Signs of Anti Business Bluster at the ARB

By. Neil Williamson, President

What started as a small matter of replacing Crozet Volunteer Fire Department’s aging channel letter community announcement sign has morphed into a debate over the future of business signage in Albemarle County’s Entrance Corridors.

According to Albemarle’s website:

The Albemarle County Architectural Review Board (ARB) is appointed by the Board of Supervisors and is charged with the responsibility of regulating the design of development within the County’s Entrance Corridors. Entrance Corridors are streets that provide routes of tourist access to the County and to historic landmarks, structures, and districts. The goal of this regulation is to ensure that new development in these corridors reflects the traditional architecture of the area and that development within the corridors is orderly and attractive.

While the impact of such regulation may seem small, and well it should be, Albemarle has perverted the original intent of the EC legislation and restricted 21 roadways as Entrance Corridors.  It is our understanding that once the John W. Warner/Meadowcreek Parkway is completed the number will advance to 22.

With 21 Entrance Corridors, Albemarle spends a vast amount of money and staff time aggressively examining the architectural design, landscape design, color scheme, lighting and signage of all parcels sharing a boundary line with the EC or within 500 feet of the EC.

The result is any restriction placed on the Entrance Corridor effectively covers a majority of the county’s commercial activities.

With this as a backdrop, the ARB discussion of electronic signs was especially interesting.  Albemarle Zoning Staff reminded the ARB that any such sign would require a special use permit and no such application has come forward to date.

The staff was aware that the Crozet Volunteer Fire Department (CVFD) planned to submit an application in the near future.

The CVFD uses their existing sign to get the word out about fire prevention, promote CVFD fundraising and community messages.  The existing sign is pictured below and predates the EC legislation:

Crozet-Fire-Department-Sign_thumb.jpg

Signage technology has changed a great deal since CVFD first erected this message board.  Recognizing this digital-sign-example.jpgadvancement and noting the age of the current message board, CVFD came to the ARB with an idea – an electronic message board; similar in style to the one pictured to the right.

It is important to note, the Free Enterprise Forum does not have an opinion regarding the CVFD potential application – or any other application for that matter —  we use this as an example of our concern for the significant policy decision the ARB is considering.

In early October the ARB determined some new guidelines to use regarding digital signs and message boards

The ARB held a work session on design criteria for electronic message signs. ARB members made the following comments on the “Characteristics and Criteria” table presented by staff:
1. Eliminate the criteria regarding daytime and nighttime intensity limitations.
2. Add a note indicating that standard color guidelines apply, including the limitation to three colors.
3. Add a criteria indicating that graphic images will not be allowed on the electronic message portion of
the sign.
4. Graphics are prohibited in the electronic message portion of the sign.

This week Eric King from Watchfire Signs, a digital sign company met with the ARB and explained the state of the industry.  Somewhat surprisingly, he indicated that appropriate regulation makes for good signage as no one wants to be Las Vegas (unless of course you are Las Vegas).  King also said “Unreasonable regulation is harmful to tax generation as commerce will go elsewhere.”  He also alluded to constitutional questions regarding commercial free speech.

He raised a number of concerns regarding the proposed regulations.  One of the great benefits of the digital signs is the ability to readily change it and to include graphics.  It seems like Albemarle’s ARB was opposed to both of these advancements.

King said, “If you restrict color and eliminate graphics, you effectively ban digital signs”.

ARB Chair Bruce Wardell had more questions than answers in this work session indicating his need for the county attorney’s opinion on some of the matters raised.  Wardell also said, “If we allow 21st Century technology, it seems a bit hard to restrain using 19th century law.”

ARB Member Marcia Joseph took a different tact, she wanted to make the digital signs appear just as a fixed sign would and be regulated the same.  In her argument she cited the need for fairness for all those businesses who already have approvals under the existing guidelines.  The Free Enterprise Forum finds this argument to be rather circular seeing as businesses existed in the entrance corridors prior to the creation of the ARB and the body had no problem creating a new set of rules that made doing business more difficult to new comers – why not make it easier?

Albemarle County seems to have a need to understand economic development is more than a department it is a philosophy.  While we understand the need to regulate the size of signage and the speed of content changes, we fail to see the benefit with maintaining antiquated sign regulations that no longer fit the industry.

This business visibility issue is not the straw that broke the camel’s back regarding economic vitality – but it is a sign [pun intended] of how far we have to go before existing businesses, and start ups feel welcome in Albemarle County.

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson, President

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20070731williamson Neil Williamson is the President of The Free Enterprise Forum, a public policy organization covering the City of Charlottesville as well as Albemarle, Greene, Fluvanna, Louisa  and Nelson County.  For more information visit the website www.freeenterpriseforum.org

In Their Own Words – Are Bypass Opponents Arguments Intellectually Consistent?

By Neil Williamson, President

What a difference a year or two makes.  Later today the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) will hold a public hearing regarding the so-called Route29 Solutions projects (US29/Rio Interchange, Berkmar Extended and US29 Widening north of Polo Grounds Road).

In conductinus-29-logo_thumb.jpgg our research prior to the public hearing, we reviewed previous testimony about the US29 corridor and found a number of concerns that were raised regarding the now defunded bypass that are not being brought forward on consideration of the Route29 Solutions.

Have these projects truly answered these concerns or are the bypass opponents standing down in face of this “better than a bypass” solution?

In their own words -

Environmental Review: “NEPA requires that careful consideration be given to projects like this before the federal government will approve them,” [Southern Environmental Law Center’s Morgan] Butler said. “It’s about looking at the impacts of a project on the environment, health and community…. We desperately need people to weigh in with both federal and state officials voicing their opposition to this project and demanding a thorough analysis of its impacts be done,” Butler said.” – Sean Tubbs “Environmental groups continue fight against bypass” Charlottesville Tomorrow January 19, 2012

VDOT Vision: “The reality is that VDOT has a vision for Route 29 becoming an interstate highway. Localities must realize that if they do not plan for their portion of Rt. 29, VDOT will do it for them. In lieu of progressive, locally driven, and forward thinking solutions, VDOT will mandate the narrow-minded default: a bypass. In Albemarle, VDOT manipulated the political process—leaving local residents without Places29 and in its place a quarter-billion-dollar project that will not alleviate congestion.” – Jeff Werner “Charlottesville Western Bypass: Not just a local issue” Piedmont Environmental Council 17 September 2012

Design Build I: “Unfortunately, because of the nontransparent design-build process that Connaughton has utilized, no public hearings have been allowed on the current contract design, and there will be very large cost overruns and change orders in the future unless this project is terminated.” – Jim Rich “Road to Nowhere” The Hook 2/7/13

Induced Traffic: “Called “induced traffic” by transportation economists, almost every time a highway network capacity is expanded by 10 percent, instantly there is a four percent growth in the number of vehicles. In a few years – generally less than five – the increase in cars and trucks climbs to 10 percent and the congestion “benefit” is gone as the relieved roads are carrying more than they were before construction. A Virginia transportation study in 1998 called it “a futile exercise” to attempt to build out of congestion and national research over 15 years of 70” – Randy Salzman Congestion “Relief” Western “Bypass”

Design Build II: “[Dennis] Rooker has an even bigger problem with the “design-build” project, in which the construction companies design the road based on VDOT specs.” – Hawes Spencer “Bypass spins: Low bid cheers some, not others”– The Hook 5/11/2012

Design-Build III: As part of the fast-track process, VDOT is giving contractors the right to hundreds of change of orders which will increase construction cost. Since the state is required bids PRIOR to discovering many necessary facts and even identifying relevant regulations, contractors will be able to request massive numbers of changes and cost overruns are guaranteed “ – Randy Salzman Western “Bypass” All Pain, No Gain

Noise: As VDOT, has already removed landscaping and other amenities from the bidding process, there is little chance that the state will afford the concrete barriers to adequately protect neighborhoods. – Randy Salzman Western “Bypass” All Pain, No Gain

It will be interesting to see if any of these concerns are voiced this evening – somehow I have my doubts.

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson

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20070731williamson Neil Williamson is the President of The Free Enterprise Forum, a public policy organization covering the City of Charlottesville as well as Albemarle, Greene, Fluvanna, Louisa  and Nelson County.  For more information visit the website www.freeenterpriseforum.org

Fluvanna Allows Solar Research

By Bryan Rothamel. Field Officersun

Fluvanna County might be the center of a start of a new type of solar energy. The epicenter of solar thermal energy’s revolution could be the old Fluvanna landfill.

The Board of Supervisors approved a memorandum of understanding to allow Zenman Energy and Renewable Energy Construction Services (RECS) to use 150 feet by 150 feet area on county property on Route 6 in the Fork Union District.

Zenman Energy and RECS is working on creating an open sourced solar energy solution to make solar energy cheaper than burning fossil fuels. They believe if they can make it so cheap, companies will connect it to the power grid and stop using fossil fuels.

“We achieve our goal when solar thermal is cheaper than fossil fuel,” said Benjamin Myrtle, president of RECS.

solar option (2)The plan is to use not solar panels but what is called solar thermal. The process collects sunlight then reflects it to boil water. Steam then works the turbine to generate electricity.

The land Fluvanna is providing will allow Zenman Energy to test their ideas in the field, collect data to improve the system and generate a revenue idea to identify return on investment. Zenman has already been in discussions with Dominion Power and Tenaska about what the future might hold.

Zenman and RECS already have or will design how to make the whole process cheaper including reflectors, evacuated tubes, turbines, support structures, weatherization and grid connection.

Zenman, a 503(c) charity, is still working on achieving funding for the project and will work on federal grants next.

“The quicker we get funded, the quicker we get going,” said Myrtle.

Zenman can come back asking for more area to use but will start with the 150 square feet plot. Fluvanna is contacting Department of Environmental Quality, the state agency that regulates closed landfills, to keep them abreast of the land use. County staff does not expect DEQ to have issues with the proposed use.

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bryan-rothamel.jpgThe Free Enterprise Forum’s coverage of Fluvanna County is provided by a grant from the Charlottesville Area Association of REALTORS® and by the support of readers like you.

Bryan Rothamel covers Fluvanna County for the Free Enterprise Forum

Image Credit Zenman

Do Jobs Fit in Albemarle’s Comprehensive Plan?

By. Neil Williamson, President

Rather than asking if they aspire to be Austin or Aspen, the real question for Albemarle County is a choice between fostering job growth or becoming a land of newlyweds and nearly deads?

After giving Monticello “viewshed veto” power over development and banning golf, swim and tennis clubs in the rural areas, Albemarle County’s Board of Supervisors Comprehensive Plan review now turns to the Development Areas.

dev area croppedThis chapter of the state mandated plan attempts to focus the vast majority of Albemarle’s economic development and housing into 5% of their land mass. In seeking a goal of a wide variety of housing and employment options, it seems counter intuitive to use the urban development boundary, first established in the late 1970s, to create a government induced land scarcity and push (or keep) many employers out.

In many respects, Albemarle’s current Board majority seeks to return to the not so distant past when certain affluent arrogance was palpable in their development policies and procedures. Businesses were regularly told they should consider themselves lucky to be permitted to locate in Albemarle.

The economic impact of Albemarle’s arrogance may very well now be coming home to roost. The latest Jobs Report from the Charlottesville Regional Chamber of Commerce reported significant job growth across the region. If you look back 10 years, Albemarle’s private employment has grown by over 21% but dig a little deeper and you will find private sector employment in Albemarle County is 3.4% lower today than it was in 2007.

Is Albemarle headed in the wrong direction?

Former Tennessee Governor Phil Bredesen famously said, “Continuing economic growth requires both recruitment of new companies and expansion of existing businesses.” As Albemarle contemplates its comprehensive plan it needs to revisit and reform many of their growth control policies to the meet the market realities of the 21st century.

It is unclear how many Board members fully understand the import of the Development Areas chapter – it is about so much more than merely land use – it will help determine if future jobs come to Albemarle or not. More than the aspirational platitudes in the Economic Development chapter, if there is not buildable land for jobs they will go elsewhere.

Despite the Comprehensive Plan statement that there is enough land for commercial and industrial growth in recent times, we have witnessed several high profile commercial/industrial defections from Albemarle County specifically due to lack of appropriately zoned property for expansion.

· Patriot Aluminum (to Louisa County)

· Faulconer Construction (to Louisa County)

· Boss Medical Equipment (to Louisa County)

· Ashbury International (to Greene County)

Not only are businesses leaving some are simply choosing not to come at all. We have learned that four “Top Ten” microbreweries all looked at Albemarle for a new location and all four decided to go elsewhere. Why, in a town that loves beer and wine, did we lose?

Albemarle’s growth management policies hurt existing “edge” businesses that cannot physically expand due to development area boundaries; some of these include UPS Shipment Hub, The Food Hub as well as thAvionicse Crown Orchard distribution hub.

Due to the drawing of a few lines on a map in the early 1980s, many vibrant former employment centers now find themselves in the rural areas and unable to obtain the public water and sewer now required allowing for expansion or repurposing. Properties impacted include:

· Earlysville Business Park

· Avionics

· Ivy Business Park

· Yancey Lumber Mill

· Hunter’s Way

What if Albemarle County permitted water and sewer to be extended to such historic employment centers and created economic enterprise zones around them? Why shouldn’t rural citizens have the opportunity to work close to home?

Recently I met with a landscaping business owner looking to expand into Albemarle County. Already successful in two other Virginia localities, he was dismayed at the lack of properly zoned property his Realtor could identify in Albemarle. He explained his business expansion plan might have to be abandoned; due to increased fuel costs (and environmental impacts) if he can’t find appropriate land to locate within his targeted service area.

Current Albemarle policy is opposed to commercial development, including hotels, along the interstate preferring to locate such businesses in the development areas. Only there is a market based problem – the guests, and the banks that finance such projects, want hotels near the interstate.

A recent attempt to place a hotel in the Crozet development area failed due to a lack of financing. How do you think banks would react to a more traditional hotel proposal located near the intersection of I-64 and US 250?

Charlottesville-military-wedding at Keswick VineyardsWe are aware of a number of weddings that have not been held in Albemarle due to the lack of hotel room availability. We regularly see venues in western Albemarle recommending Waynesboro hotels to their wedding guests. Is this an intended or unintended consequence of Albemarle’s growth control policies?

As Albemarle ponders their Comprehensive Plan and the best fit for an Economic Development Director, Supervisors must determine if they want to grow the private sector and provide room for such growth. The market will be molded only so far before economic pressures expand beyond Albemarle’s restrictive constraints resulting in an exodus of enterprises (and jobs).

Albemarle taxpayers will then be left with a burst balloon of high expectations — and likely higher property taxes to replace the underappreciated, revenue positive businesses that have long since fled to friendlier lands.

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson

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20070731williamson Neil Williamson is the President of The Free Enterprise Forum, a public policy organization covering the City of Charlottesville as well as Albemarle, Greene, Fluvanna, Louisa  and Nelson County.  For more information visit the website www.freeenterpriseforum.org

Photo Credits: Daily Progress, Cvillepedia.org Keswick Vineyards

Greene Board of Supervisors Denies B&B in Riverdale Subdivision

By. Brent Wilson, Field Officer

What started as a zoning complaint back in May against David and Kumud Vanderveer’s bed and breakfast (B&B) led to a Notice of Official Determination of Violation delivered in June. Currently their appeal to the Board of Zoning Appeals is pending. So while the B&B has been operating for over a year, a  request was made to the Planning Commission in August to allow the B&B including an expansion. This request was denied, 4 – 1, and the process then brought the request to the Board of Supervisors. The Planning Commission didn’t feel the business was not in harmony with the surrounding residential development.

Fast forward to this past Tuesday night to an overflow crowd in County Office Meeting Room where the request for a Special Use Permit was brought to the Board of Supervisors and it has been scaled down to the two buildings that currently exist.

Zoning Administrator/Planning Director Bart Svoboda presented the request to the Board of Supervisors stating the property is 21 acres within the Riverdale Subdivision and has several access roads. He explained that the original request was for seven structures but it is now down to the existing two structures. Comments provided from VDOT, the Health Department, etc. brought up no problem issues. The Comprehensive Plan  for A-1 zoning states that the rural area is to be preserved and supports growth of cottage industries.

The Vandeveers addressed the Board of Supervisors. They explained that their dream is for a quiet, peaceful place to live. The use of their property as a B&B rented mainly on the weekend, has less traffic than if they rented their property full time which they are allowed to do by right. The buildings are in the middle of the 21 acres and therefore there is minimal noise to their neighbors.

When the meeting was opened for public comments there were over 30 speakers. Out of the 15 residents from the Riverdale subdivision who spoke, 13 were against the B&B. The comments came down to those who spoke in favor of the B&B and how the property was well run and well taken care of. These were friends of the Vanderveers and those who have stayed at the B&B.

On the other hand, the residents of Riverdale spoke highly of the Vanderveers but expressed concern that the Special Use Permit (SUP) stays with the property and if the Vanderveers were to leave, the property could be modified into any of the permitted uses that a SUP allows. In addition, the residents of Riverdale brought up the fact that the covenants of the deed expressly prohibit businesses in the subdivision.

County Attorney Ray Clark clarified that the zoning and the covenants of the deed are independent of each other and can each exist. He indicated that if the SUP was granted but the covenants disallowed a business, then there would have to be a legal remedy to the conflict. Also, several residents in Riverdale questioned how the Vanderveers are operating a business without a business license.

The meeting then shifted to the discussion of the Board. Supervisor Davis Lamb – Ruckersville District reviewed how long the business has been operating vs. when the Special Use Permit was made. Supervisor Eddie Deane – At Large stated he visited the site and appreciates all the work that has been done on the property. However, he agrees with the Planning Commission. Supervisor Bill Martin – Stanardsville District stated that Greene is looking for businesses and tax revenue to take the burden off of homeowners. He is a friend of the Vanderveers and believes they mean well but they got their operation out in front of the process. There is not harmony in the Riverdale community as per the zoning ordinance states in Section 16-2-b “The use shall be in harmony with the uses permitted by right” and while the concept is good, the location is wrong.

Chairman Jim Frydl – Midway District agreed with Martin’s comments – it is a good business, but that is not the issue they have to rule on. If there was no existing business in operation would the SUP be approved – the answer is no. Vice Chairman David Cox – Monroe District has been to the property many times and what bothers him is that it has been operating without a Permit. He also agreed that it is a good idea in the wrong place. The vote was 5-0 to deny the Special Use Permit.

The deeper issue for Greene County is how to stay ahead of these type of operations to ensure they seek the proper approval before they begin.

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The Free Enterprise Forum’s coverage of Greene County is provided by a grant from the Charlottesville Area Association of REALTORS® and by the support of readers like you.

Brent Wilson is the Greene County Field Officer for the Free Enterprise Forum a privately funded public policy organization.

Albemarle’s Cool Hand Luke Development Areas Plan

FORUM WATCH EDITORIAL

By. Neil Williamson, President

As the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors prepare to review the “Development Areas” chapter of their comprehensive plan, many are wondering what exactly would trigger a revision of the development area boundfailure-to-communicatearies?

Instead of considering a revision of their development area boundaries Albemarle’s Draft Comprehensive Plan chooses to change consumer behavior.

Our independent analysis of the proposed Comprehensive Plan exposes a clear “Albemarle Arrogance” regarding consumer desires.  The draft Comprehensive Plan considers the market demands to be, as the prison Captain in Cool Hand Luke would say, really a “failure to communicate”

It is natural for residents to fear the effects of change as the County makes efforts to create more dense and urban neighborhoods in the Development Areas. However, when residents understand the relationship between density and preservation of rural areas and the goals of the Neighborhood Model, they seem to find more acceptance of density. Conveying the benefits of density, such as neighborhood schools, parks, sidewalks, and bicycle paths is also important. Understanding that the Development Areas can be great places to live can help residents embrace density in the Development Areas. Emphasis added-nw

So if only consumers were properly educated, they would “understand” and no longer choose to live in single family homes with yards for their children to play in and would embrace Albemarle’s mandated “Dream of Density”.

imagePlease let me explain what we “understand”.

A significant portion of the development area chapter is dedicated to promoting efficient land use and the new urbanist designs that are embodied in the Neighborhood Model.

Despite our opposition, over the last ten years many of these Neighborhood Model “guidelines” have been codified to make them no longer options but requirements (i.e. street trees, open space, curb, gutter, relegated parking etc.).

Well intentioned environmental regulations have significantly reduced the area available for development in the development areas (stream buffers, wetlands, intermittent stream protection).

Since the last comprehensive plan we have also seen the Commonwealth of Virginia decide the most efficient use of 1,200 acres of Albemarle’s Development Area is a state park (Biscuit Run).image

Yet the Comprehensive Plan Draft seems to feel that the development area boundaries, originally drawn in 1979, continue to provide enough land for twenty years of residential and commercial  development. image

To review, the growth control philosophy implemented in Albemarle County is to focus dense human activity (housing, employment, recreation) in the development areas and retain the rural areas for less intensive agricultural and forestal uses.

To maximize density, the draft Comprehensive Plan would likely force  more residents to live in less space.  But is this what the market wants?

In a recent letter to the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors the Blue Ridge Home Builders Association (BRHBA) raised several questions about the development area and asked if staff had appropriately calculated the “Marketable Density”

The proposed Comprehensive Plan speaks of low and high capacity of units in the development areas. From multifamily apartment buildings to townhomes to single family homes, BRHBA members build all types of homes to serve all types of citizens. Each of our members proudly builds with the end user in mind – the occupant. As such, the reality capacity is likely significantly lower than the high end proposed in figure 5 of the Development Area chapter.

While there is a market for dense new urbanist style development, and our members serve that market, the vast majority of the new home buyers in Albemarle County are looking to live in single family detached housing. We are curious if based on the current market mix of housing, would those numbers multiplied by the dwelling unit demand would result in a different calculation of required land area? [emphasis added-nw]

With well over ten years of “understanding” of neighborhood model implementation, the Draft Comprehensive Plan discussion provides the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors an opportunity to discuss if they are comfortable with the high density being pushed into the development areas despite lack of consumer demand AND if they will put their money where their mouth is to provide concurrent infrastructure investment to support their “density dreams”.

If Albemarle’s Comprehensive Plan fails to radically change consumer demand, the twenty year anticipated growth will exceed the capacity of the allocated development area pushing lot prices significantly higher and pushing many out of the Albemarle’s designated growth area. Some of this displaced demand may be answered by those who choose to build their homes in the rural areas by right; the majority of new housing starts [and commercial activity] will move into the outlying counties where the regulations and staff are more receptive to market driven design – perhaps we are starting to really understand that maybe this was the “plan” all along?

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson

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20070731williamson Neil Williamson is the President of The Free Enterprise Forum, a public policy organization covering the City of Charlottesville as well as Albemarle, Greene, Fluvanna, Louisa  and Nelson County.  For more information visit the website www.freeenterpriseforum.org

Photo Credits: Warner Brothers/Seven Arts, Albemarle County

Fluvanna BOS Approves 3 Communication Towers and Lafayette School

By. Bryan Rothamel, Field Officer

The Fluvanna County Board of Supervisors approved two applicants’ special use permits bringing three more cellular service towers and one school to the county.

The three cellular service towers is to fulfill a desire from the federal government to bring high speed internet and cellular phone service to rural areas. 52-Eighty, a cell tower construction company, wants to build three towers in the eastern portion of the county.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) made the area eligible for a $1.9 million grant to a company who was willing to expand service to that portion of the county. FCC wants 176 miles covered by the money.

T-Mobile won the reverse bid to provide the service to the area. 52-Eighty was contracted to build the towers.

The three towers are all east of Route 15 starting at Bremo Bluff, near the power plant. Another will be placed near the James River, still in the Fork Union area. The third location, in Kents Store, will be on land the tower company will purchase.

Each tower is permitted to be up to 199 feet. Over 200 feet requires to be lit.

The tower company will work with Fluvanna if tower space is needed as part of the county’s E911 radio upgrades. Towers will also be able to have co-location capabilities for other cell phone companies to place antennas on the monopoles.

The three SUP applications by 52-Eighty were approved unanimously.

Supervisors also unanimously approved Lafayette School, to be located in the Zion Station Industrial Subdivision on Route 250.

The private school is for 24 students who do not succeed in a public school environment. The facility has three classrooms encompassing elementary, middle and high school.

The school combines special education and therapeutic intervention. Two instructors are in each classroom with availability for therapy sessions when needed.

Lafayette School currently is in Charlottesville on Fontaine Avenue. The new Fluvanna facility is limited to the 24 students number and normal weekday, working hours.

Supervisors did ask if the hours were too limiting and were willing to expand to weekend allowances but an official of the school said it was not necessary. There is a provision to have school Board of Directors meetings once a month after school hours.

In other action items, the board approved changing their work session schedule to have a 4 p.m. work session on the third Wednesday of the month, when necessary, prior to the regularly schedule 7 p.m. meeting.

Previously, supervisors had work sessions on the first Wednesday, after the 4 p.m. meeting.

Supervisors also approved an FY16 budget calendar that includes setting two tax rates. The first, in February, will be because of a possible reassessment. A county cannot raise taxes through a reassessment.

The second will allow supervisors to raise taxes, which is a most likely considering the county’s financial picture.

The next Board of Supervisors meeting is Oct. 1 at 4 p.m.

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bryan-rothamelThe Free Enterprise Forum’s coverage of Fluvanna County is provided by a grant from the Charlottesville Area Association of REALTORS® and by the support of readers like you.

Bryan Rothamel covers Fluvanna County for the Free Enterprise Forum

Greene Home Business Approved in Residential Zone

By. Brent Wilson, Field Officer

Located on the Southern end of Greene County, Matthew Mills Road is east of Route 29 near the Sheetz convenience store. It is a residential area where applicant Roddy Snoddy lives in and his wife operates a hair salon business. On September 17th the Greene County Planning Commission considered his application for a  Special Use Permit to expand his business – SUP#14-009.

image

Bart Svoboda, Zoning Administrator/Planning Director, outlined the request and reminded the Planning Commission that they are allowed to place conditions on a request for a home business per Article 22. The request is for permission to construct a 60’ x 100’ structure – the fact that a separate structure is to be constructed is what causes the need for a Special Use Permit. Svoboda referred to the county’s Comprehensive Plan that states the desire to be business friendly.

Svoboda provided updates from the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) who had no concerns with the request. Rapidan Service Authority  did not have an additional request for service therefore it was a non-issue for them. The Health Department will have to see if the 2 drain fields can handle the increased use caused by the restroom to be added in the new structure.

With no comments from the public, the commissioners began their discussion. Commissioner McCloskey  asked if Snoddy currently does auto restorations at his home.  Svoboda stated that he did but the addition of the separate building is what is causing the need for a SUP. McCloskey stated that as long as there was no outside storage that he would be fine with the business – he assumed that the restoration work would not be left outside.

Acting Chairman Vic Schaff said that the property is clean and that he drives by it daily. With no further discussion, the motion was made to approve the SUP with the provision of no outside storage and it was approved 4-0.

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The Free Enterprise Forum’s coverage of Greene County is provided by a grant from the Charlottesville Area Association of REALTORS® and by the support of readers like you.

Brent Wilson is the Greene County Field Officer for the Free Enterprise Forum a privately funded public policy organization.

Image Credit: Greene County

Greene Denies AT&T Cell Tower

By. Brent Wilson, Field Officer

A process that started in November, 2013 ended for AT&T at the Greene County  Board of Supervisor Meeting on September 9th. Cell phone reception down Route 810 in western Greene County is spotty and AT&T had identified a location that happened to be in the view of the Mount Vernon United Methodist Church . In February the Planning Commission approved the site and the request proceeded on to the Board of Supervisors.

At the first Board of Supervisors meeting where AT&T presented their request, it was recommended to analyze an existing tower location south of Velocitel, Inc. owned by John and Barbara Hayes Revocable Trust – the proposed location. At the September 9th Board Meeting AT&T presented to the Board their analysis of the other tower being considered – one owned by Monticello Media  – which is only 115 feet tall but it sits atop a mountain and therefore is, in total, taller than the location AT&T proposed with a tower of 199 feet. The increased height provides a significant increase in coverage of over double. However, the Monticello Media tower will not support the AT&T equipment and a new tower would have to be built on the site.

Below is the coverage map of the proposed site on the Hayes property.

clip_image002

Below is the coverage expected from a tower constructed near the Monticello Media existing tower, further south of the Hayes property.

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AT&T’s attorney, Preston Lloyd, addressed the Board and told them that Greene County has clear rules – more so than other counties. He also explained to the Board that a neighbor near the Monticello Media site complained that they did not want a 200 foot tower close to them just like Mount Vernon United Methodist Church doesn’t want it near their location. Lloyd pointed out that if either of two conditions in the code is evident then the tower should be approved. The first is that Monticello Media tower can’t support AT&T’s equipment and therefore, AT&T would have to rebuild. Secondly, the cost to construct a similar tower at the Monticello Media site is more expensive than the site on the Hayes property. The intent is that the Board of Supervisors would not force the applicant to choose a more expensive alternative.

AT&T showed a comparison of construction on the Hayes site vs. the Monticello Media site – $275,000 vs. $520,000. The costs reflected that the site of the Monticello Media tower is on a hillside and therefore significantly more expensive. The grading of the site and roadways was $100,000 for the Monticello Media site vs. only $25,000 for the Hayes site. The Monticello Media site requires $30,000 for road improvement, creating a cutover and clearing of $50,000 each while there would be no cost for any of these factors at the Hayes property.

The meeting then turned to the discussion among the Board members. Since the public hearing had already occurred there we no comments from the public. Supervisor Davis Lamb (Ruckersville)  stated that the Monticello Media site would provide significantly more coverage vs. the requested site. Supervisor Bill Martin (Stanardsville) noted that there is already a Special Use Permit for the Monticello Media site and therefore AT&T could use this tower without a new SUP. He also speculated that since the coverage is more than double, that AT&T’s revenue would significantly increase. Chairman Jim Frydl (Midway) reminded all that the ordinance does not use revenue as a basis for issuing the SUP, only the cost is considered. Supervisor Martin said he kept coming back to the Zoning Ordinance 21-2-1 which is to encourage a minimum number of cell towers and to increase the opportunity for joint use of towers.

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AT&T’s attorney noted that Zoning Ordinance 21-2-8.5 states that if the cost for one site is more expensive than the other site, then the second site is presumed unreasonable. This is the case of the Monticello Media site vs. the site on the Hayes property.

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Supervisor Frydl agreed that the cost factor has eliminated the Monticello Media site from consideration. Supervisor Eddie Deane (At Large) told AT&T that he appreciated their efforts and in meeting the county’s requirements. He expressed disappointment that the “filet mignon” or Monticello Media site would not work and that the “sirloin” alternative at the Hayes property was the other option. Deane stated he struggled with keeping the vista of Greene Co clear vs. providing 911 service down Dyke Road but felt that safety must take priority.

Supervisor Martin also expressed his appreciation to AT&T for their efforts and thanked them for an open process. In the end, he believes the county needs to take a long range view on cell coverage in the county and look for the best coverage vs. just keep adding tower after tower until you get around the mountains to the Albemarle County line. For that reason he is against the current SUP.

Chairman Frydl said that AT&T has been portrayed unfairly in this process and that they have followed the ordinance in detail and looked at existing sites per the BOS recommendation. However, AT&T has to look out for what is best for their business which may be different than what Greene County may want. Chairman Frydl struggled with the decision because the SUP will enhance cell service but it won’t minimize the number of cell towers in the long run. Supervisor Deane expressed concern that if AT&T’s request is denied they may leave the county and the fact that the county requested a comparison to another site actual caused them to shoot themselves in the foot. This is the reverse of the classic taking the bird in the hand over two in the bush

At this point, Dr. John Hayes – the owner of the site where AT&T wants to locate – stood to address the board. You could feel his frustration with the Board. While the normal process would not allow a speaker, Chairman Frydl allowed him to speak since he was the owner of the property. Hayes stated that AT&T did what the Board of Supervisors asked. Most of the land in the Dyke valley is in conservation which excludes constructing a cell tower and many of the remaining properties are too small for a cell tower fall requirement.

Supervisor David Cox said that this decision is the hardest he has faced while on the Board. He lives in the valley that is being impacted. His home has a view of a 600 foot tower when he looks up the mountain but from his front porch he has a clear view of the Blue Ridge Mountains that so many value. Topography is the problem in cell service but it is also what creates the magnificent views in Greene County. He said that he has been seriously injured several times and without cell service to call for EMS responders he might not be here. He felt that safety outweighs the aesthetics in this case and he was in favor of the SUP.

The motion was made to reject the Special Use Permit request and it passed on a 3-2 vote – denying the SUP at the Hayes site. The irony is that two supervisors – Cox and Deane who live in the western part of Greene Co – voted to allow the cell tower.

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The Free Enterprise Forum’s coverage of Greene County is provided by a grant from the Charlottesville Area Association of REALTORS® and by the support of readers like you.

Brent Wilson is the Greene County Field Officer for the Free Enterprise Forum a privately funded public policy organization.

Only in Albemarle, Do You Make Housing Affordable by Making It More Expensive

Adapted from Comments to the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors regarding Housing Chapter of the Comprehensive Plan September 9, 2014.

My name is Neil Williamson and I serve as the President of the Free Enterprise Forum  a privately funded public policy organization covering local government in Charlottesville and the surrounding localities.

Tonight you might be discussing the Housing Chapter of the Comprehensive Plan. Internal to this chapter is one of the most baffling policies of Albemarle County – the affordable housing proffer. I have passed out a recent Richmond Times Dispatch article questioning the rationale and nexus of cash proffers Are Proffers on Shaky Ground?.

For all residential rezonings, Albemarle currently requires 15% of the new units be affordable. This is on top of the $20,000+ per Single Family Unit Cash Proffer.

The affordable housing proffer ultimately results in 85% of all new units to be less affordable. By making the majority of the new houses more expensive, you have harmed overall housing affordability. Only in Albemarle do you make things more affordable by making them more expensive.

According to the Draft Chapter:

Albemarle County’s Affordable Housing is defined as houses affordable to households not exceeding 80% of the area median income.  At present an “affordable” sales price for a home is $211,250 for a family of four paying 30% of their income for housing costs.  Approximately 40% of the households in Albemarle have incomes at 80% of the median or lower.

Those buyers who acquire the “affordable” units are effectively lottery winners. Their neighbors have subsidized their purchase and when they choose to sell, there is nothing that keeps that home affordable and the buyers gain the windfall. As noted on Page 9.13 “If Albemarle County is to have affordable housing stock, it must find a way to make sure the affordable units stay affordable.

Why does it fall on new home buyers to “solve” the affordable housing inventory issue?

To date as a result of rezonings,  approximately 1,200 affordable units have been “voluntarily” proffered (100 have been built).  In addition, approximately $1.6 Million Dollars have been “voluntarily” proffered as cash-in-lieu of units.

If this is a community issue, why isn’t the community equally invested?

The reality is due to the myriad of regulations, codes of development, $20,000 per single family home cash proffers, mandated sidewalks, street trees, water and sewer hookup fees – new housing stock is perhaps the worst place to try and create (and maintain) affordable housing.

The Free Enterprise Forum believes adaptive reuse and refurbishment of existing housing stock would be a much more cost effective method to increase affordable housing. Further study should be done regarding financial vehicles that allow the property to remain at market value and the loan to be modified – such work might go a long way in keeping housing affordable – The Housing Trust model is one such vehicle.

In addition, we do not believe this chapter adequately addresses the significant impact of rental units on the market. Affordable housing does not have to be affordable housing ownership.

We encourage you to pursue code changes to allow more flexibility for accessory units in the development areas and to allow residential dependencies in the rural areas. While the latter may seem to contradict your goal of moving development into the development areas, it is a reality that eliminating the land cost for a second residence on a 21+ acre parcel dramatically impacts the cost of the home.

We applaud the attention paid to reducing or eliminating minimum lot sizes in the development areas.  We encourage the continued review of setbacks to further maximize land in the development area for development.

Finally, we would be remiss if we did not raise issue with Strategy 6d regarding increased staffing. Just as in the other chapters, staffing levels should be an operational decision by the Board of Supervisors and not a line item in a Comprehensive Plan.

Thank you for the opportunity to comment

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson

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20070731williamson Neil Williamson is the President of The Free Enterprise Forum, a public policy organization covering the City of Charlottesville as well as Albemarle, Greene, Fluvanna, Louisa  and Nelson County.  For more information visit the website www.freeenterpriseforum.org

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