Monday, March 25, 2013

Routine matters

Though free of the drama laden public hearings that have marked recent meetings of the Goochland Planning Commission, the March 21 session was a good illustration of the purpose of this body.
Items on the agenda, the packet is available on the county website,, were routine. These included renewal of two conditional use permits and a zoning reclassification.

All seven commissioners were in attendance, prepared, and offered thoughtful and constructive comments on all matters before them.

The application filed by Alvin E. Smith to renew a CUP for his gunsmith business on Fairground Road provided an opportunity to reign in over zealous application of zoning ordinances to impose what could have been onerous and unnecessary expense on an existing small business.

First granted in 1997, Smith's CUP was last renewed in 2003.
This time around, he asked that the term of the CUP be extended to 15 years, hours of operation be extended one hour to 8 p.m., he be allowed to install a larger sign, and he no longer be required to maintain a derelict fence between land he owns and county property.

During discussion, Smith explained that the original CUP required that he maintain the fence on the boundary between his land and county property. He questioned the reason for the county to require him to maintain a fence ostensibly to keep people off of public property. In any event, the fence, described as a single strand of barbed wire in poor condition, is an ineffective barrier. He contended that improvement of the fence would be a burdensome expense for his business.

The Commissioners agreed and removed the fence as a condition. They also recommended that the term of the CUP be extended to 15 years. As the CUP process is expensive and time consuming, this is another way to ease burdens on small businesses.

An application to divide a 20 acre lot in the Granite Trace subdivision,  which is located off os Sheppardtown Road, proved more tricky. A zoning change from the existing A-2 classification to RR was required to conform to county zoning law. Neither applicant wanted the change, they just wanted to divide their land in half to comply with their divorce decree.

Unfortunately, that proposed lot division triggered a threshold that required the zoning of the land be changed from A2, agricultural to RR, rural residential. Included in the application is the intention to enter the existing road into the state system.

The county also wants the applicant either to proffer that the land in question will not be further subdivided--theoretically it could be cut into as many as four five acre lots--or agree to pay cash proffers of $14,292 for each lot if that occurs. Also, if the zoning change is granted, the applicants would need to turn around and file an application to have Granite Trace declared a major subdivision, which are not generally permitted in rural enhancement areas.

Understandably, the applicants were bewildered by all of these regulations. Staff's job is to enforce laws on the books.

These thresholds were put in place to provide county oversight on division of large "parent" tracts of land. There was concern that, over generations, repeated "cuts" of large parcels for family members could result in residential lots too small to safely supply well and septic.

To their credit, the Commissioners voted to recommend that the extra lot be permitted without requirng the applicants to promise not to further subdivide the land or pony up the cash proffer. It will be up to the supervisors to make final disposition.

Another CUP extension was granted to the wonderful group that operates Field Day of the Past. As this event is the essence of the rural heritage we all want to preserve, it was quite appropriate.

Next month's Planning Commission meeting will be held on Thursday, April 4. The agenda includes the  design standard ordinance for Centerville.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Planning for tomorrow


At its March 5 meeting, the Goochland Board of Supervisors finally reduced the size of the County Planning Commission to five members. This change has been contemplated for at least a decade, but the previous regime could never get three votes together for the change.

The current board hoped to make the change upon taking office, but three Commissioners appointed by the former board refused to comply when asked to submit their resignations by the incoming supervisors at the beginning of 2012.

Last year, the supervisors changed the composition of the Planning Commission to seven members, one from each district and two at-large. As the term of appointment for the bitter clingers expired this month, the supervisors voted to reduce the size of the commission to five members and appointed John Myers to represent District 1.

This is a good start. The next step is to encourage all Planning Commissioners to take advantage of training programs provided by the state so they understand their task.

For the past few years, the Planning Commission has been something of an embarrassment. Appointees often came to meetings unprepared to discuss the matters at hand. That, however, did not stop some of them from illustrating their ignorance. Some seemed quite unaware of the location of the land under discussion. In the not so distant past, Planning Commissioners took the time to not only visit, but walk, parcels of land on their agenda so they would be able to comment wisely on zoning changes.

As an advisory body, the Planning Commission has only the power to make recommendations about land use matters to the Board of Supervisors, who make all final decisions. The Commission does, however, perform the important function of taking a close look at proposed changes in land use including rezoning and conditional use permits.

Public hearings before the Planning Commission provide an excellent opportunity for the community to express its opinions on land use matters in more detail than is generally possible before the supervisors who have oversight on a wide range of issues. As county staff is now largely comprised of people who live outside of Goochland and are relative newcomers, citizen input on a high level is vital to ensure that Goochland develops in an orderly manner.

Ideally, the Planning Commissioners tweak zoning change applications to accommodate public sentiment and common sense to ensure a positive result for all concerned.

For the past few years, the Commission pretty much wandered in the wilderness searching in vain for its purpose. A good example of this was its public hearing on a zoning ordinance change application to allow apartments on a morsel of land in West Creek.

The Commission’s task was to make recommendations on the suitability of the proposed change. As the apartments would be the catalyst for construction of the first internal road in West Creek off of Broad Street Road, approval seemed like a no brainer. In addition to many stringent design and other conditions included in the application, the project may also bring a traffic signal at its entrance.

However, the Commission veered from its task of addressing the suitability of the proposed land use to worrying that the county would be unable to bear the fiscal burden of several hundred apartments that might swell the school population. That’s not the job of the Planning Commission. It’s up to the supervisors to deal with the consequences of development.

In February, the Commission took up a CUP application about a McDonald’s on an out parcel of the Broadview Shopping Center on the corner of St. Matthew’s Lane and Broad Street Road.

The Commission spent way too much time discussing the design of the proposed restaurant and its placement on the lot. The Commission did recommend that McDonald’s toss $10,000 into the pot for a badly needed traffic signal at Hockett/St. Matthew’s Lane and Broad Street Road. Unfortunately VDOT—the state agency whose motto is “Oops!”—still does not support the traffic signal.

There was a great deal of discussion about wanting a building with something other than a flat roof. A glance at the aerial photograph included in the packet, makes it quite clear that many buildings in Centerville have flat roofs. Be that as it may, the Design Review Committee is charged with addressing aesthetic concerns of construction in overlay districts like Centerville, not the Planning Commission.

Hopefully, the streamlined Planning Commission will avoid the practice of its predecessors in advancing personal agendas, as was quite obvious during the Orapax and Benedictine hearings.

The new Commissioners are a fine group of intelligent, engaged citizens.  To do the best job, they need more familiarity with land use concepts and applicable laws. They also need to be mindful that the most important part of their task is to find the delicate balance between property rights and public good.

It is important that every district be represented in land use discussions.  Past Planning Commissions strove for perfect attendance. That has fallen off in the past few years to the detriment of the community and the process.

Change is in the air for Goochland in the coming years. A competent, committed Planning Commission is vital to ensure that those changes are positive and not haphazard.




Friday, March 1, 2013

Nurturing a champion

Raw talent is but one ingredient needed to make a champion. Discipline, hard work, and personal integrity are vital components of a successful athlete.

Richard and Kathy Verlander, parents of Justin Verlander, ace pitcher for the Detroit Tigers, will discuss their experiences as baseball parents and their 2012 book "Rocks across the pond, lessons learned, stories told" on Sunday March 3, 2013, at the Goochland Branch Library, 3075 River Road West in Courthouse Village. The event, sponsored by Friends of the Goochland Branch Library, will begin at 3 p.m. Refreshments will be served.

Justin, who graduated from Goochland High School and Old Dominion University, won the American League pitching crown in 2011 and the Cy Young Award. He has an impressive record in his professional baseball career and just turned 30.

Justin's success was no happy accident. Come learn about what it't like to raise a champion.