Tuesday, July 22, 2014

In the eye of the beholder

The late U. S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Potter Stewart once observed that it was difficult to a concise definition of pornography, “but I know it when I see it.”

Goochland has about 21,000 residents who support preservation of the county’s rural character. They too know it when they see it. Arriving at a universally accepted definition is the hard part.

Google offers 261,000,000 possible answers to the query “what is rural”. Terms like bucolic and rustic, which can have positive or negative connotations, pop up often.

Interpretations of local “ruralness” vary.

In Goochland’s affluent east, rural may mean private enclaves of substantial homes on large lots that are maintained according to neighborhood rules. Leash laws, strict architectural review protocols, and rigorously enforced covenants are the norm. Landscaping is manicured, irrigated, and regulated. In spite of generous setbacks to protect the “view shed,” there are a lot of homes here.

Western Goochland is sparsely populated. Folks seeking peace, privacy, and the opportunity to do as they please when they want, settle here. Homes run the gamut from single wides to secluded estates. In general, if you don’t do whatever is it you do in the middle of the road and scare the horses, no one cares.

The rest of the county is somewhere in between physically and attitudinally.

Agricultural pursuits run the gamut from large producers like the Alvis Dairy Farm off of Three Chopt Road near Centerville to small farmsteads that produce a variety of crops. The Lickinghole Creek Farm Brewery fits into this category because some of the ingredients in its beer are grown, almost literally, in the shade of the brew house.

Farmers tend to be hard-working and thrifty. They rarely throw things away and use their ingenuity to repurpose items others would toss in the trash. This treasure in the rough, including vehicles of all sorts that may not run, is accumulated in anticipation of future needs. In the eyes of the folk who live in the manicured enclaves, this is dismissed as unsightly junk that needs to be cleaned up. Eye of the beholder rules apply here.

A few years back, a local ordinance was passed that allows the county to enter and “clean up” property considered an eyesore by its neighbors. The cost becomes a lien against proceeds of any sale of the property. That ordinance could be misused to harass the thrifty, and seems counter to the preservation of rural character.

Goochland’s beloved equestrian traditions clearly qualify as a rural attribute. The site of a horse grazing, or a rescued thoroughbred joyfully galloping beside Route 6 is a signature life savor of Goochland. But, not everyone is pleased by horses crossing their property.

The sound of shooting is also a part of rural character. Second amendment rights are cherished ad exercised here. Those with issues about gunfire might want to return to the Fan.

As with every facet of contemporary life the federal government has its definitions of rural, based--to a large extent--on population density and the distance to urban amenities including health care and jobs.

One generally agreed upon component of “rural character” is open space. People seeking peace and privacy do not want to live on top of their neighbors. Development schemes that clump homes on small lots to preserve large swaths of adjacent “open space” is touted as smart growth, but is out of sync with “rural.”

Newcomers who “love the country” but complain about the noise, smells, and inconvenience that accompany farming are another complication to defining rural. Not everyone likes to marvel at the technology that enables America to feed the world while crawling along a county road behind an enormous thresher.

Outrage over timbering is a regular occurrence. Trees are a crop too, but have a decades-long growing season; belong to the land owner, not the community. The desire control the use of land owned by someone else is yet another tricky part of defining rural.
Rural aspects of life in eastern Goochland are fading fast as development changes the landscape forever. Even there, less intense uses and lower densities than permitted in Short Pump can perpetuate a kind of rural identity for Goochland.

One size will not fit all in this endeavor. Rural in Shannon Hill is very different from rural on River Road—yet, a mutual aspiration for a gentler way of life than that offered by the bustle to the east can be a uniting force in the search for a universal definition of “rural character.”

Regardless of what we call it, Goochland is special and must remain so as it changes with the times.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Obliterating the stain

The Goochland Board of Supervisors’ draft strategic plan concentrates on stewardship, transparency, fiscal responsibility, and accountability with good reason.

For the past five years, Goochland has been working its way out of a crater of fiscal dysfunction. The current Board of Supervisors wants the county to have clean audit reports every year going forward. Goochland is still considered a high risk auditee, which means that extra tests will be applied when reviewing financial procedures. This condition will be lifted when the county undergoes two annual audits free of material weaknesses. (To see lots of previous material weaknesses, please see the 2010 special audit for fiscal 2009, which can be found, in its entirety, on the finance tab of the county website: www.co.goochland.va.us)

When the county audit committee, comprised of representatives from the Board of Supervisors, school division, county finance staff, Treasurer’s office, and outside auditors from PBMares, met on July 1, its focus was to address problems anywhere in county finances in pursuit of a clean audit for fiscal year 2014.

This is the third time that PBMares will perform the county audit. Next year, the county is expected to change auditors, not because of any fault with PBMares, but because it is a best business practice. The introduction to the audit procedures presented by PBMares declares that “we (PBMares) will continue to build a professional relationship that is based on candid feedback and mutual respect.”
The audit will be performed in accordance with standards generally accepted in the United States of America. In essence, the good people from PBMares rummage around in county and school operations to ensure that proper accounting procedures are followed and sufficient internal controls are in place to deter dishonesty and detect fraud. They also check to make sure that state and federal revenues are recorded and spent in the proper manner.

New Virginia Retirement System (VRS) reporting requirements will begin at the end of calendar 2014, which will add another layer of complexity to the audit process.

Thanks to a new spirit of collaboration and cooperation between the school division and county staff, the auditing process is more comprehensive and transparent than ever before.

At its August 5 meeting, the Board of Supervisors is expected to consider a comprehensive set of guidelines for fiscal policy to become “a cornerstone of sound financial policy.”

Friday, July 11, 2014

Here a plan, there a plan...

Goochland County is in a planning state of mind.

The supervisors are working on a strategic plan; master plans for fire-rescue and utilities are underway, as is an arterial transportation plan for the Broad Street/Ashland Road corridor.

On July 10, the Goochland Planning commission devoted most of its monthly meeting to a workshop on the upcoming review of the county’s Comprehensive Land Use Plan (Comp Plan.) District 2 Commissioner Matt Brewer was absent.

At the start of the meeting Senior Planner Jo Ann Hunter reported that a conditional use application filed by the Seventh Day Adventists to convert a Manakin Road home and barn into a church facility had been withdrawn in the face of vigorous opposition by neighboring property owners.

Hunter then gave a brief overview of matters expected to be on the Planning Commission agenda in coming months. The initiative to update county land use ordinances to align with state law continues. The concept of “public assembly” will be addressed and will pertain to all situations of gathering, not just churches.

In recent years, a gracious plenty of religious organizations have purchased land and moved to Goochland. Current ordinances only require a CUP if a gathering place exceeds a certain square footage. The intent of the proposed change is not to impinge in any way on the right to worship, but rather to guide large groups to places able to handle traffic and avoid neighborhood disruption. In recent years, churches, which are exempt from property tax, locating on Broad Street Road have been required to install left and right turn lanes.

As part of the ordinance review a clear, fair process to enforce CUPs will be established.

Turning to the Comp Plan review, Hunter explained that the previous review, which began in 2007 and was approved in early 2009, was quite extensive. As little happened in the interim, due to the economic downturn, this year’s review will focus on distilling the essence of the plan into a useful, accessible document.

Simplification is a worthy goal. Comp plans seem a little like the Bible—passages can be used to support or refute pretty much any proposal. Designed to be used as a “guide” for land use decisions, the Comp Plan is sometimes ignored.

A case in point is the rezoning of Bellview Gardens about a decade ago to permit homes to be built on smaller lots served by public water and sewer. This has and will be the source of much heartache for homeowners and toothaches for developers.

The Comp Plan is the ideal mechanism to “preserve Goochland’s rural character” in the face of development pressures, especially in the eastern part of the Broad Street Road corridor. Hunter said that many people declare that they do not want Goochland to “look like Short Pump,” but are hard pressed to offer definitional details beyond less traffic and paving.

District 5 Commissioner Tom Rockecharlie said that roads in eastern Goochland are pretty much at capacity “regardless of what VDOT says.” He believes that a connector road between Broad Street Road and Route 6 is necessary to deal with traffic resulting from recently approved subdivisions on Hockett Road. (A traffic signal will be installed at the corner of Hockett and Broad sometime this fall, according to VDOT.)

Rockecharlie also pointed out that the new McDonald’s doesn’t look anything like the renderings submitted, so why does the county bother with overlay restrictions and design standards?

Hunter conceded that those standards need more teeth. She also said that roads parallel to Broad Street Road would ease congestion there.

The village concept, which has been a feature of previous Comp Plans, needs another look, suggested Hunter. Sandy Hook, Hadensville, and Georges Tavern/Fife are unlikely to develop in any meaningful way and should be reclassified. Most development in the next few years is anticipated in Centerville, Oilville, and Courthouse Village, which badly needs better access to Interstate 64 to grow.

Simply stated, the village concept seeks to concentrate growth in areas equipped to handle high density development including townhomes and apartments. To date, the county has no multifamily zoning classification to facilitate this.

The first comp plan review of the 21st century concentrated on the Oilville Village, even specifying the permitted height of buildings and width of sidewalks on interior streets. Homes and businesses were to be connected to promote walkability. Since then, “growth” in the Oilville Village has consisted of a nice strip shopping center and upscale, but cookie cutter, subdivision that do not articulate with each other in any way.

Another goal of the village concept is to control dreaded sprawl by limiting the large lot subdivisions that allegedly destroy the rural character of the county. At least one planning commissioner needs tutoring on this matter.

Hunter presented demographic charts that show county growth evenly distributed over the five districts. (See the meeting packet on the county website www.co.goochland.va.us for details.) This is not expected to continue in the next few years as the more than 500 dwelling units approved in the past few years are built.

In general, Goochland is getting older and is rich. As the word gets out about our high quality public schools and entry level housing options become available, this could change too.

As with every other current county initiative, one goal for the Comp Plan is to make it shorter, simpler and more business friendly.

The Comp Plan review will consider amendments in the land use envisioned for several areas in the eastern part of the county where conditions have or are expected to change as in the shift from industrial to residential used along Ashland/Pouncey Tract Road.

This Comp Plan review will include a community gathering in each district and public hearings at the planning commission and board of supervisors before final adoption, which is expected to occur in the first quarter of 2015.
The Comp Plan is supposed to be the “community vision” for growth in the county. In the past, it’s been the vision of a small group of people because no one else paid attention.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Supervisors' Digest July 2014

At the July 1 meeting of the Goochland Board of Supervisors it was revealed that a permanent traffic signal will be installed at the Hockett/Broad Street Road intersection “this fall.”

That’s the good news from VDOT—the state agency whose motto is “Oops!”
The bad news is that Ashland Road south of Rockville Road will be closed, “sometime in the next week or so” to vehicles weighing more than four tons, like big dump trucks hauling gravel from nearby quarries. These vehicles will be detoured onto eastbound Interstate 64 to southbound Rt. 288 to connect with Rt. 250.

Yes, boys and girls that means lots of big, heavy trucks will be making left turns at a place already known to be dangerous. The VDOT rep addressing the supervisors contended that “most” of the trucks are eastbound, so it shouldn’t be too much of a problem. Notice of this impending disruptive road work was not included in the VDOT report that appears in each month’s board packet. No word on how this will be enforced. The Sheriff’s Office does not have scales—or manpower—to set up on Ashland Road and weigh vehicles. 

During afternoon citizen comment, Adair and Roy Roper, who live on Manakin Road near Dover Hall, took the board to task for failing to enforce county zoning laws. Both Ropers-they spoke separately—contended that in the past few weeks two events at Dover Hall had attendance far in excess of the 400 person maximum allowed by the CUP granted last year that transformed the enormous private home into a commercial event venue.

Adair Roper said that on June 3, traffic generated by a Capital One affair at Dover Hall was so heavy that it took her more than 35 minutes to travel the three and one half miles from the Manakin/Broad light to her home. She said that drivers were pulling out and passing--remember Manakin Road is two lanes and narrow--and contended that emergency vehicles would have been unable to get through had there been a wreck. (Traffic studies included with the Dover Hall CUP application concluded that there was no need to build turn lanes for the site.)

Roy Roper said that an event at Dover Hall for the Lickinghole Creek Farm Craft Brewery drew more than 1,700 people. He said that he was told the county had somehow sanctioned that event. When Roy Roper complained to the Department of Community Development about the violations, he was told that the county does not have enough manpower to enforce zoning regulations.

Roy Roper further contended that county law states that CUP violations are a misdemeanor punishable by revocation of the CUP and a fine. The Code of Goochland reads thusly: The violation of any condition, restriction or guarantee arising from the granting of any use by special exception shall be a violation of this article and shall constitute a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of not more than two hundred fifty dollars ($250.00). Each day such violation continues shall be considered a separate offense.
(Ord. of 4-25-90, § 7)

(Board Chair Manuel Alvarez, Jr., District 2, said that the county never suggested that the Brewery event be held at Dower Hall. It was a way for the Brewery to avoid the expense of a large crowd permit.) At the end of the afternoon session, the board went into closed session to discuss enforcement of zoning issues with the county attorney.

Mary Ann W. Davis was appointed at the new county assessor. She succeeds Glenn Branham, who retired at the end of 2013. Davis started work on July 1, the first day of the new fiscal year. Jeanne Bryant, Commissioner of the Revenue, who was appointed as interim assessor in April was thanked for her assistance.

A report on the EMS cost recovery program, which started last year, shows that $786,788 was collected to about mid-June. This program is ahead of expectations. County administrator Rebecca Dickson said that the billing policy has been adjusted so that statements now read that unpaid bills will not be turned over to a collection agency and only two notices are sent out. Of the money collected, only $70,000 was generated by co-pays.

Dickson pointed out that EMS cost recovery affects only users of EMS, unlike a tax rate increase, which applies to everyone. She said that the cost recovery revenue, roughly the equivalent of two cents on the tax rate, should guarantee three 24/7 EMS crews on duty in the county by September in addition to volunteer crews. She further explained that, in accordance with the wishes of fire-rescue volunteers, many of the new hires will be drivers to ensure that volunteer providers can get to emergencies.

The board voted to advertise public hearings for a number of ordinance revisions at its August 5 meeting. See the board packet on the county website www.co.goochland.va.us for details.

Some of these address expansion of the Tuckahoe Creek Service District. A change in the allocation of taxes on TCSD residential property, which will cause no change on the taxpayer end, is also contemplated to further bolster debt service reserves.
Alvarez reported that Tommy Carter of Maidens, former Goochland Volunteer Fire-Rescue Chief was named one of the 2014 Hometown heroes by the Allen and Allen Law Firm of Richmond. Carter, who has been a fire-rescue volunteer since he was a teen-ager and still responds to emergencies, embodies the volunteer ethic of selfless commitment to community service.

At the evening citizen comment period, David Blakeny, who owns property on Millers Lane, wanted to know what the county policy is concerning revocation of CUPs when their holders ignore or skirt applicable regulations. He said that there needs to be a clear policy on this matter that Goochland citizens can understand.

Blakeny, alluding to the June 30 community meeting held at the Manakin Fire-Rescue Station about the Seventh Day Adventists intent to purchase the home and barn next to Dover Hall, asked the board to reconsider its guidelines for churches and other large gatherings in rural areas. The plan would convert the existing barn into a sanctuary seating up to 300 people with about 79 parking spaces. Residents of the area strongly oppose the proposal.

Blakeny thanked the supervisors for attending the meeting. Alvarez said that the Board believes its duty is to understand community reaction to issues. He said that the “great” citizen engagement at the meeting is what sets Goochland apart from its neighbors.

Following public hearings, the Board approved conditional use permit applications for a clean-up of the Moss Mine property on Shannon Hill Road and storage for asphalt chips on three acres of industrial property on Quarry Hill Road. (See board packet for details.)