Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Upper Swift Creek Plans: First There Were Two, Now Just One

While many of us who partake in the twenty-four news, okay entertainment, cycle these days and have experienced an ear full of the global climate change and energy crisis debate the last few weeks, there is a measure that potentially have great impact on the quality of life and services within Chesterfield County.

The issue is over the Upper Swift Creek Plan that attempts to address the concerns of balance between residential and commercial growth impacts on the Swift Creek Reservoir and the water quality of such body.

If you are a long-time reader here, you will no doubt know I am not the biggest fan of government dictating to private property owners what they can and are able to do with their respective properties. Unfortunately, such lofty libertarian nuances have to be balanced with the complete dereliction of County governance regarding growth and lack of holistic approach to comprehensive planning for the past twenty years that such a measure and its LOS (level of service) requirements may simply be unavoidable.

Why so critical?

The Board of Supervisors has allowed the practice of "land-banking" to completely skew the overall growth picture in the County for years. I remember when it was relatively inexpensive to buy land out towards Lake Chesdin in large part because there were no services out there. large tracts of land were purchased, most likely pre-proffer days, and now are being developed. This has happened throughout Mataoca and Midlothian and we are only now experiencing the impacts of such zonings as they are currently being developed to come on line. The impacts of such developments is what is at issue in terms of the Swift Creek reservoir.

The Swift Creek Reservoir is a primary source of drinking water for most of Chesterfield. The increase of zonings approvals in and around the area over the years is changing the environment and quality of the body of water. I am not an environmetal engineer nor will I preach about those issues, but in the end the more developments that come on line the greater the potential risk to the quality of water due in large part to phosphorous levels.

While much of this debate is centered around residential, we must also determine not to neglect commercial activity. These large scale mixed -use projects require such landscaping that we must not lose sight of what chemical elements by-products our area is being subjected to and the impacts of such. We see this everytime we get a real strong rain. Just the other day, a massive thunderstorm produced large quanties of run-off throughout the sewers and you could see the mud trails of water running down into the water. Just what is this run-off or potential erosion bringing to the water supply?

The basic tenent of the USCP is whats known as Levels of Service (LOS).

From a transportation perspective, LOS have been graded on a scale of "A" thru "F" in the Highway Capacity Model. Just like school, "A" being greater or in this case greater "free flow" and "F" being "forced or breakdown flow". Most localities seek to the very least come in with a grade of "C" which is "stable flow".

Ask yourself where the roads you drive on daily come in? Ask yourself to think today versus say five years ago and then think five years out?

The Level of Service aspect also directly in the case of the USCP relates to the capacity of schools. The target capacity rate is set to no more than 10% "over" capacity though many feel that that number will be elevated to 20%. This 10% level is stipulated ( I stress for now) to be throughout the 288/360 boundary goinmg north and west.

This LOS standard will permit the denial of any zoning case that would push the level of capacity over the standard regardless of property status or proposed development. So the question remain if an individual owns 5 acres of land and wishes to build a home on that tract in aschool boundary where capacity is already 10% where that individual landowner's zoning case will end up. Apparently, it end up being denied.

If this is the reality, I find it striking that members of the Board who have come down against "impact fees" citing concerns over putting this fee on such a small group of landowners under the guise of property rights can look these same landowners in the face given what particular tenents that LOS have regarding its application. What if the landowner is retired with no children which would impact the school system and still wants to re-zone the land say from agriculture to residential and connect to public services?

Exactly how many of Chesterfield County schools are currently in "over" capacity? Some are saying that LOS is merely a political way of establishing a moritorium on growth without actually having to be nailed down on endorsing such a measure.

The fact that we have reached this point is a direct reflection on the County's inability to lead from the front with regard to growth. Many voters while seeking a proactive approach in 2007 are coming to the reality that the approach of the current Board is to take a purely "reactionary" approach to solve many of the issues that were neglected in the past.

The biggest issue I have is that by stating that you support the school system and our schools to be at "over" capacity you are endorsing trailers. Anyway you want to get around it, if a school has more students that it was built for, those addtional students are being educated in trailers. And by the way, save me the rhetoric that children educated in trailers get the same education as those inside, because unlike our current Board members I experienced such trailers in Chesterfield almost thirty years ago.

Thats right. Trailers are nothing new. We have been dealing with (or not frankly) with the use of trailers as a politically expedient way of covering up our inability to control growth. When we talk about trailers, we should be focusing on not the quality of education, but the quality of the environment where the education is conducted. How about security in these trailers? No one wants to go there, until its too late unfortunately.

The two plans being considered for so long have now become one. Russ Gulley, Chairman of the Planning Commission has removed his plan for consideration after rather heated discussions at times on the PC. The current plan will be reviewed and open for public comment on June 25, 2008.

Please see the Chesterfield County website for information regarding the USCP and the public hearing.


Anonymous said...

Very limited turnout regarding the previous debate at least at the PC that is.

Chesterfield gets is water via Swift Creek, Chesdin, and the James River. About 40 million gallons a day delivered in 2007.

I know that Chesterfield is one of five counties in the ARWA (Appomattox River Water Authority) but does anyone think the County should be attempting to get a plant simliar to Lake Anna power plant for energy. I know its a nuke facility but if John McCain manages to win and these plants are going to be built would not the fees paid to Chesterfield more than offset some of the revuenue shortfalls of the future.

Also what about the success of the revenues generated in Western Texas where Counties are getting a windfall of fees for allowing for windmill construction. if Dominion wants to truly create other renewables why should not Chesterfield step up? Would it not go far with bringing more real jobs to the County as well as provide revenue for services across the board without them having to be paid for by citizens.

The success of Western texas in this regard is astonishing and could be an effective model.

J. Scott said...

While I would question the political will, its not a bad question at all.

I doubt that there would be the opposition to the level of the Wise County coal power plant, but surely there would be some eventhough as an alternative is is simply the best way to reduce our dependency on crude oil and such.

Do we even really know that Lake Anna plant is there in our daily lives in central Virginia?

I do think Dinwiddie, Amelia would have apart to play in it if its Lake Chesdin but it could be a long term win win for all counties around the lake I think if the land was available to get it done.

Remember, Chesdin Landing lots had skyrocketed before the recent pull backs in price and the land there is only going to recover to high levels so acquisition could be an issue.

It is a great question though.

Saddened by Inaction said...

The LOS measure will pass most likely and the withdrawal of the plan endorsed by Russ Gulley was removed from consideration in large part due to the persuasion by Hands Across the Lake and folks from Brandermill. His points were valid and substantiated by studies that have been on going but so goes politics nowadays in Chesterfield.

The question will be whether or not and how soon such LOS will be expanded to the entire County. many school boundary markers criss cross areas geographically and of course these boundaries will be changed by 2010 once a census comes down.

What good will it do to pass a measure placing LOS constraints in the face of having to redraw school lines even before the next election cycle.

There are still too many questions and our government is no more transparent than the previous one.

I have yet to here in such economic times one idea of how to reduce the size of our County government nor one idea to address the exodus of police, fire and ems staff to other juristictions as a result of the County not keeping pace with other areas in terms of benefits and pay.

I am just losing what little faith and hope I once had in this new Board and they have not even been sitting for a year yet.

Anonymous said...

WOW. Caught some of the session on streaming video last night. Was it just me or are things getting contentious with every new meeting.

I thought there was certainly a level of unnecessary attitude, especially amongst the Board themselves on this issue and of course toward the parameters preffereed by the Planning Commission.