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.