White smoke did not emanate from the board meeting room on August 26, but the Goochland Board of Zoning Appeals finally ruled on an appeal to the Benedictine College Preparatory (BCP) School’s plan of development for its property on River Road.
Surgically “splitting the baby,” the BZA voted unanimously to overturn only the portion of the POD dealing with storm water runoff, everything else stands. The decision has no impact on the start of classes on September 3.
The four member BZA—an appointment to fill a District 5 vacancy and designate alternates are expected soon—has been grappling with this appeal since spring. Efforts to streamline the process only dragged things out.
Following the vote, BZA counsel Maynard Sipe explained that only the drainage issue portion of the POD appeal was overturned. The ruling carries a general expectation that county staff will work with BCP to adequately address the storm water management issue.
(Space was reserved on the Goochland Circuit Court docket earlier this month for November 5 to address the issue of BZA jurisdiction and expected appeals to the August 26 decision.)
Appellant Andrew Thexton, who lives about 300 yards east of the BCP property on the north side of River Road, testified under oath that, since road improvements, which include a new entrance and turn lanes, were completed, significant amounts of storm water runoff has been channeled onto his property. During storms, Thexton said, water flows across the pavement with sufficient velocity to force gravel onto River Road.
He contended that the storm runoff, shown in a video as a torrent at the eastern edge of his property, backs up his home’s foundation drains resulting in significant amounts of water in his crawl space. A photo of a ruler under Thexton’s house seems to indicate that there had been between five and nine inches of water there this summer.
Thexton said that while he has not yet seen indications of mold in his crawlspace, he is concerned about possible health issues that could arise from the moisture. Thexton said that he regularly inspects his HVAC and other equipment located under the house and had never noticed moisture on the vapor barrier before the BCP road improvements.
Thexton explained that water flowing on the south side of River Road is forced to the north side by an “earthen dam” in the ditch just west of the entrance to the Pembroke Farms subdivision, roughly opposite his home.
When he learned of the plans to widen River Road, Thexton said that he raised concerns with the county and VDOT about excess runoff winding up on his property with little result. He contended that he never received any response to enquiries made about the matter.
In response to a question from Yasmine Hamad, District 4, about remedying the situation, Thexton opined that BCP could build a retention basin to collect the runoff.
At that point, an attorney for Goochland observed that Thexton has not established any bona fides in civil engineering and was not qualified to speak on mitigation.
Then the county and BCP shared an hour for their side of the story.
Goochland Plan of Development Administrator Debbie Byrd, a professional engineer with more than 30 years of experience in erosion and sediment control, explained that her job is to ensure that state and county laws and regulations are followed. She also explained that VDOT is responsible for all roads in the county, including approval of the road component, which includes drainage, of a POD. She said that she approved the POD for BCP on January 29, 2013 after all of the parts were properly addressed, including storm water runoff management along River Road as approved by VDOT.
Byrd then explained that VDOT uses formulas to determine adequacy of outfalls that handle storm water based on specific criteria using historical rainfall data. These formulas are designed to indicate if culverts and channels that handle drainage in a particular area are either adequate or need improvement.
She said that data “plugged into” this formula must be submitted to VDOT by a licensed engineer. This seems to have been submitted by an engineer retained by BCP.
In response to a question from Hamad, Byrd confirmed that public hearings on the BCP relocation were held by the planning commission and board of supervisors resulting in approval of a conditional use permit by special exception in December of 2011.
Byrd visited the site on June 19, 2013, the day after five and one half inches of rain fell in about twelve hours, and took photos of the ditch on the south side of the road. On that day, she said, it was in good condition with no erosion or sediment in the road and no sign of flooding in the ditch in front of the Thexton property.
Dr. Richard Carchman District 1 explained the reasoning of the BZA decision saying “a picture is worth a thousand words.” Compelling images of torrents of rainwater coursing through the Thexton property during a recent storm overrode lengthy technical arguments contained in briefs undoubtedly more than a thousand words long. Also, a video of a school bus easily and safely negotiating the new entrance from the BCP property onto River Road refuted claims it could not handle vehicles expected to access the property on a regular basis.
Before the final vote was taken, Hamad said that as a Goochlander, she is proud that BCP chose to locate in the county, glad the school is here, and hopes that all parties can come to a decision to address the storm water situation.
A truncated appearance by BCP witness civil engineer Todd Borden highlighted a paucity of data submitted to VDOT for use in the outfall channel adequacy calculations. He contended that the VDOT application lacked an analysis of existing drainage, so it would not be possible to calculate change caused by road improvements.
Dr. Harriet “Dee” Phillips, District 3, supported this contention saying that, in all the evidence presented, she failed to find adequate documentation to support the VDOT decision on the water issue. She contended that even minimal increases in storm water runoff from road improvements should trigger mitigation efforts.
The narrow ruling by the BZA upheld most of the POD, which the appellants argued had been improperly approved.
If this appeal was really about storm water runoff issues, it seems to have been justified. All property owners must be protected from adverse effects of storm water runoff caused by upstream development. If it was designed to make BCP go away, it failed.
Members of the BZA are to be commended for approaching the matter in a thorough and objective manner. They spent countless hours listening to arguments, conferring with counsel, visiting the site, reading briefs, researching state and local laws, and using their intellectual skills to arrive at an impartial ruling.
Goochland is blessed to have such citizens willing and able to contribute their time and talents to the well-being of the community.