Sunday, March 27, 2016
The battle for Centerville
A rezoning application filed by Wilton Acquisitions LLC that would have plunked nearly 200 tightly packed homed on what is now mostly farmland was recently withdrawn by the applicant.
This proposal, which appeared on the “radar screen” last summer, met fierce opposition. Anger spawned by the belief that the mere filing of a rezoning application indicated the pending development was a “done deal” turned out to have no justification.
Neighboring residents fretted about adding more traffic to what they contend are dangerous and already overburdened roads. Other raised concerns about swamping Randolph Elementary School, which has installed trailers to deal with an already burgeoning student population, with even more children.
Perhaps the most important questions raised by this application deal with the way that the Centerville “village” will develop and how to preserve the “rural” nature of the area.
The small lot enclaves in the northeastern quadrant of the county including Kinloch, the Parkes at Centerville and Saddle Creek, and Parkside Village are nicely done, and have added few children to the school system. Developers made significant road improvements to cushion the blow of new traffic.
Some folks, especially new residents, became apoplectic at the news that a Mc Donald’s followed by a Taco Bell would be built in Centerville. Some wondered if Goochland wasn’t selling itself too cheaply by letting any old business in to degrade the “rural” atmosphere. Others applaud any new business.
Goochland’s comprehensive land use plans are based on a village strategy to drive most development into places in the county designated as villages to protect the farmland and keep the rest of the county rural. The 2035 comp plan keeps about 85 percent of the land area of Goochland undeveloped.
To make that strategy work, relatively high density development will be allowed in villages with public utility access, which means Centerville. Yes, that means apartments, townhouses and, heaven forfend, maybe even some condominiums. There have been apartments in West Creek for a while now and the sun still rises every morning.
Opponents contend that there are plenty of apartments just over the county line in Henrico and we don’t need them here. Others worry that lower cost housing will overwhelm county services. School officials believe we are losing good teachers who cannot afford to live in the community where they work. It is a knotty problem.
Centerville is ground zero for all of these questions. Instead of a master plan, the county created an overlay district with fairly rigid design standards to encourage “high quality development,” especially in the Broad Street Road corridor.
Market forces, not local governments, draw businesses to a particular location. Those who whine about McDonald’s and Taco Bell should spend their own money to buy and develop land in Centerville as they see fit. Property rights are an important part of our form of government. When the concept of planning came along, it seemed a reasonable way to ensure that a slaughter house was not built next to an elementary school. Somewhere along the way, it has become a mechanism for people to tell other people what they can do with their land. Balancing civic good with property rights is a delicate task and complicates every rezoning application.
Exactly how all this will work is still somewhat vague. The Audi dealership planned for the north side of Broad Street Road just east of Rt. 288 will transform raw land into attractive, and yes, upscale commercial space. Its elegant contemporary architecture and attractive outparcels will complement development at The Notch. A rumored Tractor Supply store at the western end of the village will be a nice attitudinal segue into rural enhancement territory. This will face opposition from the folks who want to keep the county rural because a store that sells things for farms and horses does not belong there, or something.
Recently, a design firm was retained to craft a harmonizing landscape plan that visually differentiates Centerville from Short Pump. A couple of meetings were held to discuss the proposals. Rows of different species of trees and shrubs along the side of the road and in the median will soften the existing “dropped on a field out of a helicopter” ambiance. This will be expensive to install and maintain, but a detailed plan will set the standards going forward. Funding and maintenance schemes should be in place before planting to avoid the negative message of dead plants and overgrown grass.
Signage sends important signals about a place. The monstrous multi-media megalith currently under construction in front of the Wegman’s/Cabela’s site in Henrico is an example of what not to do in Goochland; we do not need signs that are visible from space.
Centerville is a work in progress, stay tuned, pay attention.