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.

No comments: