Thursday, December 31, 2015

The more things change....

photo courtesy of the Goochland County Historical Society

In the fall of 1957, 58 years ago, an article in a Richmond newspaper cited Goochland leaders’ worry that the county was going to become “Richmond’s Long Island.”

They seemed to believe that the westward juggernaut of growth in Henrico County would soon consume Goochland as post World War II development transformed Long Island from an agricultural enclave into an enormous bedroom community. Richmond is not New York and lacks the transportation infrastructure—especially a commuter railroad—that abetted the transformation of Long Island.

When “Sputnik” entered America’s vocabulary, in 1957, the county population was about 9,000 souls, mostly farmers. Goochland’s largest employers were its two state prisons and the Luck Stone quarry at Boscobel in Manakin.

Over the years, residential subdivisions, both modest and exclusive, began to dot the county, mostly in the east end. Goochland’s population grew, but gracefully. Today, our population is about 22,000, a slight decrease from previous years due to the closing of a state prison. That will change as the economy strengthens and housing enclaves “on the books” gear up for construction.

The fear of Goochland being overrun by growth from Henrico is front and center once again with some justification. While longtime residents express dismay about development, drawbridge syndrome—I’m here so don’t let anyone else in—seems rampant among newcomers.

Everyone claims they want a “rural” lifestyle, whatever than means. Goochland is still small enough to have a strong sense of community, but that could end if tensions between the exurb east and the truly rural west escalate.

Goochland’s economy has changed too. Now we have several quarries, and major employers in Capital One, Virginia Farm Bureau, and CarMax, to name a few. The production of potent potables at wineries, breweries, and a soon to be cidery, adds more variety to economic development.

The face of development is morphing too. Goochland’s first apartments, in The Notch in West Creek, came online a few years ago with no dire results. At least one mixed use plan is in the works for the Centerville Village. Expect other new enterprises.

In 1957, there was no zoning. Today, every square inch of the county is zoned. This should ensure that all land use changes are made only after careful consideration to avoid unintended consequences.

Long Island exploded in the 1950’s because no one was paying attention. Today in Goochland, everyone is watching!

May your 2016 be filled with good health and joy. Happy New Year!!

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Response to Scott and Liz

Please see the Goochland 2035 Comprehensive Land Use PLan, which is used to guide land use decisions. It is on the Goochland County website at
Also, feel free to email me at

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Oath of Office

Ned Creasey;Dale Agnew; Bob Minnick;Susan Lascolette;Ken Peterson;Manuel Alvarez. Jr; Pamela Johnson;James Agnew; Beth Hardy;Kevin Hazzard; Jennifer Brown; Mike Payne;John Lumpkins, Jr; and John Wright.

On the gloomy afternoon of December 23, the spirit of governmental service burned bright in Goochland’s venerable Circuit Courtroom.

Judge Timothy K. Sanner administered the oath of office to the county’s newly elected Constitutional Officers, Board of Supervisors, School Board, and Monacan Soil and Water District Director. Deputy clerks of the Treasurer, Clerk of the Circuit Court, and Commissioner of the Revenue also took oaths. Sheriff James L. Agnew and his deputies swore their oaths earlier in the day.

Judge Sanner welcomed those present to a ceremonial--and celebratory--session of Goochland Circuit Court convened for the purpose of swearing in newly elected county officials. He said it is appropriate to honor and acknowledge their commitment to their duties and let them know how much they are appreciated. It is fitting, Sanner said, that this oath taking is conducted in a public setting.

Jonathan Lyle, Monacan Soil and Water District Commissioner

Each official made essentially the same pledge:
“I (name)do solemnly swear that I will support the Constitution of the United States, the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Virginia; that I will faithfully and impartially discharge and perform all of the duties incumbent upon me as (insert office)effective January 1, 2016 ending December 31, 2019 according to the best of my abilities so help me God.”

Dale Agnew, Clerk of the Circuit Court and her deputies were sworn in for an eight year term running from January 1, 2016 to December 31, 2023.

At the conclusion of the ceremony, Sanner took a moment to honor Goochland County Administrator Rebecca T. Dickson.
Judge Timothy K. Sanner

“We know that there are a great many unsworn public servants who make great contributions to the public good.
There is no better example of that than the chief administrative officer of this jurisdiction who is retiring in April after six years of faithful and effective service to the citizens of this county. This person has lead Goochland through a remarkable recovery so that is now stands as an exemplar for good government throughout the Commonwealth. Her wisdom, strength, and vibrant personality has motivated those around her to put aside their differences and seek common ground for the good of the county. Whether it be athletics, business, or government, some individuals are simply difference makers. Rebecca Dickson is a difference maker. I would ask that you join me in thanking Rebecca Dickson for her years of meritory service.”

The room erupted in cheers and applause as the assemblage rose to its feet in honor of Ms. Dickson. She offered tearful thanks for the tribute.
Before adjourning, Judge Sanner said that it is his great privilege to serve as Judge in Goochland Circuit Court and wished all present a Merry Christmas.

Board of Supervisors: Ned Creasey, District 3; Bob Minnick, District 4; Susan Lascolette, District 1; Ken Peterson, District 5; Rebecca Dickson, County Administrator; and Manuel Alvarez, Jr. District 2.

School Board: Kevin Hazzard, District 2; John Lumpkins, Jr. District 3; Beth Hardy, District 4; Dr. James Lane, Superintendent of Schools; John Wright, District 5.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Making a "there" here

How do you blend all of the property along the “main drag” of the Centerville Village into a unified whole? The question has been asked many times; no clear answer has yet emerged.

Some people believe that Centerville—essentially the village “core” between Ashland and Manakin Roads—is just fine the way it is. Others think it should be razed and rebuilt.

The village corridor, however, stretches from the Henrico County line to just west of Satterwhite’s on both sides of Broad Street Road.
Recently, a group of landowners, developers, and interested citizens met with professionals from Land Planning and Design Associates, a firm retained by the county to create a “sense of place” for the whole Centerville Village. (Their design fee is part of $100,000 appropriated by the supervisors in the current fiscal year budget to install a streetscape in the Broad Street Road corridor.)

Harmonizing road frontage of private homes, new and existing businesses, forests, fields, bridges, and wetlands protected by guard rails, is a knotty problem.

The DPLA plan divides the corridor into sections: the eastern gateway from the Henrico line to the Rt. 288 interchange; a transition zone from there to Ashland Road; and the core.

Landscape architect Julie Basic and project designer Tristan Cleveland presented elevations that combine trees and shrubs of varying heights, species, and densities along both sides of the road to soften the view.

Existing businesses in the village core may not embrace the addition of landscaping that obscures their enterprise from passing cars and potential customers. Will they be forced absorb the expense of installing and maintaining elaborate plantings?

Additional streetscape elements including white rail fencing; stone markers at major intersections; and more plantings in the median were included in the elevations.

This raised questions about cost and maintenance, specifically, who pays to install the landscaping and who will water the plants and cut the grass?

Basic said that vegetation in the VDOT right of way would be the responsibility of the county, anything else, would be maintained by the landowner.

Trees, grass, and flowers were planted in the Broad Street Road median by VDOT when the “Centerville speedway” was built, but ongoing maintenance fell through the cracks. (It seems VDOT cuts the grass twice a year whether it needs it or not.) The unsightly condition of those areas last summer—high grass, dead trees, and ratty shrubs—sent the wrong message about Centerville.

Since then, the county has cut the grass, mulched the beds and removed dead plants and taken over maintenance.

Basic and Tenant will present a construction plan early next year with planting to follow as weather permits. Upkeep costs were sort of glossed over. More landscaping brings additional maintenance cost, which must be a budget consideration.

The transition from the sterile perfection of the elegantly landscaped Short Pump commercial corridor to the charming seasonal display of flying reindeer pulling a cement truck just over the county line sends a pretty clear signal that you’re in a different place. But, it is the right one? Translating chin music about preserving rural character into sensible development guidelines seems more complicated that requiring a set number of trees per linear foot of road frontage. Where will those reindeer fit in?

Much of the “new” Short Pump was created from scratch since the turn of the century. Centerville, on the other hand, evolved with homes, businesses, fields, pastures, and the Company 3 fire-rescue station, over time. They’re part of the rural atmosphere.

Meanwhile, the county’s design review committee is working with representatives from Audi to find a mutually acceptable design for a dealership on the north side of Broad Street Road, just east of the Rt. 288 interchange.

Audi corporate branding prefers large, flat-roofed buildings with lots of glass frontage. That look is not compatible with the pedestrian scaled peaked roof structure suggested in the Centerville overlay district criteria. A significant portion of the Audi proposed exterior would be covered with a lacelike aluminum honeycomb veil that adds texture to the building. This matter seems to be moving toward consensus.

Although geographically inside the Centerville Village, perceptually this isolated block of land is in Short Pump. Accommodating architecture that falls outside of the overlay district parameters that would fit nowhere else in the county is the highest and best use for this acreage.
The discussions in progress are creative and insightful; they will yield good results if they avoid a theme park notion of rural.

Where will the reindeer go?

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Public trust

Long time Goochlanders—often with good reason—are suspicious of county government.

A rezoning application for parcels of land between Manakin and Rockville Roads, unanimously recommended for denial by the Planning Commission at its November meeting, dredged up those old feelings.

The Planning Commission vote followed a lengthy public hearing during which many residents of the Manakin/Rockville Road community spoke in opposition to the proposal.

These people are justifiably alarmed about the impact of dropping nearly 200 homes on 97 acres of farmland. The narrow, winding, hilly roads would be dangerously overwhelmed by the additional traffic, they argued. Although VDOT—the state agency whose motto is “Oops!”--will perform a safety study on the area during the next six months or so, one does not have to be a traffic engineer to see the problem. Given the paucity road dollars I throughout the Commonwealth, it is clear that there will be no money to improve either Manakin or Rockville Road for a very long time.
More importantly, the rural nature of the area would be irreparably altered by this high density housing; county schools would be overwhelmed by the newcomers.

A meeting organized by these citizens was held on December 10, at the Rockville library. Approximately 15 residents met with Supervisors Ken Peterson, District 5; Bob Minnick, District 4, where the land is located; and members of the county’s community development staff.

This was the third “community meeting” on this matter. The first, which took place last summer, was poorly attended because only a handful of people knew about it. The second, held in October at the Goochland Baptist Church, was attended by a standing room only crowd and featured heated discussion. (The county now posts notice of all community meetings on its website to get the word out to a wider audience.)

Contentions made by the applicant, Wilton Acquisitions, during previous community meetings and the public hearing at the planning commission, morphed into “facts” indicating that the county badly needs the Tuckahoe Creek Service District connection fees to meet its debt service obligations.

The citizens wanted to know how the supervisors will vote on the rezoning application when it comes before them, which is not expected to occur before February, 2016, and could be deferred until as late as November, 2016.

Because the supervisors are prohibited from discussing zoning applications before public hearings, the December 10 meeting agenda focused on the rezoning process and information about the TCSD.

Peterson presented a thumbnail sketch of the origins of the TCSD, which was created to encourage economic development in northeastern Goochland.
Peterson said that a goal of the current board of supervisors, is to increase the tax base ratio to 70/30 percent residential/business from its current approximately 82/18 percent ratio.

The initial financing of the TCSD in 2002 assumed an 11 percent annual growth rate for about 30 years, which never materialized, said Peterson. Debt service under this arrangement was back loaded with the amount of interest due rising each year to give the TCSD time to grow into its obligations. That didn’t happen either. Long story short, when the current board took office in 2012, its first priority was to “refinance” the debt to more manageable levels.

Currently, said Peterson, economic development in the TCSD, coupled with rising property valuations, are sufficient for the county to meet its obligation. Peterson said that TCSD connection fees have no bearing on the debt service, nor do usage fees for water and sewer.

Minnick and Dan Schardein, Deputy County Administrator for Community Development explained that anyone can apply for rezoning to change the approved use of a parcel of land. It is up to a developer to determine what they will ask for. County staff then reviews these applications and makes recommendations about what is appropriate within county zoning law and regulations.

However, the developer can ignore staff comments and request that the application go to the planning commission and supervisors for a vote. This process includes at least one community meeting and public hearings before both the planning commission and supervisors; “three bites of the apple” for citizens to comment on the proposal. Just because a rezoning application is filed, does not mean it will be approved.

Minnick said that the focus of economic development is West Creek, which is about one third developed and Centerville. He compared rezoning applications to a sales pitch where all sorts of things are said to close the deal. The supervisors, with the help of staff analysis, consider the validity of all contentions and make their decisions accordingly.
Peterson sand Minnick said that each rezoning application is judged on its own merits. Benefits of land use changes are weighed against costs for the county. The supervisors are dedicated to balanced growth that does not overwhelm county services including law enforcement; fire-rescue; and education.
“We have to play the hand we were dealt,” Peterson said in reply to angry comments that the decision to develop Centerville was made without the consent of the people of the county. The TCSD pipes are in the ground. They support the economic development that pays for them, he contended. A great deal of effort, including implementation of design standards, has been expended to ensure high quality development in Centerville.

Some people asked how the supervisors could throw out the 2035 comprehensive land use plan--approved last summer--to allow high density development in what is now a rural area.

Peterson emphasized that the Comp Plan is a guide that looks 20 years ahead. He reiterated that because a developer files a rezoning application, it does not mean that it will be approved.

Principal Planner Jo Ann Hunter pointed out that even if all of the development suggested by the 2035 plan materializes, 85 percent of the county will remain rural.

Minnick said that a drastic reduction in the density of the proposal might make it more palatable. However, the developer argued that it needs the 200 lots in order to make the proposed subdivision work financially.

This meeting is a good example of citizens seeking answers to troubling questions. While Minnick and Peterson did not offer any guidance as to how they might vote on this rezoning application, they did take the time to explain TCSD finances and provide insight on the rezoning process. This board believes that citizen engagement is vital to good government. The December 10 meeting was a good give and take.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Generosity close to home

Goochland’s people make it a special place to live. We care about each other and it shows in the success of our non-profit organizations.

Those of you with an extra bean or two are probably planning to make charitable donations before the end of the year. You’ve done well so you can do good and enjoy a tax deduction to boot.

No doubt you’ve been inundated with donation requests from non-profit organizations of every stripe imaginable supporting good works near and far.

While you’ve got the checkbook out think about helping those groups that enrich our community every day.

Goochland’s Christmas Mother program, this year presided over by Diane Gordon, has made the holidays brighter for local families in need for a very long time. Although the season for this organization is December, it will gratefully accept donations all year long. Mail contributions to Goochland Christmas Mother, P O Box 322, Goochland, Virginia 23063. Visit the website at

The Goochland Free Clinic and Family Services is a community based organization that helps Goochlanders who have fallen “between the cracks” of other assistance programs. From its food pantry to medical and dental care, GFFS is the definition of helping those in need. In a cruel twist of fate, the advent of Obamacare seems to have increased the demand for its health care services. Send checks to P O Box 116, Goochland, Virginia 23063, or visit their website:

When children get tangled in the legal system, a group of volunteers with rare dedication to their task, Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASAs), act as the eyes and ears of the court. These fine people invest large amounts of their time and talents to find the best outcome for children in peril. Send donations to: Goochland CASA P O Box 910, Goochland, VA 23063. Visit the CASA website at

Our marvelous school board has done a great job keeping education expenditures within the confines of its budget. In this fragile economy, that means paring back or eliminating some extras. The Goochland Education Foundation helps to fill the gaps. Send donations to: Tom Deweerd, Registered Agent, Goochland Education Foundation, 2938-I River Road West, Goochland, Virginia 23063. Visit the website at

Although parts of Goochland are known for their grand homes, some of our citizens cannot afford safe, basic housing. Goochland Habitat for Humanity leverages volunteer skills and donations to build homes. Their address is PO Box 1016, Goochland, VA 23063. See to learn how this group works.

The James River forms the southern boundary of Goochland County. Until a few years ago, there was little public access to enjoy recreational activities on the river. Friends of Goochland Parks, was formed to pursue grants and in-kind donations to “enrich the recreational and leisure opportunities” in a public-private partnership with the county. Last month, ground was broken for a kayak/canoe launch near Maidens Road. Visit their website at, or send a contribution to Friends of Goochland Parks, P O Box 592, Goochland, VA 23063.

Last, but certainly not least, don’t forget our furry friends. For the Love of Animals in Goochland, FLAG, is our local animal rescue group. FLAG volunteers rescue and foster pets discarded or otherwise in peril, get them healthy, and place them in suitable homes. They too spend every penny wisely, and right here in our community. Send donations to FLAG, P O Box 115, Manakin Sabot, VA 23103. Visit them online at

May your days be merry and bright!

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

To protect and serve

The media seems filled with stories about police misconduct these days. Perhaps the rarity of this kind of behavior makes it news, and the 24 hour news cycle ensures that all incidents are reported nationwide. The actions of a very few bad apples give all law enforcement officers(LEOs)a black eye.

Goochland deputies, like LEOs everywhere, never know what their shift will bring. Simple traffic stops can turn deadly, or a domestic dispute can escalate from shouting to shooting with little warning. They must have the tools to deal with whatever they encounter in a safe and effective manner.

Those tools take many forms; training and equipment top the list.

Goochland Sheriff James L. Agnew made a presentation about the use of body cameras to the Board of Supervisors at its December 1 meeting.
He had discussed the matter with Board Chair Susan Lascolette, District 1, and Manuel Alvarez, Jr. District 2 about a year ago. That led to a field test of several brands of body cams this year.

Initially, said Agnew, he was skeptical of the value of the devices. Following research on the matter, and a trial of body cams by county deputies, he believes they have a place in law enforcement.

Agnew said that, thanks to television, citizens, and juries seem to believe that forensic evidence--especially DNA and fingerprints--provides fast and irrefutable resolution of crimes.

“There isn’t always DNA, there aren’t always fingerprints,” said Agnew. “Crimes are still solved using plain old gumshoe investigative work.”
But, conceded Agnew, cameras are a part of our world. He played training videos to illustrate how perspective can alter interpretations of “facts” recorded by dash mounted cameras.

In one instance, a camera mounted on a police cruiser seemed to indicate that a LEO drew his weapon on a man who had simply been pulled over for a traffic violation. The footage from the officer’s body cam, however, recorded that, when he got close to the car, he saw a pistol in the front seat. The incident was safely resolved.

Earlier this year, said Agnew, deputies tested three different models of body cams to see how they performed in real world conditions.
Before the trial began, a simple use policy was put into place. The cameras must be manually switched on. Battery life is limited, and routine interactions do not need to be recorded. One of the factors that must be considered when deploying body cameras is data storage.

Agnew said that using servers is expensive and time consuming. A cloud based storage system, similar to that used by the county, seems to be a better solution. Deputies will be able to review their cloud footage on smart phones, but cannot save or edit it. The footage will automatically be deleted from the cloud after a predetermined period of time, probably 60 days.

Should footage of an incident be deemed important, the deputy would tag it for indefinite retention. Deletion from the cloud is automatic, as is upload. Using a physical server would entail deputy overtime to manually download video of their shifts.

Body cams have a limited range of vision. While they provide information about a particular situation, some details might be lost. To illustrate this point, Agnew played footage of a LEO interacting with a man waving a knife. The placement of the camera on the officer cut off the top half of the image. However, the video did show enough of the episode to support the actions taken by the LEO.

The cameras also aid in gathering information at crime scenes. Body cams provide another layer of transparency to reinforce trust between the public and LEOs. The cameras see, and record, things better in low light conditions than the naked eye.

Data from law enforcement agencies around the nation, said Agnew, indicates that the use of body cams has reduced the number of complaints—people tend to behave better when they know their actions are being filmed.

Then Agnew got to the bottom line-deployment cost of body cams. After some trial and error, a shoulder mounted Axon Flex Body Camera was selected for use by 38 Goochland Deputies. Each unit costs $599. The total first year cost for all of the associated bits and pieces--including $1,188 per deputy for cloud storage-- was $64,386.

The useful life of one of these units is about two years, said Agnew. He added that sometimes the cameras, or some of their components break, which will add additional expense.

Although Agnew still has some reservations about the use of body cams, he believes that their use in Goochland helps more than harms local law enforcement. He also advocated deploying them before they are mandated by the state or federal government to get ahead of the curve.

Goochland, said Agnew in response to a query from Alvarez, does not have car cameras, because they are expensive and prone to malfunction.
Lascolette suggested that body cameras be included in the Sheriff’s budget for further discussion early next year.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Year end

Pay taxes here^

Goochland real estate and personal property taxes are due by December 7. If you pay in person, be warned that the Treasurer’s Office has been transformed into Whoville for the holidays.

The final Goochland Board of Supervisors’ meeting for 2015 was highlighted by yet another almost immaculate financial report as the county’s auditor, PBMares, presented the certified annual financial report(CAFR)for fiscal 2015, which ended on June 30.

One material weakness was identified. The county Department of Social Services was unable to redetermine eligibility for Medicaid recipients every 12 months as required by law. In addition to high staff turnover, the state computer system used to process Medicaid is plagued by outages and slowness resulting in a significant backlog statewide, according to a draft report issued by the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission (JLARC) on the matter.

Kimberly Jefferson, County Director of Social Services explained that even when her department is fully staffed, problems with the state computer system can take weeks to resolve exacerbating the backlog.

The supervisors on the audit committee, Ken Peterson, District 5; Board Chair Susan Lascolette, District 1; and Manuel Alvarez, Jr. District 2 wanted to provide whatever assistance Jefferson needs to resolve the situation. They expressed concern that people might slip through the cracks and receive benefits for which they are not eligible.

Jefferson reported that her department is slowly making headway against the backlog, but that could stop if the state system, which is totally out of her control, gets worse.

Peterson, Lascolette, and Alvarez said they will discuss the urgency of the situation to Goochland’s General Assembly delegation in hope of expediting a remedy at the state level.

Mike Garber, PBMares partner overseeing the Goochland audit, said that the dollar impact on the audit is zero. “It’s a statewide issue that is frustrating on the local level.”

Otherwise, Goochland’s CAFR, said Garber, is fantastic. One big change from past years is a new requirement to include pension liabilities in the report. (For those insomniacs out there, the CAFR is on the county website under finance in all its glory.)

Lascolette commended County Registrar Frances Ragland and the Electoral Board: Robin Lind, Bes Stewart, and Wanda Taylor for another round of well-run elections.

Details of performance agreements for the Hardywood Park Craft Brewery facility in West Creek were explained. The Brewery agreed, within the next five years, to create and maintain 56 new jobs and invest up to $28,250,000.

State incentives include: $500,000 from the Commonwealth Opportunity Fund; $250,000 from the Agriculture and Forestry Industry Development Fund; and $477,000 in sales and use tax exemptions. Goochland County will provide the lesser of $1 million or ten years of tax rebates. From 2017 through 2020 Goochland will rebate 100 percent of incremental real estate taxes for values above the January 1, 2016 assessed valuation; machinery and tools taxes; and business personal property taxes. From 2012 through 2026, the rebased will be 50 percent until the threshold is reached.

The county retain all ad valorem taxes; utility connection fees; building permit fees; personal property taxes on vehicles; and business and sales taxes. If the Brewery fails to live up to its part of the bargain, proportional amounts must be repaid to the state and the local match will be voided.

(As part of their ongoing commitment to governmental transparency, the supervisors included the entire agreement in their December 1 board packet. Be sure to see the schedule enumerating the amount of locally grown agricultural products expected to be used by the Brewery in beer production.)

During the evening comment period, Jonathan Lyle, one of Goochland’s Monacan Soil and Water Conservation Directors, applauded the county’s support for the new brewery. However, as a voice for the agricultural community, Lyle reminded the board that the number of farms in Goochland is declining and could use county support as well. He cautioned that, come budget season, the MWSCD will be asking Goochland for funding on a par with Powhatan. That, said Lyle, will be approximately $126 per farm per year.

Lyle has a very good point. Everyone says they want to preserve Goochland’s rural character. Rural means agriculture, which means real farms in all of their messy, noisy, and smelly glory. This often conflicts with newcomers’ theme park notion of agriculture.

The Board unanimously approved supplemental school budget appropriations and categorical transfers. This will increase the School Operating fund from $26,861,674 to $27,126,861. These amounts include just $10,000 of appropriated turn-back funds, which was approved by the supervisors in November. See Board packet for complete details.

The County Administrator was authorized to execute a $25,000 purchase order with Harbor Dredge and Dock to build a kayak and canoe launch at Tucker Park. This will be built between January and March of next year to take advantage of off season construction costs and be ready for use in the spring.