Thursday, April 23, 2015

Ground zero

Each jurisdiction in the Commonwealth of Virginia is required by law to craft a comprehensive land use plan to be used as a “guide” when making land use decisions. Some of the more frothy descriptive language for comp plans claims that they are “a community vision of future development,” or some such. In reality, at least in the past, Goochland’s have tended to be guided by the input of a very few squeaky wheels, that include land owners, developers, and citizens with a specific agenda.

This time around, the supervisors told staff that the comp plan needed to be streamlined and easier for everyone to understand. The draft version of the Goochland 2035—they look ahead 20 years—comp plan currently making the rounds of district forums, includes lots of easy to understand maps and text organized by subject and presented with bullet points. This is a big improvement over previous versions that were handy bedside reading for insomniacs.

In essence, the 2035 comp plan is yet another effort at figuring out what “Goochland wants to be when it grows up.”
The District 4 meeting held on April 16 was a well-attended and lively affair.

Goochland is a land of contrasts. From the new apartments in West Creek to remote farmsteads in the upper end, residents can choose from a wide range of lifestyles. Newcomers to the county bring fresh perspectives on and differing expectations about growth and development from those held by old timers.

Like Virginia’s four season climate—sometimes we get them all in the same week—District 4 is ground zero for the tensions between country folk and those who are attitudinally suburbanites.
It’s no secret that the current Board of Supervisors puts a high priority on economic development, especially in the Tuckahoe Creek Service District, both to bolster county revenues and meet debt service obligations. While the 3,500 or so acres of the West Creek Business park was supposed to be a “moat” to contain all development pressures and keep runaway growth east of Manakin Road, the growth is spilling into entire TCSD.

Things didn’t quite work out as planned. Even before the nation’s economy fell apart, West Creek and the TCSD looked more like a nature preserve that an economic engine.

The area known as the “Centerville Village” is the focus of efforts to lure business to Goochland. So far, the results have been mixed. Two fast food emporiums and a Goodwill store were not what anyone hoped would materialize there, but a hopeful sign.
Residential enclaves that have sprouted in the past few years in the village have increased its rooftop count, making the area more attractive to private sector investment. The first evidence of that was McDonald’s.
The kind of business in Centerville was on the minds of many of the citizens at the District 4 meeting. Objections to McDonald’s and Taco Bell with drive throughs have been noted. An Audi dealer is reportedly on the drawing board for a parcel fronting Broad Street Road just east of Rt. 288. It’s still too early to see what kind of spillover growth will result from the high density projects along Broad Street just east of Rt. 288 in Henrico.

The supervisors, mindful of the revenue needs of the county and property rights of landowners, are purposefully vague about what should be built in Centerville to avoid repelling any investors. However, most of the larger parcels must be rezoned before anything can happen.
Centerville Village residents, most recent arrivals, raised concerns about large swaths of property designated “flex space,” a deliberately nebulous term.

Residents of Bellview Gardens, just west of Rt. 288 on the north side of Broad Street Road, were especially nervous about what sort of “commercial use” could wind up behind their homes. Indeed, before Bellview Garden was rezoned for high density homes in the early part of the century, it too, was earmarked for “flex space” in previous comp plans. Regardless of what the zoning or comp plan maps say, the county must protect Bellview Gardens from undue incursion by inappropriate development on its immediate borders. Bellview Gardens is an excellent example of the unintended consequences of spot zoning.

When asked what they would like to see in Centerville, current residents replied, “more houses” to supply customers for the commercial space. Folks who live outside of the Centerville Village, who moved here to enjoy peace and privacy understanding that the trade-off is fewer services and a longer drive to the grocery store, were appalled at the notion of more anything in Centerville. Indeed, the question that was never asked of the nice woman who explained how well things were done where she used to live in Wellesley is why did she move to Goochland?

Centerville resident Paul Costello pointed out that the zoning map, which he contended has not been changed in many years, assumes that most of the raw land in the Centerville Village is destined for commercial use, which developers interpret as a “done deal.” He cited the enormous amount of new retail space, a significant portion of which is still vacant, a few miles east in Short Pump as evidence that the assumption of a need for additional commercial space here is flawed.

“If you live in Centerville, this map makes you feel like you’re being thrown under the bus,” Costello said. “There are 24 different neighborhoods inside the boundaries of the Centerville Village that need a better understanding of the meaning “flex space.”
Bob Minnick, who represents District 4 on the Goochland Board of Supervisors and lives in Kinloch, said that the comp plan is used as a guide and that nothing in it is carved in stone.

Minnick also pointed out that the Broad Street corridor in Centerville has always been designated for commercial use.

Perhaps the real point of confusion is a clear definition of the term “commercial”. In its broadest sense, commercial would seem to indicate a use that generates revenue but is neither residential nor industrial. That could include a very wide range of business from the dreaded fast food to office space for low traffic enterprises like actuaries or even high tech start-ups.

Principal Planner Jo Ann Hunter, who is overseeing the 2035 comp plan, said that all citizen comments whether made in person at meetings, by email, phone, or snail mail, will be entered into a spreadsheet, which will then be used to tweak the proposed changes. She contended that the county is not “telling anyone how to develop their property with the caveat that final land use decisions have not been made.”
Hunter reiterated that the comp plan is a guide, not a policy document, but rather a guide for future development.

Joe Andrews, who represents District 4 on the Planning Commission, said that the zoning and land use maps should somehow indicate that they are “a guide rather than gospel.” He pointed out that the economic downturn of the past nine years made few changes on the zoning and land use maps for Centerville.

Minnick observed that the TCSD was created to help the county preserve its rural feeling—whatever that means. He said that no one knows what will happen in the future, but the task at hand is to set mutually agreeable parameters and see where development proposals fit in that matrix. He said that all comments are helpful.

The Supervisors recently adopted a strategic plan giving balanced development that does not overwhelm county resources.
Goochland comp plans have envisioned growth around the edges of the county—at the I64 interchanges, the TCSD, and maybe Courthouse Village.
The flood of growth long anticipated for Centerville has never been more than a trickle. As the spigot of private sector investment opens, thoughtful planning will be vital to ensure that Centerville does not become “the wrong side of the tracks” for Short Pump.

Land use decisions made in District 4 over the next few years will determine if Goochland will “grow gracefully” or lose its identity.
Citizen input for the 2035 comp plan is vital to help the supervisors understand the hopes--and more importantly fears—about future development.

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