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 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.

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