Tuesday, September 23, 2014

A broad brush

The phrase “another tool in the toolkit” as applied to land use is getting stale. However, the notion that zoning policy should be flexible to ensure appropriate--not restrictive or runaway--growth and development is a good thing.

Goochland’s Planning Commissioners have begun work on the regular five year update to the county’s comprehensive land use plan (comp plan) mandated by the state.

The existing plan is basically sound, but way too complicated. Some policies are not supported with zoning ordinances. (See the planning section of the county website www.co.goochland.va.us for the entire 2028 comp plan.)

In the spring of 2007, the last comp plan review got off to a rousing start with well-attended community meetings all over the county. Citizen made substantive and thoughtful comments about how and where Goochland should grow.

Just after Thanksgiving that year, when folks were focused on holiday activities, a draft comp plan that allegedly addressed citizen insights was presented at a second set of poorly attended meetings. No further action was taken on the 2028 comp plan until 2009, when the administration was reeling from the utilities mess and the sudden retirement of the county administrator. As approved, the 2028 comp plan contained provisions not previously discussed in public.

This time around, with a different board of supervisors, planning commission, and many new additions to the planning staff, the goal of the comp plan review is to craft a streamlined, high level document that will be supported by detailed zoning ordinances.

If the comp plan is to be used as a “guide” in land use decisions, broad goals and policies are needed rather than “weedy” details.
Indeed, the first comp plan revision of the 21st century included details about the width of sidewalks and street grids in the Oilville Village. Since then, new development in the Oilville Village has consisted of a nice, but cookie cutter residential community and an attractive strip shopping center that do not connect to each other.

The intent for this go round is to paint land use goals with a broad brush, letting comprehensive zoning ordinances spell out the details of things like sidewalk width, setbacks, landscaping requirements, and so forth.

To that end, the planning commissioners have been holding workshop sessions to address one section of the comp plan at a time.
On September 4, the planning commission discussed land use/village/community character goals and strategies.

In general, Goochland’s comp plan has been based on a “village concept” that strives to encourage growth inside of areas designated as villages to keep the dreaded sprawl out of the countryside and preserve the rural character.

Results of the 2010 census indicated that growth was spread evenly throughout the county, so maybe the village concept needs a bit of tweaking.
Instead of swaddling goals and strategies in dense layers of text, staff used bullet points for suggested revisions.

The first, and probably most important goal, is balanced growth, aiming for a 70/30 tax base ratio of residential to commercial use. This includes targeting major villages, Centerville, Courthouse, and, if it ever gets utilities, Oilville, for growth. Although there has been a fair amount of residential development, especially in the northeast part of the county, connected to the Tuckahoe Creek Service District, balanced growth urges that water and sewer be reserved for commercial and industrial use.

Another suggestion is to change the designation of Crozier, Hadensville, Georges Tavern/Fife, and probably Sandy Hook, from village to “rural crossroad community.” This would recognize the reality that limited commercial activity providing services to the immediate area will be the extent of growth in these locations for the next few decades.
Manakin and Oilville will be classified as emerging villages, whose further development will be driven by expansion of public utilities and demand.
Identified as a gateway to the county, Centerville is expected to be the epicenter of growth and development in the next five years. The county seat, Courthouse Village, is also designated as a major village, but growth there will be restrained by limited water and sewer and road access.
Suggestions for updating the Centerville section include: reviewing the overlay district regulations and changing if necessary; installation of street trees, sidewalks, distinctive lighting and street furniture; underground utilities; construction of service roads north and south of Broad Street; and concentration of commercial use on Broad Street in the “village center.”

The goal is to create an environment conducive to “high quality” development. This is where the McDonald’s detractors howl that all is lost because “off the rack” design templates for fast food emporiums will be allowed to circumvent design standards because they will contribute lots of tax revenue to the county coffers. The Taco Bell in the planning stages supports this thesis.

The protests that McDonald’s is desecrating the rural beauty of the Centerville Village, a commercial area with a gracious plenty of cinder block buildings, seems a bit ingenuous. However, it would be nice if, going forward landscaping requirements include evergreens to provide all season screening.

The concurrent discussion about the possibility of some sort of mixed use zoning—no decisions have yet been made—is important to Centerville development. A carefully designed mixed use project, with density appropriate for a ruralish location, would set a high bar for subsequent development to emulate. This would be market driven.

Rural enhancement areas, pretty much everything outside of a designated village, encourage agricultural and related uses. Residential enclaves here should be low density.
Perhaps the most interesting factoid presented at this workshop, according to Coleman, is that there is a movement to define “Manakin-Sabot” as a specific community within the zip code. It would encompass the gracious estates of the equestrian heartland along Manakin Road, Millers Lane and environs that have long been lumped in with Kinloch, Broad Run and The Meadows. While elegant in their own right, these uber upscale residential communities have a very different feel from the rest of horse country.

According to Coleman, this was the result of the recent kerfuffle over a proposal to transform a horse farm into a large worship center.
Over the next few months, more workshops will take place. Expect discussion about the comp plan at next month’s round of town hall meetings. Both the planning commission and supervisors will hold at least one public hearing on the comp plan revisions before they are approved, probably during the summer of 2015. This is the time to pay attention to land use matters.

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