Monday, September 15, 2014

Treading carefully

Goochland County's current supervisors have had a busy few years and they still have much to do. 
After Labor Day, they began to delve into the possibilities of mixed use and higher density residential zoning. To be clear, no decisions have been made. As "balanced development that contributes to the welfare of the community and preserves its rural character" is a declared goal of the recently approved strategic plan, this discussion is timely.

Before its September 2 meeting, the Board gathered with members of the planning commission for a discussion on the matter that included a background presentation by planning staff.

Meanwhile, the Planning Commission held its own workshop on the update of the county's comprehensive land use plan following its September 4 meeting. The confluence of the two initiatives is a very positive development. If all goes well, the comp plan will designate areas appropriate for certain  kinds of development, which will be supported by zoning ordinances.

The eastern part of Goochland has been designated as a "growth" area for a generation. Until "Beautiful Downtown Short Pump" became reality, significant growth in Goochland seemed like wishful thinking.

While Centerville has many of the elements--roads and public utilities--to support commercial, high density residential use, there are no zoning options in place to make this possible. The row crops and grazing cows along Broad Street are not rural character props, but exist because there are few land use options there.
In early 2012, the supervisors approved a proposal for multifamily housing limited to 60 acres in West Creek. This paved the way for the 30 or so acre upscale apartment complex, The Retreat, just coming online opposite Wawa. West Creek still has approval for multifamily housing of some sort for the remainder. To date, no other plans for multifamily housing in West Creek have been made public.
Higher density housing could mean lower cost homes, which are in short supply for our deputies, teachers, and fire-rescue providers. School Superintendent Dr. James Lane contends that the high price of homes in Goochland can be a barrier to retaining good teachers, who prefer to live in the community they serve, if they can afford to. Options for seniors to stay in Goochland when they downsize are also limited.

Moving land from agricultural to business or residential use increases its value, which in turn, raises revenue. Downside consequences of higher density development is congestion, an increased demand for government services, and loss of the county's rural feel.

Balancing the benefits of more intense development versus the cost is a very delicate task. Indeed, the cost of building new schools to accommodate incoming families and hiring additional deputies and fire-rescue providers could easily outstrip the amount of additional tax revenue.

The notion of mixed use--allowing one or more different land uses on the same parcel--is relatively straightforward. The possible manifestations are many.
In its simplest form, mixed use exists when the proprietor of a business "lives over the store." Urban high rises with varied uses, or large, master planned complexes that contain several types of residential, office, industrial, and retail in "bays" in close proximity are other examples. Matt Ryan, Director of Economic Development, discussed existing mixed use projects in Central Virginia, which ranged from Oyster Point in Newport News to an eight acre version in Powhatan with 48 apartments and 107,000 square feet of retail space.

The question that the supervisors and planning commissioners are wrangling with is "what kind of mixed use is appropriate for Goochland?"

County administrator Rebecca Dickson explained that the supervisors, in general, desire to be able to accommodate some type of "mixed use product" as a general concept, not focused on a particular parcel of land. Only Centerville and Courthouse Village are served by public water and sewer, a necessity for high density residential communities.

West Broad Village in Short Pump has been both lauded and panned for its approach to mixed use. Originally touted as an option for young professionals and empty nesters, WBV has instead, become a mecca for young families.

Currently, the maximum residential density allowed in Goochland, outside of West Creek. Is 2.5 units per acre in residential planned unit development (RPUD) zoning. Coleman said that there are currently 648 dwelling units in the Centerville Village. An additional 193 homes are in some stage of the building process as The Parke at Saddle Creek and The Retreat. Two other subdivisions, which have received zoning approval but not started to build, Reader's Branch and Swanson Ridge, will add another 306 homes in the Centerville Village. 

The Parke at Saddle Creek is a de facto mixed use because the southeast corner of Manakin and Broad is zoned for commercial use, just waiting for someone to come along and develop it. Currently, it is used as a mulch yard.
There are five parcels of undeveloped land in the Centerville Village's Broad Street Road corridor of 20 or more acres, which could be lend themselves to mixed use of some sort.

Ned Creasey, District 3, said that he would like to know what higher density uses, housing in particular, will cost in county services like law enforcement, schools, and fire-rescue, in relation to expected revenue.

Some supervisors said they would like to see what developers want to do before they approve an ordinance. Dickson explained that developers will not submit plans without an ordinance in place "to design around." Indeed, drawing a master plan for a mixed use project is an expensive proposition.   Developers want a fair shot at approval before  committing their money.

Ken Peterson, District 5, said that a strategic plan goal is to provide a variety of housing types while maintaining a fiscally responsible revenue base without overwhelming county services. "How do we do that?" He asked, articulating the crux of the matter.

Planning Commission Chair Joe Andrews, District 4, contended that details should be spelled out in ordinances and not left to the vagaries of the Design Review Committee or staff interpretation.  "Developers  need to know what is expected of them upfront, they don't like surprises. The more everyone understands the rules, the better, Andrews declared.

Coleman said that the Board needs to decide how much commercial development is enough because developers need to know what is mandatory versus what is preferred.

After obtaining a general consensus from the supervisors and commissioners to move forward with the investigation of how mixed use zoning could work in Goochland, Dickson said that staff will bring back some possible mixed use applications--remember this is still in the early discussion stage, no decisions have been made--for further discussion.

In the coming months, higher density development in Centerville will get a lot of scrutiny by the supervisors. Given the outstanding Tuckahoe Creek Service District debt and growth pressures, it is inevitable that some sort of "mixed use product" will emerge. It is important that the citizenry pay attention to what is going on here. The supervisors seem very wary of multifamily housing--apartments-- even though, so far, according to Dickson, The Retreat had added no children to the school division.


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