Elections Matter — Tuesday is Your Turn

By. Neil Williamson, President

Elections Matter – As one who follows local public policy for a living, I firmly believe not only elections matter — voting matters.  The Free Enterprise Forum is a non partisan public policy organization that does not endorse candidates but it does endorse, encourage, and cajole voter participation.

If you are not able to vote next Tuesday, Saturday is your last day to in person absentee vote.

Don’t know what district you live in?  Use the tool above

Don’t know where your polling place is located — Use the tool above

Don’t know what is on the ballot? — Use the tool above

Don’t know who to vote for — get educated about the candidates http://www.uselections.com/va/va.htm

While I am not one who subscribes to the notion that if you don’t vote you lose your right to complain, I do however believe the future belongs to those who show up and those who stand up.

Do your part — vote

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

Admiral Stockdale and the Albemarle County Planning Commission

Adapted from comments to the Albemarle County Planning Commission October 22, 2014

By. Neil Williamson, President

UnknownDuring the 1992 Vice Presidential debate Vice Admiral James Stockdale famously asked the existential, and rhetorical, question “Who am I, why am I here?”.

Tonight, we ask the Albemarle County Planning Commission to examine the same question in the context of when is it appropriate for a Planning Commissioner to talk to an applicant.

While the statutory requirements set forth in the Virginia state code are exceedingly clear in their direction for Planning Commissions, in Albemarle County the planning process has become exceedingly elongated for significant projects with the “not required”, “strongly suggested” neighborhood meetings that simply do not exist in state code.

Beyond the “non-mandated” pre-application neighbor meetings, the unelected community councils continue to grow in power in Albemarle County.  Their influence has grown to the point that one Planning Commissioner has said on the record that he would have a tough time supporting any proposal that did not have the blessing of the Community Council.

If all these individuals are meeting with applicants prior to the application coming before the Planning Commission, why shouldn’t Planning Commissioners independently meet with applicants prior to the hearing.

Meanwhile Albemarle’s current Board of Supervisors has shown a tendency to want to send applications back to the Planning Commission if they have significant questions about them.  This is not helpful.

The Free Enterprise Forum is troubled by the lack of leadership from the Albemarle Board of Supervisors regarding direction to the Planning Commission.  To the layperson it would seem that any project that is in accordance with the community vetted comprehensive plan should have a rather smooth route to approval – this is not the case.

Even By-Right projects that have minor special exceptions required tend to be put through the extended Albemarle County application fun ride.

Institutionally, the Albemarle County Planning Commission (and by extension staff) seem to believe the longer it takes an application to work its way through the process the better the application will be.  — this is not the case.

Tonight, the Planning Commission will also be discussing some of the proposed process improvements put forth by the Development Review Task Force a couple years ago.  If this seems familiar, in 1999 we went through a similar process with the Development Initiatives Steering Committee (DISC) not to be confused with 2001 “Son of DISC” (DISC II).  Believe it or not some of the DISC II proposals are still working their way through the bureaucratic process.

While the idea of continuous process review and refinement is laudatory and the concept of preapplication planning commissioner meeting should be discussed — but the bigger picture question must be answered – does Albemarle truly want development in their development areas AND are you encouraging such activity?

The Free Enterprise Forum hopes the Albemarle County Planning Commission will take this opportunity to consider the question of who they are and what is their proper role.  We believe it really is the job of the Board of Supervisors to provide that direction but absent such leadership the Planning Commission self introspection will be helpful.

For what it is worth, we believe their role is to direct staff and advise the board on the appropriateness of proposals as compared with the Comprehensive Plan.  We believe they should, if anything, have a proactive prejudice that suggests they stand up for development in the development areas.  We believe this dovetails with the comprehensive plan as well as the economic development initiatives of Albemarle County

Some on this commission may feel your role is to mitigate the impacts of such development on existing residents while others may not want to see significant increases in development whatsoever.  Regardless of your position it would be good to know where this commission stands.

It is unfortunate that an entire generation only know Admiral Stockdale as Ross Perot’s Vice Presidential running mate. Admiral Stockdale was one of the most decorated officers in the history of the Navy with 26 personal combat decorations, including four Silver Star medals in addition to the Medal of Honor.  During his time as a prisoner of war in the Hanoi Hilton, he provided the troops held with him both leadership and inspiration.  Tonight I will close with my favorite Stockdale quote:

“In order to do something, you must be something”

This seems to be a fitting charge for your discussion this evening.

Thank you for the opportunity to comment.

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

Greene PC Recommends Ruckersville Rezoning

By Brent Wilson, Field Officer

One of the two owners of the southeast corner of Ruckersville intersection of Routes 29 and 33 presented a plan to renovate the property to the Greene County Planning Commission on Wednesday, October 15th . Milestone Investment Group, LLC and George & Suzanne Haney, Jr. requested a rezoning of about 1/3 of the corner from B-2 to B-3 (1.16 of the 3.62 acres owned).

Bart Svoboda, Zoning Administrator/Planning Director, outlined the request that affects part of the property owned by both parties. This is the second busiest intersection in Greene County. The plan is to replace the existing structures with 4 new buildings and to move the entrance off Route 33 East farther away from Route 29. Both water and sewer are available at the site and the owners have 7 EDU’s of which currently only 2 EDU’s are being used [EDU is Equivalent Dwelling Unit allocation for municipal water use]. The county’s Comprehensive Plan supports redevelopment in this area.

PC Packet for 10-15-14 Milestone.pdf

Louis J. Lopez III from Milestone presented for both applicants their request for some of the property to be rezoned to B-3. Commissioner John McClosky asked why only a portion of the property was being requested for the rezone. Lopez stated that the applicant felt requesting all of the property be rezoned to B-3 would be overwhelming and the logical place to start is the southern part of the parcel facing Route 29 that has heavier traffic.

Chairman Jay Willer asked Lopez about the proffer related to the design of the buildings for the whole parcels since the rezone was only for a part of the parcel – would the same style be used on the rezoned section as well as the 2.5 acres that would remain B-2 ? Mr. Lopez replied that they would want to have consistent design of the whole parcel. Willer then questioned if the 7 EDU’s would be enough for the development. Lopez felt that the 7 EDUs would meet their needs for the four buildings that are planned that would hold commercial, retail, restaurants and a gas station. Lopez also pointed out that there are currently no gas stations north of Sheetz on Route 29 and he felt that would be a good location.

Next Willer asked if a timeline had been planned for the development. Lopez indicated that the pace of development would be driven as businesses lease property in the new development. When enough business is secured that match the design of a building then the current building would be razed. As he pointed out keeping the existing business in place as long as possible is in their best interest but they are pursuing businesses in anticipation of the rezone being approved.

The hearing then shifted to the public portion – only David Holtzman from the Piedmont Environmental Council spoke about the design of the development. He asked about sidewalks and the walkability of the development and encouraged the Commission that this is the chance to remake Ruckersville to be more pedestrian friendly.

The session then shifted back to the Planning Commission – only three of the five members were in attendance for this meeting – Chairman Willer, Commissioners McClosky and Young. Chairman Willer asked Lopez to review the design diagram on display during the hearing and point out the sidewalks, parking, etc. Lopez pointed out all of the above and addressed Holtzman’s concerns that the northernmost building would front Route 29 and have parking and a patio area facing Route 29 and the area on the south side of the building would have parking and sidewalks. The second building just south of the first building would have a patio area since this is the building designated for a restaurant it would also include outside seating. The third building south of the first two would have sidewalks, parking and trees along with plantings to buffer from Route 29 for all the buildings. Svoboda assured that the Greene County Code would address the sidewalks and plantings.

Chairman Willer stated that he felt this is a good project at an important location in Greene County and it is a step in the right direction and he is glad to hear they are actively marketing the property. Lopez thanked him for the compliment and assured Willer and the commission that they are proactively seeking occupants. The final question of the night was from McCloskey involved the southbound roadway that parallels Route 29. Lopez said they would like to abandon the right of way and make it a solely southbound roadway within the development. However, the road farther east would be the exit going northbound to access Route 33 farther east than access is currently located. They will work with The Daniels family, the owner of the property south of the 2 parcels being discussed, to make the changes he outlined. There being no other questions the rezone was recommended for approval unanimously and the Board of Supervisors will now hear the request for rezoning.

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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.

Greene BOS Considers Food Trucks

By. Brent Wilson, Field Officer

food truck fidel gastroMobile Food Units, more commonly referred to as “Food Trucks” have gained in popularity over the last seven or eight years.  According to IBIS World Market Information Service:

The Food Trucks industry has only grown in strength over the past five years, and is one of the best performing segments in the broader food-services sector. The industry’s remarkable rise began in 2008, just as the recession hit, as hundreds of new vendors recognized changing consumer preferences favoring unique, gourmet cuisine. Cities such as Portland, Oregon, Los Angeles and Austin sought to differentiate themselves by crafting laws and creating areas specially designed for mobile food trucks. While the recession put the brakes on the broader food-services sector in 2008-09, it was in fact a boon for the Food Trucks industry as consumers sought to maximize their disposable income by indulging in small conveniences such the affordable gourmet food

In the past few years more and more mobile food units have been food truck crab-cabappearing in Greene County and this has lead the county to propose a revision to their zoning ordinances, Articles 8, 9, 10, Business B-1, B-2 and B-3, and Articles 11 and 12, Industrial (Limited) M-1, and Industrial (General) M-2, Article 22 Definitions to include mobile food units as a by right use. This led to the Greene County Board of Supervisors to review the proposal at their October 14th meeting.

Bart Svoboda, Greene County’s Zoning Administrator/Planning Director, reviewed the proposed ordinance (OR#14-005). He indicated that he looked at Albemarle County and other counties in the valley to see how they handle this issue. The current rules that address brick and mortal restaurants don’t work for portable food units. The new ordinance would be used for wheeled, towed or pushcart stands. Greene has towable trailers which have their own power generation and water supply. The rules are different because the set-up is different.

food truck_redboneThe new ordinance proposes safe parking be provided, not the side of a roadway. It will allow one vendor to have three locations with approval of the owner of the sites. The Health Department must approve the operation especially for disposal of waste. A dining space no larger than 10 feet x 10 feet is to be allowed and that it is required to be packed up and cleaned each night. The unit is to be at least 100 feet from a residential use – away from homes. The recommendation is to offer a one year approval and that it must be updated annually.

The session was opened to the public but there were no one wishingFood truck oscar myer to speak. The session was then brought to the supervisor’s discussion. Supervisor Davis Lamb (Ruckersville District)  asked what happens if a vendor wants more than three locations. Svoboda said that the vendor would need to make a second application for another three spaces all approved by the owners. Supervisor Bill Martin (Stanardsville District) asked how the mobile unit would be handled if the owner of the parking area is a brick and mortar restaurant. Svoboda stated it is up to the owner of the property to grant permission to the mobile unit owner – they would have the right to decline the request of the mobile unit.

Chairman Jim Frydl (Midway District) asked Svoboda how this would be handled at a vineyard. Svoboda answered that the zoning of the property would determine if it would be allowed or not. At the county fair which is held on property that is zoned A-1 a food truck would be allowed because of the condition of the fair which overrides the A-1 zoning of the property where the fair is located. The food truck couldn’t set up on the fairgrounds without the fair going on, since it is zoned A-1. Supervisor David Cox (Monroe District) asked if food trucks would be allowed on school property and the answer was no since it was not one of the allowable zones. But they could locate as close as the nearest zone in the revised ordinance.

Chairman Frydl’s last comment was that a fFrydl Campaign photoood truck probably compliments many of the businesses that might host a food truck. Also, the county would have no liability if there are any injuries caused near a food truck – this would be the responsibility of the individual causing the accident. Finally, he has asked several restaurant owners if they opposed food trucks and the answer was no as long as there were rules similar to what is proposed in the new ordinance. At this point the discussion was closed and the revision to the ordinance was approved unanimously.

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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.

Photo Credits: Pintrest, Vintage Virginia, Frydl Campaign

Fluvanna BOS Covers School’s Budget Shortfall

By. Bryan Rothamel, Field Officer

The Fluvanna County Board of Supervisors approved filling a gap in the School Board budget for the last fiscal year.

In the middle of the fiscal year, School Board Office officials realized the projected state revenue would be less than budgeted, by over $500,000. Officials starting spending less for the remainder of thfluvanna school bus credit NBC29e fiscal year.

Revenues overall came in $659,000 less than budgeted. School officials spent $561,000 less than budgeted as well.

“The bottom line is we missed the revenue by $98,000,” said school superintendent Gena Keller to the supervisors.

Don Weaver (Cunningham District) questioned how the projections were higher than actuals. One reason is the district lost 69 students year over year in the average daily membership.

“If there is wiggle room [in the budget] this isn’t a public story,” Keller said.

Mozell Booker (Fork Union District) said a more funded budget would give better the district space to adapt to issues like this.

Weaver appreciated the information Keller provided and lauded her administrative team for their candidness.

“I think we are getting a lot of good information here,” said Weaver.

Tony O’Brien said, “When there is a drop in [non-local funding], it falls on us.”

Supervisors discussed what a contingency fund would look like just for the school budget. However, 1 percent of the school budget would be $300,000. That is more than a cent on the real estate tax rate.

“We (Board of Supervisors) have a contingency fund and I think it works quite well,” said Weaver.

A 1 percent contingency is what is typically judged as a safe margin to over budget to give cushion when revenues come in low or expenditures run high. The Fluvanna school budget contingencies are spread in small portions across multiple budget lines.

The School Board Office administrative team didn’t spend money in FY14 by doing matters like replacing employment opening slower and cutting instructional materials.

The supervisors voted 4-0 for the supplemental funding. Also at the Oct. 15 meeting, supervisors approved a $39,000 loan to Fork Union Sanitary District (FUSD).

FUSD recently raised rates and supervisors are hoping the new rates will stop the need for regular loans. The board will hear an update on FUSD revenues in early 2016.

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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

Photo Credit NBC29

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.

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