Saturday, December 17, 2016

New Neighbors?

Local developer Scott Gaeser held an initial community meeting, that is not part of the county’s rezoning process, to share information about a proposed mixed use enclave in Centerville on December 15.

Goochland County created a mixed-use zoning category earlier this year. Because this is a new land use, every square inch of land in a mixed-use project must be rezoned. This process includes at least one officially sanctioned community meeting, and public hearings before the planning commission and Board of Supervisors, which can grant or deny the rezoning.

Despite the proximity to Christmas and frigid temperatures, the crowd at the Centerville Company 3 fire-rescue station was standing room only. In addition to area residents, three county supervisors, a planning commissioner, and several members of the county’s community development staff attended.

Gaeser said that he wanted to share his plans for the 37 acres behind and to the west of Essex Bank at the corner of Manakin and Broad Street Roads and see what people think. He explained that the project name Manakintowne pays homage to historic Three Chopt and Manakin Ferry Roads, which, at one time, intersected on the property. (This also adds to the confusion between Centerville and the Manakin Village, which is on Route 6.)

Mixed use zoning requires a master plan that lays out buildings, roads, parking, landscaping, open space, and amenities in detail. The ordinance language was crafted to provide the maximum flexibility for developers with the expectation that plans will far exceed the minimum requirements.

Gaeser’s initial plan—he said that it might be tweaked before formal presentations begin—includes a heavily landscaped entry boulevard. An open space to be used for the farmers market and other community events is a focal point. Neighborhood scale buildings shown in the elevations had both Tudor and Craftsman details to soften their exteriors. Gaeser said that there will be both retail and office space, to accommodate doctors, dentists, and small business, cafes, and services. The design incorporates all commercial space into a cohesive streetscape, and has no outparcels like Taco Bell.

The housing, as presented, consists of 230 apartments in two buildings, one three story, the other four floors. Gaeser said that the four-story building will be at the back of the site, where the land slopes, softening the height aspect.

Monthly apartment rents are anticipated as high as $2,400 for a three-bedroom unit. Gaeser said that the design and finishes in the apartments will be upscale. Amenities will include a fitness center, elevators, and garages. “It will be a safe and luxurious place to live.”

Prices for the forty townhomes are expected to be in the $400 thousand-dollar range. Gaeser explained that the residential units are not expected to be built before 2020.

Concerns about traffic were widespread. Adding several hundred vehicles to the daily crush was not well received. Gaeser contended that mixed use proposal is somewhat less intense of a use that the current B-1 zoning and that initial traffic studies did not call for a traffic signal.

Residents who live north of Broad Street Road argued that folks from the apartments or townhomes would exit via Manakin Road to make a left turn at the signal, because turning eft onto Broad Street Road would be impossible.

There was some discussion about a road access to Plaza Drive, which would not only move traffic away from Manakin Road, but provide another way for eastbound traffic to move through Centerville. Gaeser said that he would like Plaza Drive access, but so far, his efforts to secure it have been unsuccessful.

In response to the other general question of “why cram all of that housing there?” Gaeser said that is the place for high density housing because public utilities are in place and the roads are some of the best in the county. (Admittedly, the threshold for a good road in Goochland is low.)

The County’s 2035 comprehensive land use plan was mentioned a few times. As written, the Comp Plan expects that 85 percent of Goochland will be rural in twenty years. The other 15 percent, east of Manakin Road between Route 6 and the Hanover line, on the other hand, is destined for intense development. (See for details)

Questions were asked about the impact of the project on government services, especially schools and fire-rescue. Gaeser contended that, even though Goochland schools get high marks, few people would move to Centerville to put their kids on county schools, but would go to Henrico instead. He said that the apartments at the Notch, opposite Wawa, have added only a handful of kids to the school system.

Residents cited trailers at Randolph elementary school as evidence that care needs to be taken not to overwhelm schools.

Fire-rescue is grappling with a fall-off in volunteer participation and difficulty recruiting paid staff, which would be exacerbated by an influx of new homes.

These points and more will be discussed and examined in detail going forward.
Gaeser expects to hold a “county sanctioned” community meeting on January 4 at Grace Chinese Baptist Church on Broad Street Road, that will have more detail.

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