Tuesday, September 15, 2015

To CUP or not to CUP?

In an uncharacteristic turn away from transparency, the Goochland County Board of Supervisors is investigating removal of the conditional use permit (CUP) requirement for certain land uses, especially drive-throughs for fast food emporiums.The change could be part of an ongoing effort to streamline land use requirements for economic development.

A community meeting on the matter was held on September 14 and attended by about a dozen citizens, most residents of the Centerville area. They were adamantly opposed to the idea of any more “burger doodles” there.

Comments made by some of the attendees seemed to indicate that they are new arrivals whose knowledge of Goochland consists mainly of insisting that what “we were told”--undoubtedly by clueless real estate agents whose primary motivation was to collect commissions on the sale of homes—is gospel.

One woman had no idea that the West Creek Emergency Center is in Goochland. All of these fine folks would be well advised to log on to the new improved county website www.goochlandva.us and learn more about the place they live. The 2035 comprehensive land use plan provides a wealth of information about Goochland.

Be that as it may, replacing the CUP requirement for certain uses, especially as Centerville evolves, is a bad idea. “By right” uses, such as the Audi dealership under construction on the north side of Broad Street Road just east of Rt. 288, go straight to the plan of development and building permit stage.

While the meeting seemed to focus on fast food uses, drive- through could be attached to other kinds of businesses, including big box pharmacies. (A Google search also turned up other options including liquor stores; funeral homes; and wedding chapels.)

Principal planner Tom Coleman, who facilitated the meeting, explained that the county cannot determine the type of business that may locate in the county. For a variety of reasons, the attendees were opposed to fast food operations with the possible exception of Starbucks. Undoubtedly, there are county citizens opposed to breweries, wineries, liquor stores, and restaurants that serve alcoholic beverages. There are vegans opposed to butcher shops; and those hostile to gun shops.

Coleman explained that the existing county ordinances governing some of these uses are confusing at best. A comprehensive rewrite of all county zoning laws will take place in the next two years.

Comment made by attendees seemed to indicate that they are unaware that Goochland County does not have legions of staff professionals to churn out new ordinances in a short time. Deputy County Administrator for Community Development Dan Schardein said that the county decided not to spend $500,000 to outsource the task, contending that drafting the ordinances “in house” produces a better result.

Indeed, comments contending that Chesterfield does this and Henrico does that, seem to indicate that they do not understand that Goochland County, with a population of about 21,000, spread over a land area slightly larger than that of Henrico--population 318,611, as of 2013—does not quite have the same bargaining power with prospective businesses.

The CUP requirement for drive through seems to have been added as wishful thinking at a time when Goochland’s population was too sparse to attract this kind of business. Ironically, the new homes in Centerville are responsible for the critical population mass that attracted McDonald’s.

The discussion moved to the Centerville overlay district—both sides of Broad Street Road from the Henrico County line to Manakin Road—and the required design standards there. Developers contend that they increase costs; some citizens believe they are too lax.
Given their ‘druthers, most county residents would prefer to see small, locally operated businesses in Centerville instead of national chains. The downside of rigorous design standards is that they can price small concerns out of the market.

The discussion segued into landscaping. Several speakers complained about the dead bushes around McDonald’s as well as their small size. As installed, speakers contended, the landscaping materials are too close to the ground and do nothing to enhance the Broad Street Road corridor i.e. hides development.

Coleman said that McDonald’s will be required to replace dead plant material, but that the county does not have the necessary staff to check bushes on a regular basis. He also said that landscaping requirements are “evolving” and that the Taco Bell, which will be built one of these days, will have better landscaping.

This led to the role of the county’s Design Review Committee—an appointed three person body that deals with conflicts between applicants and county staff on design issues—in approval of Taco Bell. The Goochland Planning Commission recommended approval of its drive through CUP application. The supervisors declined to hear the case until it had gotten the blessing of the DRC.

Paul Costello, DRC chair, explained that Taco Bell on the corporate level was far more accommodating to requests from the DRC than those from staff. After a several detailed meetings, Taco Bell agreed to enhance landscaping, use more neutral building materials, and better screen order kiosks. Costello believes that removing the CUP requirement will eliminate an important mechanism to enhance projects. Land use transparency would be reduced.

Right now, the Broad Street Road corridor is designated for commercial use, a somewhat nebulous term. A few gentlemen asked why Goochland’s economic development department, which consists of Matt Ryan and some helpers, is not wooing the firms of the lawyers and accountants who live in the county.

Goochland would love to welcome professional offices in Centerville to complement the medical offices just down the road in West Creek. As the scale in Centerville would not support more than a three story building, it is unlikely that offices there would have on-site cafeterias. So, where are those people going to eat lunch? Not everyone has time for a sit down restaurant.

Businesses want amenities for employees close to their offices. Capital One, CarMax, and Virginia Farm Bureau in West Creek have in house eating facilities. While this is more convenient for employees, it is one less revenue source for the county.

These issues are intertwined and complicated. The Supervisors have made economic development a priority. Market forces indicate that McDonald’s is filling a need. Coleman reported that it is doing so well that the franchisee regrets not building a larger store.

A new mixed use zoning ordinance approved by the supervisors earlier this year may be the answer to many of these concerns. Because this is a new category, it will require rezoning, which means, at the very least, public hearings before both the planning commission and supervisors. The MU zoning is intended to provide maximum flexibility to encourage developers to bring their best proposals. No uses are by right and everything requires a CUP. Design standards in MU are quite high and the county wants developers to know that they should be considered a starting point.

The good news is that Coleman and Schardein indicated that there are no “burger doodle” proposals in the Centerville development pipeline. They did not mention drive through wedding chapels.

1 comment:

Beth Hardy said...

Excellent article. Thank you for the recap. I was sorry to miss the meeting. I appreciate the diligence of our county workers (economic dev, DRC, planning committee, etc.) in striving to find a "balance" of rural and commercial in our County. This is especially tricky in those areas marked for "commercial use." It's not easy - people want the convenience and tax income of these places, but they don't want to see them! At least the DRC and others are doing their best to ensure that these businesses are attractive and as unobtrusive as possible.