Wednesday, September 2, 2015

This land was made for you and me

Goochland County’s Board of Supervisors dealt with issues that have generated interested in the community at their September 1 meeting. Two agenda items involved land use.

Application of biosolids—processed residue from wastewater treatment plants—to farmland in the county continues to trouble citizens. Permits, some new, some renewal, for the land application of biosolids to more than 2,100 acres on 20 sites in Districts 1, 2, and 3 are under review.

Concerns about heavy metals accumulation the soil, water pollution caused by biosolids application on steep slopes near water on neighboring property, and exacerbation of chronic health issues spark the opposition.

Sekou Shabaka, of District 2, said, during afternoon citizen comment, that his community is 100 percent against spreading “these wicked toxins” anywhere in Goochland, especially behind Fauquier Baptist Church, and the nursing home on Dogtown Road. He said that there is suspicion that the supervisors had “cut a deal” to allow land application of biosolids.

Shabaka asked the supervisors to pass a resolution against the practice. “You can perfume it as much as you want, but we still know what it is,” he said.

Board Chair Susan Lascolette, District 1, who has been very interested in biosolids, expressed disappointment that the August 19 meeting, attended by approximately 180 people, provided no opportunity for public comment. The State Water Control Board and Department of Environmental Quality, which oversee the biosolids application, allow public comment on the permits during a 30 day window, which has not yet started.
Lascolette said that it is very important that the community present a united voice on the issue to comment on the permits. She said that a community meeting will be scheduled in the near future. (GOMM will pass along information on that meeting when it becomes available.)

The supervisors, said Lascolette, have been working to improve biosolids application monitoring. They have repeatedly and unsuccessfully asked the General Assembly to fund an impartial study of the long term health consequences of land application of biosolids. Efforts to require land recordation of sludge application have also been unsuccessful.

Manuel Alvarez, Jr. District 2 said that owners of property adjacent to biosolids application sites oppose the recordation because it could have a negative effect on their property values.

The subject is as clear as, well, sludge. Information about biosolids application raises more questions than it answers. Local government has virtually no control over where, or even if, biosolids may be applied.

A housekeeping zoning ordinance amendment to EXPAND the opportunity for public assembly on land zoned for industrial use served by municipal water and sewer drew fire from a handful of citizens. They contended that it would interfere with the right of public assembly.
County zoning ordinances are in the process of being updated to conform to state law, and support changes in the recently adopted 2035 comprehensive land use plan. The amendment, unanimously approved at the September 1 meeting, ADDED places of public assembly to the permitted by right uses in M-1 and M-2 zoning districts.

Such changes are nothing new. A few years back, “hospital” was added as a by right use to pave the way for the establishment of the West Creek Emergency Center.

Zoning is a way to ensure orderly development and appropriate location of land uses. This power rests with local governments. Assigning certain uses to particular zoning districts would prevent, in an extreme instance, locating an abattoir—slaughterhouse—next to an elementary school.
As written, before the September 1 amendment, M-1 zoning, which applies to West Creek, did not include places of public assembly—in this case the Hardywood Park Craft Brewery—as a permitted use. Single family homes and pig farms are still not allowed in M-1 districts.

The supervisors are committed to making the business environment in Goochland attractive to business. Broadening permitted uses in West Creek by adding “place of public assembly” rather than “brewery with outside entertainment” welcomes a wide array of potential uses. It also reduces the need to amend ordinances every time a business that does not fit into existing categories comes along.

Narrow zoning categories with limited permitted uses, are often cited as an impediment to economic development here. Rezoning property or changing by right land use is time-consuming, and costly. This puts Goochland at a disadvantage to neighboring jurisdictions whose land use policies offer more options.

If anything, this ordinance amendment enhances rather than threatens the Constitutional rights of Goochlanders.

Other ordinances dealing with similar matters are on the drawing board. These changes may be the result of the kerfuffle caused when a church with a large congregation sought to repurpose a barn into a sanctuary. That property was located on a narrow country road in a pastoral residential area. Outcry from the neighbors caused the organization to look elsewhere, but it brought the question of “what should go where” in rural areas into sharp focus. That issue could get tricky.

It is very important for citizens to keep an eye on land use decisions. It is also important to put proposed changes in contest.

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