Monday, June 30, 2014

Hold the vanilla

Citizens attending the Wednesday, June 25 feedback session on the proposed Goochland strategic plan were troubled by many components of the plan.

Board of Supervisors’ Chair Manuel Alvarez, Jr., District 2, opened the meeting by explaining that the board was there to listen to the citizens, and understand how they see the draft strategic plan (DSP.)

In general, the DSP, which is available on the county website, was characterized as: too vanilla or generic; touchy feely; lacking important elements such as assumptions, estimated costs and revenue sources; and just too broad.
Facilitator Lori Strumpf broke the attendees into groups tasked to respond to the query “if you were contemplating moving your family or business to Goochland, how would this document ‘speak to you?’”

In GOMM’s group, one astute gentleman contended that the DSP is “for motherhood, against sin” and vegan as it contains “no meat.”

The DSP proclaims Goochland County goals including: supporting good schools; promoting excellent public safety; and providing efficient, transparent, fiscally responsible government. As one citizen asked “Who would be against those things?” (See for motherhood and against sin above.)

Perhaps the DSP would have been better received if its primary objective was stated as rebuilding the reputation of a county generally perceived by its citizens and the outside world as tolerating substandard schools, and good ol’ boy government.
Given that the former county treasurer is currently serving a prison sentence for embezzling public funds and, just a few years ago, auditors found dozens of glaring irregularities in county finances, the emphasis on integrity, fiscal accountability, stewardship, and transparency is warranted.

Even to those not familiar with the process, the term “strategic plan” conjures up a document with specific objectives; methods to achieve those; and cost and revenue estimates that lead to a defined target.

Several citizens contended that the DSP is aimed at businesses because it never mentions families, neighbors, or quality of life. One commented that, from a “branding” perspective, the DSP lacks a compelling narrative that explains what makes Goochland unique.

The DSP, several citizens contended, seemed structured to guide county staff in performance of its duties. (In an earlier post on the subject, GOMM suggested that the DSP was shaping up to be an attitudinal manifesto for staff.) Again, with Goochland’s history, this is not a bad thing, but does it meet criteria for a strategic plan?

When the groups reconvened, additional points were raised. How exactly will the county do a better job of communicating with citizens who have poor internet access? A more comprehensive county website does them little good with no easy access.
The DSP never explained why it was needed in the first place.

At least two of the men at the Wednesday meeting have significant high level expertise and experience in crafting and executing strategic plans. They live here and have a vested interest in success. As Goochland is blessed with a gracious plenty of accomplished residents, they should be sought out for initiatives like this. The local task force method worked well on the broadband and rural economic development projects.

Some comments regarding the DSP’s lack of information on where growth is expected to occur are better suited to the county’s comprehensive land use plan, whose next review will begin with a Planning Commission workshop on July 10.

When the strategic plan process began, the “deliverable” was expected to be a matrix to coordinate master plans for utilities and fire-rescue, currently in development. Right now, it’s a little hard to see how all of these plans will align--as they must—to ensure unified, efficient, and effective outcomes.

Citizen feedback was clear. The DSP needs more specifics and fewer targets. The comments will be digested and applied to revisions. Stay tuned!

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

A road map

Goochland is in a time of transition, morphing from a quiet rural county to something yet to be determined.

When the current Board of Supervisors took office at the start of 2012, it addressed the most serious challenges facing the county: the looming Tuckahoe Creek Service District debt and continued delivery of necessary government services in lean economic times without raising tax rates.

Instead of wringing their hands, the supervisors, in concert with County Administrator Rebecca Dickson, got to work. They started by reviewing the county budget, line by line, to get acquainted with all departments and make a spending plan for the coming fiscal year. Setting priorities, they imposed thoughtful discipline on expenditures, squeezing every nickel twice. Some of the choices they made—such as reducing the hours at the convenience centers and charging for EMS transport—were not popular with everyone. This Board understands that holding public office is a civic duty, not a popularity contest.

Many fires have been extinguished or brought under control in the past thirty months. The TCSD debt has been tamed to a doable--but still daunting—task; bitter battles between the supervisors and school board are history; county financial management is sound; and a slight uptick in the economy has given rise to cautious optimism. Revised fiscal operations are rebuilding public trust.

There is still much to be done.

To prioritize tasks, the Board set about creation of a strategic plan about a year ago. Instead of a laundry list of tasks, the strategic plan (draft text available on the county website sets out an operational matrix for all county functions with subjective goals that can be applied to all situations.

The Plan will ensure that the high standards that have, and are being put into place, become the normal expectation of citizens as well as county employees.

The Plan includes vision for the future of Goochland. It adheres to the belief of these supervisors that the county government exists to serve the citizens and should strive to deliver value for taxes paid and a “return on investment” to those who own property and business here.

Each category of the Plan uses “citizen satisfaction” as an indicator of the success of the policy. It will be interesting to see how that is measured, but there are plans to provide a regular report card to citizens to gauge county operations.
Transparency in government is another goal. Indeed, putting the county and schools’ check registers and the Certified Annual Financial Report on the website lets everyone see how their tax dollars are spent.

The Board also wants to encourage increased citizen engagement.If attendance at public meetings is any indication, the more confidence citizens have in those running the county, the less attention is paid to what is going on.

Meetings of the supervisors, school board, planning commission, and economic development authority are live streamed, but only a handful of people tune in. New appointees to board and commissions bring commons sense the appropriate experience necessary to understand matters before them.

Citizens need to pay attention to the operation of their local government. Right now, we have a board with integrity that does what it believes is best for Goochland. That could change.

On June 25 and 26, starting at 7 p.m. the Board will hold meetings to gather citizen response to the draft strategic plan. The meetings, both essentially identical, will be held in the Board Meeting Room of the administration building located at 1800 Sandy Hook Road in Courthouse Village. The supervisors want your opinion. Let them know what you think, either in person or by email or phone.

Monday, June 16, 2014

There's gold in Shannon Hill

Although Goochland’s glory days as a source of gold are long past, one mine in the western end of the county could be in for a last hurrah.

The subject was on the June 5 agenda of the Goochland Planning Commission. Before deliberations on the matter began, John Myers, District 1, explained that his property adjoins the land in question. He consulted County Attorney Norman Sales who opined that Myers’ participation does not violate state conflict of interest laws. District 3 Commissioner Derek Murray was absent.

William Kilgore of Bristol, Tennessee filed an application for a conditional use permit (CUP) to conduct mining operations at the Moss Mine site on Shannon Hill Road. His stated goal is to extract whatever gold, silver, and copper may be left in the mine. At the end of mining operations, he intends to clean up the site, removing any hazardous materials left over from previous mining operations, and leave a well-landscaped wetland in its place.

In the early days of America, treasure seekers came to western Goochland. One of these, John Moss, discovered gold on his property in 1835 and the site was mined on and off until 1936, according to the staff report, (available in the June 5 meeting packet on the county website

(Visit the website of the Central Virginia Gold Prospectors for fascinating information about gold in Virginia.)

The mine site is located on a parcel of approximately 45.8 acres. The CUP governs about 15 acres that will be involved in mining operations; approximately 4.3 acres will be “disturbed” by removing rock and soil to extract precious metal.
Although some gold mining operations use caustic chemicals to separate gold from, Kilgore plans to crush rock and sluice it with water to separate the metal from other materials by gravity. The mining operation will not involve any blasting.

In accordance with county zoning laws, no mining operations will take place within one thousand feet of the nearest residence. Hours of operation will be from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday. The area will be fenced and measures to prevent soil erosion will be taken.

Although Kilgore initially intended to renovate the old mill house, it was damaged beyond repair by the 2011 earthquake and will be removed. Additional mine shafts on the property will be filled in.

Kilgore explained that the mining is heavily regulated by the Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals, and Energy and Virginia Department of Environmental Quality. Obtaining a CUP is just the initial step in securing approval from state regulatory agencies. To gain approval, a permit must include mitigation plans for ground water contamination. Kilgore said he will hire a mining engineer to ensure that operations are conducted properly.

He offered somewhat vague responses to questions about capitalization of the project and return on investment, which seems reasonable given the nature of the enterprise. Kilgore did say that he will not do anything without a $2 million line of credit,
and declared that he has investors ready to come on board to fund the mining operation once permits have been obtained. He said that an assay of the site estimated between 10 to 20,000 ounces of precious metal could be recovered. While Kilgore contended that the estimate was conservative,it is an estimate. A lot of rock must be crushed and processed to see exactly what is there.

The Planning Commissioners, though interested in the mining process, were mindful of the need to protect Goochland. The motion to recommend approval of the CUP included a requirement that Kilgore post a $100,000 performance bond when he applies for a land disturbing permit to ensure that the site is cleaned up should Kilgore run out of money and abandon the property.

Matt Brewer, District 2 pointed out that the county performance bond, on top of the more modest bond required by the DMME, will ensure that the county does not foot the bill for reclamation efforts.

The Commission voted 4-0 to recommend approval of a five year CUP with the additional performance bond requirement. The Board of Supervisors is expected to hold a public hearing and vote on the application at its July 1, 2014 meeting.
Once again, the streamlined planning commission did its homework and conducted a careful, thoughtful hearing.

Monday, June 9, 2014

June highlights

Goochland’s Board of Supervisors worked its way through a routine agenda for its June 3 meeting, last of the 2014 fiscal year.

Board Chair Manuel Alvarez, Jr., District 2, announced that sessions for public input on the draft county strategic plan will be held on June 25 and 26 at 7 p.m. in the Board meeting room of the county administration building at 1800 Sandy Hook Road in Courthouse Village. He encouraged all county residents to attend. Comments about the plan may also be submitted to your supervisor. (The plan is on the county website This Board really does want to hear from you. A lot of thought and work has gone into this initiative, please take a look and share your thoughts.

Alvarez also reported that the Board expressed opposition to the use of industrial bio solids in Goochland County to the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality. Although localities have no power to stop the practice, the supervisors felt it important to officially comment on the matter.

Dr. Gary Rhodes, President of Reynolds Community College-- formerly known as J. Sergeant Reynolds—made his annual report to the supervisors. The institution’s rebranding also changed the name of the local branch from the “Western” Campus to the “Goochland” Campus. No indication that the college is going to get rid of those awful flashing signs.

Rhodes characterized the community college as the “on ramp” to higher education, a place where students not quite ready for the climate of a four year college can get up to speed before entering the mainstream. This, Rhodes contended, fosters a successful educational experience.

Another feature of Reynolds is that students can start their higher education there and save money. Programs that ensure admittance to four year state colleges also help students complete their education.

The partnership between Goochland High School and Reynolds allows students to obtain college credits while still in high school. A new program will even allow eligible students to earn a two year college degree concurrently with a high school diploma.
Rhodes thanked the Board for appointing Goochland Superintendent of Schools Dr. James Lane to the Reynolds board. Lane is the first local school official to serve in this capacity, said Rhodes, and his participation adds a positive dynamic.

During the monthly report from VDOT—the state agency whose motto is “Oops!—Ken Peterson, District 5, asked if bike lanes would be included in the upcoming replacement for the River Road bridge over Tuckahoe Creek. Peterson said that the existing bridge is too narrow to safely accommodate both motor vehicle and bicycles. As the number of cyclists on all roads in Central Virginia is expected to dramatically increase he advocated inclusion of extra lane space to mitigate the hazardous conditions. The VDOT representative was unable to respond to Peterson’s query.

County Director of Economic Development Matt Ryan presented a progress report on the Rural Economic Development Committee (REDC,) which was formed last fall. Unfortunately, the data Ryan presented on the economic impact of agriculture and related enterprises included the entire Commonwealth instead of focusing on Goochland.

The REDC was created to explore potential for nurturing businesses that reflect the rural nature of Goochland that everyone seems to want to protect. Ryan said that one of the biggest challenges faced by the REDC was defining rural.

Finding a regulatory balance that does not require a small seasonal business to jump through the same hoops as a large corporation was seen as needed to encourage small, agriculturally based businesses. Ryan said that a full report, including some specific recommendations, will be presented in the summer.

Going forward, the supervisors will need to exercise great care to protect property rights of all landowners.

A summary of land use applications indicated that a Taco Bell is in the works for the parcel of land next to the soon-to-open McDonald’s in Centerville. No, this is not a surprise. When the proffers for Broadview Shopping Center were changed a few years back, the intention to locate two fast food restaurants on the outparcels was clearly expressed. Perhaps this will create the critical mass of traffic to convince VDOT to signalize the Hockett/St. Matthew’s/Rt. 250 intersection.

John Wack, Deputy County Administrator for Finance, shared the good news that the county managed the citizens’ money well and, barring unseen events, will end the fiscal year with a surplus of about $5.4 million. The supervisors approved amendments to the FY2014 budget to reallocate the remainder.

Among the reallocations were $500,000 to a revenue stabilization reserve, a “rainy day” fund to even out shortfalls in lean times, and an additional $1.8 million to build a new fire-rescue station at Hadensville. (See board packet for all the numbers.)

According to Goochland Fire-Rescue Chief Bill MacKay, the approximately $220 per square foot cost of the new station, which will be a pre-engineered structure, is less than similar buildings in other jurisdictions. The 12,000 or so square foot station will include vehicle storage, meeting rooms, dormitories, showers, living quarters, and, we hope, a kitchen that does not have a brush truck parked in it.

MacKay said that site work, engineering, and architectural services are costly. As the new, improved Company 6, is considered “critical infrastructure” because it can serve as an emergency shelter, it must meet seismic resistance building code standards, which also add to the cost. Initially, the onetime approximately $2.5 million windfall the county reaped by moving to semi-annual personal property tax was set aside for the new Hadensville station. MacKay said that an initial estimate put the cost around $3.9 million. The project will be put out to bid in the fall.

Director of Information Services Qiana Foote shared progress on the county website update, which is long overdue for renovation. Foote explained that the initiative includes rebranding, with a new county logo and color scheme for use on all documents, signage, and the website. Foote expects the site to be complete by June 1, 2015.

The goal is to make the site informative, attractive, and easy to navigate, and provide fast downloads for internet users in all parts of the county. The site is expected to be interactive and have a search engine. It will include a frequently asked question for each department and allow online tracking of things like permits. The site will be expandable so it can grow with the county. The amount budgeted for this task is $50,000.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Into the minefield

Ruling on land use issues is perhaps the most challenging duty of local elected officials. The quest for an equitable decision that protects the property rights of all concerned, benefits the county, and avoids unintended consequences, is often an elusive one.

Goochland’s Board of Supervisors did not wear striped shirts and whistles to its June 3 meeting. They might have come in handy during deliberations on a plan of development waiver for the Lickinghole Creek Farm Craft Brewery.

After lengthy citizen comments, and presentations by staff and counsel for the Brewery, located off of Chapel Hill Road west of Courthouse Village, the supervisors unanimously approved a waiver of certain plan of development requirements.

The matter at hand was a road issue. Knolls Point Drive, which runs between the Brewery and Chapel Hill Road, is also a private, gravel subdivision road. The neighbors were unhappy about the amount of dust generated by sometimes heavy traffic on the gravel road, and sought to have the road paved. The Brewery resisted this, contending that gravel roads and parking areas are part of the rural ambiance of a farm brewery.

Under current conditions, the Brewery can accommodate only nine cars at any one time, including employees. On weekends, people have been stationed in the cul de sac on Knoll’s Point Drive to control traffic. The Brewery has also held several festivals that attracted hundreds of visitors, which required it to obtain, at considerable expense, large crowd permits.

After months of discussions with the Brewery and the neighbors, Board Chair Manuel Alvarez, Jr., who represents District 2, site of the matter, County Administrator Rebecca Dickson, and others, a waiver application was filed by the Brewery.

Essentially, in return for the paving, the Brewery will no longer need to restrict the number of cars on site. This will increase visitors and enable the Brewery to hire more people.

The waiver requires the Brewery to pave at least 2,100 feet of Knolls Point Drive, build three speed humps, and install 20 mile per hour speed limit signs. Paving is expected to be complete by the end of June. The cost is about $40,000 in addition to the more than $1 million already spent by the Brewery on land, equipment, and buildings.

Those speaking in support of the Brewery seemed unaware that the issue was about the road, rather than the enterprise, which was lauded for its 21st century approach to an ancient craft. The Brewery is pretty much embodies an ideal agribusiness, brewing beer from hops and other ingredients grown, almost literally, in the shadow of the brew house.

The trouble is the Brewery, a commercial enterprise, sits at the end of a private subdivision road. How many cars would Brewery supporters from the tonier parts of the county want driving by their homes every weekend?

However, even some supporters of the Brewery conceded that, if they lived on Knolls Point Road, would want to see it paved.
Several supervisors expressed the hope that this compromise will help both sides to find a way to shake hands and move on. This waiver application, at least the second in the Brewery saga, came after nearly a year of discord between the neighbors and the Brewery.
Lessons were learned in this instance, said Alvarez. When locating a business at the end of a road, all of the neighbors up front must agree, he contended. While the Brewery tried to equate its situation with wineries in the county, Alvarez said that there are no wineries in Goochland located at the end of a private subdivision road. It seems very unlikely that this sort of situation will be repeated.

The Board then turned its attention to applications filed by Three Broad LLC to rezone parcels on the north side of Rt. 250 just east of Rt. 288 to B-1 and for a conditional use permit to build a self- storage warehouse. This had been deferred from a previous meeting.

Planner Joanne Hunter discussed representations of the actual height of the proposed building in relation to Rt. 288, resulting from the deployment of a forklift with a beam located on the site a while back. (See the board packet in the supervisors’ tab on the county website for details.)

Tom Kinter, speaking on behalf of the applicant, proffered that the sole use of the rear portion of the site will be a self-storage warehouse and limited the front portion to a handful of benign uses.

Objections to the 35 foot height of the proposed warehouse were countered with the mention of Bon Secours plans to build a five story emergency room/medical office building just east of the Goochland line on the north side of Broad Street.

At the end of the day, literally, the supervisors unanimously approved the rezoning. District 4 Supervisor Bob Minnick cast the sole dissenting vote on the CUP application.

Minnick expressed frustration about the proposal. He said that he had “tried to square the size and location with how it fits into the overlay district’s pedestrian scale.” Currently, observed Minnick, the north side of Broad Street has a lot going on that boils down to visual clutter.

Alvarez pointed out that nearby existing cell towers, which are much higher than the proposed warehouse, will be very visible when area’s trees come down. He contended that the mass of Rt. 288 will be greater than the warehouse.

Minnick characterized the proposal as a “C,” and worried that an “ordinary” building might discourage future “A” projects. “No one is jumping up and down in favor of this and a few people have expressed strong opposition. I don’t know what to say.”

Alvarez pointed out that there has been a paucity of high end proposals and was not sure “how we limit property rights based on aesthetics.” He expressed hope for an initiative to assemble nearby parcels of land into “something so much better than what is currently there.”

Ken Petersen, District 5, cut to the chase by pointing out that the warehouse would be a low traffic use in a high traffic area; put no children in county schools; and increase revenues on the property.