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  • Writer's pictureRobin Schick

The Truth and Playgrounds

I spend a lot of time responding and replying to citizen comment on a regular basis, and have a good reputation for doing so. I was trained in Community Design and Management by the US State Department and have my Planning Certification from the VA Municipal League extension program through VA Tech. Working from the ground up in community development is critical and I value citizen participation which is why I have met, replied, and responded to the citizens I’ve received concerns from. All citizens have special interests, they each have their own unique issues based on their property and how their lives are impacted. It is important to listen to citizens, with a holistic knowledge of the town, the facts on the issues; which, takes someone who has been involved and has been there to see it.

The issues that arose after the Town spread gravel at the parking lot at Castlewood were honestly heartbreaking for me. I grew up at the park. I lived at Dockside as a child. I have memories with my own son at that location. This was not the way to expand parking. There should have been a site plan, Best Management Practices, consideration for storm water, beautification, and a vision for how it’s going to impact the community, especially the playground! I am extremely disappointed that this did not take place, and even as a council member I did not know about the gravel placement until after the fact. The resolution was a response to this, not just from me but the majority of council, that this poorly managed site development had major repercussions that have changed that site and there is clearly a needed solution. The boat ramp, parking income, playground and the need to accommodate growth are real factors that have been discussed at many meetings including at the prioritization meetings in 2019 and 2020, and again at the March Public Work Session, which Mr. Fitzpatrick did not attend since he has not attended any of our meetings prior to this August.

After talking with the neighbors and responding to concerns, I suggested to table the resolution at the Wednesday meeting, because we need a vision and management for these public spaces that does not come from one person or our town manager, but rather comes from our Comprehensive Plan. The only way to finally utilize Eleanor, to fix Castlewood, and to benefit from both in this community is for it have a vision that comes from the public process that considers the whole town, along with the real facts and issues at the Eleanor property that continue to recycle this topic.

Everyone needs to know that Eleanor is:

1. Zoned R-2, Permitted Principal Uses include: Church, Family day homes, Group homes, Minor home occupations, Parish house, Private boat piers, Public facilities, Public parks/playgrounds, Single-family dwellings, and Subdivisions (major and minor)

2. It is in an AO Floodplain (which is not a tidal floodplain, it specifically is a storm water runoff issue, as a basin or plateau for what is called “sheet” flooding, this flood plain was in the new FEMA map for 2015) The elevation certificate requires new construction of “habitable space” to be 3’ above flood elevation which will make any housing ~7’ high to living area. Buildings that are not houses, including commercial, recreation, public amenities and places that people don’t sleep in can be built in floodplains without this height requirement. The building code justifies this because people aren’t sleeping there while a flood event could take place.

3. It is 1 singular parcel (not several lots, unlike the remainder of the point), to build homes you will have to create a “major subdivision” this is a zoning term that enacts the subdivision ordinance (you can read it on the town website), it will in fact have to look like a subdivision and the investment to meet these requirements is a substantial cost that would be encumbered, by who?

4. If it is all about the $$$ and nothing else, the best return on investment is condos, where the 1st floor is parking to get above the flood plain, the next two floors can accommodate handicap accessibility, the construction is condensed to reduce runoff impact, and the return tax dollars are on 28 units, not 6-10 houses, which even if the condos are sold cheaper than houses creates nearly double the real estate tax and nearly 3x the residents for indirect return. This would have to go through Public Hearing since it is not zoned for this, and from prior experience (i.e. the RV Park idea) probably unlikely to make it through this process.

5. If it is NOT all about the $$$, but rather about what the neighborhood context is, where we need to identify other needs, or where there can be compromise then ideas like a pavilion for rental event space and retention pond are possible. It is zoned for Public facilities and Public parks/playgrounds. This can include checking off multiple boxes depending on what needs in the area should be addressed. This also can qualify for funding to build out these facilities through multiple state agencies if it is truly supported to do so, which has not always been the case by former council members in the past applications.

6. To sell it requires formal public hearing, and a super-majority vote (6 out of 7) in order for it not to be a contentious sale or it would just lead to litigation as we have seen in the past. There are lots of properties that need to be sold that the town owns that are already parceled out, that do not have these barriers on them, and that the townspeople have clearly expressed they want to see developed to bring in revenue. This one though has a petition with 500+ signatures on it to retain it. This makes it a hard sell to any town council member to go against if they truly are listening to the people.

7. This parcel has received attention, lots of ideas, but no solutions implemented since 2010 when the Town Council then decided to stop the trailer leases. It went through a public hearing process in 2012 when it was voted to maintain it as a park and pursue some recreation equipment, yet nothing happened.

· In 2014, the Town Council held another Public Hearing to sell it, received two offers which were both withdrawn.

· In 2017, they held another Public Hearing and approved a grant to apply for conservation space from VOF, the grant was denied as council once again tried to sell it, and

· Held another public hearing in 2018 where the margin of 4 to 3 passed to sell it, making it litigious and the buyer stipulated that all the subdivision work must cost less than $50,000 and to not have to go through any Board of Zoning appeals to build in setback and RPA restrictions, thus backed out again, and then

· In 2019, it was discussed and voted on to seek a different grant as a conservation easement from the VLCF, and there was discussion of a plan to develop the space to generate revenue.

· In January 2020, it was again discussed to find a solution to utilize the land,

· In March 2020, the need for improved parking at Castlewood was discussed along with the move of the playground, COVID-19 hit, and in July gravel was spread at Castlewood without any site plan reviewed with council nor the public and now we are where we are…

The gravel lot that Castlewood became needs to be fixed. It needs a vision. It needs a site plan. It needs storm water management. If the playground stays, the proposal that came to my inbox involved even more gravel parking, moving a slide off the Esmond Ln. side, and fencing it in to an area smaller than the size of my actual backyard. Spending up to $10,000 we can do this option, and I will support it if that is what is decided on, no problem. I am open to any option, but we need to move forward with solutions that make sense. Unfortunately, it is election season, so this is purposely being communicated by an uninformed political opponent on Facebook with the intent to be divisive. The town council has been discussing these topics in public for a long time, the project implementation for parking was poorly managed, and Town Council supported a solution that gives more not less to our residents. Our kids matter, our health matters, and I support investing in both (especially when it came with a 50% discount on equipment).

So before everyone gets jazzed up about Eleanor once again, I requested at the meeting to take a step back, see what is happening, where the demands for growth are putting pressure on our town for parking, public amenities, and storm water. What does that look like, not just on "the point" but across town? The place to find the solution should be in the 2020 Comprehensive Plan because that is what our Mayor and governing body should be implementing, and that is how I will lead as Mayor. The Comp Plan has solutions that are thoughtful, with zoning considered, and understand the challenges our community faces in the years to come.

I asked that a plan for parking across town, a plan for parks across town, and a vision for Eleanor be formed through the planning commission process, removed from the political agendas on council. I trust in the democracy of it and will support the outcome, whatever it may be, of this public process.


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