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.

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