Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Roseland Case Deferred 90 days

While many of us have kept an eye on the Roseland zoning plans and case over the course of the last year, the developers finally had the opportunity to come before the Board of Supervisors and bring their case for zoning before the County.

The Planning Commission in my view failed to sieze the opportunity of deferring the zoning case which would have prevented or at least extended the time frame before the case would reach the Board and provided for more discussion/communication with residents along the Woolridge Road area. Do not get me wrong, I believe that the developers in this case have extended their hands to local communities over the course of the last year but there still remain some issues that should be addressed by both the developers and the residents together. The Planning Commission failed to provide more time for this to occur and the case was sent to the Board.

After roughly twenty speakers, mostly in favor of deferment of the case, addressed the Board of Supervisors and in the end Ms. Durfee, (I) Supervisor Matoaca District spoke at length regarding the case and hit on quite a few points, including the communication with residents, as well as some of the more smart growth centric issues in the case. She proposed that the Board defer the case for ninety days for continued review and the motion passed the Board with one exception, Mrs. Jaeckle, (R) Supervisor Bermuda District. Jaeckle voiced her feeling that the parties would be able to work issues out over a thirty day period and if needed could seek further deferment if required but that to give a ninety day deferment would result in the review taking the entire period of time which could result in some of the business interests with regard to economic development (code for signed leasing agreements/intents) to be forgone by the business community due the the length of time this project is taking to get zoning approval.

The most striking point is most County residents probably where unaware that this case involves both the Midlothian and Matoaca Districts. Durfee took the lead in addressing much of the issue at hand, but Daniel Gecker, (I) Supervisor Midlothian, had very little to input regarding the case other than he would support Ms. Durfee's wishes for seeking the ninety day deferment. Gecker has been involved in this case since its inception as the former Planning Commissioner for the Midlothian District when this development was first proposed. In fact, Mr. Gecker has been involved with most of the major new growth projects being built out in Chesterfield, including Crossland's Cloverleaf project, Watkins Centre, Magnolia Green and much of the commercial zonings like the Shops at Stonehenge along the Route 60 corridor. His few words were striking given the fact that the impacts on the Village of Midlothian with regard to the Roseland project could be substantial and virtually be a catalyst for the area to lose its charm and historical village plan.

I have said this quite a few times and it cannot go without saying that the integrity of the five or so Chesterfield Villages will be tested in the coming years with regard to zoning cases. If one want to see the future for Chester one only has to look to Midlothian and the major factor protecting Bon Air is the City and the lack of land available around it and no one should forget that with the enormous amount of growth coming to the Ft. Lee area in the next ten plus years that Ettrick could also see such measures taken to support the areas growth.

In the end, while happy with the reasoning behind the deferment I have to admit that I still remain very concerned with the wake that the case will leave behind upon approval. I think the project on its merits should ultimately gain full approval and the Sowers folks have done a tremendous job at bringing a very modern development before the Board but my concern has always been what the true impacts will be on the greater community at large. These issues in terms of a zoning case or planning by the developers are honestly not really the developers issues as much as they are our leadership on the Board. We are trusting that upon build out of this development that our Board will plan for such impacts that may result from such a large scale project. These impacts will certainly be on our schools, whose budget was just reduced some six million dollars and our roads which our Board as little to offer up in terms of relief.

Even if we see a build out in three phases over fifteen years, we are still talking about adding 5K new homes (which amounts to ten thousand new cars) every five years and though the schools are included in the case for elementary I wonder for example what answer the Board has for say pre-schools and daycare centers which virtually throughout the Midlothian District all have waiting lists even today before the build outs of Roseland and the countless other projects. I realize the politicians will say its the private sectors responsibility to look to service those needs in the coming years, but I just cannot help but see there being a shrinking piece of undeveloped pie being seen in the greater Midlothian community which could result in pushing many services upon that of the Clover Hill and Matoaca Districts along RT 360 which is already overburdened with poor commercial zonings and of course excessive traffic counts year over year.

So while a realist and know that this Board will pass the Roseland development, I think the greater question will be if they are able to secure their political futures should they fail to midigate alot of the impacts on services, including the issue of the Upper Swift Creek Plan and our water quality in Swift Creek that could be threatened with continued development throughout Midlothian and Matoaca. I keep a picture of Lake Chesdin from just last year that demonstrates just what can happen to our water levels during a dryer year and though we may be experiencing some great rains so far this year, we cannot forget about what can happen when low rainfall occurs or we experience something even worse than 2007.

The folks at GBS Holding which will oversee the Roseland development feel the project will reduce the collective dependency on the automobile once the it is fully phased and even has the potential of adding a light rail down the road. The County Planning Department estimates that the project will bring about 77K additional car trips per day on County serviced roadways, which may certainly have been a concern of Wayne Bass, Planning Commissioner for Matoaca, who sought additional time for review of the project but could not get any support on the Planning Commission for a deferment.

"I know I am fighting a stacked deck up here"- Wayne Bass, Planning Commission

"This is well planned and smartly developed"- R.J. Gulley, Chairman Planning Commission

Yeah, Mr. Bass I think you were right. The deck may very well have been stacked, but because the 1500 acre project is mostly in your district you would have thought that you would have gotten the support of the remianing Commissioners for a deferment.

"It takes time to analyze this large a development for Chesterfield County to determine if its appropriate"- M. Durfee, Supervisor Matoaca District

"We think Roseland is a poster child for responsible growth"- Casey Sowers, GBS Holdings
"We are satisfied that the case meets and exceeds all reasonable standards"- Casey Sowers, GBS Holdings

"Sprawl is about the misuse of resources" Dave Anderson, Developer Engineer, GBS Holdings

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Chesterfield Reduces Property Tax Rate by 2 cents

Today the entire Board of Supervisors of Chesterfield County voted in favor of a property tax rate reduction of 2 cents to 95 cents. This marks the second consecutive rate reduction approved by the County, however this time around it appear to be a walk in the park compared to last years heated debate over the reduction.

What has changed? Everything apparently to the current Board, which evidently thought it more prudent to keep campaign promises on this issue than to actually look at the economic ramifications of such measures with regard to the health of the County budget moving forward. It is apparent these these Supervisors have managed to miss to constant barage of negative economic data coming out recently and while announcing some new business development news fail to have any answers for such conditions in the economy that caused say the Hon Company which operated in the Bermuda District for many years to close up shop taking roughly one thousand jobs with it out of Chesterfield. There seems to be a quasi-state of denial concerning some of the real hard economic indicators on the horizon.

The Board seems content with the knowledge that Chesterfield is still a place where developers wish to bring to market new home and commercial construction and seem to feel that they can raise the level of which those markets particpate in revenue generation which has roughly been around twenty percent in recent years. But at what price is the level of servcies going to pay by reducing the rate yet again, especially since many Virginia localities are raising these rates to offset infrastructures needs.

Does this Board really think that Chesterfield will get a good share of State funding? The power is shifting even more to Northern Virginia in the General Assembly and while Chesterfield is one of the fastest growing areas in the Commonwealth, its needs will surely not be as high on the list as say NVA or Hampton Roads/VA Beach.

Chesterfield needs to begin the process of looking after itself. Yes that will certainly be painful, but Henrico County has managed to get by without State funding for roads. Why can't Chesterfield do the same? Reducing the rate is an easy political move, yet many of us put this Board in place to kake the hard choices and not the easy ones. Every issue raised last year as to why the rate should not be reduced is even clearer in todays economic conditions.

The fact is it was not the rate per say people took issue with but the level of increased assessments. The assessments which increased some 16% last year and now 11% this year have been the overriding factor bringing about the issue regarding tax rates. It was never the rate so much as the assessments were raised so to were the amounts residents tax bills became. While it may be politically expedient to lower rates now, it begs the question just what the County has in store for us come 2009 with regard to tax assessments? What if the housing crisis really gets worse and home sales and values continue the declines we have witnessed beginning late last year? If homes lose twenty percent of value when compared to 2007 assessments what will be the impact or fallout if residents find the value of the homes declining in the marketplace but he assessments rising in 2009. What is the likelihood of such scenario? Hard to tell but no one really knows how deep this housing crisis will go and whether the bottom will hit in 2008 or later.

Personally I am pieved at this move. I did not support the reduction last year because I wanted to rate to remain the same but if they felt a reduction was possible they should have taken that reduction rate and set that percentage aside for roads and only for roads. It now so happens we have lost some nine cents in revenue now that could have been marked for roads if you take into account the previous reduction.

Who will be impacted most? Schools of course. The mismanaged growth or as the blog Bacons Rebellion says "dysfunctional" growth has brought us such impacts as overcrowding in our schools and now it is apparent that these reductions will effect the School Board as well. I feel that we may see a battle in the coming years, not unlike the City of Richmond between their School Board and Mayor Wilder, should this Board of Supervisors not begin to engage and work with our School Board more openly. Its is striking to me as some of these Supervisors act as if the situation with our schools and overcrowding is somehow a new phenomenom when I actually had classes some thirty years ago at Robious Middle School in trailers out back. It begs the question just how long some of these folks have been residents of Chesterfield if they cannot grasp the reality that many of us not only were educated here in Chesterfield but are now raising our children here----for now.

I wonder just how all the new residential developments before this Board will impact property values in the older areas as well going forward if the available home inventory rises as a direct result of the number of new homes constructed in the market. This Board has not yet been inclined to put forth a solution for sprawl or a revitilization plan for many areas of the County that have been impacted by the western migration of residents along Rt 60 and 360 other than the Cloverleaf Mall project. In case they missed it, our Villages, are quickly being challenged on all sides with increased developmental pressure which will result in them losing the Village charm altogether.

Regardless of the level of assessments and the underlying revenue generation that results from the rate in 2008, the Board continues to miss the opportunity of pulling the County up ahead of the curve and make some significant moves that would benefit the entire County for years to come.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Roseland's Future Before the Board April 23rd

Most of us who have been following the stages of development for Chesterfield County over the last five years or so will recall the countless times the Roseland project has been brought up in converstaion at work, school meetings or cocktail parties over the holidays since the first proposal was brought forth to develop the mixed-use community that will be located between the Hallsley development on its western side and Centerpoint Office Park to its east and Charter Colony, Grove and Walton Park to its northeast along Woolridge Road.

The proposed project offers many of the things that will satisfy even the most die hard smart growther. The developers are proposing in lieu of the traditional cash proffer of 15,600 per home which is stated to be around 5,140 homes developed over the next 15 to 20 years, to provide for the design and constrcution of an elementary school, extend Woolridge Road and Powhite Parkway, provide the construction of a public library, and emergency fire and rescue station and also create a forty acre green space for park-like setting within the development. The developers have also reconfigured some the original height proposals for buildings at the bequest of the Charter Colony residents who strongly opposed any building over eight stories which was a major concern should hotels or office buildings be constructed within the mixed use development. In all the developers are proposing to accomodate the concerns of the County with regard to schools given the estimate is just under 3,000 students will eventually reside in the development and provide solutions to the roads and infrastructure concerns given its proposal would offset over 100 to 125 million dollars in estimated costs that the county would have to provide to accomodate such a development should the current cash proffer system be employed.

There can be no doubt that Roseland is a forward thinking proposal that addresses most if not all of the concerns and criticisms that have been employed by those seeking greater control of growth both within the local government and the greater community at large. That said, however, I wonder just how some members of the Board are going to rationalize this proposal in relation to some of the campaign rhetoric offered up during the last election cycle regarding developers. Citizens got a full dose in some of the hotly contested districts last Fall regarding such issues as roads, infrastructre, and large scale developments coupled with the impacts on the Upper Swift Creek plan. Developers have attempted to remedy such concerns by providing substantial green space and buffer areas that should help offset some of the issues relative to the environment that were raised in 2007 but eventhough the developers appear to have made every effort to make the proposal fit the County planning guidelines one cannot help but wonder if the development might just suffer from ill timing.

I have no doubt that such a proposal would have been approved by the last Board, but a majority of the current Board sitting for the first time after winning victory last Fall could suffer political fallout should the proposal gain endorsement. It is simply the minefield of politics to be sure, but the timing of such a proposal comes when Midlothian has already experienced explosive growth resulting in continued impacts that to many have remained unaddressed. Roseland just outside the Village of Midlothian and the proposed Cloverleaf Project in addition to Watkins seem to be creating the potential for increased commercial and residential sprawl and not less. The biggest concern for Roseland is not the proposal which appears appropriate but the impacts such a development would have on the greater community of the district and though many feel that Roseland has not been confronted with very much opposition it is important for the Board to consider exactly what such a proposal would not only do to the quality of life to residents of Roseland but to the remainder of the district of Midlothian and the county as well.

In my view the Roseland proposal demonstrates what may be the best developer proposal brought forth since Brandermill given all the particulars and the tide of development appears to be something that even this Board will have a hard time to curb given the County's needs but with Roseland , Magnolia and Watkins on the horizon Midlothian is certainly becoming a very different place than it was just a short few years ago. The Board seems content with Midlothian and Matoaca sharing the burdens of growth, be it residential or commercial, given the fact most of the County's growth is being undertaken in these two areas respectively the impacts upon the charm of the Village of Midothian will be substantial.

While a Roseland endorsement seems likely much attention will be placed upon Supervisors Ms. Durfee and Mr. Gecker and the votes cast regarding the Roseland proposal. Both elected last Fall to the Board for the first time and campaigned heavily with campaign literature referencing Republican irresponsibility and lack of oversight with regard to growth now sit faced with a very difficult vote to cast. I wonder will their be enough political will for them to oppose just a measure that will impact the community for some twenty years or will the likelihood of being afforded the opportunity to get schools constructed upfront early in the developmental stage as well as road improvements and widenings completed before the project comes on line full swing be too much to vote down.

There is no doubt this one for some may be a complete no-brainer but I have come to understand recently that both Ms. Durfee and Mr. Gecker are certainly very complex politicians advocating what appears to be a new direction for comprehensive planning altogether. That said, many residents of Midothian and Matoaca voted for change in 2007 specifically because of the view that something had to be done to slow down the growth in these areas and give the School Board time to implement a new plan to alleviate our schools overcrowding issues that have been a direct result of such development proposals in the past.

In the final analysis the best case for Roseland is a 4-1 endorsement while the worst case for Roseland may be a 3-2 endorsement of the proposal. Though I know that the impacts of such a proposal will be further declining/frustrating quality of life issues for the greater community, the proposal seems poised to be endorsed by the Board of Supervisors.

Chesterfield Board Meetings Go Streaming

As we have all come to realize, some of us later than others, "Time" is by the far the one resource most of us have in short supply. There are so many things that pull our attentions, whether it be our daily lives of work or family affairs, away from our local governance that I for one am glad to see Chesterfield County introduce live streaming video of Board Meetings on the internet.

This has been awhile in the making, but the current Board has the potential of reaping some reward from this endeavor as residents stressed in the last election cycle greater transparency of government. For some time the meetings could be viewed via Comcast cable live but at times the time frame of these meetings are in direct conflict during the week with family dinners, yes some of us still eat together as a family, or sports practices or in all honesty being aired up againmst popular television programs. The streaming video will enable those of us to leave the media player up and running in on our computer monitor while those in the family who would prefer to watch television may still do so, at cultural peril these days in my opinion.

Chesterfield County is by far well ahead of other localities on this front. I venture to say that the City of Richmond would never adopt such measures for fear of demonstrating just how divisive that body of government truly appears at times though they do air such Council meetings on television as well. It would be interesting to see just the numbers of viewers taking interest in watching such meetings. Citizen involvement unforutnately has been relagated to a reactionary stance rather than a proactive one and hopefully such streaming video may afford more citizens the opportunity to become aware of such measures being considered that may impact citizens going forward.

You will need to download from the internent a Media Player Version 9 or higher and have broadband connection capability and log onto to gain access to the streaming video during meetings. A list of General Meeting times can be found on that same website.