Sunday, June 11, 2017

In the weeds

Had any of the candidates seeking nomination to represent the 56th District in the Virginia General Assembly attended the Tuesday, June 5 meeting of the Goochland Board of Supervisors, they would have gotten a taste for the wide range of issues addressed by state legislators.

At a June 3 forum (see GOMM Choices) most of the hopefuls touted their adherence to their party’s principles. It would be interesting to ask how a conservative, liberal, or progressive would apply those principles during a discussion of changing state law to permit localities to designate running bamboo as nuisance vegetation, or the merits of lifetime dog licenses.

Then, there is the proffer legislation enacted during the 2016 session, that illustrates the quip “legislate in haste, repent at leisure” that left localities like Goochland, scratching their head about zoning issues.

Goochland County Attorney Tara McGee presented a proposal to amend the county proffer policy. She contended that the existing proffer policy does not align as much as it should with the proffer legislation passed during the 2016 General Assembly session.

The proposal recommends that each developer, on a case by case basis, provide a detailed impact statement outlining how their project will impact county services and infrastructure and what remedies they will offer to mitigate those burdens. The Board will no longer accept a set dollar amount.

Before July 1, 2016, Goochland had a cash proffer policy that allowed developers to pay a specific amount per home—business projects were never subject to the cash proffer policy—payable when the certificate of occupancy was issued. The amount of this cash proffer was calculated using a formula with specific amounts for schools, parks, road, and fire-rescue. At one time, library costs were part of the equation, but were removed. Proffer dollars may only be used to offset costs of capital projects. Ongoing expenses, such as salaries for county employees, are considered to be funded by increases in real estate tax revenues generated by development.

Susan Lascolette, District 1, confirmed that this policy is a work in progress. McGee said that the Board has the power to deny any project if it believes that the development will have a negative consequence on the county.

The Board unanimously approved this policy change. ( For details, please see pages 97-103 of the June 6 Board packet, available on the county website under the Supervisors’ tab.)

McGee later presented legislative authorizations granted by the 2017 General Assembly session to localities to add to their local laws, if the governing board deems them appropriate. (Virginia is a Dillon Rule state, which means that local government has only those powers specifically ceded to them by the General Assembly.)

The Board was asked to refer those items to specific departments for further review and consideration.

The lifetime dog license option— “While the dog owner is in Goochland and while the rabies vaccine is current”; up to $50 per animal versus the current annual fees of $10 for unspayed  or $5 for spayed—was referred for further consideration. Manuel Alvarez, Jr., District 2, asked that the feasibility of requiring animals to be microchipped also be investigated.

McGee explained that state law now allows localities to amend language addressing liens imposed to recover the demolition of unsafe structures or cutting excessively tall grass from “local” taxes to “real estate” taxes to obtain payment priority when the property is sold. Board Chair Ned Creasey, District 3, cast the sole vote in favor of moving this forward.

Creation of a registry for short term rentals, which are currently only permitted under Goochland ordinances with a conditional use permit, was not referred. Board members preferred to have the entire short term rental issue, like Air BnB, addressed in the ongoing comprehensive revision of zoning ordinances.

Exemption of property tax for the surviving spouse of officers killed in the line of duty was referred for additional study. Creasey asked that the addition of animal control officers be added to the study.

The option to increase transient occupancy tax on hotels and bed and breakfasts from the current two percent to five percent mandating the additional funds be dedicated to tourism was not referred. Creasey was alone in dissent.

Adding running bamboo, which is not a problem in Goochland, to the excessively high grass, was also rejected.

A mandatory change passed by the GA to clarify the definition of a dangerous dog, was set for a public hearing.

The usual VDOT reports and a public hearing on the Secondary Six Year Plan for rural rustic roads were also part of the Board agenda.

Let’s hope that whoever represents the 56th District in the Virginia General Assembly for the next two years realizes how their actions trickle down to the weeds in localities and be very aware of unintended consequences of ill-conceived and poorly drafted laws.

If you are so inclined, don’t forget to vote in Tuesday’s primary.

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