Sunday, January 20, 2013

Other people's money

About a dozen people sat around a table at the Company 3 fire-rescue station on January 10 to discuss the future of the Centerville Village at a county sponsored meeting. Only a few own land there.

Everybody else pitched in their two cents about what the village should or should not be. They want to determine how the Broad Street corridor will be developed. Many oppose a proposed McDonald’s restaurant, which has applied for a conditional use permit, because it would corrupt the rural character of the area. If that’s rural character, would corruption be so bad?

Centerville evolved as businesses located there to fill a demand. Some are gone. A video rental store, for instance, morphed into a physical therapy clinic.

With a small customer base and minimal governmental encouragement, the existing structures were built with an eye toward economy and utility, not aesthetics. Except for the bizarre two story brick fa├žade of the Food Lion, most of the buildings are low slung with peaked rooflines, giving the area a residential feel.

The tricky part is finding balance between design standards that foster an upscale rural ambiance, whatever that is, and accommodating new business, especially those with their own “branding” design elements, like Golden Arches.

Several of the people at the meeting were opposed to fast food franchises of any kind, citing unwanted traffic and congestion.  Dan Schardein, who runs the county’s community development shop, pointed out that if the proposed restaurant were an Applebee’s, no CUP would be needed.

So what? If we want a hamburger, we can go to Short Pump.

Yes, we can take our sales tax dollars over the eastern border and help fund Henrico County. We can keep waiting for the perfect project to wander in and set up shop in Centerville. We’ve been waiting more than a decade and not much has happened.

District 4 Supervisor Bob Minnick listened carefully to all of the comments. He refrained from asking just how much the opponents would be willing to pay in property taxes to fund local government services--including the paid EMS crew on duty at Company 3 that night—if that development does not materialize soon.

Minnick pointed out that if design standards are not put into place, the differentiation between Short Pump and Centerville is that “we become the other side of the tracks.”

Enhanced design standards should be general enough to permit the flexibility attractive to developers, yet restrictive enough to ensure an upscale and profitable result.

Some speakers contended that the design standards should include images of acceptable styles. Proffers on the land behind Satterwhite’s Restaurant include such conceptual elevations. It’s still for sale.

Trends in architecture change. We don’t want to be stuck in time. Centerville is not a theme park. Ideally, it will be an area that attracts a variety of thriving businesses, not just stores.

The term rural character must be fleshed out or discarded. We cannot continue to paraphrase former U. S. Supreme Justice Potter Stewart who quipped: “I can’t define it, but I know it when I see it” when discussing pornography, in land use matters.

We all have our personal criteria for what’s rural. But how does that apply to new construction in Centerville. For instance, would an Arby’s, which is known for its distinctive store designs, built to look like a stone barn paying homage to our equestrian traditions be acceptable?

The overall appearance of Centerville can be improved only so much because the water tower AKA “the giant plunger in the sky” looms over everything. Unless they use giant redwoods, no amount of landscaping is going to hide that. Ideally, new construction should be compatible with what’s there. Given the hodgepodge, that will also be a delicate task.

The county’s comprehensive land use plan was touted as being the vision of Goochland’s future as expressed by all of its citizens.  In fact, not more than 200 of the county’s approximately 20,000 residents participated in the meetings for the last update of the comp plan. The final result failed to address some concerns, and incorporated changes with no public input. Will of all the citizens? No, more like the agenda of the few.

Let’s not forget that the landowners in Centerville spent a lot of money hooking up to the TCSD water and sewer lines. They will not recoup their investment by growing corn or grazing cows along Broad Street.

After decades of the playing a high stakes game of Lucy and the football with the county, landowners are probably cynical that they will ever be permitted to develop their property to its highest and best use. Zoning options are very limited there. Goochland needs to figure out what mixed use will look like here and craft an ordinance to support it soon.

One person said that the county must be prepared to let McDonald's “walk” if it insists on building a futuristic design and not let the landowner choose “high profit development over what we want.” It’s not their money, it’s not their land and it shouldn’t be their choice.


1 comment:

Pattie said...

Why on earth would people that are ok with a Goodwill be opposed to a McDonalds?? Would they be happier with a Tatoo parlor or a Bailbondsman?