denial of the application as presented, which they did.

Although many of the commissioners attended the sound test and heard the sound for themselves, they seemed to be swayed by the opponents.  Perhaps the comment that resonated most was “would you want this near your home?”

Hyers, clearly exasperated with her fellow commissioners, said that the county A-1 zoning ordinance allows shooting ranges as a conditional use to support agriculture and open space. She worried that “we’re going to get to the point where we’re not going to let people make a living from agricultural use of their land. It is unrealistic to talk about Goochland as if this is a park.” Hyers questioned the rationale for conducting the sound study if the results were ignored.

Her remarks underscore comments made by new residents who claim they moved to Goochland to enjoy rural peace and quiet yet whine endlessly about slow moving farm equipment; the odor of manure spread on fields, and the ugly aftermath of timbering. Agriculture, a big part of “rural,” is often noisy, dirty, smelly and unsightly.

The Board of Supervisors is expected to hold its own public hearing on the matter in January. If the Board grants the CUP without further restricting the conditions, it will essentially make itself a lame duck body, bringing back the bad old days of granting favors to friends, regardless of other considerations.

However, granting a very limited CUP, say with hours of 9-1 Monday through Saturday for a one year period, could provide a sliver of middle ground. This would give Orapax more exercise of property rights and the neighbors a chance to live with actual conditions. Orapax might decide that the sporting clays course is not worth the bother, or the neighbors realize that the noise impact is less than they feared. Or, it could be déjà vu all over again.





Wednesday, November 14, 2012

November musings

Goochland’s supervisors tended to business at their November 7 meeting. The session began with good news of the successful Tuckahoe Creek Service District bond refunding, which resulted in a significant portion of the debt now carrying a true interest rate of 3.78 percent. This will provide some badly needed breathing room to permit the TCSD to grow toward self-funding.

Electoral board chair, Herb Griffith reported that initial figures indicated that 87.4 percent of county voters cast ballots in Tuesday’s presidential election. He said that Registrar Frances C. Ragland is “a monument to what good people in important posts can do and do well.”

As 2012 wanes, the board and staff are already looking ahead to the budget process for the next fiscal year, which begins July 1, 2013. The county now uses a two year budget to facilitate better fiscal planning. John Wack, Deputy County Administrator for Financial Affairs gave the supervisors a budget update.

The county had a revenue surplus of about $2.7 million for the fiscal year that ended on June 30, 2012. A list of recommendations for the funds was presented. For details, see Part B and Part C of the November board packet on the county website,

Some of this money will be placed in the general fund, the remainder spread among several areas including: Virginia Retirement System funding; utilities projects; vehicles for the Sheriff’s Office and schools.

Real estate valuations are expected to remain steady at $4.3 billion—down from the all-time high of $4.72 billion in 2009--next year. Personal property tax collection is also expected to remain unchanged at $9.21 million. No raises will be in the offing next year and the school board is working on yet another lean budget. These are very preliminary numbers, but the process is underway. Doing more with less is the new normal. Is the only thing we have to fear is fear itself?

County Administrator Rebecca Dickson said that this is preliminary information, that the process, which will include ample opportunity for public input, is just getting underway and that things may well change between now and adoption of next year’s budget in the spring.

A request to refer a draft “Dark Sky” ordinance to the planning commission for a public hearing was deferred until the supervisors can study the matter. Concerns about the broadness of the language and enforcement were cited as reasons for the postponement.

Supervisor Manuel Alvarez, Jr. District 2 reported that a working group will be formed to draft requests for information and requests for proposals to gauge further possibilities for widespread deployment of high speed internet options. These are expected to be complete by March. A survey of existing communications assets is also expected to be completed by then.

A suggestion was made to include high speed internet information on planning and zoning applications.

A draft of the county’s legislative agenda, our position on matters addressed by the Virginia General Assembly, was presented by County Attorney Norman Sales. In September, the supervisors met with Delegates Lee Ware and Peter Farrell and Senator Tom Garrett to discuss issues of concern to Goochland and ask for their help in promoting these matters in Richmond.

The agenda includes a request that the boundaries of service districts, like the TCSD, may be amended. Currently, these boundaries can be changed only be repealing the existing ordinance creating the old district and passing another to approve the changes. The repeal method opens the door for landowners to leave the TCSD.

The supervisors also would like to be able to disallow land use taxation in the TCSD without ending the practice in the whole county. This would provide incentive for some landowners to sell or develop their TCSD property instead of using it for agriculture at a much reduced tax rate.

Support for reduction of regulation on farm stores and farmers markets was also included. In an attempt to protect the public, the state is regulating cottage industry almost to the point of extinction. It is possible to relax these standards without jeopardizing public health.

Apparently, state regulations are now being cited as the main obstacle in resolving, once and for all, the exact location of portions of the border between Goochland and Louisa Counties. This discussion has been in the works for generations. Although it would seem that GIS technology should be able to plot the boundary with pinpoint accuracy, we still need the state’s blessing to use this methodology.

Perhaps next year the supervisors could suggest that Virginia cease to be a Dillon Rule state, a condition that gives all authority to the state, which then cedes certain powers to localities. This often absurd and cumbersome game of “Mother may I” squanders resources better used elsewhere.

During a discussion of existing and upcoming vacancies on boards and commissions, it was revealed that not a single citizen expressed interest in serving the county in this manner.

To counter the perception that “you had to know somebody” to be appointed to one of these bodies, the supervisors placed a section on the county website inviting anyone to be considered for appointment. Guess now we know why it seemed like the same twelve people were on every board—no one else wants to be bothered! In case you missed it, information is located under the heading “serving Goochland” on the supervisors’ tab on the county website.

In the evening, the board approved a change to sign setback rules; granted Luck Stone approval to use a portion of its Ashland Road facility for overburden as the pit grows; approved an ordinance change to clarify the rules for hunting during muzzleloader season; and approved the expanded overlay district for the Centerville Village. One small parcel of bare land on Plaza Drive, which is surrounded by “grandfathered” metal and cinder block structures, was exempted to make it more attractive to a buyer.

The board also granted a conditional use permit for land in Bellview Gardens, which was discussed in a previous post.

A public joint workshop between the supervisors and members of the Economic Development Authority will be held on Wednesday, December 5 at 6 p.m. in the library.















Thursday, November 8, 2012

Where the buck stops

Goochland County’s Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a rezoning application for 2.7 acres of land on the corner of Mills Road and Rt. 250 in Centerville at its November 7 meeting.

District 4 supervisor Robert Minnick moved for approval. This is an indication of the integrity of this board. Under the old regime, the motion for a zoning change opposed by neighbors would have been made by a supervisor from another district. If he was confident that there were three votes to confirm, the “local” supervisor could then vote against the measure, saving face among his constituents while ensuring that the measure passed.

Following a long public hearing on the matter, during which residents of Bellview Gardens, which is joined at the hip with the property in question, contended that approval of the proposal for a medical office park would destroy their neighborhood.

The proposal includes about sixty percent of green space with extensive landscaping. Two buildings, for a total of no more than 19,000 square feet served by 95 parking spaces were illustrated in elevations. Extensive proffers and attractive elevations of proposed buildings accompanied the application.(Go to the supervisors’ page on the county website for Part C of the November 7 board packet.)

In 2011, Bellview Gardens residents raised such vigorous opposition to construction of a Goodwill Store on the same property, that the application was withdrawn. That store is currently under construction near the Centerville Food Lion in what seems like a much better location for all concerned.

The land in question, four lots on the west side of Mills Road that border the Tuckahoe Creek floodplain, was part of Bellview Gardens, platted about 50 years ago. Because many of the original lots did not perc, the subdivision was never built out.

About eight years ago, shortly after completion of the Tuckahoe Creek Service District trunk lines, the subdivision was rezoned to permit higher density using public water and sewer, resulting in the construction of many upscale homes. Little thought was given to development of the surrounding land.

Bellview Gardens residents have organized to fight any business or commercial development between their community and Broad Street Road. Until November 7, they were successful in their efforts as the county planning commissions voted 6-1 to recommend denial of the application in September.

The supervisors listened to comments from the residents, no one except the developer, Tom Kinter, spoke in favor of the rezoning.

From their questions, it was clear that the supervisor have given a lot of thought to the matter and seemed to wrestle with the close juxtaposition of commercial uses with homes. There are other places in the county—even the uber upscale Kinloch-where similar development may be in the offing.

District 2 supervisor Manuel Alvarez, Jr. asked about vacating the end of Mills Road, to prevent its future use as an access road to the 600 acre parcel behind Bellview Gardens. This seems to indicate that development efforts for land surrounding Bellview Gardens should include access other than Mills Road.

Alvarez also observed that the proposed high quality and relatively low intensity development might be better than alternatives that would come along later. He also said that it would set a high standard for future projects. By approving this application, uncertainty about the property will be eliminated.

Residents pointed out that this rezoning request was the first to reach the supervisors, previous attempts being shot down at the planning commission level, and that a rejection by the supervisors would send a signal to the bank that holds the land that it will not be commercially developed any time soon.

District 1 supervisor Susan Lascollette pointed out that the supervisors cannot prevent anyone from filing a rezoning application. Given the desirable location of the Mills Road land, it could well come up year after year until rezoned.

The condition of the pavement on Mills Road was brought up both by residents, who contend that it is only tar and gravel and unable to withstand the traffic generated by the proposed office use. Kinter said that he had dug next to the road and it has good underlayment and several layers of asphalt. He also observed that it had withstood construction traffic of heavy vehicles when the new homes were built. He said that his group is prepared to bring the road up to VDOT standards, which could include widening it.

Principal planner Tom Coleman explained that the developer must submit an engineering study of the road as part of the building permit process.  

Residents contended that Kinter and his associate Mike Carroll have been maneuvering to secure this rezoning for some time. Some of them contended that the rezoning violates the eminent domain amendment just approved to the Virginia State Constitution.

Eminent domain is when government takes private property and conveys it to another party for development. The Bellview Gardens issue is a zoning case. The transfer of the land is from its current owner, a bank as the result of foreclosure, and Kinter’s LLC. This is a private transaction between two parties. The county’s only involvement is to approve the change of land use.

Bellview Gardens residents contended that the project will have a negative impact on their property values Kinter contended that it will have no impact.

Minnick asked what sort of use would be favored by Bellview Gardens’ residents for the land in question. The answer was that they don’t know, perhaps a library, but nothing for a good while. Some contended that any kind of residential use is preferable to commercial or office.

Following the public hearing and a protected discussion among the supervisors and residents, there was a long pause. Then Minnick made the motion.

The fallout from this decision will be interesting. This was the first really contentious matter this board has handled. They listened, they discussed and, at the end, they decided.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Goochland votes

Goochland votes

Today is election Day, the High Holy Day of American Democracy. This is the day that citizens who are so inclined—remember we are not forced to vote-cast ballots to choose who will govern us.

Goochlanders are good about voting. In 2008, our county had the highest percentage of voters in the state, more than 85 percent!

A completely unscientific mid-afternoon survey of all of Goochland’s voting precincts found heavy turnout with more expected in late afternoon and early evening before the 7 p.m. closing time.

GOMM voted at the District 4 precinct, St. Matthew’s Church in Centerville. At 12:48 a long line snaked out the door and along the front of the building. The line moved quickly, thanks to the hard work of election workers and GOMM had voted by 1:15.

Herbert R. Griffith, Chairman of the Goochland Electoral Board said that voter turnout had been robust throughout the day and he expected it to continue thus until the polls close.

Beth Beazely, Precinct Captain at St. Matthews said that, so far, all voters had been cordial and responsible.

Some other precincts reported something of a hold up caused by voters waiting until they were in front of voting machines to read, and decide upon, the two amendments to the state constitution.

Party faithful of both Republicans and Democrats were outside all polling places, except Three Square, and again, this is a random, mid-afternoon activity snapshot, hoping to encourage voted for their side. The Three Square turnout was about 50 percent at that time.
No Republican workers were at Three Square in mid-afternoon!

The Dover Church precinct in District 5 reported more than 50 percent votes around 1 p.m. At County Line Baptist Church in District 1 at 3 p.m. about 900 voters had been through the polls with the bulk of the remainder of the 1900 to come between 4 and 7 p.m.
Both parties hope to change minds at Dover

Activity at the Recreation Center District 2 precinct had been robust since the doors opened at 6 a.m. and the parking lot was filled at 3:30.

The two District 3 precincts, both at the Company 5 Fire-Rescue Station, also saw heavy voting throughout the day with a final after work surge expected.

Thank you to every one of the election officials who rose before dawn to perform the myriad of tasks that make our electoral system work. Thanks to Goochland County Registrar Frances C. Ragland for her high personal standards that ensure elections in our county are conducted with the highest integrity. Thanks also to Griffith and fellow electoral board members Melinda Sledd and Robin Lind, all of whom work very hard to help us fulfill our duty as citizens.