Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Mixing it up

The sky hasn’t fallen even though Goochland’s Board of Supervisors approved a new mixed use zoning category at its June 2 meeting. The Planning Commission recommended approval of the new zoning district last month.

Essentially, “mixed use” is the combination of residential, commercial, cultural, and perhaps recreational activities in close proximity. These projects aim for a pedestrian scale that encourages walking and bicycling. We used to call this settlement pattern a small town, which grew over time as people, for whatever reason, chose to live, and maybe work in a particular place.

According to the executive summary in the board packet (available on the county website at the ordinance was crafted in response to a request from landowner to consider a mixed use project. Staff has also received inquiries about building apartments and townhouses in the county. As these housing options require municipal water and sewer, Centerville is the most appropriate place for them.

Initially, mixed use proposals will be accepted only for parcels at least 20 acres in size in the Centerville Village core. Property in the “village core,” now includes a parcel south of Broad Street--roughly behind the parcel east of the Shell station often used for cattle grazing--and part of the Sycamore Creek Golf Course east of Manakin Road and roughly south of the creek. These additions were made at the request of the respective property owners.

Land eligible for consideration as mixed use includes the southeast corner of Manakin and Broad Street Roads and the northwest corner of Ashland and Broad Street Roads. No actual locations for any possible mixed use zoning have been confirmed.

Don’t expect this new zoning option to transform Centerville Village into a West Broad Village clone. The intent is to create a regulatory option that invites landowners and developers to present their most ingenious versions of mixed use as appropriate for Goochland. One of the objectives of the new ordinance is to create a “park like” atmosphere around the high density development.

As mixed use is a new land use option, it will require rezoning and a conditional use permit by special exception for every facet of each proposal. This means public hearings before the planning commission and supervisors and lots of opportunities for citizen input. A detailed master plan, that must contain elevations, landscape plans, building materials, and an estimate of the impact of the project on all county services, must be submitted as part of the rezoning process. Should the supervisors deem that a proposal would overwhelm schools, law enforcement, or fire-rescue, they could deny the rezoning request.

Existing overlay district design standards are high, but the wording of the ordinance seems to expect that these will be just a starting point. These mandates will add considerable expense to already high land prices in Centerville. Any housing in mixed use areas will be upscale at a minimum.

Higher housing density—six gross units per acre--allowed in mixed use zoning will be the biggest change for rural Goochland. More than one type of housing--single family dwellings, duplexes, apartments and town homes--must be part of a mixed use project. No uses are permitted by right, which gives the supervisors, and citizens through public hearings, control over development. Frontage on the Broad Street Road corridor will be reserved for commercial use, with residential set back from the highway. The maximum permitted height is 45 feet.

County administrator Rebecca Dickson pointed out that each mixed use project will have to stand on its own.

Board Vice Chair Bob Minnick whose District 4 includes Centerville, thanked staff for more than two years of thoughtful education and process. He also expressed appreciation for staff’s handling additional questions and “doing a deep dive as we explore this option.” Minnick observed that the board’s intention regarding mixed use zoning is to “start small and exercise a lot of internal and administrative control and watch this very carefully for a variety of reasons.”

The notion of mixed use in Centerville makes many people nervous. The trick here is to harness development pressure into a gentle incoming tide that lifts all boats and prevent it from becoming a tsunami.

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