Thanks to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), the citizens’ group who opposed the Mechanicsville theater recently obtained thousands of emails from Hanover officials and staff. During the process of reviewing these emails, citizens also discovered perhaps a bigger issue, which should concern every citizen of Hanover County due to the impact of wealthy developer influence in the county’s planning process.
In June 2013, a vice president with HHHunt (one of the largest developers in the Richmond area) sent an email to David Maloney, Hanover planning director, and South Anna Planning Commissioner Larry Leadbetter with the subject line “Hanover Comp Plan – Route 33/Hylas Area.” In the email, HHHunt proposed a change in Hanover’s Comprehensive Plan. The email states, “We are currently developing a new neighborhood in Wyndham know as Ellington and Ellington Woods that is adjacent to the area where I am requesting the line adjustment. This neighborhood will be higher end custom homes and from a planning perspective it is more appropriate for the adjacent Hanover use to be residential.”
Please note the Comprehensive Plan was approved three months later in September 2013 with changes to the Route 33/Hylas corridor.
What is the meaning of this email and why is it important? During the community meetings on the Comprehensive Plan update, many members on the Hanover Board of Supervisors indicated that they were trying to obtain a better balance of business to residential growth – favoring more business. When HHHunt (operating out of Henrico) recommends more residential development in Hanover to protect its boundary line, this is in direct opposition to Hanover’s economic development objective of attracting more business.
From the overall text of the email, it is obvious to even a casual observer that HHHunt felt comfortable enough to correct months of work by Hanover’s highly-paid, professional planning staff and the planning commissioner from South Anna District. The email even included a marked-up map indicating HHHunt’s exact wishes and concludes with “I will call both you and Larry tomorrow to discuss.”
Couple this with the $10 million Hanover County spent to lay water and sewer lines to Route 33 – the exact same area where Edwin Gaskins, director of economic development, told the Richmond Times-Dispatch, “Large parcels along Mountain Road [Route 33] especially close to Interstate 295, have been purchased by speculators who hope to eventually cash in.”
Are you thinking what I’m thinking? Is it appropriate for a development company operating in Henrico County to influence officials in Hanover County? The other question is what “adverse impact” on its upscale neighborhood in Henrico was HHHunt seeking to prevent by re-drawing Hanover’s zoning map?
Where is this same regard for “adverse impact” on current citizens of Hanover County caused by new developments? Hanover’s planning department, planning commission, board of supervisors, and legal counsel continue to use the idea “that developers have property rights.” Are property rights exclusive to developers only?
Developers – even those outside Hanover County – seem to have a special seat at the table in Hanover. Citizens do not enjoy that privilege. In fact, citizens opposed to the Mechanicsville theater had to spend hundreds of dollars obtaining emails from county officials. Other citizens spent untold hours reviewing the emails, which resulted in the discovery of this very friendly communication between HHHunt and Hanover planning officials just prior to approval of the Comprehensive Plan update. If not for FOIA requests, this email would have remained secret forever.
Is it any wonder that there is growing public distrust of government? This is just one more reason not to allow Hanover County officials to re-write the Freedom of Information rules to allow for more secret meetings.
As a member of the Richmond Audubon Society, I was shocked and dismayed to learn of the Department of Interior’s plan to allow 30-year permits for the killing of Bald and Golden Eagles at wind farms.
We know we need wind energy as one of our strategies to combat climate change. But Audubon believes that we must carefully site and manage these facilities to reduce impacts to birds and other wildlife. This 30-year permit takes us in the wrong direction and locks us into a path that will result in more dead eagles. How can the Interior Department sanction the needless killing of our national symbol, the Bald Eagle?
On behalf of the 1,400 members of the Richmond chapter of the National Audubon Society, I urge Interior Secretary Jewell to reverse this decision and work with conservation groups and the wind industry to come up with a better solution – one that promotes wind energy and safeguards our Bald and Golden Eagle populations.