Sunday, May 26, 2013

Looking down the road

On Tuesday, May 14, about 300 people gathered at VCU’s Stuart C. Seigel Center to participate in Reality Check RVA, to brainstorm about growth in the Richmond Region. Reality Check, organized by the Richmond Chapter of the Urban Land Institute (ULI,) was described as an exercise to envision the region’s economic development and community growth

The region is comprised of the City of Richmond, town of Ashland and counties of Chesterfield, Goochland, Hanover, Henrico and New Kent. Its population is expected to add 450,000 people by 2035. According to the United States Department of the Census, this influx will be driven by job creation and a general southward demographic shift.

The goal of Reality Check, billed as a game, was to bring people from all parts of the region with difference perspectives about land use together and let them speculate about where the new jobs and homes fit best.

Attendees, called players, included elected officials; planning staff; representatives of non-profit agencies and ordinary citizens. Players from Goochland included: District 2 Supervisor Manuel Alvarez, Jr.; Dan Schardein, deputy county administrator for community development; Tom Coleman, principal planner; Sally Graham, executive director of Goochland Free Clinic and Family Services; Ed Lawton of the Goochland Chamber of Commerce Board; and GOMM.

Following introductory remarks, the players took seats at one of 30 ten chair tables covered with a large map of the region. The maps were laid out in a half mile grid with current land use depicted by various colors. No jurisdictional boundaries were depicted.

Before getting down to the nitty gritty of placing news jobs and homes on the map using Lego blocks, each table came up with a set of guiding principles. These tended to be universal “feel goods” like protecting the James River and encouraging diverse communities with people of all ages, socio-economic levels and so on.

Then, the players shaped their version of the region’s future growth.

Residential units were represented by either tan for medium density (80 to 240 units per half square mile, about three quarter of a house per acre) or yellow (between 320 and 960 units per half mile) but stacked, their numbers multiplied. For instance, a stack of 12 yellows could represent as many as 8,000 residential units per half square mile, or 25 per acre, approximately the density of West Broad Village.

Jobs, represented by blue blocks, were tucked in areas where players believed supporting infrastructure exists and can be easily expanded. No differentiation was made among types of jobs.

At the end of the exercise, each block was entered into a specially designed GIS database by map square. Complete tabulation of all of the results will take a while, but an initial compilation indicated that the players kept the majority of housing and jobs in the center of the region, roughly inside the Interstate 295 Route 288 ring. Even though this was a “vision” exercise, the players acknowledged that jobs and homes tend to follow supporting infrastructure.

In addition to housing and job blocks, players had blue yarn to indicate rail transportation and orange yarn to show new roads. Some of the players put blue yarn along existing railroad tracks, which could ease construction of light rail. Some Goochland players tucked a tiny piece of orange yarn over Tuckahoe Creek to depict a badly needed bridge to connect western Henrico and Rt. 288 in West Creek.

Goochland’s population is expected to increase, perhaps to 50,000 by 2035. That’s a little more than twice the current 21,000. Most of the residential growth will be east of Manakin Road, with some around Courthouse Village and perhaps in nodes near I-64 exchanges. We need to take these projections with a grain of salt. Several decades ago, Goochland’s population was projected to be 35,000 by 2000.

Discussion about the wonders of rail transit ignored the fact that, unless all users live above rail stations, they will still need to use a car to get to the train!

Granted, Reality Check was a broad “visioning” exercise, but the devil is in the details. Instead of building light rail, which is expensive and unable to respond rapidly to changes in development patterns, buses powered by natural gas present a more cost effective and flexible manner of providing mass transit.

High speed rail between Richmond and Washington will result in the region becoming the latest outlying suburb of the Nation’s Capital. Do we really want that? Beefed up rail between Richmond and Virginia Beach sounds great to anyone caught in tunnel traffic. Who’s going to take a bunch of kids to the beach for a week on the train?

Generic jobs, as used in Reality Check, are very different from real jobs. No mention was made of the impact of the new 460 express route from Norfolk to I-95 on the region. This road already in the works will bring lots of opportunities for logistics-type businesses, and their jobs, to locate in the interstate corridors. It’s no accident that Amazon recently built two large distribution centers there. Expect more to follow.

The afternoon keynote speaker spent a good bit of his rambling buzzword-laden speech discussing ways to attract the millennials, their creativity, and high salaries to the region.

Right now, the millennials seek cool urban settings with lots of unique restaurants, festivals, and walkability.  Places like West Broad Village are their preferred habitat.

Will that change as they move through life? Remember how the Boomers started the urban pioneer movement by rehabbing decayed city housing? When their kids started school, they morphed into their parents and headed for the suburbs.

Given the emphasis placed on the younger, connected generation, it was surprising that little mention was made of possible changes that technology could bring to the world in the next 20 years. Remember that two decades ago, the internet seemed like science fiction. Maybe in the future, everybody won’t go to a central work location every day.

We also have little idea who these millennials will bring with them. Can we expect their parents to follow them to be close to grandchildren? Will their love of unique restaurants spawn a boom in neighborhood eateries that employ chefs, wait staffs and so on?

What about their kids? Will they go to public schools or private? Will they be warehoused in daycare or go everywhere with the ‘rents?

Perhaps the real goal of reality check was to get players thinking about everything that goes into ensuring that our region grows in a mutually beneficial and healthy manner. That’s a good thing.

It’s past time for places like Goochland to add some sort of mixed use zoning options to their land use toolbox. (See for details)

A graph showing the percentage of people who live and work in the same jurisdiction indicated that folks in the region commute. Henrico was the highest with 41 percent of residents who live and work in the same place. In the Richmond region, housing choices range from farms to high rise with reasonable commutes, which seems to say that we like options.

Reality Check provided no new information about the future. We know the region will grow, but we have little information on exactly who is coming.

Participation in Reality Check is the latest indication that Goochland has an interest, and a voice, albeit a small one, in the workings of the Richmond Region.

Going forward, the county’s task is to decide how best Goochland can benefit from the changes and implement proactive policies to ensure that growth is appropriate rather than overwhelming.
One map of the future. Notice the orange yarn over Tuckahoe Creek.



Wednesday, May 15, 2013

The blindfold

The latest episode in the never ending soap opera As the Abbey Turns unfolded as Goochland’s Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA) met Monday May 13 to hear arguments concerning its jurisdiction to hear an appeal of a plan of development filed by opponents of the relocation of Benedictine High School to property on the south side of River Road adjacent to Rt. 288. At issue is also whether the appellants, neighbors of the subject property, have any standing to file an appeal.

Regardless of the outcome of the latest salvo in the battle to prevent the relocation of the century old educational institution, the lawyers will win.

Following about 90 minutes of mind numbing arguments about exactly what laws governing the situation mean, rather than what they say, the BZA met with its counsel in closed session for a bit more than an hour. Returning to open session, all four BZA members—there is a vacancy for the District 5 representative—approved a motion to reconvene on June 17 at 5 p.m. to hear specifics of the appeal, deferring a decision on standing and jurisdiction.

At an April 29 organizational meeting, BZA members decided to hear the arguments for jurisdiction and standing separately from specifics to avoid the expense of preparing briefs that might not be needed.

After the first round, however, the BZA may well have determined that the particulars in the argument could play a part in standing and jurisdiction determinations and opted to hear the whole thing.

The appellants’ contentions include allegations that the county failed to investigate the downstream impact of storm water runoff from anticipated road improvements. They believe that the increased force of the runoff will damage their property.

Land use disputes are often emotional and complex, and this case is no exception. The citizens who comprise the BZA: Dr. Richard Carchman, District 1; chair Chris Williams, District 2; Dr. Harriet “Dee” Phillips, District 3; and Yasmine Hamad, District 4 seem intent on making a sound decision based on facts.

Hamad pointed out that “not everyone is always happy with the outcome of land use decisions. The ultimate remedy is at the polls.” She also asked for case law from other jurisdictions in similar situations. “I want to be able to hear both sides to offer a fair opinion,” she said.

Attorneys for Benedictine and the county contended that the appellants, neighbors of the property, have no standing to appeal approval of a plan of development because they are not aggrieved parties.

Pat McSweeney, counsel for the appellants, argued that the appeal is the only route open to the neighbors to challenge the zoning decision. (In January 2012, Goochland Circuit Court Judge Timothy K. Sanner dismissed a challenge to the granting of a conditional use permit for operation of the school on the grounds that there were no injured parties.)

There were also differing opinions if appropriate filing deadlines and fee payments were met.

Darvin Satterwhite, representing Benedictine in the matter contended that McSweeney’s argument disagreed with decisions handed down by the Virginia Supreme Court. McSweeney rebutted arguments about specific code sections by stating “… that can’t be what the General Assembly intended.”

So, will this latest maneuver prevent Benedictine from opening at the start of the next school year? Will this appeal prevent the county from issuing a certificate of occupancy? Stay tuned for the next episode.







Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Movin' on down the highway

In Goochland, transportation means roads. At their May 7 meeting, county supervisors spent a good bit of time discussing them.

Before moving to an informal workshop format, the Board heard a presentation from Matt Ryan, director of economic development. He is diligently working to encourage location of the possible children’s hospital in eastern Goochland, probably West Creek. With its excellent road access, and lots of room for expansion, this seems to be the ideal place for a medical facility to serve the entire region.

Ryan also discussed the new economic development website designed to provide information about doing business in Goochland.

Some sort of economic development session including the school board, supervisors, EDA, and other interested parties to promote Goochland is planned later in the year. An offshoot of the emphasis on economic development will be an initiative to change the incorrect generally negative perception of county schools.

Speaking of education, the Board appointed superintendent of schools Dr. James Lane as the county’s representative on the board of J. Sergeant Reynolds Community College. This will strengthen the relationship between JSRCC and our schools. Let’s just hope that Lane finds time to sleep.

The supervisors also unanimously approved contract amendments—read raises--for County Administrator Rebecca Dickson and County Attorney Norman Sales. The money for these salary enhancements was included in the recently approved budget for fiscal year 2014, which begins on July 1.

A public hearing on rezoning applications for land in the extreme northeastern part of the county was deferred until July to allow concerns about a relevant connection fee agreement to be ironed out. Good move, but this matter should have been addressed before it got to the planning commission stage.

During the evening session the Board approved a conditional use permit for the gunsmith on Fairground Road and another CUP for Field Day of the Past. “This is Goochland,” said Board Chair Ken Peterson District 5 during a brief discussion of the item.

The Board also passed an amendment to the county code regarding plan of development. (For details, please see the board packet located on the supervisors’ tab of the county website,

A rezoning application to divide one lot in the Granite Trace subdivision in two was deferred to permit further discussions with the landowners concerning proffer implications of the split.

Connie Reid, who has served Goochland in many capacities including the Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) and the Christmas Mother program, was recognized for her dedication to the community.

But roads, specifically money to improve them, consumed their attention.

First up was discussion of a Transportation Alternatives Program grant “opportunity.”  This involves federal money allocated to the Richmond region as part of a grant program. The deadline for applications was May 10, three days after the board meeting.

After lengthy discussions about what sort of projects these funds might be used for, including street lights in Centerville, the supervisors decided to pass on the opportunity. Susan Lascollette District 1 was concerned that there was too little information on which to base a sound decision and that the county might find itself obligated to provide matching funds down the way and suggested taking pass on this money. After thoughtful discussion, the rest of the board worked toward consensus and concurred.

The supervisors also asked that a list of projects that would qualify for similar opportunities in the future be compiled to enable the county to pursue federal grant dollars. Dickson indicated that similar programs may be available in coming years with greater notification before filing deadlines.

A continuation of the discussion of the projects to be advertised for public hearing on the county’s secondary six year road plan ensued.

Don’t get excited about this. The SSYRP could almost be called the “never never.” Each year, VDOT allocates the county a certain amount of money to improve secondary roads. As this amount is rather small, $63,781, the county accumulates the funds over several years until it has enough to fund a specific project. Often, the cost of making the improvements rises faster than the allocations pile up and little gets done.

Currently, there is about $700,000 available for road projects.

Presented with a list of proposed projects, the supervisors decided to advertise all of them for public hearing and make their finals decision after hearing what citizens have to say on the matter. Rural road improvements will be dealt with separately as more data was needed.

Selection criteria are based on safety needs and economic development impact. The projects under consideration include: improving Fairground Road from Sandy Hook Road to Route 250; improving the Sandy Hook/Fairground Road intersection, perhaps with a roundabout; extending Fairground Road to intersect with Route 6 west of Courthouse Village; realign Hockett Road as an extension of Ashland Road(they both have the same route number)removing the need for a traffic signal at Rt. 250; fund a safety and capacity study of Patterson Avenue essentially from the Henrico County line to Pagebrook and perhaps fund a traffic light to improve safety there.

The county probably needs all of those improvements, but, right now, there is not enough money.  The supervisors can only set priorities and hope for the best. Mike Cade, Administrator for the VDOT Ashland Residency, said that he does not yet know how much of the new road money resulting from the transportation tax increase, which starts July 1, will trickle down to Goochland.

While it does seem that road improvements take forever, some so eventually get finished, like the long awaited widening in Centerville and the just opened turn lane at Fairground Road and Rt. 250.

They also discussed the steps needed to reduce the speed limit on Rt. 250 between Ashland and Manakin Road to help create a village ambiance, and, at the same time create bike lanes.

Cade said that the new, wider lanes in Centerville are wide enough to accommodate a bike lane. He suggested striping the road, at minimal cost, to see if that reduces the speed of traffic by suggestion.








Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Location, location, location

The May 2 meeting of the Goochland County Planning Commission was devoid of the drama that plagued these sessions in recent months. This could be due to its current members—all appointed by the sitting supervisors—or the items on the agenda.

Some were:

A conditional use permit application was filed by Tamra and Douglas Adams for their 126 acre property at the corner of Fairgrounds Road and Route 250. They plan to host weddings; establish an equestrian facility and bed and breakfast; and expand the existing Montessori school located there.

Designated a rural enhancement area, the proposed uses are ideal for this location. Unlike the change in use of Dover Hall on Manakin Road to a commercial event venue, whose public hearing drew many irate neighbors, there was no opposition to the Adams’ proposal.

According to environmental planner Leigh Dunn, who made the staff presentation on the matter, the property has been the site of wedding and similar events for the past few years without the blessing of the county. No complaints of any sort have been made by its neighbors about these activities.

As the property currently has limited septic capacity porta- potties are required for larger gatherings. Health department and other code requirements must be observed. Dunn said that some additional parking spaces will be created. Outdoor activities will cease at 11 p.m. and no fireworks will be allowed. Open air music will be “aimed” away from neighboring homes. Other requirements will be dealt with by staff in the plan of development process.

The Commissioners voted unanimously to approve this CUP for a ten year period.

Pouncey Tract Partners filed an application to rezone 49 acres in the extreme northeast corner of Goochland to residential planned unit development (RPUD) from its current zoning, which includes M-1, B-1 and A-2. The intent is to build no more than 124 homes that target the 55 plus age group.

Scott Gaeser, managing partner of the applicant, contended that, although the county’s current comprehensive land use plan designates this area for commercial and industrial use, the market disagrees.

The only new construction there was the Aw Shucks complex about two years ago, which also extended the Tuckahoe Creek water and sewer lines to the edge of the TCSD.

Meanwhile, across the county borders in both Henrico and Hanover, residential development oozes westward. Gaeser said that it is time for Goochland’s comp plan to reflect the reality of the ground—that the northwest corner is best suited for homes rather than industry.

Gaeser explained that the homes will be built in the woods with commercial uses nearby. They will be energy efficient and include exterior maintenance.

Located near a rock quarry, the new community, the Parke at Pouncey Tract, will provide full disclosure of that fact in all of its marketing and closing documents. This should prevent homeowners from complaining about the occasional blasting that is part of the quarry mining operation, as happened with buyers of high end homes nearby in Henrico. (Did those people really never wonder where all those gravel-filled dump trucks driving along Pouncey Tract Road came from?)

The application included cash proffers of $3,473 per unit, with no contribution for schools or roads. Gaeser contended that very few children will live in the proposed community, even though state law requires that a percentage of the homes be available without age restrictions.

“No one moves to that part of Goochland to put their kids in school with a new Henrico elementary school a mile down the road,” he said.

Improvements already made to Pouncey Tract Road near Aw Shucks and interior roads built for the residential development will provide more transportation benefits to the county than a cash payment, Gaeser contended.

In the middle of the staff presentation, additional proffers were distributed to the Commissioners by principal planner Tom Coleman. This action harkens back to the bad old days when land use proffers were written on the fly during meetings so that the commissioners, and public, had no time to review them before voting.

Joe Andrews, District 4, requested a deadline for proffer submissions so they can be read and understood by the Commissioners before public hearings. In his latest arrogant disregard, Coleman said that the new proffers had been received two days before the meeting and had not been included in the packet. Andrews declared that it is not “asking too much to have them included in the packet.”

Duncan Van Ness, a principal in the group that developed the Aw Shucks property, spoke in support of Gaeser’s application. He is party to the agreement that paid to extend TCSD utility lines to POuncey Tract Road in return for the first nine commercial connection fees. Van Ness contended that the change to residential connection fees would reduce his reimbursement for extending the utility lines by about half a million dollars.

Gaeser said that he was not involved in that agreement. However, he said that the portion of the subject property that will remain in commercial use contains up to 14 parcels, which could enable Van Ness to recoup his investment.

The Commission agreed that the utility connection agreement was outside of its purview and voted unanimously to recommend approval of the rezoning.

The real question here is why was this matter even brought up to the planning commission? The connection fee agreement involved the county, Van Ness, and the Economic Development Authority. County staff should have dealt with this in another venue rather than leave him no option but to ask the question during a zoning hearing.

It will be interesting to see how the supervisors deal with this proposal. If they agree to the residential rezoning in an area designated for business and industrial use will it open the flood gates for home building and reduce business opportunities in the TCSD? Homes cost the county far more in services than they generate in tax revenue, unlike land used for business or agricultural purposes.

If the supervisors decline to approve the change will this corner of the county continue to lie fallow? If the proposal is rejected could the transition to residential use threaten future commercial or industrial uses there?

Then, there is the proffer question. Will the supervisors insist on the full cash proffer for every rezoned residential lot even though few children are expected to be added to the school population?

According to Gaeser, the other three Parke communities in the county, although not age restricted, have added very few children to the school system, yet paid full cash proffers.

The more than 300 upscale apartments currently under construction in West Creek are not assessed cash proffers because the land was rezoned before the cash proffer policy was established. Few children are expected to live there.

Sometime in the not too distant future, Goochland needs to build an elementary school in the eastern part of the county. The existing elementary schools, all built around a half century ago, also need to be replaced or seriously renovated. Cash proffers, which generate $7,040 per residential building permit, are a small fraction of the cost of building a school.

Currently, there is much discussion in the region about cash proffers. Some contend that they are needed to help defray infrastructure cost of new residential development. Others believe that they only make homes more expensive. Henrico does not use cash proffers; schools and public libraries seem to pop out of the ground there like mushroom after a spring rain.

A review of the cash proffer policy is in order especially with regard to the creation of multi-family zoning categories. Luxury apartments may not generate many school children, but town houses, for instance, will.









Thursday, May 2, 2013

Citizens at work

Goochland County’s Board of Zoning appeals, a quasi-judicial entity that addresses land use issues, has been dormant for almost three years.

The Code of Goochland states that the purpose of the BZA is “To hear and decide appeals of administrative decisions made pursuant to the Zoning Ordinance; hear and decide upon applications for special permits and variances authorized by the Zoning Ordinance; and hear and decide applications for interpretation of the Zoning Map where there is uncertainty as to the location of a zoning district boundary.”

An appeal filed recently by neighbors of the Mary Mother of the Church Abbey on River Road over the approval of the plan of development will be heard by the BZA on May 13 at 3 p.m. in the board meeting room.

An organizational meeting of the BZA, currently comprised of Dr. Richard Carchman, District 1; Chris Williams, District 2; Dr. Harriet “Dee” Phillips, District 3; and the newest member, Yasmine Hamad, District 4 was held on April 29.

The District 5 seat has been for more than a year. The last time a bitterly contentious matter—the Orapax sporting clays course—was before the BZA, a tie vote upheld the county position. Although there were five BZA members at that time, the vote on the matter occurred in 2007, when one was out of town on a previously scheduled trip. This gave the appearance that the county manipulated the proceedings to ensure its desired outcome.

The supervisors are aware of the vacancy, according to County Attorney Norman Sales, who attended the meeting. He explained that the Board is shifting to at-large appointments to boards and commissions to increase the pool of eligible candidates.

Although Goochland customarily filled these bodies by District, there is no legal requirement to do so. The supervisors want to appoint alternate BZA members to ensure full representation at all hearings. An ordinance to make this possible is in the works. As the current board came into office knowing it faced several contentious land use matters, this vacancy is doubly troubling.

Members of the BZA are recommended by the Board of Supervisors and appointed by the Circuit Court. As all of the judges in the 16th Judicial Circuit must approve the appointments, there is no time to seat a new member before the next BZA hearing on May 13.

Carchman raised concerns about the “optics” of a BZA hearing a case with no member from the District directly affected.

Also present at the April 29 meeting was Maynard Sipe a Charlottesville attorney retained by the county to represent the BZA in its current case. As the county has taken the position that the applicants have no standing and the BZA no jurisdiction over the matter, impartial counsel will help ensure that the BZA make an impartial ruling on the legal merits of the issue.

The relocation of Benedictine College Preparatory School (BCP) from its current facility on Shepherd Street in Richmond to the River Road site has been bitterly contested by neighboring property owners and some alumni for several years. In December, 2011, the previous board of supervisors voted to grant a conditional use permit to allow the move. Opponents filed suit against the CUP in Goochland Circuit Court, which was dismissed by Judge Timothy K. Sanner as premature.

In the interim, BCP and the County have wrangled over road access and other issues, which slowed the move of the school to Goochland. Late last year, BCP purchased additional property to comply with road issues.
At the  May 13 hearing, the BZA will take up the issues of its jurisdiction over the appeal and the standing of the applicants to make the appeal in the first place. Should the issue go forward, a subsequent hearing on the facts in the case is tentatively scheduled for June 17.

The BZA tweaked its by-laws to include precise deadlines for submission of briefs and exhibits.  It also clarified that the “clock” to appeal a decision starts when the vote is taken.

As the BZA is a quasi-judicial body, its hearings are more akin to court cases than public hearings. Only specific witnesses may speak and give testimony under oath. These are serious proceedings.

The BZA, which has the power to control its own processes and procedures, reserved the right to defer a vote after a hearing to permit members time to digest the information presented and confer with counsel before making a decision. This will help to ensure that rulings are based on applicable laws in an impartial manner independent of the county.

Shenanigans in the 2007 BZA Orapax hearings had fearful implications for every landowner in Goochland. If BZA rulings are not fair and impartial, none of us is safe from the predations of local government.