GREEN LIGHT GIVEN TO “EAST ASHLAND”

The Town Council of Ashland approved one of the largest and most detrimental developments to Ashland and Hanover’s future quality of life this evening. All of the questions and concerns raised by previous posts remain unanswered.

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Answers Lacking for Economic and Traffic Impacts

Two massive mixed-use projects, East Ashland and Providence Creek, proposed to be built along Route 54 east of I-95 will heavily impact our mobility, our taxes, and our quality of life. We implore the Hanover County Board of Supervisors and Ashland Town Council to fully consider the development proposals and their potential impacts on existing and future residents of Hanover County.

At build-out, the two developments along with Woodside Estates, will usher in over 1300 new homes, condominiums, and apartments. An estimated 35,000 daily vehicle trips will be generated from the influx of new homes and approximately one million square feet of new stores and shops. Once constructed, these developments will increase demand for new services and infrastructure, i.e. roads, sewer, schools, libraries, fire, and police. New growth and new services come with a hefty price a tag.

Development approvals should not be mistaken for economic development. Hanover County can avoid the economic woes of our neighbors in Northern Virginia. Loudoun County folks considering their 2011 budget are facing a debt obligation of $175.5 million (equal to 24.2 cents of their current tax rate). This is unsustainable, especially when average home values are decreasing. Loudoun’s average home value dropped 25% from 2007 to 2010.

Why has Hanover County government as well as the town of Ashland chosen not to conduct an economic impact study of the proposed East Ashland and Providence Creek developments? During a time fraught with economic challenges including decreasing state and local tax revenues as well as declining home values and unemployment, doesn’t it make sense to carefully assess the tax burden that these two new developments will impose upon Hanover residents?

Although an economic impact study has yet to be performed, traffic impact analyses have been conducted. Projected traffic increases along Route 54, especially at its juncture with I-95, approach gridlock. What’s most troubling? The traffic component has received the least attention in planning and foresight. The proposed changes for Route 54-East have included: closure of historic Providence Church Road and/or converting the Providence Church Road into a “Main Street” lined on both sides with commercial development; enlarging and/or creating new intersections; adding five to seven more traffic lights; and widening Route 54 from two lanes to four lanes.

The public may not be aware of other options discussed. For example, a “diverging diamond” at the I-95 interchange popped up one month and was then discarded the next month. Given the major uptick in projected traffic volumes, this is not a careful, strategic approach to solving new and unforeseen traffic issues associated with East Ashland, Providence Creek and Woodside Estates. Why haven’t citizens been offered smarter growth solutions for handling increased traffic such as modern roundabouts?

While numbers of citizens have participated in public hearings and workshops with developers and planners regarding design, size, and character of the proposed developments, none of these meetings has focused specifically on traffic, involved representatives from VDOT, or road and traffic engineers.

Significant impacts of the proposed East Ashland and Providence Creek developments need to be fully considered and analyzed, especially with regard to tax implications and traffic issues. The Code of Virginia intends a balance of “…the community’s interests and rights to enjoy their properties with the rights of developers to derive profit as they impact existing communities.” With taxes and traffic issues unsatisfactorily addressed, the scales seem tipped against Hanover and Ashland citizens.

East Ashland OK’d by Planning Commission

On a 6-1 vote, the Hanover County Planning Commission, in its February 18 meeting, sent the county portion of East Ashland forward to the Board of Supervisors.

P & R Master Plan goes to Board

Approximately 25 citizens turned out for the final hearing on the Parks and Recreation Department’s Master Plan January 25.

Several mountain biking enthusiasts questioned language in the draft plan that seemed to proscribe bike trails in Poor Farm Park. Park staff and the Parks Commission assured the citizens that such was not the intent and made changes to the wording in the plan. Parks and Rec staff will partner with bikers to enhance and maintain the trails.

A few citizens questioned the need for irrigated and lighted athletic fields as well as the projected number of fields.

The Master Plan will be presented to the Board of Supervisors on March 10 in its afternoon session, which commences at 2:00 p.m.

Public comment will be accepted.

Parks & Rec Master Plan hearing

The Parks & Rec Advisory Commission meets Monday, January 25, 7:00 p.m. at the Parks & Rec office (13017 Taylor Complex Lane off Route 54) to receive public comment and discuss the final draft of the 20-year Master Plan before submitting it to the Board of Supervisors.

The plan shows many new athletic fields and somewhat proscribed hiking, biking and nature trails. (See previous post to this site.)

Citizens are urged to attend.

East Ashland cases deferred

The East Ashland zoning cases for both the town and county portions were deferred in public hearings before the Ashland Town Council on January 19 and the Hanover County Planning Commission on January 21, respectively.

For the town’s case, Ashland Partners, L.L.C. asked for a work session with the Town Council and Planning Commission in order to resolve a myriad of issues raised by the latter. A date of March 2 has been set for the next hearing on that case.

The county Planning Commission deferred the case for 30 days in order to work further with the applicant to resolve issues.

Over months of community meetings, discussions and hearings, citizens have pointed repeatedly to the serious impact of this development on schools, traffic, environment and taxpayers.

Citizens are urged to contact their elected and appointed officials and the Planning Departments of both jurisdictions to voice concerns.

Master Plan: ball fields vs trails

Approximately 40 citizens turned out at the Mechanicsville Library on December 14 for a public meeting on the Hanover County Parks & Recreation Department’s draft master plan.

Citizen concerns included the loss of natural areas to ball fields; the cost of maintenance for fields (lights, mowing, irrigation); lack of connectivity among parks; seeming priority of playing fields over biking/hiking areas; light pollution; lack of passive, open areas; need for a new dog park at Pole Green; need for a greenways plan and need for expeditious cutoff of field lights.

Respondents to the Parks & Rec citizen survey did not name athletic fields among their top five priorities, yet the 20-year, $85 million draft plan shows a fairly aggressive expansion of playing fields.

Citizens perennially want to see more trails and passive areas, according to Parks Director Greg Sager. The survey bore out that fact in the top five, which included no wish for more team sport facilities.

In preliminary remarks that evening by the master plan consultant, citizens learned that Hanover falls short of neighborhood and area parks acreage and that multi-use field inventory exceeds the Virginia Outdoors Plan recommendation.

The draft plan is still open for citizen input. Contact Greg Sager, rgsager@co.hanover.va.us or John Hodges, jhodges@co.hanover.va.us

Review the draft plan at www.co.hanover.va.us/parksrec/default.htm

The next public meeting is scheduled Monday, January 25, 7:00 p.m. at the Parks & Rec office/Taylor Complex on Route 54, when the Parks & Rec Advisory Commission meets to finalize the master plan.