Crucial issues raised in CHF Forum

The November 4 CHF Citizens Educational Forum focused on the impacts of three developments east of Ashland.

Woodside Estates was made possible by zoning in the early 1970s and is a “by-right” development that is currently under construction. Providence Creek is a rezoning request currently being negotiated with Hanover County. East Ashland is a mixed-use proposal that lies partly in the Town of Ashland and partly in Hanover County. Each part is being negotiated separately with the appropriate local government.

The Town portion was rezoned as a result of a lawsuit brought against the Town by the developer after the Town turned down an earlier proposal. The Town was advised to settle the lawsuit because it did not have the money to fight it. The total impact of the three developments is close to 1900 homes, one million square feet of office and retail, and 33,000 extra car trips per day.

Presentations by David Maloney, Deputy Director of Planning for Hanover County, and Nora Amos, Director of Planning for the Town of Ashland, focused on specific aspects of the three developments. Trip Pollard, Senior Attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center, presented more general facts about growth in the Richmond region and its impacts, and urged citizens to push their elected officials and civil servants for what they wanted to see in new development.

Citizens raised questions about several issues. The topic areas and brief summaries of the answers are presented below.

1. Drainage, runoff and standards for impervious surfaces. Three different citizens cited two separate cases where, they asserted, new development changed drainage patterns and adversely affected their properties. The county stood by its policies that new development should not produce more runoff after development than before, and that clearing an old drainage channel accounted for changed drainage patterns for two of the citizens. The county does not anticipate voluntarily adopting any stricter standards for runoff or impervious surfaces than those required by the state, which are undergoing review and may get stricter as a result.

There is no single point of contact or liaison for citizens to work with when they believe they have been adversely impacted by development.

2. Traffic impacts, Providence Church Road, and Mt. Hermon Road. Because of its unusual intersection with Route 54 at Woodside Lane, the plan for Providence Creek has put forth several ideas for reworking that intersection, including closing Providence Church Road. Citizens asked about using roundabouts, traffic calming or traffic lights like those found in Northside Richmond at Westwood and Hermitage. The congregation of Providence Baptist Church is strongly opposed to closing or re-routing Providence Church Road. Supervisors Stanley and Via pledged to support keeping the road as it is now. The county stated that roundabouts have not been proposed.

One citizen requested changes to Mt. Hermon Road south of the East Ashland development to handle or bar anticipated cut-through traffic when the interchange at I-95 and Route 54 becomes clogged. The county said it is not contemplating any road improvements in that area.

Several citizens expressed general concerns that traffic impacts could not be addressed by the road improvements envisioned by the county.

3. Economic feasibility and the necessity of such large developments. Several citizens noted that there are already large commercial developments in the area, the economic conditions do not seem amenable to such development, and the scale was too large, the functional equivalent of the Empire State Building. Citizens expressed concern that the related fiscal impacts of the development to taxpayers would outweigh the revenues in the future.

Responses from the panel pointed out that local governments let the market dictate the success or failure of the risks developers take, and that the county’s policy is that development pay for itself (for capital needs) by proffers and fees.

There was a request for an economic feasibility study and a re-evaluation of the county’s and town’s retail strategy. The Town is already reviewing its retail strategy.

4. Schools and growth. Citizens asked about these issues and how they would be impacted by the new developments. The county does not anticipate building new schools for 10 years even with these developments. The county anticipates a growth rate of 1.5% to 2.5% annually.

5. Affordable housing. A citizen wondered if there would be affordable housing in the developments, what the home prices would be, and whether existing lower-income residents in the area would be priced out. The county noted that mixed-use development can provide for affordable housing but the market would dictate the mix of housing units and their prices.

6. Other concerns included light pollution, bicycle and walking trails, and alternative means for citizen participation.

The Town noted a lack of citizen participation at recent public meetings about East Ashland.

The Ashland Planning Commission public hearing on East Ashland is scheduled Wednesday, November 18, 7:00 p.m. in Town Hall.

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