Monday, January 9, 2017
We don’t want no stinkin’ apartments
The above statement pretty much sums up the reaction to mixed use enclaves proposed for different parts of eastern Goochland.
On December 15, and again on January 4, local developer Scott Gaeser held community meetings to gauge citizen reaction to a conceptual plan for Manakintowne. As presented, this enclave will build 230 apartments in three and four story buildings, and 44 townhomes on property behind and to the east of Essex Bank in Centerville.
Gaeser’s vision of village-scaled retail and commercial space along a well- landscaped boulevard entrance instead of the continued march of fast food emporiums along Broad Street Road was perhaps the most acceptable part of Manakintowne. He contended that there is a need for small, affordable commercial spaces to attract starter businesses who cannot afford rents in Short Pump.
Cary Friedman, proprietor of the late, great Grandpa Eddie’s barbecue restaurant, said that he would like to open a small bakery there.
Manakintowne would also be a great place for a library branch in a retail space, to attract locals to the site, and supply an “amenity” for the eastern part of the county.
People at both Gaeser meetings were very vocal in their opposition to the apartments, less so to the town homes. Most would prefer no high-density housing.
Gaeser explained that the land in question has been zoned B-1 for decades. A hotel could be built there by right. He believes that Manakintowne is a better alternative for the area in the long run.
The Gaeser meeting was part of the pre-application process, which means that it is still in the conceptual stage. Changes could be made by the time the project reaches the planning commission for the first phase of any rezoning, or it could not move forward.
At the January 5 planning commission, changes requested by the county and Pruitt Properties, for mixed use on the north side of Rt. 6, just east of its intersection with Rt. 288, the former site of the Oak Hill golf course, drew a similar reaction.
After two hours of mostly negative public comment, applicant West Creek principal Tommy Pruitt, requested a 60-day deferral on the matter, which the planning commission seemed relieved to grant.
This project is also in the conceptual stage. Items before the Planning Commission were essentially housekeeping matters. They were: amending a zoning ordinance to permit expansion of the West Creek Business Park; amending proffers that apply only to the West Creek Business Park; and rezoning approximately 7.66 acres immediately adjacent to the West Creek Business Park from A-2 agricultural to M-1, making them eligible for inclusion in West Creek.
West Creek boundaries, as defined by a 1989 county ordinance, are generally Rt. 6 to the south; Tuckahoe Creek to the east; Hockett Road to the West; and Broad Street Road to the north. The item dealing with the rezoning and expansion make it possible for small parcels at the southwestern edge of West Creek to be added.
The zoning ordinance in question, applies only to West Creek, because it is the sole planned business park zoned before 2004, it does not and cannot apply to any other property.
Speakers at the Planning Commission meeting were furious that West Creek would ask to “go back” on the promise made when its land was first rezoned, prohibiting retail with one thousand feet of Rt. 6, and residential use. Requested changes in road access that would create dangerous traffic patterns also drew a great deal of ire even though they were also conceptual.
West Creek neighbors, including those who live in the River Road corridor, do not want the pastoral Rt. 6 view shed marred by retail and multifamily housing. One gentleman said that, if West Creek wants to build stores, restaurants, and apartments, it should locate them in the park’s interior so no one can see them.
Opponents questioned the need for new retail and restaurant space on Rt. 6, citing decaying and vacant strip shopping centers a few miles to the east in Henrico. West Creek promised to bring high quality retail, including a grocery store, and upscale eateries to the project, but contended that it is too early in the process to have commitments from specific tenants.
In 2012, the West Creek ordinance was amended to permit multifamily housing on up to 60 acres in the 3,500-acre business park. Apartments at The Notch are almost built out. The Bristol apartments, on the east side of Rt. 288 just south of Capital One, are clearing land. The proposed apartments at the south end of the business park would use of the remainder of the acreage. West Creek contends that adding the small parcel on Rt. 6 to the multifamily acreage is essentially housekeeping, that the initial number of acres was somewhat arbitrary.
Opponents contended that, if expansion of multifamily acreage is granted, West Creek will keep asking for more.
Tommy Pruitt reminded the planning commissioners that West Creek pledged a site for a new fire-rescue station when and where the county deems appropriate.
Goochlanders have been quite vocal in their opposition to high density housing. Apartments, or other kinds of multi-family housing, they contend is not rural and therefore not appropriate for the county. The transient nature of apartment dwellers is also troubling. Gaeser explained that condominiums, which tend to be owner occupied, are more difficult to finance than apartments.
Astonishing numbers of apartments seem to rise from the ground like mushrooms after rain east of the county line. Many speakers at both meetings questioned the need for even more apartments in Goochland. One cited a recent article in the Wall Street Journal about a nationwide apartment glut.
Both meetings raised concerns about the impact of hundreds of new dwelling units on county services, especially schools and fire-rescue.
On January 4, Gaeser contended that the county is moving to a career fire-rescue service because the volunteers are no longer able to meet the demands of a growing and aging population. This produced an angry response from a fire-rescue volunteer who said that the volunteer corps is doing just fine.
At the Planning Commission meeting, one woman said that the county would need to start hiring EMS responders to meet the demand that multifamily housing would place on the system.
Goochland has had a small number of paid fire-rescue providers since 2009, hiring additional people each year. These county employees are deployed countywide, augmented by volunteers when possible. Funds generated by a cost recovery program that charges insurance for hospital transport cover part of the tab.
Schools are another important issue. Randolph Elementary, the county’s eastern most primary school, added trailers this year to handle its burgeoning population. A new elementary school has been in the county’s capital improvement plan for several years and is expected to be built around 2020. Coincidentally, Gaeser said Manakintowne would be complete the same year.
Both Gaeser and Pruitt contend that their projects will attract primarily empty nesters, and have little impact on the schools.
So far, experience has proven this to be correct. The Retreat apartments opposite Wawa, have, to date, added only a handful of students to the school division. Other high density communities including The Parkes at Centerville and Saddle Creek have produced very few students.
Traffic, of course, is a serious concern.
The Centerville project will exacerbate a major bottle neck. Gaeser said he wants to have an access point from Manakintowne to Plaza Drive behind the Company 3 fire-rescue station. Comments made by a fire-rescue volunteer indicate that may not happen.
With its main entrance sited at the end of the entrance ramp to northbound Rt. 288, the transportation impact of the West Creek project will also be tricky. A traffic impact study will be required. VDOT will have the final say on road improvements, all of which will be funded by West Creek.
Mixed use is a very new concept for Goochland. We still do not know how, or if, it will be implemented here. Do we really need more retail space? If so, what kind of business will occupy it? We do need more office space for doctors, dentists, and other kinds of professional services. Without the high-density housing, will there be enough customers to support these businesses or attract and retain others?
Given the strident opposition to any mixed use in Goochland, developers and the supervisors will need to step carefully to ensure that growth keeps pace with the county’s ability to provide core services. Both Manakintowne and the Rt. 6 West Creek enclave are still in the early stages. It will be interesting to see what the final products look like.