Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Speaking for the people

Goochland has a five-member planning commission charged with making recommendations about land use matters. The commissioners are appointed by the board of supervisors and serve in an advisory capacity only.

The nuts and bolts of land use changes are handled by Community Development staff objectively applying laws and policies governing these matters. Planning commissioners look at proposals, make recommendations, which could be at odds with those of staff, and ultimately speak for the citizens.

At their July 14 meeting—moved from the usual first Thursday of the month due to July Fourth—the Commissioners worked their way through a relatively low key agenda. Matt Brewer, District 2, was absent.

Overlay district and entrance corridor regulations are designed to upgrade the appearance of designated areas going forward. Sometimes, they overreach their goals. The Patterson Avenue entrance corridor overlay district applies to all property 500 feet from the centerline of the road on both the north and south sides, whether or not it is visible from the road.

A conditional use permit application to operate a vintage automobile sales and service business on Wilton Road, south of Rt. 6 behind the Patterson Avenue Veterinary Hospital, is a case in point.

The building in question is barely visible from Rt. 6, even though it lies in the Patterson Avenue entrance corridor overlay district. It was built for this purpose years ago, but was vacant for some time and experienced significant deterioration. The applicant has begun to renovate the structure to the delight of neighboring businesses and land owners.

Conditions recommended by staff included a formalization of the existing easement understanding among adjacent businesses and that all work be done inside with bay doors closed at all times. The applicant objected to the closed door requirement because it could negatively impact the health, safety, and welfare of employees, especially during hot weather. As the building in question faces a blacksmith and it not readily visible from Patterson Avenue, this added another layer of unnecessary restriction to a small business. To their credit, the Commissioners recommended approval without the closed door condition.

Mitigation of negative consequences of land use change on existing use must be of prime importance to the county as growth spurs development of infill tracts of land.

An application filed by Goochland County to rezone, for commercial use, several parcels of land, totaling approximately 22 acres, in the vicinity of the intersection of Fairground and Sandy Hook Roads, including the former site of the school bus garage, was deferred by the Commissioners in May. At that time., owners of homes directly adjacent to the bus garage site, requested that proffers protecting neighboring homes be added.

At the July meeting, revised proffers, including mandated approval by the county’s design review committee, were presented. Prohibited uses for this property included adult businesses, indoor shooting ranges, and animal boarding and kennels, which Principal Planner Tom Coleman characterized as the “most noxious uses” for the land. Gas stations and convenience stores did not make the list.
Neighboring p property owners were not entirely comforted by the revisions.

Jim Mann, whose wife’s family owns and occupies the home nearest the bus garage site was still concerned about potential noise, trespassing, and trash issues should a convenience store that is open late at night locate there.

John Shelhorse, District 4 explained that the list of prohibited businesses is not exhaustive, but “sets the tone as to what would be objectionable” to neighbors and contended that the county addressed Mann’s concerns.

Shelhorse further contended that the conditions confirm that the existing homeowners should enjoy their property in peace and comfort not to be disturbed by any business that would impact the safe and fair use of their homes.

Willis Dunn said that the proffers were too vague and worried that the school bus garage site is so narrow that the addition of a turn lane would severely limit potential uses. Sound barriers and setbacks, he contended, were not addressed. Coleman explained that buffers are included in the Courthouse Village overlay district and the Design Review Committee, which can mandate buffers, landscaping, lighting, fencing, berms, and other mitigation measures will have final say on anything built there.

Coleman said that sidewalks would be required, but turn lanes would depend on the specific use. The county is already pursuing intersection improvements, probably a traditional signalized crossroads.

A fourth generation of Joe Trice’s family lives on Sandy Hook Road. He approved of the plan and said that Shelhorse’s statement laid the foundation for future development in the area. Shelhorse said that, above all, the county has a responsibility to protect the rights of existing property owners.

The Commissioners voted to recommend approval of the rezoning.

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