Sunday, July 23, 2017

Playing Chicken

At first blush, the 520 home 55 plus community planned by HHHunt, of Wyndham and Wellesley fame, seems to be a win for Goochlanders tired of large homes on acreage who want to stay in the county.

The residential enclave, as yet unnamed, offers the usual amenities associated with upscale senior communities found in other areas. ) see for details.)

It will be located east of Hockett Road in West Creek, convenient to Short Pump well away from rural areas. The community will add to the value of land in the Tuckahoe Creek Service District, and the county as a whole. It will bring more affluent  rooftops to the Centerville area. The community will add no children to our schools. GOMM is contemplating relocating its world headquarters there.

What’s not to like? Many Goochlanders would say “pretty much everything.” The drawbridge folks, those who believe “I’m here so pull up the drawbridge and don’t let anyone else in,” contend that Goochland is just find the way it is.

Traffic is increasing at an alarming rate in the east end. Any new project, either residential or commercial will just make it worse. Adding turn lanes, and traffic signals, all slow to appear thanks to VDOT rules, only help so much. According to information presented by HHHunt, traffic at retirement communities is spread throughout the day, rather than concentrated at peak hours, even though some residents may still work.

Given all of the onsite amenities, including a pool, fitness center, clubhouse, and walking trails, HHHunt officials contend that residents will find plenty to do within the community and spend most of their time there.

One reason to leave that few people contemplate is a medical emergency. Goochland is blessed with highly skilled emergency medical service (EMS) recognized often for its excellence. In May, Goochland EMS received  the Silver Mission Lifeline award for its demonstrated ability to deliver high quality care to their cardiac patients, providing life-saving care during transport to an appropriate care facility. But, our EMS is already feeling the strain of meeting increasing demand for service by a growing and aging population. 

Unlike Henrico, which has a long established career fire-rescue department, Goochland uses a combination career/volunteer service. As demand grows and volunteer participation declines, responding to EMS calls is a timely manner  is a challenge.

The need for a new fire-rescue station on a site proffered by West Creek, will be pushed over the tipping point by the advent of the HHHunt community.  According to information provided by Goochland County, in 2016, EMS transported 1,574 patients county wide. Of those, 932 were over 55 years of age, with an average age of 57. 

This major influx of new residents—Goochland currently has about 8,500 homes with more on the way, and 22,500 people—will further stress emergency services.

The cost of hiring new deputies and fire-rescue providers is assumed to be covered by the increase in real estate and other local taxes resulting from new construction. Potentially staggering capital costs of building  and equipping new fire-rescue stations ($4.3 million for the new Hadensville station, which already had apparatus) and buying ambulances (approximately $500 thousand fully equipped) and fire trucks is another matter.

Until 2016, when the Virginia General Assembly defanged cash proffer rules, localities, including Goochland, could accept “voluntary” cash payments from developers requesting residential rezoning to offset capital costs generated by their projects.

Maximum cash proffer amounts were calculated using demand generators like .3 children per home and so forth. In kind contributions, like widening Hockett Road in front of the Parke at Centerville, were also accepted.

In June, Goochland adopted a new cash proffer policy in line with the state law that requires applicants for residential rezoning—commercial projects are evaluated in a different manner—to submit a detailed plan to mitigate increased capital costs generated by their new homes.

HHHunt—and there are undoubtedly other developers behind them—hired a traffic engineer to review the impact of its new enclave on roads and a consultant to study the impact on fire-rescue services.

Given the vagueness of the new state proffer law, developers could sue the county if a rezoning application was denied because the supervisors deem that the mitigation plan inadequate. If the supervisors approve the rezoning without suitable funds for increased capital needs, a  tax hike could be in the cards for everyone.

It is in the best interests of residential developers to work with the county to ensure adequate fire-rescue  and law enforcement coverage. People moving to Goochland from Henrico, for instance,  expect an ambulance, fire truck, or deputy to arrive at their door in short order following a 911 call. Less than stellar emergency response could hurt sales.

Regardless of who pays, the supervisors must ensure adequate levels of law enforcement and fire-rescue services for the entire county.  Building facilities, hiring, training, and equipping the people who keep us safe takes time. Waiting until new residents overwhelm the system is playing chicken.

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