Chester pulled from county historic villages to promote mix-use development

During last week’s Chesterfield Board of Supervisors meeting, the Electronic Message Center (EMC) sign was the discussion that brought the most speakers to the podium to weigh-in on the proposed policy, which included proposed policies from Greg Allen’s staff as well as the planning commission.

Ten speakers from the business community expressed their approval of the compromise that the board had constructed from the recommendations of staff and the planning commission. The other speakers spoke about how they wanted to protect specific areas from the signs, for the most part in the northern part of the county. An EMC sign can be similar to a large television or single color character display that is somewhat static like a bank clock or gas station sign’s electronic price listing.

The board discussed restricting a number of areas from allowing EMCs altogether and areas which would remain under the same policy as exists today – that is: requiring the sign applicant to get special permission from the Board of Supervisors.

On a motion by Marlene Durfee, Matoaca District supervisor, all EMC signs were prohibited in Chesterfield’s five villages: Chester, Bon Air, Midlothian, Ettrick and Matoaca. In addition, the electronic signs were prohibited along the Midlothian Turnpike corridor, parts of Hull Street Road, the Courthouse area, historic areas as well as part of the Hopkins Road corridor in the Dale District among others.

After interrupting Durfee’s motion, and being asked to wait until the motion had been completed, Bermuda District Supervisor Dorothy Jaeckle offered an amendment to the motion that Chester Village be eliminated from the list because she said Chester and some other villages were not real villages, referring to Chester and Midlothian.  

“Although Ms. Jaeckle might say that they are not real villages, there are people who live in those not real villages who believe they are real villages,” said Dan Gecker, Midlothian District supervisor.

Jaeckle responded, “Bon Air is a little bit closer.”

“The number six best suburb in America does not want EMC today,” Gecker said of Midlothian village. “And the number six suburb in America does not want EMC tomorrow.” Gecker added that he would not shop in an area with EMC signs.

During the board comment period, Jaeckle said, “In a real village, people knew exactly what was in their village. There wasn’t a Wal-Mart two miles away.” Jaeckle added that villages typically did not have a five-lane highway running through them.

In fact, Bon Air Village has the five-lane Huguenot Road and Midlothian Village has the five-laned Midlothian Turnpike.

The board did not rule on how far away from one another the signs could be, but a distance of 1,000 feet was discussed. The time that each message could be displayed on the EMC signs was set at 30 seconds and moving images were disallowed.

Chester Village resident Carol Ray is upset about the decision to eliminate the village of Chester out of the historic villages’ protection area from EMC signs. “Many citizens and civic groups in Chester have worked hard to create a comprehensive plan and to preserve and enhance the village’s appeal,” she stated.  “Attractive non-electronic Chester signs welcome visitors from east and west on Rt. 10 to the village, the streets are lined with street lights; public areas are planted and well-groomed. There are many businesses in the Chester area which do not have road frontage, but the vertical residential/commercial use designation of the Chester Village Green was seized upon by our supervisor as the excuse for her decision.” Adding, “If this type of signage is considered unattractive signage for other areas of the county why would it be appropriate for the village of Chester? Chester is just as much of an area to be protected as Bon Air, Midlothian, the Courthouse area, sections of Hull Street and other areas of the county.  Why should Chester be thrown under the bus?”

Allen stated that even with the new policy for the EMC signs, applicants would go through the same process as before for approval and part of the approval is that the EMC signs are to be incorporated into an architecturally designed sign structure that is compatible and complementary to the building or project it serves.


Electronic Signs

I attended the meeting and was one of the individuals that spoke. I have have a few points I wish to raise in the defense of Ms. Jaeckle and her comments.

When I and Ms Jaeckle, from my impression of her comments, think of a village or township, what we think of is an area where pretty much everything you need is right there in the area, and can be reached by walking to it. As a resident of Bermuda, I do not think that Chester Village conforms to the that definition. While it is a nice area and has historical significance, If I lived in the area, I could not get everything I needed, such a food clothing, and medicines, without getting in my car and driving somewhere. There are no grocery stores or department stores, that are in a safe walking distance of the center of the area.

This is something the Disney company learned long ago, that if you want to create something that people want to visit and live in, you have to provide the services that people need and want. They started this by building more hotels and other services, within the boundaries of their Disney World Park. They carried this on to their creation of Celebration, their planned community. In that community everything a person needs for their day to day living, including top medical care, is provided in walking distance. While that might be an extreme example, that is what a village is, a community that is complete within itself. Based on that definition I do not see Chester Village, while nice and attractive, as a true village. The people there rely too much on outside services, and the services there rely too much on people outside the village using those services to be successful.

Which brings, us to the true issue with the electronic signs, in the Chester Village. The Chester Village development is a mixed used development and has some nice services. The problem is that I can not count the number of times that I have gone into the Village and found a business that I was not aware existing before. Typically these are the businesses that are located in one of the back corners, but even along the major through way there are businesses that do not get much attention. A attractive architecturally compatible sign that included an electronic message board, would help with that. Does this board have to look like the ones that are in Colonial Heights with their multicolor animated signs?. No, but with the right rules, properly enforced they can be understated and provide much needed advertisement for that area.

The problem with an all or nothing approach that the anti-sign movement in Chesterfield takes, is that they will end up with just that, nothing. No village, no community, and no growth. They tend to think of this as a new fangle thing that takes away from the village, instead of approaching it from the stand point that it is just a new tool that we can use, and deciding how to best to use that tool to achieve a vibrant Chester Village.

There is only three way to address new technology. The first is to ignore it and hope it goes away, the second is to embrace it fully with no limits, and the third is to examine that technology and determine how best to make use of it. The problem with the first is that new technology can not be ignored, once it is invented it is here to stay. The problem with the second, is that encourages misapplication of the technology, which can cost long term problems. It is the third way that provides the best option, accept that the technology is going to be used and that people have a right to use that technology. Then we make the necessary rules so that we use that technology in away that is compatible and enhances what we have, instead of detracts from it.

In the case of electronic signs, the proposal put before the Board of Supervisors, was a proposal that went down the third path. Unfortunately, the action taken, while it made the situation better, in my opinion continues the policy of trying to ignore these signs. That is going to going to come back and haunt those that are against them. By not leading the community with an agreement that allowed the use of signs in all parts of the county, with restriction that minimized their impact, they are not giving those that come after them the guidance and wisdom that they will need in the future. This lack of wisdom and guidance will hurt their cause, as this technology changes and becomes more prevalent. Instead they are leaving them with a choice only of the distant stale past, or the approaching vibrant future. And when people are left with those choices, without guidance regarding moderation, they tend to make decision that lead to excess.

In conclusion, what I am saying is that the best way to guarantee, gaudy multicolor animated signs, like those that people complain about in Colonial Heights, in the Chester Village and other protected areas of Chesterfield, is to keep them out of those areas at all cost. But by allowing them in with restriction, that allow them to blend in and become an attractive part of the community, you can keep that from happening and show the generation that come behind you how to best make use of new technology.

One of the best ways to share our wisdom with future generation, is through our application of that wisdom in what we leave behind for them today.

The Emerson Exception

I wish Ms. Jaeckle would be honest with her Bermuda voters.
What she created, at the last supervisors meeting was a conflict of interest as spelled out on June 13th 2011 in the Supreme Court Case Nevada Commission on Ethics vs Carrigan.

In the Nevada case it was decided that it is a conflict of interest to vote on an issue in which the peoples representative has a personal interest.

Early in the Board of Supervisors hearing Carrie Coyner stated that it would be easy in dealing with an electronic sign in Chester Village Festival Park, since there was only one owner( her father, George Emerson).
Ms Jaeckle then proceeded to add an amendment specifically exempting the Chester village historic area from the prohibition on electronic message signs.
This exception benefited one person, and one person only
George Emerson!
Who has contributed money to Ms Jaeckle's reelection campaign. Special interest politics at it's worst.

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