Sunday, November 30, 2014

"Tis more blessed. . . .


A pause in the search for the perfect gift, or the best leftover recipe—marshmallow-topped turkey, gravy, stuffing, cranberry sauce casserole anyone?—is a good time to think of organizations that bless society with their deeds year round.

Those of you with an extra bean or two are probably planning to make charitable donations before the end of the year. You’ve done well so you can do good, while keeping a few bucks out of the grasp of the IRS.

No doubt you’ve been inundated with donation requests from non-profit organizations of every stripe imaginable.
While you’ve got the checkbook out give some consideration to these worthy causes close to home.

Goochland’s Christmas Mother program, this year presided over by Meta Potts, has made the holidays brighter for local families in need for a very long time. Although the season for this organization is December, it will gratefully accept donations all year long. Mail contributions to P O Box 322, Goochland, Virginia 23063. Visit the website at www.goochlandchristmasmother.org.

The Goochland Free Clinic and Family Services is a community based organization that helps Goochlanders who have fallen “between the cracks” of other assistance programs. From its food pantry to medical and dental care, GFFS is the definition of helping those in need. In a cruel twist of fate, the advent of Obamacare seems to have increased the demand for its health care services. Send checks to P O Box 116, Goochland, Virginia 23063, or visit their website: goochlandfreeclinicandfamilyservcies.org

When children get involved with the legal system, a very special group of volunteers, Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASAs), act as the eyes and ears of the court. These fine people invest large amounts of their time and talents to find the best outcome for the children. Send donations to: Goochland CASA P O Box 910, Goochland, VA 23063. Visit the CASA website at www.goochlandcasa.org.

Our great school board has done a great job keeping education expenditures within the confines of its budget. In this fragile economy, that means paring back or eliminating some extras. The Goochland Education Foundation helps to fill the gaps. Send donations to: Tom Deweerd, Registered Agent, Goochland Education Foundation, 2938-I River Road West, Goochland, Virginia 23063. Visit the website at www.goochlandedu.org.

Although parts of Goochland are known for their grand homes, some of our citizens cannot afford safe, basic housing. Goochland Habitat for Humanity leverages volunteer skills and donation to build homes. Their address is PO Box 1016, Goochland, VA 23063. See www.habitat.org to learn how this group works.

Last, but certainly not least, don’t forget our furry friends. For the Love of Animals in Goochland, FLAG, is our local animal rescue group. FLAG volunteers rescue and foster pets discarded or otherwise in peril, gets them healthy, and places them in suitable homes. They too spend every penny wisely, and right here in our community. Send donations to FLAG, P O Box 115, Manakin Sabot, VA 23103. Visit them online at www.flagpets.com.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Coming home to roost


Chickens, that is, if a zoning ordinance amendment wending its way to the Goochland Board of Supervisors is approved.

The Planning Commission, at its November 6 meeting, recommended approval of the amendment, which allows up to six chickens—no roosters--in areas zoned rural residential and rural preservation. The ordinance refers specifically to chickens, and does not include any other kind of fowl.
According to Assistant County Attorney Whitney Marshall, restrictive covenants take precedence over county ordinances. So, if your subdivision does not permit chickens now, the ordinance does not change anything.

The chickens may not trespass beyond property lines; chicken enclosures must be at least ten feet from the property line, 50 feet from a dwelling on an adjacent lot and must be located behind the front building line of a dwelling unit. Coops shall be well-ventilated and kept in a clean, dry, and sanitary manner. Manure shall not be allowed to create a nuisance or health hazard to adjoining property owners. Outdoor slaughtering of chickens is prohibited.

Other ordinance changes recommended for approval by the Commissioners addressed easing regulations for small agribusinesses located on a farm, not related to other businesses.

The relaxed plan of development procedure includes lower fees, but requires adherence to regulations to promote the health, safety, and welfare of the citizens. For complete wording, see the November 6 Planning Commissions packet available on the county website www.co.goochland.va.us) The Supervisors will vote on the amendments at a future meeting.

In other developments:

Taco Bell—the Goochland Design Review Committee met with representatives of franchisee Burger Busters and Taco Bell corporate on November 20 to review the structure proposed for the parcel to the immediate west of McDonald’s in Centerville.

The Board of Supervisors deferred a decision on a conditional use permit for this enterprise until the DRC reviewed the application and either rejected or issued a certificate of approval signifying that it complies with the Centerville Village overlay design standards.
Following about 90 minutes of presentation and discussion, the DRC voted to defer a decision until January. At that time, the applicant Burgerbusters will present revised elevations, landscape, and lighting plans to reflect mutually acceptable changes.

Other facets, including metal elements on the fa├žade, and alternatives to “purple glow” exterior lighting, characterized as part of the Taco Bell “branding” will be reviewed by corporate entities.

The DRC is charged only with the exterior of structures in overlay districts. It cannot address the use of a parcel or zoning issues.
Paul Costello, DRC chair, has, in the past--speaking as a private citizen--raised objections to flat roofs on new buildings in Centerville, including Goodwill, McDonald’s, and Acme Stove. Costello has contended that flat roofs do not have a residential feel appropriate to a village. The proposed Taco Bell has a flat roof.

The Board of Supervisors has the final say on the CUP application. Although some newcomers to Centerville have strenuously objected to another fast food emporium in Centerville, the intended use of outparcels of Broadview Shopping Center for fast food was clearly expressed well before the new subdivisions were built. Indeed, some of the funding for the new traffic signal at Hockett and Broad resulted from a zoning change there.

The hodgepodge of buildings in Centerville resulted from landowners willing to invest their money and taking a chance that businesses there might be successful--some were many weren’t. Uses of those buildings have changed over the years. The buildings that are touted as “residential” in character are a little tired and could well be torn down to make way for the next best thing. That is how villages and cities evolve; they do not fall fully formed from the sky.

This is not a condition unique to Centerville. The charming bank building at the corner of Pouncey Tract and Broad in Short Pump had a peaked roof and a residential flavor. Vacated by a bank consolidation, it was on the market for years. Finally, it was torn down and replaced with a standard Walgreen’s, complete with a flat roof.

Market forces, funded by private--not government--dollars ultimately decide how land is developed. It’s the job of local government, in collaboration with citizens, to create an environment that attracts private investment. Chickens, easier rules for agribusiness, and Taco Bell, are all part of the process.



Friday, November 14, 2014

Those darn towers


Most of the Thursday, November 6 meeting of the Goochland Planning Commission dealt with an application for a conditional use permit to allow construction of a communications tower, whose height is not to exceed 199 feet, which would require lighting, on 4.6 acres located approximately 1900 feet east of 1259 Millers Lane.

The Commissioners voted 4-0--Matt Brewer, District 2 was absent-to recommend denial of the application after listening to remarks from 17 speakers, mostly opposed to the tower.

The presentation by the applicant Pegasus Tower Company followed the usual script citing the need to improve communications for public safety and to provide greater speed and connectivity for nearby residents.

Propagation maps that purport to show before and after coverage of the area in question often resemble Rorschach tests or the bottom of a birdcage. The “after” always promises significant improvement in coverage.

All cell tower CUP applications contend that they are badly needed to improve--or in parts of the upper end of the county provide--cell phone service. Now they are touted as a remedy to add capacity for the voracious signal consumption caused by widespread use of smartphones.
Wireless communications,the product of technology and magic often fail to deliver their promise. For instance, two cell towers are clearly visible from the front porch of GOMM world headquarters, yet cell phones rarely display more than two bars. Downloading items to a 4G Kindle here requires standing in the front yard and extending the device skyward toward these towers to supplicate the signal gods.

Cell towers are ugly. The faux tree cell towers intended to disguise the apparatus in forests are more noticeable than the steel variety.
Once again, this CUP application forces local government to decide whose property rights, the owner of the site of the proposed tower or its neighbors, trumps the other.

The site of the proposed Pegasus tower is smack dab in the middle of the high end horse country that defines the notion of “rural enhancement area” that appears often in the Goochland Comprehensive Land Use Plan.

A good bit of the land in the vicinity of the proposed tower is open pasture that affords no visual shelter for a tall steel rod reaching for the sky. To make matters worse, a family is in the process of building its dream home 250 feet from the proposed tower’s base.

Goochland’s own zoning ordinance encourages placement of cell towers in non-residential areas where the impact on the community will be minimal.
The balloon test held to illustrate the height and visibility of the proposed tower was also criticized by the neighbors who contended that its duration was shorter than promised, supposedly the result of windy conditions.

A small airport is also in the neighborhood. A report from the FAA opining that the proposed tower would not interfere with flight operations was presented as an after-thought and not included in the packet.

Property in the shadow of the tower location is protected by a conservation easement to protect, among other attributes, its scenic beauty.
Neighbors of the proposed tower turned out to object the tower’s placement in the center of their universe. Others contended that cell phone service needs improvement.

Opponents were eloquent and well prepared. A contention that the tower would have a negative impact on property values for nearby homes was supported by data that suggested a 20 percent reduction in sales price for a home in Rivergate located near a tower. The Pegasus team countered that the Rivergate tower is a lattice, rather than the proposed monopole design.

Ross Mackenzie combined his poetic gift of language and scholarship of the ethos of American governance to declare that to let the right of one property owner trump the rights of many nearby property owners violates the implied compact between the government and its citizens not to change the rules in the middle of the game. That betrayal of the that trust, he said, is incomprehensible.

Opponents expressed skepticism about the need for the tower there and its positive impact on local cell service and characterized the expressed need as “vague and generic.” The Pegasus representative’s responses to questions about service improvements were also vague and generic.
The commissioners had their own reservations about the application.

Commission Chair Joe Andrews, District 4, said that he struggled with the application but believes that the tower needs to be somewhere else.
Tom Rockecharlie, District 5, said that he walked the subject property and had service for his phone.

Derek Murray, District 3 probes about supposed coverage improvements were met with carefully parsed responses that tap danced around the question.

John Myer, District 1, expressed safety concerns with the proximity of the proposed tower to homes. He asked if parts of the towers could become “guided missiles” in 75 mph winds. The Pegasus team contended that the tower is built to collapse in its own footprint, but had “no data” about equipment on the tower.

The tower application now moves to the Supervisors, who have the final say in the matter. It will be interesting to see how they deal with this one. In past land use decisions, they have tried to be consistent across the county.
Last year, the Board approved a similar cell tower CUP, also located among homes near Randolph School. Similar arguments were made by nearby homeowners and tower companies. That CUP was approved, and the tower built earlier this year. To date, no communications equipment is deployed on this tower, which sticks out like the proverbial sore thumb.






Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Balancing act


Goochland’s supervisors believe that their job is to serve the citizens. Making everyone happy is another story.
A mixed grill of issues was on the Board’s menu for its Wednesday, November 5 meeting.

In the afternoon, concerned citizens protested an ordinance amendment adopted in August, 2014 that gives the county the authority to cut grass in excess of twelve inches on occupied homes in areas zoned residential. The ordinance does not apply to any property zoned A-1 or A-2, or actively involved in agricultural pursuits. Susan Lascolette, District 1, cast the sole dissenting vote on the matter.

Previously, the ordinance addressed only unoccupied residential property.

Tom Dykers contended that ordinance enforcement is complaint driven and enforced by bureaucrats, which he said, is counter to English Common Law. He contended that there are laws on the books, which provide a way to remedy reduction in property values caused by neighbors who refuse to maintain their land.

Others said that Goochland is a nice county of neighbors who help each other when the grass needs cutting and that the involvement of the county in a dispute could exacerbate a conflict.

Board Chair Manuel Alvarez, Jr., District 2, said that the supervisors never intended that the ordinance would be used for residents unable to cut their grass, but for people who refuse to cut their grass. He cited health concerns as one on the underlying reasons for the ordinance and said that it would be rarely used only after all other approaches had been exhausted.

Alvarez reported that the last round of town hall meetings was successful and the supervisors received a great deal of thoughtful and constructive feedback from citizens. Issues of interest differed around the county. For instance, the Taco Bell in Centerville generated a lot of feedback in District 4 while roads were the center of discussion in District 1.

The Board authorized appropriation of an additional $22,000 to augment the up to $110,000 it authorized in October for slope improvements and related services for the closed landfill under Hidden Rock Park.

John Wack, Deputy County Administrator for Financial Services gave an update on projections for the first quarter of Fiscal Year 2015, which began on July 1.

Expenditures by county departments came in at, or mostly below projections. Wack’s report (included in the Board packet) stated that revenues for FY 2015, including an expected 2.4 percent increase in taxable real estate values as of January 1, 2015, are estimated to exceed the budget by approximately $2.8 million.

The Board agreed to a request to approve an amendment increasing the budget to allow $36,000 to be used for a one-time bonus for employees in the Constitutional offices.

An amendment to the school budget was also approved. The details are in the Board packet.

County Administrator Rebecca Dickson said that the county will seek a credit rating in the winter. This will be another indicator of excellence in local governance.

The Board discussed referral of an amendment to a zoning ordinance to clarify road requirements in A-1 and A-2 for uses that are considered to generate high public assembly. These would include: churches, fire-rescue stations, wineries and microbreweries. The amendment would require those uses to abut and have direct access to a state maintained road.

Wording of the proposed ordinance seemed vague with regard to existing operations. Bob Minnick, District 4 contended that the intent about grandfathering needs to be clearer before it goes to the Planning Commission.

Alvarez said that the intent of the ordinance amendment is not to “Shoot down” and existing use, but to look forward for new uses.
Ken Peterson, District 5 observed that this is an attempt to move away from “one size fits all” regulations for uses in rural areas.

The Board went into closed session with County Attorney Norman Sales to discuss the process for filling vacant elected offices.

Following a public hearing that was almost a love fest between affected citizens and the supervisors, the Board voted unanimously to approve an ordinance to define and differentiate between commercial and private kennels.

This ordinance was the result of a great deal of discussion between county staff and local kennel owners. The terms had never been defined, which led to a great deal of confusion.

Whitney Marshall, assistant county attorney, explained that, in Goochland County, there is no such thing as a “kennel license.” The Treasurer’s Office sells dog licenses in bulk, which has no bearing on the “legality” of any dog, cat, or hybrid facility.

The main difference between commercial and private kennel is that commercial kennels have regular business hours and offer services including boarding and breeding in return for compensation.

Pete Lenk, who owns a kennel, reported that there are about 233 kennels in Goochland, 84 percent of those are on land zoned A-1 or A-2. He supported the ordinance, which was unanimously approved.

Last, but by no means least, the supervisors voted 4-1 with Bob Minnick, District 4 in dissent, in favor of amending the Tuckahoe Creek Service District rules requiring entrants into the TCSD after January 1, 2015 to pay only an additional 20 percent “upcharge” on utility connection fees.

Only parcels with an existing residence that are not connected to the utilities will be permitted to leave the TCSD every two years beginning in September, 2016. There will be no refunds of paid ad valorem taxes. Land of equal or greater value must be admitted to offset the exclusion.
The original organizing documents of the TCSD required owners of land added to the district after its founding in 2002 to pay back ad valorem taxes for several years with interest. The fee, according to Dickson, was never applied. County Attorney Norman Sales said that the penalty did not comply with state law.

Property added to the TCSD last year on the north side of Tuckahoe Creek Parkway apparently did not pay the penalty. Instead, that project proffered, at its expense, badly needed improvements to utility lines, which is expected to mitigate the “smelly” water problem that has plagued users.

The revised ordinance, also in the Board packet, seems to levy ad valorem tax based on the full assessed value of land in the TCSD that participates in land use. This is an important change and should bolster debt service revenues in the TCSD.

Jeff Wells, a resident of Kinloch, who described himself as “the water ghetto guy,” strenuously objected to the idea of expanding the TCSD. He contended that about one quarter of the TCSD is developed and growth should be concentrated there.

Wells told the supervisors that instead of looking to expand the TCSD, they should be concentrating their energies to attract development. He cited an upscale retirement community as something that would complement West Creek and increase property value. Wells has a very good point. West Creek still has the option of developing some sort of high density housing.

He objected to essentially giving new entrants into the TCSD a pass on the debt service burden carried by landowners since inception in 2002.
Wells concluded his remarks by noting that the supervisors and staff took the time to work with citizens to craft the kennel ordinance, but do not meet with TCSD residents to seek equitable solutions to the debt issue. He characterized that as the “Goochland good old boy network.”

Alvarez conceded that Wells made some good arguments against expansion of the TCSD, but said that the county cannot force landowners to develop their property. There has been some interest in expansion, but there are no pending applications.

Discussion about fairness ensued. Homeowners in the TCSD contend that their ad valorem tax burden is unfair (Wells said he pays $2,200 annual ad valorem tax on his home) and want a more equitable solution. Some contend that, because all Goochland citizens derive benefit from the TCSD, the debt service burden should be spread to all land owners.

Dickson explained that the county’s general fund “contributes” several hundred thousand dollars to the TCSD financing each year. That is money that could be used for law enforcement, fire-rescue, schools, or other services.

Minnick, said that there is a “lot to wrestle with” on this issue. He suggested that the Board take more time to evaluate the matter and the working toward an equitable solution is worth the extra time.

Ned Creasey, District 3 moved to accept the amendment as written, with the condition that it will be “tweaked” to deal with the fairness question.

The TCSD is the gift of dysfunction left the previous regime that just keeps on giving heartburn to all involved.



Saturday, November 8, 2014

The people speak


No, this is not about Tuesday’s election. This is about an essential facet of rural character--attitude.

Goochland County is still mostly rural in persuasion, where folks believe in self-reliance and being neighborly. Our population, about 21,000, is small enough that people can know their elected officials and vice versa. Got a bone to pick with your supervisor? Give them a call and they’ll be happy to hear you out. (For contact information, go to the supervisors’ tab on the county website www.co.goochland.va.us)

This week, thanks to Election Day, the Supervisors and Planning Commissioners held back to back meetings on Wednesday and Thursday. At both meetings, citizens rose to address several issues, each with a unique constituency. (There was a great deal of information for GOMM to digest--detailed posts will be along soon.)

Issues that raised the most comment included ordinance amendments addressing kennels and expansion of the Tuckahoe Creek Service District, and a proposed cell phone tower in the heart of Deep Run Hunt Country. At the start of the Supervisors’ afternoon session, speakers used the citizen comment period—reserved for remarks on items not otherwise on the agenda—to protest the recent adoption of an ordinance that allows the county to mow grass on occupied homes in areas zoned residential, after exhaustion of all other remedies, as an infringement of Constitutional rights.

All of the speakers were passionate about their subjects. The Supervisors and Planning Commissioners respectfully listened to all remarks.
Board Chair Manuel Alvarez, Jr., District 2, and District 5 Supervisor Ken Peterson attended the Planning Commission meeting. Their presence indicates an interest in the concerns of all citizens.

Long time—some multi-generational—residents expressed their love and attachment to the land that is Goochland. They pretty much want local government to butt out of their lives and protect their peace and privacy.
The small town feel of these hearings, and the required community meetings that are an important part of the process to change land use, is rural character at its best.





Thursday, November 6, 2014

Honor those who make America possible


On Tuesday, November 11, 2014 Goochland American Legion Post 215 will present a Veteran’s Day ceremony at Goochland High School. The event will begin at 11 a.m. This follows the tradition of pausing at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month to honor all veterans of our armed forces.

Tuesday will also mark the beginning of a new tradition in Goochland. The Veteran’s Day observance will be conducted by the newly instituted Goochland High School Marine Corps Junior Reserve Officer’s Training Corps.

The keynote speaker will be Col. Catherine Hundley, who was the first female to attain the rank of colonel in the Virginia Army National Guard and the first woman in the Army National Guard to attend the Army War College. She served 32 years as an Army Nurse.

Our veterans--from the Minutemen of the Revolutionary war to those brave souls currently deployed--left the comfort and safety of home to go in harm’s way in defense of the liberties we take for granted. Please take a few minutes from your day to honor their service.

Monday, November 3, 2014

In pursuit of "rural"


The strategic plan recently adopted by Goochland’s Board of Supervisors includes the intent to preserve the county’s rural character. (See the county website www.co.goochland.va.us for the entire plan.)

The notion of “rural” has different meanings to different people. For many, it goes hand in hand with agricultural pursuits, which tend to be noisy, smelly, and sometimes messy. This runs counter to the sterile perfection of concentration camps for the affluent that means “rural” to others.

Goochland is a big place—we have more land area than Henrico and a fraction of its population—there should be room for all versions of “rural” to dance around each other without stepping on toes. The trouble is, too many people want to impose their version, whatever that may be, on everyone else.

Although some form of "preservation of rural character" has been on the lips of elected and appointed officials for decades, the current review of the county’s Comprehensive Land Use Plan (Comp Plan) addresses the issue for the first time. The Supervisors are considering ordinances and fee structures that encourage agribusinesses.

Some of these initiatives were sparked by the findings of the Rural Economic Development Committee, formed last year to focus on enhancing the commercial aspects of agriculture. Yes, commercial. When people put their land in enterprise use, it is far less likely to sprout a crop of houses.

Agribusinesses provide jobs, generate tax revenue, and tread gently on the land. Ideally, they go hand in hand with soil, water, and natural resource conservation.

Designating the majority of the county “rural enhancement” gives decision makers justification for denying intense land use in certain places.
The “village concept” that has been the foundation of the last few Comp Plans seeks to concentrate growth, especially commercial development, in places like Centerville, that have public water and sewer to support high density uses.

A concurrent matter under consideration by the Supervisors and Planning Commission is multifamily and mixed use zoning. Currently, the only sanctioned apartments in Goochland exist in the Retreat opposite the Wawa on Broad Street Road.

Opponents of high density housing fear that the county will be overrun with apartments and our schools inundated with new students. This is a valid concern. However, given the small portion of the county served by the public water and sewer than make high density housing possible, the threat is manageable.

Given the higher cost of housing in Goochland, we do need some starter living options to help our young people who grew up here stay in the county for cultural continuity.

Residential rezoning applications must include a fiscal impact statement that projects the need for additional county services and offers mitigation strategies.

The villages will not be theme park renditions of Christmas card New England towns. However, they should be as aesthetically pleasing as possible while providing services to the surrounding population.

Development is driven and funded by private dollars reacting to market forces. People disparage the fast food and other “downscale” businesses in Centerville. They overlook the fact that these establishments provide goods and services, pay taxes, and support the community. They located in Centerville because they saw an opportunity and risked their money. Fast food venues also offer job opportunities to our young people.

The variety of viewpoints on issues is what makes Goochland a vibrant community, where citizens care about what happens here. Pay attention, stay engaged in the process.