Friday, June 21, 2013

Stuff to do close to home

June 21-23—summer has arrived bring with it seasonal activities in Goochland Courthouse.

The Farmers Market sponsored by the Center for Rural Culture will offer fresh, locally grown produce from 8 until noon on the grounds of Grace Church at 2955 River Road West, roughly opposite the courthouse complex.

Goochland’s own ham radio operators, known formally as ARES (amateur radio emergency service) will hold its annual field day exercise at the Company 5 fire-rescue station on Fairground Road near the Food Lion.

Although the concept of using ham radios for communication seems quaint in our hyper connected world, when the cell towers go down and power fails, ham operators are able to keep the lines of communication open with very basic equipment.

During the field day exercise, our local amateur radio buffs will try to establish contact with as many other radio operators as possible from all over the country and world. Points are awarded for contacts and visits from members of the community. Stop by and learn how they operate.

The 2013 James River Bateau Festival concludes at Maidens Landing, just over the bridge in Powhatan, in the afternoon. The river is high this year, so the trip from Cartersville, the last overnight stop between Lynchburg and Maidens, should be faster than in years of low water. As the bateaux travel on river time, there is no arrival schedule; leave your watch at home and enjoy the day.

Even before the boats arrive a variety of interesting activities are available at the landing.




Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Wasted dollars

There was an election last Tuesday. Did you notice? The Democrats held a primary to select candidates for the November elections. Regardless of your party affiliation, or lack thereof, you paid for it.

According to Goochland County Registrar Frances C. Ragland, the election cost the county $15,562.98.  That breaks down to $38.05 for each of the 409 ballots cast. 

This is shameful.  Both parties are accountable for this sorry state of affairs. There is no reason why political parties cannot run their own elections. To make things even more absurd, Virginia has open primaries, which means that any registered voter can vote in any election, which only provides opportunities for mischief. In the 2007 republican state senate primary, lots of democrats probably voted for incumbent Walter Stosch.  In the 2008 Democratic presidential primary, republicans are believed to have cast ballots for Hilary Clinton.

Surely, the parties can figure out how to select candidates without dipping into public funds. In 2001, republicans in the 56th district held “firehouse primaries” to choose a candidate for delegate.

The ballots were counted by trusted party members overseen by representatives of each candidate. It was a fair and open process with a minimal cost. It also provided an additional opportunity for party members to be engaged in meaningful political activity.

The General Assembly refuses to change this policy. The parties would rather use their money for annoying television commercials, tree killing mailings and endless robo-calls than funding primary elections.

Goochland, like other localities, can find better things to do with $15,562.98 than pay for partisan elections.  It would be nice to be able to keep the convenience centers open seven days a week; shorten the replacement cycle for sheriff vehicles and school buses; or hire more teachers.  Those items have meaning to the life of the community. Partisan elections do not.

The General Assembly repeatedly derails efforts to remedy this issue, yet it has time to pass massive transportation tax increases without first fixing VDOT.  Forcing localities to foot the bill for partisan primaries is a glaring example of an unfunded state mandate.

Virginia is a Dillon Rule state--localities have only the powers that the state gives them—so the only way out of this mess is to tell our legislators that political parties should pay for their own elections.

Goochland County is represented in the Virginia House of Delegates by Lee Ware, and Peter Farrell Our State Senator is Tom Garrett Visit to see the entire list.

If our political parties are not sufficiently trustworthy to devise fair mechanisms for candidate selection, they have no business participating in the political process.






Friday, June 14, 2013

Baiting the hook

So far, the crowning achievement of the supervisors has been reshaping the Tuckahoe Creek Service District debt. They’ve also collaborated with the school board and county staff to keep things running without raising taxes.

Since taking office about eighteen months ago, Goochland’s Supervisors have worked hard to create an environment conducive to economic development. New business in the county, especially in the TCSD, is vital to keep Goochland’s head above water.

Some of these steps, like hiring an enthusiastic and upbeat Director of Economic Development in the person of Matt Ryan, were obvious.

Others are more subtle. The supervisors and county staff have talked to major landowners and developers who have expressed interest in Goochland. More importantly, they listened to the concerns of those frustrated over the years by the actions, or lack thereof, by the previous regime. The slogan “Goochland is open for business” must be backed up with meaningful action and a sea change in attitude.

There seem to be lots of development fish in the water, but how do we get them to bite here?

Given Centerville’s location in the path of westward growth from Short Pump, and as a part of the TCSD with roads and utilities in place, it is the primary focus of the current economic development campaign. Courthouse Village and Oilville are also targeted for development, but have far less development potential in the immediate future.

We still don’t know what Centerville wants to be when it grows up. An answer to that question could simplify economic development.

In the short run, retail and restaurant outlets are moving in, but other kinds of businesses would provide a wider commercial base. Perhaps it needs a new name. There is a Centreville in Northern Virginia. (Also, Manakin Sabot is a zip code, not a place. The county needs to ban naming anything else “Manakin” located outside the Route 6 corridor east of Route 621. It will only lead to confusion.)

The Centerville overlay district--the area subject to design criteria--now includes most parcels of land that front on Plaza Drive, Broad Street, and Ashland Roads. The supervisors unanimously approved, with little discussion and no public comment, new development standards on June 4.

Conspiracy theorists wonder if the supervisors purposely began the public hearing on this matter well after 10 p.m. to discourage citizen input. However, there were several community meetings on the subject that drew the usual suspects. Not that many people seem to care about the nuts and bolts of site design.

They just want viable businesses that are reasonably attractive and put revenue in the county’s coffers to keep property tax rates under control.

(See the Board packet at for details.) These standards address building materials; site design; lighting; storm water management; and landscaping.

Although the new McDonald’s was approved before the more stringent standards were added to county zoning law, Leigh Dunn, Environmental Planner, said that the fast food outlet is in compliance with the new rules.

An additional, perhaps more important, action taken by the   supervisors on June 4 was elimination of the Design Review Committee (DRC) input on all new construction. Instead, the Department of Community Development staff, comprised mostly of people who live elsewhere, will ensure objective adherence to the development standards.

Dunn told the supervisors before they voted on the change that she understood that several applications would be filed the next day if the DRC was defanged. Going forward, the DRC, which now consists of three members who may not be planning commissioners, will deal with appeals to staff decisions. Rulings of the DRC may be appealed to the supervisors.

For years, land owners have complained about the arbitrary nature of DRC rulings. At least one business abandoned plans to build in Courthouse Village when the DRC insisted it tone down its signature colors. A Peace Palace, which was planned for a parcel in “Manakintowne,” grappled with the DRC for about a year before obtaining approval, but never followed through on construction. On the up side, the Hardee’s in Courthouse Village agreed to upgrade its building materials as did the renovations of the former Town and Country Market site.

The Acme Stove Company was subject to a DRC hearing, which resulted in muting the exterior color from a proposed bright yellow.

Perhaps the new rules on Broad Street will stir development in the area. As property values rise, market forces should encourage improvements to the benefit of all concerned. If property values rise enough, some derelict structures might be demolished and replaced with new construction.

We need to commend and encourage the businesses that took a chance on Goochland, came to Centerville, and put up with all the government aggravation over the years. They stayed and paid taxes when it might have been more advantageous for them to leave.

The next step in the process is creation of new zoning categories, including our version of mixed use, to finish baiting the economic development hook. A combination of big and little fish in the county’s creel will ensure economic stability in the long run.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Trash update

Goochland’s central convenience center off of Fairground Road will soon have a new look. When delivering your solid waste, AKA trash, you may have noticed signs announcing forthcoming improvements.

County Administrator Rebecca Dickson, with the help of David Lloyd, who oversees the county’s convenience centers, explained the upgrade to the Supervisors at their June 4 meeting.

As part of a newly renegotiated contract with the Central Virginia Waste Management Authority, approximately $340,000 worth of improvements will be made to the Fairground Road facility in the next 60 days or so.

Traffic flow at the site will be improved by having both an entrance and exit.  The little building currently located in the center of the site will be removed. Three additional compactor stations will be added to reduce waiting time. Areas designated for recycling will be easier to access. Deposit stations for hazardous items like old paint will be easier to find. These improvements will make trash runs more efficient for citizens.

Lloyd explained that little had been done to the central convenience center in about two decades.

The best news is that, even with the upgrade costs, the county will realize a $100,000 annual reduction in its solid waste contract expense. Over the ten year life of the contract, the county will save $1 million.

Goochland has two convenience centers, the other located on Hadensville-Fife Road, north of Whitehall Road.

Seeking ways to cut the cost of services, the county closed the Central Convenience Center on Thursdays and the western facility on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. These days were selected because they had the least “business.” The closure policy is not expected to change. Tipping fees, charges to use the convenience center, do not seem to have been considered by the supervisors as a part of their budget deliberations.

Additional drop off stations and better traffic flow will make trash runs easier.

For a schematic of the proposed changes and details of the contract—posted in its entirety—see pages 125-142 of the June 4 board packet available on the county website:

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Apples and pineapples

Goochland’s Board of Supervisors spent an inordinately long time grappling with the details of a conditional use application at their Tuesday, June 4 meeting. This indicates that the Board does not make decisions in advance of meetings and agree on everything.

The CUP application was filed by Tamra and Douglas Adams to allow them continue holding barn weddings.

The property in question, at the southwest corner of the Broad Street/Fairground Road intersection, is more than 100 acres in size. A good portion of the surrounding land, including South Ceres Farm on the north side of Broad Street Road, which is also owned by the couple, is undeveloped.

Tamra Adams and her family live in a home on the property, which is also the site of the Adams International Montessori School. She explained that the proceeds of the weddings help to underwrite the cost of running the school.

A rustic barn on the property is used to hold weddings. Adams characterized these events as modest, generally celebrating the nuptials of couples of humble means. Some of her brides, said Adams, bake their own wedding cakes.

The supervisors, however, while seeking the admirable goal of fairness and consistency, insisted on equating barn weddings, held as a sideline to a small school, to those held at Dover Hall, which is now a commercial event venue.

That’s a little like comparing delicious apples to pineapples.

Like Dover Hall, Adams’ property will host, from time to time, larger events in support of non-profit organizations. These affairs can showcase the best of Goochland to outsiders, who just might be interested in doing business here.

Adams reminded the supervisors that South Ceres hosted an annual polo match that drew thousands of people with little heartburn. (A CUP application for that property is expected to be filed in the coming months.)

Nevertheless, the supervisors plowed on, seeking ways to impose the same restrictions on the Adams’ property as Dover Hall in the name of fairness and consistency.

Concerns about traffic were raised. One speaker complained about the addition of more cars to rush hour traffic. Adams said that no one gets married at eight on a weekday morning.

The CUP for the school, whose students consistently achieve academic mastery beyond their traditional grade levels, includes specific attendance thresholds that will require upgrading of the septic system, parking and road improvements.

The supervisors acted as though there were unfamiliar with the property, even though they all attended a political function in the school barn just before the November, 2011 election. A lot of people attended that event. Alcohol was served. There were no issues of any sort. That was all done without benefit of a CUP, a uniformed security guard, or any other restrictions.

While many people disparage the CUP concept as spot zoning, it does provide a mechanism for the supervisors to determine if the proposed use is appropriate for a particular property. Goochland is a land of contrasts, and one size does not fit all. Also, a CUP can be revoked if a property owner fails to comply with the conditions.

Environmental Planner Leigh Dunn, the staff member presenting the application, reported that in the four years that weddings have been held on the Adams property, there were no complaints. Mention was made of a complaint about loud music over Memorial Day weekend, but there is some doubt that the music originated from the subject site.

Susan Lascolette District 1 was the most concerned about inconsistencies between the Dover Hall CUP and that requested by Adams, specifically requirements to have uniformed security on hand and limiting the number of attendees.

Chairman Ken Peterson District 5 explained that the Board’s challenge is to balance the competing interests of property owners, neighbors and the needs of the business in question. Adams explained that she has many wedding scheduled for the rest of the year and delay in approval of the CUP will cause hardship.

Adams contended that she is very supportive of the county and would like a little support in return.

Lascolette contended that imposing different conditions on the Adams property versus Dover Hall gives one venue an advantage over the other. Her intentions are good, but it is really hard to believe that both sites will compete for the same clients.

Adams contended that Dover Hall and her property were quite dissimilar and should be treated differently. Her weddings are low key and rustic, while, well, some folks refer to Dover Hall as a castle. Because of limited septic capacity, all barn weddings are required to supply porta-potties for their guests. In contrast, Dover Hall has dozens of bathrooms and a ballroom. Dover Hall is on a narrow winding road, the Adams property is on the main drag and very close to Interstate 64.

Ned Creasey, District 3, who disclosed that his granddaughter’s wedding was recently held at the Adams’ property, said that his main concern was traffic.

Manuel Alvarez District 2 explained that his “gut feeling” was that the conditions imposed on Dover Hall were too strict.

Bob Minnick District 4, whose territory includes both Dover Hall and the Adams property, suggested that the road access to both properties and intensity of events hosted by these venues is not comparable. The uniformed security requirement, he said, may have been offered by Dover Hall, rather than imposed by the county.

Events with more than 250 attendees with alcohol, 500 without alcohol, require a large crowd permit above and beyond the CUP that addresses traffic issues.

Just after 10 p.m. the Supervisors finally came to consensus on conditions which include: outdoor amplified music will be allowed only on Friday, Saturday and Sunday until 7 p.m. and will be oriented away from the homes to the south of the property; events with more than 150 guests that include amplified music and alcohol will require uniformed security; and the overall attendance limit will be 700.

Peterson contended that these conditions while a bit more liberal than those imposed on Dover Hall, are appropriate because the 131 acre Adams property is much larger than Dover Hall and located on a main road.

The Adams property shows great promise for uses far more innovative and beneficial to the county than more homes or stores. While it is prudent for the supervisors to impose conditions that safeguard the health, safety, and welfare of the community they should not smother the venture with excessive regulation.