Sunday, February 9, 2014

Goldilocks blues

Goochland Planning Commissioners deferred a vote that would permit construction of a three story self storage warehouse on the land to the right, which is on the west side of Three Chopt Road north of Rt.250 pending clarification of the height of the building in reference to nearby Rt. 288. Maybe they could measure the tall pines as a reference.

Everyone wants “high quality” development in Centerville. The trouble is, no one has a clear picture of "just right" development. A great deal of disappointment has been expressed about the advent of Goodwill and McDonald’s, which seems to be under construction at last.

The February 6 agenda of the Goochland Planning Commission included items dealing with land on the north side of Broad Street Road, just east of Rt. 288.

Applications to rezone several narrow, wedged shaped parcels totaling 3.5 acres to B-1 business and secure a Conditional Use Permit (CUP) for construction of a 58,500 square foot three story self-store warehouse have been kicking around the Department of Community Development for almost a year.

The streamlined Planning Commission, which is doing a superb job vetting land use matters that come before it, tried hard to visualize the proposal, but ultimately deferred a vote until its March 6 meeting. A second public hearing will be held at that time.

Several parts of the CUP application need clarification, including just how much of the proposed structure would rise above the Rt. 288 road level.

Tom Kinter, speaking on behalf of the owner Three Broad, LLC, and staff disagreed on the number. Although information in the meeting packet (available under the planning commission tab on the county website: indicates that the proposed building would rise between 15 and 20 feet above traffic lanes. Kinter estimated the building’s height between 25 and 30 feet, while the staff report said that Rt. 288 is 20 feet higher than Three Chopt.

There was also disagreement about future disposition of a morsel of land at the end of the Three Chopt cul-de-sac that belongs to this property. The county would like to see its easement dedicated for a future right-of-way. Kinter, while agreeing in theory to the dedication, said that if that portion of the property is removed from the parcel, the floor area ratio will make the proposed warehouse a non-conforming use. Deferral until these issues are clarified was a prudent move.

The staff summary explains that the Centerville overlay district, which governs the subject property, encourages buildings “at a pedestrian scale,” which would seem to exclude massive three story buildings. However, as this structure will sit 350 feet north of Broad Street Road—Food Lion is 450 feet, according to Kinter—it should not loom over the main road. A smaller lot right next to Rt. 288 is zoned commercial and will be accessed only from Three Chopt. Currently, VDOT is using the Broad Street/Three Chopt corner for staging activities during the I64 widening. Office trailers there will be more visible to passing traffic than the proposed warehouse.

County Planner Joanne Hunter mentioned during the staff presentation that the right-of- way for the portion of Rt. 288 between Broad Street Road and Interstate 64 is leased, rather than owned, by VDOT because it was built over a former vehicle junkyard.
Signage for the proposed will be permitted on only the south and east elevations. It will consist of large letters, which could be internally illuminated, mounted directly on the outside walls.
Kinter requested additional signage on the north side of the building, but Hunter said that VDOT would not allow lighting adjacent to the roadway as it would be a distraction to drivers.

He did not bother to estimate the amount of increased property taxes or operating revenue that the project would bring to county coffers. It is unclear what hours of operation will be.

As presented, the building would be served by public water and a private drain field. Even though the utilities needs of this project should be minimal—restrooms for a handful of employees—connection to public sewer, or at least a dedicated easement, lines should be mandatory to facilitate further development in the area.
A condition prohibits storage of hazardous materials, but there was no discussion of how that would be enforced. Also, there are two other self-storage facilities operating in Centerville.

Technical details aside, there was discussion of the appropriateness of a self-storage warehouse in the entrance corridor to Centerville.

Currently, the north side of Broad Street Road between the Henrico line and Rt. 288 is utilitarian at best, and not likely to change soon.

On Friday, February 7, reported that 300 high end homes will spring from farmland fronting on Broad Street just west of Strange’s, almost literally a stone’s throw from Rt. 288.

Adding those homes to the upscale apartments under construction at The Notch opposite Wawa, there will soon be lots of affluent rooftops in the Centerville orbit, a prime requisite for developers. As most of these new residences are expected to be townhomes, the demand for self-storage will rise.

Paul Costello, a member of the county’s design review board and thoughtful critic of local land use policy, contended that a self-storage warehouse is not appropriate for the Centerville entrance corridor. He said that quality development attracts quality development and that the proposal runs the risk of setting a bad precedent.

The commissioners were open to the proposal.

Matt Brewer, District 2, said that, the proposed building seemed attractive and contended that, given the shape and location of the subject property, its uses are limited. Commission Chair Tom Rockecharlie, District 5, pointed out that the proposed building is much more attractive than similar facilities and would set a high standard.

Real villages--places where people live, work, and transact business--do not fall from the sky fully formed. Centerville already has a variety of enterprises, adding more will ensure a vibrant local economy. The sterile perfection of a West Broad Village, with acres of identical, beautiful, and empty retail space, is not the answer. Strict, but fair, enforcement of overlay criteria and directing development to appropriate locations will help Centerville grow in a graceful and functional manner.

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