Friday, June 29, 2007

Watkins Centre on the Move

Watkins Centre:

Today, June 29, 2007, will mark what will either be the beginning of one of the most effective and insightful mixed -use planning provisions in Chesterfield County history or merely just another planning effort that fell short of expectation.

Expectation. That is what should have truly been addressed and answered at meetings weeks ago. The following address such expectations:

Revenue expectation: to generate 11 million in tax revenues for the County

from Chesterfield County Public Relations: Watkins Centre will be a "major employment center for the county and the region"

from State Sen. John Watkins (R-Chesterfield) Watkins project will be "used to develop the newest gateway into Chesterfield County and the region"

Friends. These are some very high expectations. High indeed.

The project with components being developed by Zarimbe Metropolitan, Gray Land Development and Rebkee Company, involves land held by Gray Land Development (288 acres), Metropolitan(130 acres) Trammel (35 acres) and remaining land along the project held by Watkins Land .

All of these components are located around the Route 288/Route 60 interchange just west of the Village of Midlothian. There is also condirable land not zoned currently for the project held as well by participants in the Watkins Centre development that undoubtedly will be devloped later. These parcels back to Otterdale Road (175 acres)in one instance and also represent about 50 acres on the opposite side of Route 288.

The Army Corps of Engineers and the Department of Environmental Quality have signed off on the project and Watkins Centre is moving forward with approved plans of development.

It is to have: a Village of Westchester on 280 acres with 1,600 home lots (Grey Land Development) a lifetsyle center devoloped by Zaremba and the Shoppes at Westchester developed by Rebkee.

The biggest hurdle that the proposers of the project had to face was the fact that most of the projects that have come in years prior have not lived up to expectations. The concern citizens have is how will this one be any different and what will it leave in its wake?

There is concern for Chesterfield Towne Centers future indeed, but many have forgotten what will be the impacts on The Boulders or Arbortitum in terms of leased office space. Will we be sitting years from now asking ourselves how we fix the problem of not only residential sprawl but also corporate/office sprawl as well. Now, I am not a believer in government involving itself in "free markets" by any means but if it does not consider the local and regional impacts of projects it supports and prepares for them than in the end the citizens of the county can count on larger fees for services and tax increases.

The fear may be one that Mr. Dan Gecker, currently Planning Commissioner for Midlothian addressed back in 2006 in the blogosphere concerning whether the results of projects like Watkins Centre should not merely be the shift of revenues from one part of the county to another. In the free market system that indeed may be the result but Mr. Gecker view hits the issue right on the head. There has to be a greater comphrehensive plan for Chesterfield where such negative impacts could be limited. I personally do not believe we should be giving Corporations in the private sector major concessions or developers zero proffers for any project in the County. The reason I base this on is private sector companies should have to compete on an equal playing field and pay their fair share at getting to the Chesterfield consumer. The only area I see where this may not be the case is one in which we seek to revitalize an area of the county.

Midlothian, an area with the largest household income numbers just under 100K per househould friends is not an area that needs revitalization and the private sector should have to and be willing to pay fair market conditions or like Short Pumps example a premium to get into such a market.

My concern though has to do with how many projects can be sold to us as "unique". Watkins Centre is to be "unique", and yet so is Magnolia Green and then so is Roseland. While I believe Watkins Centre is a project long overdue and managed correctly with the continual feedback and involvement of citizens may in fact succeed but meeting the "expectations" of those behind the project appears a little much.

One of the things I think would really help those of us who consider grwoth a really big issue is for one candidate to simply have a map of Chesterfield County looking out to 2014 drawn up demonstrating the impact of every approved planning case before the county right now and show what are County will look like once all come on board. I am talking housing density, population density, school density, commercial and light industrial, transportation use projections, etc...

Friends, I took a map a simply placed areas where we know development has already been approved and I can tell you that Matoaca, parts of near 360, Clover Hill and Midlothian look like an infrastructure nightmare. This coupled with the Upper Swift Creek Plan pending debate.

We will have to wait and see if Watkins indeed becomes a "gateway" or merely the continuation of the greater problems we face with the growth of our County.

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