Monday, October 31, 2016

The passing of the barns

Gone but not forgotten (photo from Patteson Avenue site)

An October 26 community meeting to discuss a pending West Creek land use change revealed why the barns, silo, and other buildings on the site of the former Oak Hill golf course, were recently removed.

Michael and Thomas Pruitt, whose family company owns the 3,500-acre West Creek business park, explained that the structures experienced vandalism despite fences and no trespassing notices. “We tried to give the barns and silo to anyone who wanted to move them, but got no takers. It was a safety issue,” Michael said.

For many people, these barns, on the edge of the northbound ramp to Rt. 288 from Rt. 6, were the quintessential embodiment of Goochland’s rural nature, their demise one more reminder that things are changing. Some folks forget, or never realized, that Goochland is not a theme park, barns, fields, forests and ponds are not put there for the visual enjoyment of passersby.

The community meeting, a mandated step in the process to change land use, provided a forum for discussion of a rezoning application for approximately 7.53 acres on the north side of Rt.6 just east of Rt. 288. The property is part of the now defunct the Oak Hill golf course, which closed about 20 years ago to make way for a Motorola computer chip manufacturing plant that never materialized.

Thomas Pruitt explained that adding the land to West Creek, and rezoning it from A-2 agricultural to the M-1 category that covers the rest of the park, will enable construction of a de facto mixed use enclave. The zoning application also asks that proffers mandating a 1,000-foot setback from Rt. 6 for retail uses be deleted and buffer requirements be amended.

The neighbors were not amused. They contended that when West Creek was created in 1989 they were told that its tenants would be corporate headquarters and light industrial uses, but not fronting on Rt. 6.

Thomas explained that West Creek has evolved over time. Light industrial “is not going to happen” there. Current occupants of West Creek, including Capital One, have expressed interest in having services, such as a grocery store and restaurants, closer to them.

Michael explained that West Creek has approximately one million square feet of interior retail space, but no retailer would locate there. Visibility on a main road is key to attracting upscale tenants. “If you tuck it (retail)in the woods it’s not going to happen.”

A conceptual plan of the project included a major tenant, possibly a grocery store, of about 50 thousand square feet, considerably larger than the Centerville Food Lion. An additional 20 thousand feet of retail space and five restaurant pad sites facing Rt. 6 would be at the “front” of the project. The residential component, expected to be upscale rental apartments, are separate and behind the commercial portion, which could include office space. Easy access by foot among the different parts, “walkability,” will be a feature of the enclave.

Neighbors asked why enterprises would want to locate on the subject property given the numerous vacancies in an existing strip shopping center a few miles east in Henrico. Thomas said that the proposed retail space will be high end and different from existing Rt. 6 retail space. “This is our front door. We want to do to right.” West Creek has stringent design and landscape requirements for the entire park.

The Pruitts conceded that the proposal will increase traffic on Rt. 6 and require a traffic signal at the entrance, roughly opposite Pagebrook Drive, which was mangled by the advent or Rt. 288. Signalization is controlled by VDOT—the state agency whose motto is “Oops! —through its convoluted warrant process. Existing shoulders and the Rt. 6 median fronting the property are extra wide and should accommodate any needed turn lanes. Road improvements, part of the development process, will be dictated by VDOT.

The traffic signal at Blair Road has helped traffic backups in the area, but, as one neighbor put it, is “no magic bullet.” Access to the interior of the project will be via a road behind what is now an iron gate that will eventually connect to West Creek Parkway.

Principal Planner Tom Coleman of the Goochland County staff, said that commercial development south of Rt. 6 is unlikely due to difficulties with extending public water and sewer. Current uses on the south side of Rt.6: low density residential, cemetery, and Collegiate School fields will prevail.

Thomas Pruitt estimated that it would be years before any construction occurs. The rezoning is just the first step. Obtaining approval of a plan of development and storm water management measures as well as finding appropriate tenets for the commercial and office space would precede construction.

In response to questions about the general area, Coleman said that Collegiate has built out its property on Blair Road; any major new construction there must go through the complete land use change process, which provides ample opportunity for citizen input.

Goochland Civil and Environmental Engineer Debbie Byrd said that the property near the corner of River and Blair Roads has been timbered and will be replanted with trees. It is not being cleared for development. We also forget that trees can be a crop with a decades long growing season. No one complains when the corn is gathered in, but when acreage is timbered, people scream about the ruination of “their” viewshed.

Coleman explained that the next step in rezoning the subject property will be a public hearing before the Goochland Planning Commission at its December meeting and a second public hearing before the supervisors as early as next January. The supervisors make the final decision. Check the calendar on the county website for updates and details.

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