Tuesday, January 27, 2015

New life for a venerable structure

District 2 Supervisor Manuel Alvarez, Jr. watches as Sekou Shabaka, Frances Anderson, and Chair of the Goochland Board of Supervisors Susan Lascolette, District 1 cut a ribbon marking the opening of the newly renovated Central High School gym.

On Saturday, January 24, a new day dawned for Goochland’s venerable Central High School as its newly renovated gym was dedicated as a county recreational facility.
During a pause in youth basketball games, a ribbon was cut to commemorate the reopening. A slight aroma of floor varnish was in the air. District 2 Supervisor Manuel Alvarez, Jr. observed that Central High School was built to separate the races. He expressed the hope that new uses for the school will now serve to bring them together.

Alvarez observed that the commitment of the community to revitalizing the Central High School building made things happens. He credited County Administrator Rebecca Dickson figuring out how to make the reuse of the building work given budgetary constraints.

Chair of the Goochland Board of Supervisors Susan Lascolette, District 1, said that the Central high School renovations are a perfect example of what can happen when the citizens and local government work in harmony.

Frances Anderson and Goochland Branch NAACP president Sekou Shabaka joined Lascolette in a symbolic ribbon cutting. Shabaka said that he planned to give his portion of the ribbon to a friend who graduated from Central High School. He thanked the supervisors for listening to the community.

Built in the 1930’s to educate Goochland’s African American student, the building was folded into the county school system after desegregation and used as the middle school. Additions were grafted on here and there. It became surplus property when the middle school wing of the “new” high school opened in 2007 and has pretty much moldered ever since.

Since taking office in 2012, District 2 supervisor Manuel Alvarez, Jr. sought input from the community, especially those that attended Central High School, on possible uses for the facility. The supervisors added a $500,000 “placeholder” to the current fiscal year’s budget to address the issue.

A fairly detailed analysis of the building and grounds was undertaken and a report made last fall. The original building, which has historical significance as Central High School, is a good candidate for reuse. Additions have slab foundations and followed the topography of the site using stairs and ramps to transition between levels. Making these portions of the school Americans with Disability Act compliant would be expensive. There is the possibility of an indoor skateboard course, but the liability insurance could be prohibitive.
Stairs and ramps in additions to the original building

The gym, however, just needed floor refinishing, cleaning and some work on the heating system to get it back in action. Restroom renovations are still in the works, but the kids chasing each other up and down the court didn’t seem to mind using porta jons in the interim.

According to Derek Stamey, Director of Parks, Recreation and Facilities Management, until the Central High facility opened, there was only one hour per week not reserved on the county’s other basketball courts.

Stamey said that is very rewarding to see the Central High School gym come back to life to serve the community.

Alvarez said that the gym renovation is just the beginning. A community committee will be appointed in the next few weeks to take a close look at realistic uses for the rest of Central High School. Suggestions so far have included renovation of the cafeteria to include a commercial kitchen that could accommodate civic events and senior citizen activities.

The bottom line is, well, the bottom line. Renovating the entire building is an expensive proposition, so specific goals must be established to ensure that funds are wisely spent to benefit the community.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

New kid on the block

Dave Brat represents Virginia’s 7th District in the United States Congress after having blind-sided incumbent Eric Cantor in last June’s republican primary and prevailed over a democrat and libertarian seeking the seat in the November, 2014 general election.

Fulfilling a campaign promise to meet often with his constituents, Brat addressed a packed meeting of the Goochland Tea Party on January 23. Cold, rainy weather did not deter 127 people from trekking to Goochland Courthouse to hear from the neophyte Congressman.

Brat has morphed from the reserved academic persona he projected when advising Virginia State Senator Walter Stosch (R Henrico) a few years ago into a gregarious, polished politician.

For his appearance in Goochland, Brat ditched his tie and wore a toothy grin as he was welcomed with a standing ovation. When someone called him to a rock star, Brat replied that the only true rock star resides in the heavens.

Having been sworn in on November 12, 2014 to serve the remainder of Cantor’s term, Brat had barely found his seat when the “cromnibus” bill to keep the government operating came up for a vote. Brat, citing his pledge to adhere to the Virginia Republican Creed, voted nay. Each of 70 republicans who voted against the bill, explained Brat, represent about 700,000 people. Their action got the attention of the rules committee.

Brat then discussed the machinations of congress. Building consensus on an issue is only part of the task. The actual proposed legislation must be written to reflect that agreement. So far, it sounds like Brat is reading bills he votes on.

The Senate, Brat contended, is “like royalty” with horrendous rules. Procedure, in both houses, he said, is all important. Even good bills can be derailed by failing to follow procedure.
Echoing his campaign comments, Brat said that the United States Constitution enumerates 18 powers for the federal government. Along the way, with the best of intentions, the government created programs to help widows, orphans, and the indigent overstepping its limits and paving the way for general welfare and imposition of an income tax to pay the bills.

Brat said that his background in ethics may be more helpful in Washington that his training as an economist. “They know that we’re putting all this spending on our kids’ credit cards to pay the bill down the road.” He said that there are no lobbyists in Washington protecting the interests of your people.

The President, said Brat, has a lot of power and the Congress needs to get serious on defunding programs. That could be problematic. He contended that the messaging coming out of the GOP is flat footed; in spite of having the largest majority in 80 years, republican leadership seems to feel “now is not the time to screw it up by taking stands.”

Brat characterized the current business climate as being on a “sugar high of Fed stimulus” to keep the business climate stable. When rates start to rise, “that stability goes under the bus,” he said.

Free markets, said Brat, are a social choice and right now, America is going the other way. He said that it is not the government’s function to create jobs, but rather to create an environment of low taxes and regulations that encourages free enterprise to flourish.

Brat cautioned the audience to keep tabs on legislation to fund border security, which he believes is a Trojan horse for amnesty.

Although Brat voted against reelection John Boehner of Ohio as Speaker of the House, he praised Boehner for inviting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to speak to Congress about Iran’s nuclear program.

Bart reiterated his pledge to serve no more than 12 years in Congress regardless of term limits. The 7th District voters proved last year, however, that they don’t need no stinkin’ term limits. That’s what the ballot box is for.

See Brat.house.gov for more information.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Following the money

Crafting a detailed budget can be mind-numbingly boring but extremely educational. When they first took office in 2012, Goochland’s supervisors sharpened their pencils and started looking long and hard at the county’s finances. They made some hard choices along the way to keep the real estate tax rate unchanged at a time of almost unprecedented decline in assessed valuations. The supervisors also gained detailed insight about the workings of each department.

On January 21, the supervisors continued their tradition of budget workshops that consist of meeting with department heads who listed accomplishments for the year past, challenges for the year to come, and present budget requests for fiscal year 2016, which begins on July 1.
This daylong session included presentations from several county departments. The entire packet is available on the supervisors’ tab of the county website www.co.goochland.va.us.

These workshops are for informational exchange only. The tax rates for calendar year 2015 will be set in April. As the assessor reported modest gains in property valuations, keeping the tax rate steady at 53 cents per $100 of valuation should bring in more revenue than last year.

Some workshop highlights:

County Treasurer Pamela Johnson reported that she will expand her efforts to ensure that all taxes are collected. She has worked with property owners squeezed by the fragile economy to set up payment plans for their taxes. Those who did not keep their end by keeping current with modest installments should be ready to pay up or face the consequences, Johnson told the supervisors.

In addition to working through the legal steps needed to seize property of delinquent taxpayers, Johnson continues to search for owners of land whose taxes have gone unpaid for years. In some cases, land was sold at auction to get it back on the tax rolls.

Johnson employs other “incentives” to encourage citizens to pay their taxes. These include DMV stops, which prevent delinquent taxpayers from registering vehicles, and a set off program with the state that diverts income tax refunds to the county to cover unpaid taxes. Johnson will use all methods at her disposal to see that those who owe county taxes pay their bills.

The Treasurer’s Office continues to receive clean audits from every entity that reviews its procedures, including the Auditor of Public Accounts, who said that Goochland has the best internal controls it has ever seen.

Increasing citizen engagement in local government is high on the list of the supervisors’ strategic goals. As land use issues grab the most attention, the Department of Community Development plans to improve its notification policies for these matters.

These will include deploying a larger number of more distinctive signs on subject properties earlier in the rezoning process. Disseminating information about community meetings, which are typically held well before a proposal gets to the planning commission stage, to a wider audience was also discussed.

Board chair Susan Lascollete, District 1, asked that, wherever possible, policies be streamlined to prevent creating more layers of government.
Ensuring excellent customer service, a prime strategic goal, requires appropriate staffing levels. According to Debbie Byrd, Civil and Environmental Engineer, a number of projects, including more than 300 homes in residential subdivisions, are on hold waiting for a stronger economy. Should things “pop,” a backlog could develop.

Pending storm water regulations will also add to the county’s workload. This will encompass everything from the amount of fertilizer spread on playing fields to fencing cattle out of streams. A new engineer to deal with this has been hired.

A bill to require that application of biosolids be recorded on deeds has been introduced in the Virginia General Assembly. Manuel Alvarez, Jr., District 2, was concerned that such a recordation could have a negative impact on adjacent land exacerbating an already difficult situation. The Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) does have a complete list of biosolids applications locations.

Many of the budget requests for the next two years—the county now uses a “look ahead” approach to the budget process to avoid surprises—are nearly flat or reflect modest increases over the current year.

Information Technology, which touches all other departments, will need more funds to support a broader use of “devices” from security cameras at the convenience centers to the new public safety communications coming online. A wide array of software and equipment can ensure that employees do their jobs in a more effective and efficient manner. For instance, providing inspectors with devices that allows them to enter data one time in the field will save time and reduce mistakes. Coordinating all the pieces to make this happen, including necessary training, falls under the IT umbrella and has a cost.

The most important feature of the budget workshops is the relaxed and open dialog between the supervisors and presenters. The supervisors want to understand what each agency needs to operate. It is clear that departments put a great deal of thought and effort into their presentations to explain—and justify— requested expenditures.

Before their February 3 meeting, the supervisors will hear another set of budget presentations, working their way to a vote on a final budget in April. Following the money paints a clear picture of how the tax dollars are used to serve citizens. Pay attention, this is your money!

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Looking forward

Every five years or so, the Commonwealth of Virginia requires localities to review their comprehensive land use plans. Defined as a “guide” to assist governing boards in land use decisions, comp plans are supposed to express the collective land use vision of the citizens. In reality, they tend to reflect development pressures and intentions of landowners.

Goochland’s Planning Commissioners have been working with community development staff for the past few months to simplify the current 2028 comp plan, which was last updated in 2009.

The full text of the approved 2028 comp plan is available on the community development section of the county website www.co.goochland.va.us. It goes into mind-numbing detail about a host of development scenarios that may never come to pass.

This year’s iteration—the goal is to have the update approved by the end of the summer—looks most closely at the Centerville Village, the Tuckahoe Creek Service District, and Courthouse Village for development potential.

The 2035 comp plan employs a village concept approach that guides development to the places best equipped to absorb it, including Centerville, the Tuckahoe Creek Service District, and Courthouse Village.

A new addition to the plan is “Deep Run Hunt Country,” the heart of the county’s equestrian community. It is hoped that identifying this portion of east central Goochland as an established rural enclave will prevent the incursion of inappropriate uses. These folks successfully repelled the transformation of a horse farm into a large worship center. Residents who live here want the county to protect them from high weirdness and leave them alone.

As Henrico is nearly built out on its western boundary, Centerville is poised for development during the next five years—we hope. Proposed maps of Centerville for the 2035 comp plan contain some new roads, including a north-south thoroughfare roughly halfway between Rt. 288 and Hockett Road. A road connecting Old Three Chopt Road to Rt. 250 just west of Rt. 288 is also shown. This would provide access to the large parcel roughly behind Bellview Gardens without impinging on those homes.

Places that had been considered minor villages, Georges Tavern, Sandy Hook, Crozier, and Hadensville will now be designated as crossroads. Oilville and Manakin are still considered villages, but little action is expected in either place any time soon.

Discussion at the January 8 Planning Commission workshop focused on roads, whose purpose is to move people and stuff around the county in a safe, efficient manner.

The county does not build or maintain its roads, but rather works with VDoT—the state agency whose motto is “Oops!—to prioritize transportation projects. To achieve their strategic goal of “balanced development” the supervisors must ensure that growth does not exceed the county’s ability to support it.

Roads can also define a sense of place. While many of our roads seem too narrow for their traffic burden, judicious improvement is preferable to transforming all county roads into four lane divided highways, not that there will ever be money to make that happen.
Tweaks, like the traffic signal at Hockett and Broad Street Roads provide cost effective solutions to bottlenecks. A bridge over Tuckahoe Creek connecting Ridgefield Parkway in Henrico with Tuckahoe Creek Parkway (please, no more names that include Tuckahoe)would reduce congestion on Broad Street at Rt. 288, but may never be built for political rather than practical reasons.

Results of the arterial management study for the Broad Street/Ashland Roads corridor are expected by spring.

The next round of town meetings will include updates on the budget for fiscal year 2016 and a first look at the proposed 2035 comp plan. Both the Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors will hold public hearings before the 2035 comp plan is approved.
Please make an effort to understand and comment on changes to the comp plan, which outlines intentions for the future of Goochland.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Be careful what you wish for

The current Goochland County Board of Supervisors welcomes and encourages citizen engagement in local government.
At its January 6 meeting, the Board heard nearly six hours of feedback on three land use matters.

Residents of Deep Run Hunt Country used the citizen comment period--during which remarks on any topic not elsewhere addressed on the meeting agenda are welcome—to express their justifiable outrage at the December postponement of a hearing on a cell tower. These speakers requested additional technical data about the proposed tower and pledged to return in February for that hearing. One gentleman was skeptical that a company as large as Verizon could not find a substitute speaker.

Before the supervisors plunged into the scheduled public hearings, they reviewed the county’s administrative policy to deal with reports of willful violations of conditional use permits.

Enforcement of conditions governing land use can be tricky, and must be fair. On the one hand, flagrant disregard of what amounts to a contract cannot be tolerated; on the other, a CUP should not be revoked based on a vague and perhaps unfounded infraction report. Stuff happens and CUP holders must be given the opportunity to address complaints.

Anonymous complaints will not be accepted, but the county will keep the identity of complainant confidential. An initial investigation of all complaints will begin within two business days of first notice of the suspected infraction. Multiple violations at one place or event will be considered to be a single violation. The complaint will be entered into a code enforcement tracking system.

Following the first validated violation the permit holder will be notified of the infraction by staff and directed not to allow a recurrence. A second validated violation will result in a formal notice of violation stating the nature of the infraction and abatement measures. This could require the permit holder to submit a written corrective action plan.

After the third validated violation in a twelve month period, the permit holder will meet with staff to discuss compliance measures and be informed that, should another violation occur staff will begin process to seek legal enforcement or board revocation of the CUP.

The board unanimously approved a zoning change for property located on River Road West in Courthouse Village from residential general to business limited to establish a professional office for use by technical support firm Richmond Advertising Consortium, LLC. This will generate minimal traffic and is a great addition to the county.

A CUP application to permit the operation of vintage sawmill equipment on a 384 acre parcel zoned A-1 in western Goochland owned by Joe Liesfeld, was up next.

A citizen complaint brought the operation of two sawmills to the county’s attention. Under A-1 zoning, a CUP is needed to continue operations.
Last year, the county planning commission voted 3-2 to recommend approval of the CUP.

Neighboring residents spoke for and against the CUP. Opponents contended that operation of a permanent sawmill is industrial in nature and should be located in an industrial area, not a rural one. They raised concerns about the danger of large log trucks on Old Columbia Road, whose use is prohibited by one of the conditions. Noise generated by the unmuffled milling equipment prevents the peaceful enjoyment of their property.

Supporters said that they were not bothered by the noise of the sawmill, which some characterized as an intermittent hum, and did not believe that truck traffic to the sites along Route 6 would cause problems. One speaker contended that small sawmill operations are an appropriate rural activity.

Former County Attorney Darvin Satterwhite, representing Liesfeld, contended that the sawmills, which use vintage equipment for hobby and educational purposes, are not industrial wood processing.

Andrew McRoberts, who succeeded Satterwhite as county attorney, was retained by opponents of the CUP. He argued that the sawmill, which he characterized as a heavy industrial use, could not be properly located on land zoned for agricultural purposes. He said that a sawmill is not an agribusiness and processing timber from outside the county inserts industrial use into an agricultural area. He also argued that the Board was not empowered to grant the special exception of the CUP.

McRoberts, who stated that he was speaking on behalf of others, requested a 12 minute limit, which was granted by Board Chair Susan Lascolette, District 1. However, it seemed that some of those who had raised their hands to indicate that they were ceding their time to McRoberts took a turn at the microphone. To ensure that no one’s right to speak was denied, Lascolette let it pass. Shame on those who may have ignored the rules.

(To expedite public hearings, perhaps the discreet ding that signals the end of a three minute speaking time should be replaced with a louder, ruder sound.)

Current County Attorney Norman Sales advised the supervisors that they had the power to grant the special exception of a CUP.
Ken Peterson, District 5, observed that the people who are bothered by the sawmill, and those who are not are both right.

After much deliberation, the supervisors voted unanimously to approve a CUP that requires sound abatement measures on the mill equipment; full adherence to all permitting requirements including fire code and DEQ; prohibiting access to the site from Old Columbia Road; and limiting operations to three days per week from Thursday to Sunday. The CUP will expire in 2.5 years, rather than the five years originally requested.
Lascolette said that Liesfeld has the right to use his property as he sees fit and his neighbors have the right not to be disturbed. As granted this CUP will provide an opportunity to see if the sawmills can operate in a manner that is acceptable to all concerned.

It was well after 10 p.m. when the supervisors turned their attention to a rezoning case for land on the east side of Creekmore Road on the north side of Rt.6 just west of Rt.288.

The applicant, Ned Massey sought to development most of the land for business use with a commercial component.

Residents of Creekmore Park, which sits on the other side of a narrow lane from the subject property, objected strenuously to the application.
Although Massey said that he intended to move the offices for his business to the site, he contended that the speculative commercial component of the project was necessary for it to be economically feasible.

Creekmore residents contended that the most likely commercial use for the space would be a restaurant offering loud entertainment as a draw. They stayed until well past midnight on a work night to oppose the rezoning application.

Indeed, there has been little interest in development on this stretch of Route 6 for decades and that is not likely to change.

At the conclusion of the public hearing, Peterson told Massey that he had heard no neighbors speak in support of the commercial use, though some would support office use, as the planning commission recommended last year.

Massey was adamant that the commercial aspect was necessary for the success of the project. In the end, that was the deal breaker for the supervisors who voted 4-1 to deny the application. Ned Creasey, District 3, was in dissent.

While the Board cannot please everyone, it has shown a willingness to listen to the citizens and seek common ground on thorny issues.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

A new year

Madame Chair Susan Lascolette and Vice Chair Bob Minnick

Goochland County’s supervisors began 2015 with its organizational meeting on January 6, following an invocation delivered by Dr. Jeffrey Spence, who reminded the supervisors of their role as servant leaders and their duty to the citizens.

The supervisors unanimously elected Susan Lascolette, District 1 as chair and Bob Minnick, District 4, as vice chair. This continues the practice of rotating board leadership among the districts.

Lascolette, who asked to be addressed as “Madame Chair,” made history as the first woman to lead the board. That followed the historic election last January of Manuel Alvarez, Jr., District 2, a native of Cuba, as the first supervisor of Hispanic descent.

Gender and national origin issues aside, this board shares the belief that its primary duty is to serve the citizens.

County Administrator Rebecca Dickson and Lascolette thanked Alvarez for his hard work during 2014. Lascolette pledged her full commitment to her duties, looks forward to working with Minnick and the rest of the board. She reaffirmed the board’s commitment to core values, especially fiscal responsibility, honesty, integrity, courage, stewardship, and protection of property rights and limited government.

“We’re still a team of five people with unique skills, insights and talents. We’ve done some pretty amazing things and that will not change. Good government depends entirely on the people. Goochland is blessed to have people who volunteer at every level and highest voter turnout. That is our strength.”

Dickson presented Lascolette with a Patti Rosner painting of Hadensville to commemorate the occasion.

The supervisors then adopted its rules of procedure, which was amended to include a policy for allowing members to electronically participate in meetings; code of ethics, and standard of conduct. See the board packet on the supervisors’ section of the county website: www.co.goochland.va.us for details.

Tasks for the New Year include crafting the county budget for fiscal year 2015, which begins on July 1. To that end, the supervisors have scheduled budget workshops that provide an opportunity for the supervisors to discuss fiscal issues with all county departments. The first workshop will be an all-day session on January 21, which is open to the public. Others are planned for February with an expected adoption of tax rates for calendar year 2015 in April.

Goochland’s Department of Parks, Recreation, and Facilities Management was recognized by the Virginia Recreation and Parks Society with two awards for facilities development.

Leakes Mill Park, comprised of 167 acres three miles west of Courthouse Village on the south side of Route 6, was recognized as the best new facility in the under 25,000 population category for 2013. The initial phase of this park features asphalt parking, two irrigated multi-purpose athletic fields, two playgrounds and a 1.6 mile trail to the eponymous mill.

Renovations of the Goochland Sports Complex—the fields and gyms behind the administration building-- were recognized as “Best new renovation/addition for parks, playgrounds, trails, and greenways” in the under 25,000 population category. County Administrator Rebecca Dickson said that these awards are the result of Derek Stamey, Director of Parks, Recreation, and Facilities Management and his staff. The projects were funded with a unique mix of public and private funds that included naming rights. Last, but not least, thanks to Stamey and his team for everything involved in the community Christmas tree! (Putting it up will be easier next year!!)

Goochland Assessor Mary Ann Davis reported that property valuation in Goochland as of January 1, 2015 rose 3.4 percent over last year or a county wide total of $4.35 billion. The commercial/residential breakdown is 17.4/82.6 percent. Davis said that individual assessment notices will be mailed on January 15 and landowners have until February 17 to appeal.

Representatives from Louisa and Charles City County and Design 9, a broadband consulting firm, reported on strategies used elsewhere in pursuit of widespread deployment of high speed internet in rural areas.

The Board authorized Dickson to execute and agreement with Henrico County allowing it to collocate communications equipment to link the Cobbs Creek reservoir in Cumberland County with Henrico. The massive reservoir project will help to control flooding on the James River and ensure an adequate water supply. As much of the municipal water used by Goochland is supplied by Henrico, the colocation is seen as mutually beneficial. There will be no cost to Goochland.

Dickson also got authority to execute the construction contract for the new Hadensville Company 6 fire-rescue station. Construction is expected to begin later this year, with completion sometime in 2016. This marks the first time that Goochland County has built a fire-rescue station.
A project that will demolish the existing Rivergate pump station and replace it with a gravity system was also authorized. Existing pumps will be reused elsewhere in the county utility system.

To close out the afternoon session, the supervisors took a look at the capital improvements plan for fiscal years 2016 to 2020. Projects that may be included in the CIP are: a new elementary school; a new courthouse; three new fire-rescue stations; park improvements; a ladder truck; ambulance replacement; and an extension of Fairground Road. These items, and others included in the CIP will be explained and discussed at the spring round of town meetings.

The Board is committed to a debt service ratio as a portion of total expenditure of no more than 10 percent. It will carefully examine and prioritize all expenditures to ensure the fiscal soundness of the county.

Collaboration among the supervisors, county staff, and citizens bode well for 2015. May goals be achieved or exceeded and the year filled with good surprises.