Monthly Archives: July, 2009

Places29 – Development Unwanted in Albemarle’s Development Area?

By. Neil Williamson

“It would be so nice if something made sense for a change.” – Alice from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

Should Albemarle County‘s Comprehensive Plan be written to promote development in the entire development area? 

In 1980, Albemarle County determined 5% of its land mass should be designated for development; leaving 95% of the county “rural”.  The goal of the development areas is to have the amenities and infrastructure that will attract new residents and enterprises to a more densely populated area where it is less expensive to deliver required services.

With this in mind, page 8-7 of the Places 29 Implementation Plan (pdf) I found the following passage most interesting:

If the infrastructure needed to support a proposed development outside the Priority Areas is not in place, the proposed development should not be approved.

On the surface, this may seem like a reasonable concept ….. but wait, the project is in the development area. 

Doesn’t Albemarle County bear some of the burden for providing infrastructure within the 5% of the county it has designated for development?

While we understand and concur with focusing limited local dollars in priority areas, the Free Enterprise Forum believes development area land use decisions should be evaluated on their individual merits not  on the basis of if they are in the county’s newly defined Priority Areas.

Does the Places29 Master Plan contemplate rejecting worthy projects within the development areas in favor of less worthy projects in the newly designated Priority Areas? 

Where do you believe such spurned projects will end up? 

We believe they will compete for the highly prized (and priced) real estate in the Priority Areas or will they simply move up US 29 into more business friendly Greene County

Will such “Priority Planning”  help traffic on US 29?

As usual, we have more questions than answers.

Fluvanna’s Planners Discuss Work Program

By William J. Des Rochers Fluvanna Field Officer

Fluvanna’s Planning Commission held its monthly work session on July 8th to discuss recent Virginia legislative changes and upcoming work. Commissioners also expressed a desire to become more active in shaping the county’s Capital Improvement Plan (CIP). State legislation which will have a direct impact on Fluvanna include:

  • HB 1788 – preempts local regulations on the installation, operations, and maintenance of alternative onsite sewage systems [this is in response to those localities that developed regulations as a means to control development];
  •  HB 2029 – reduces the maximum permissible overhead percentage on developer performance bonds for public improvements from 25 to 10 percent (until July 1st, 2014);
  • HB 2055/SB 1418 – amends the transfer of development rights statutes, including the opportunity to “bank” development rights, i.e. sever the rights from the donor without prior identification of the receiving property;
  • SB 1335 — permits local governing bodies to approve “minor” proffer amendments without going through a full public hearing process; and,
  • HB 2158—creates the Charlottesville-Albemarle Regional Transit Authority, which allows Fluvanna to opt in should its supervisors decide to do so.

Some commissioners had expressed a desire to begin work on land use issues that would address the goals of the newly established Comprehensive Plan: most notably how to preserve the rural areas of the county.

Staff informed the commissioners that it is reviewing land use policies in other localities to determine how they deal with rural preservation issues and that the work should be done by September – a change from the previous deadline of January, 2010. It appears that nothing will be done before the fall elections.

The planners also want to become more active in developing the Capital Improvement Plan. Several years ago, the Planning Commission was deeply involved in CIP preparation but was marginalized after it got too deeply involved with school issues. In this latest iteration, members would like to review individual components of the CIP and ask staff how the proposals conform to the Comprehensive Plan. By linking the two, planners hope to make the CIP more relevant to the county’s goals.

Proposed Belmont Restaurant Gets its Rezoning

By: Justin Westcvillelogo, Charlottesville Field Officer Intern

Currently at the address 814 Hinton Avenue is a tucked away residential home resting in tight quarters with commercial properties just feet to one side and across the street. However, soon that will change, thanks to the Charlottesville City Councils narrow 3-2 decision to up-zone the property from R-1 residential to Neighborhood Commercial Corridor (NCC) during their July 6th meeting. The location will soon join Belmont’s eclectic and vibrant commercial center as a restaurant.

The rezoning of 814 Hinton has been a contentious issue since it came before the Planning Commission in May.  At that point the Commission recommended denial of the plan by a 4-2 vote citing the neighborhoods already burdened traffic, parking, and noise control situations as the reasons the rezoning should not be permitted.

Despite the recommendation when the issue first came before Council on June 1st it seemed as if the petitioner would receive their requested rezoning without a problem as all four Councilors present spoke in favor of it and it was moved to the next meeting on June 15th.

However, when that meeting rolled around Council chose to remove the item from the agenda sometime between when the agenda was published and the start of the meeting, a move that seemed to indicate that the consensus of support voiced two weeks prior was in question. With the issue heading into its third month of public debate the final verdict was handed down on Monday with extensive debate prior to the close vote. Voting in favor of the rezoning were Councilors Brown, Edwards, and Norris. The trio were not dismissive of the concerns of the Belmont neighborhood but simply felt that the issues of noise, traffic, and parking stand alone from the rezoning of 814 and will remain a problem in need of attention whether or not the petition is granted. They argued that this one new commercial establishment would not significantly add to the challenges facing the area. Councilor David Brown also added that the parcel could actually serve to buffer the rest of Belmont from noise, as the new restaurant will not have amplified outdoor music and has agreed to construct and landscaped buffer that would protect the neighboring residential section from the commercial zone. The majority vote also insisted that the property in question is naturally commercial based on its location surrounded my so many other commercial properties.

Councilors Huja and Taliaferro represented the two dissenting votes. Huja was the missing Councilor in the June 1st meeting where there seemed to be a consensus in favor of the rezoning. He argued, this past meeting, that the extension of the commercial zone was neither good for the neighborhood nor consistent with the City’s comprehensive plan. Taliaferro, on the other hand, seemed to change his tune in the month between the two meetings. In June he supported the rezoning, but on Monday he argued against it saying “when you start doing this [expanding commercial zones] when do you really stop” adding, “that neighborhood is under a lot of stress anyway”.

Despite Taliaferro’s concern of creeping commercial expansion, he had to acknowledge that expanding the NCC zoning is something that can never be done without Councils blessing, so it is not something that could go unchecked, rather a purposeful political decision each time it is to occur.

Rezoning for Longwood Drive Redevelopment Seems to Have Narrow Support

Portions of Charlottesville’s Longwood Drive are potentially going to be rezoned from R-2 residential to Planned Unit Development if owner, developer Neighborhood properties gets its way. The plan is to demolish 18 of the existing rental properties in on the street, build 43 new townhomes, and renovate 16 of the existing townhouses for a net gain of 25 new units, with the redeveloped units be a mixture of for sale and rental townhomes. The existing units on the street are priced for low income renters, leading to much concern from the City over the redevelopment potentially displacing a large amount of these people.

However, the representative for Neighborhood Properties claimed in the meeting that the “commitment to affordable housing in this plan is unprecedented” and City staff member Brian Haluska agreed saying that the plan goes “above and beyond City expectations”. The affordable housing previsions in the plan are quite impressive as the developer has proffers to designate 15% of the units to be “affordable” housing, donate $50,000 to the Charlottesville Housing Fund, make four of the units available through section 8 for five years, and provide anyone displaced by the redevelopment the option of moving into a Neighborhood Properties unit elsewhere.

While the petition for rezoning seemed to have support from Council, it was by no means resounding. Although Councilors Huja, Taliaferro, and Brown seemed to support it, Mayor Norris and Councilor Holly Edwards still seem to have significant concerns. This matter will likely appear on the agenda for its final reading at Councils July 20th meeting.

First Do No Harm?

By. Neil Williamson

In last week’s Albemarle County Planning Commission meeting, one commissioner raised the idea that the Commission should, like in the hippocratic oath, first do no harm when considering land use decisions.  This analogy is interesting, let’s take it a bit further. 

If an automobile accident victim is still in the car and the vehicle is on fire, there is a danger in moving the victim but there is also a danger in doing nothing.  The fire is the more immediate and dire threat, a judgement call must be made and getting the victim to safety outweighs the danger of additional injury.

Too often in planning commission reviews,  the focus is subjectively reviewing the plan the applicant brings forward vs the existing conditions rather than understanding the applicant’s  “By-Right” option. Time after time we hear the planning commission provide the direction to applicants to come back with a “better” plan, despite the plan that was presented was vetted with staff first.  Even in the second or third planning commission review, we often hear “this plan has come a long way, but I still think you can do more”.

If an owner becomes frustrated with the unpredictable byzantine approval process and chooses to go with the existing zoning; this will likely result in a less desirable form of development.  A combative, confusing regulatory environment (where staff direction, commission direction, and board approval are not in synch) likely increases the number of the “less desirable By-Right” developments. 

The Free Enterprise Forumasks, if an increase of “By Right” developments is the end result, generating lower desity and a different form than prescribed by the Comprehensive Plan,  how does this measure up to the  goal of  “First, Do No Harm”?

Edits for Greene County Comprehensive Plan

By. Neil Williamson

Last Tuesday (6/30), the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission and Greene County held an open house regarding their latest work toward the new comprehensive plan for Greene County.  While we have been very critical of the process in the past, this event was professionally done and well attended.  The work the TJPDC has done since the last iteration is significantly more Greene County focused. 

Greene County Land Use Map 2009

Greene County Land Use Map 2009

With that being said there were several areas that the Free Enterprise Forum advised changes.

 Law Enforcement & Emergency Services: Goals

 Goal #1 “Manage growth so that it does not outstrip infrastructure, including emergency services and sheriff’s department,”

The Free Enterprise Forum believes this statement to be both improper and likely illegal (see adequate public facilities).  In addition this has only tangential relationship with Law Enforcement and Emergency Services.  We propose rewording this goal to “Provide emergency services and Law Enforcement the support necessary to protect and defend the citizens of the County”

Tourism –  

 Goal 1 “Preserve important scenic, historic and cultural resources as critical to tourism.” The supporting implementation strategy reads “coordinate the preservation of important scenic, historic and cultural resources with the County’s future land use plan and appropriate ordinances”. 

 As a strong believer in property rights, The Free Enterprise Forum has several concerns with these two items.  We recognize the community desire to preserve certain parcels but we do not believe the only options for such preservation are land use planning and ordinances.  Other tools such as purchase of development rights should also be considered.  Further we do not believe there is an existing inventory of such so called “important” parcels.  Finally, if the community desires private property be preserved in a specific manner contrary to the current owner’s wishes, the community must be willing to take the ultimate preservation step by purchasing the property.

 Goal 4 Generate new tax revenue as well as increased business and employment opportunities related to tourism.

This goal should be reworded.  The Free Enterprise Forum believes no comprehensive plan should have a goal of generating new tax revenue.  The goal should be the creation of an environment that promotes economic vitality; the result is a multiplicity of benefits including new business opportunities, jobs and increased local tax revenue.

Economic Development

Goal #1 “Create incentives for development in preferred commercial growth areas” –

Does Greene County have commercial areas where they do not want growth?  Shouldn’t this goal simply be develop incentives to attract new businesses and retain existing enterprises?

Goal #2 “Support commercial growth in Ruckersville, Stanardville and the Route 29 corridor from Ruckersville to the Corner Store.” 

Why are these called out considering the commercial success of Lowe’s and Meadows Farms as well as the large tract of land ready for development past the Corner Store, these geographic restrictions are out of place in the comprehensive plan again the concept should be to support the attraction of new business and the retention of existing businesses.

 Goal #7 “Balance the need for increased economic development with controlled residential development and proffer acceptance”

How is this an economic development goal?  How do one time proffers rise to the level of economic development?  This entire goal should be stricken or at least reworded to remove the concept of proffers as an economic driver in the community.

Implementation strategy #7 “Study the feasibility of an adequate utilities ordinance.” 

Over the past ten years several attempts to enact an adequate facilities ordinance have failed. This strategy should be dropped as impractical under the current legal structure.

Implementation strategy #9 “Consider developing an architectural review board to assist the County and development community in setting voluntary standards for new development and re-development.” 

The Free Enterprise Forum is not familiar with architectural review regulations that are voluntary.  The concept is a uniform set of guidelines that will provide design continuity in a neighborhood or corridor.  While the Free Enterprise Forum believes a county wide architectural review board would be subject to regular legal challenges in court, if the community really supports such an idea it should be clear their participation will NOT be voluntary.

 Natural Resources and Environment

Implementation strategy #1 “Limit the use of septic systems on slopes of 25% or greater”

This strategy should be eliminated.  Effective July 1, The Virginia Department of Health will be approving the use of alternative septic systems that will render this provision invalid.

Implementation Strategy #7 “Consider the adoption of a Mountain Protection Plan”

The Free Enterprise Forum has been very involved in this highly divisive issue in Albemarle County and does not believe there is significant public support for this measure in Greene County.

Implementation Strategy #8 “Discourage road construction of slopes of 15% or greater.  Permitted roads should follow natural topography and minimize grading cutting and filling,”

This strategy is internally inconsistent.  It should be reworded to indicate roads of greater than 15% should be designed to permit safe passage of emergency vehicles and preserve as much of the natural condition as possible.

Implementation strategy #9 “Discourage excessive grading, cutting and filling and significant changes to the existing topography and tree cover particularly in the designated growth areas where major development is appropriate.”  

Not only is this strategy internally inconsistent it fails to recognize the reality of major development in the development areas.  Virginia Department of Transportation’s new secondary street requirements include a minimum number of nodes and hubs and actively discourage the use of cul-de-sacs.  This connectivity requirement generates the need for significant grading of our naturally rolling topography.  To follow this implementation strategy to its logical conclusion, you would have no development in your development areas.

Despite our lengthy edits, the Free Enterprise Forum firmly believes the comprehensive plan is headed in a better direction than a few moths ago.  We look forward to the opportunity to continue our dialog as the process moves forward.

Fluvanna Supervisors Mull Refinancing

 

By William J. Des Rochers, Fluvanna Field Officer

On July 1st, the Fluvanna Board of Supervisors heard a lengthy briefing regarding the potential refinancing of a portion of the school bonds obtained just last fall.  According to the county’s financial advisor, Davenport & Company, the county could save about $150,000 per year, depending upon continued favorable interest rate movements.

The modest savings would offset some anticipated new loans.  County indebtedness for other projects will accelerate over the next fiscal year with expected borrowings for the water pipeline, a new public safety communications system, and possibly a new firehouse.  These three items would exceed $30 million, according to present forecasts.

The Board also voted to apply for a Department of Homeland Security grant of $1.8 million for a firehouse in the Fork Union district.  If the effort is unsuccessful, the building would be deferred and one in the Columbia district would be built first.

In other business, supervisors were briefed on the Fork Union village enhancement project and renewed two agricultural/forestal districts in the county.  While only having limited practical effect, the districts signal interest in preserving rural acreage.

Supervisors also will meet on July 22nd to review the goals they established last year.

At its next meeting, the Board will consider a special use application to construct the county’s first mud bog, wherein vehicles attempt to complete a trek through over twenty inches of mud without getting stuck.   Reportedly, speed and distance are important, but style points are not.

Is Albemarle’s Neighborhood Model Built for Noise?

By. Neil Williamson

A revised noise ordinance was considered in yesterday’s (7/1) Albemarle County Board of Supervisors meeting.  Brandon Shulleeta has the story in today’s Daily Progress.  The reason for the change was an April decision by the Virginia Supreme Court regarding the constitutionality (and objectiveness) of what a “reasonable person” would find disruptive.  Click here for the full text of the decision (pdf).

According to The Daily Progress story:

County attorney Larry Davis said that many localities across the state also are trying to create fair noise ordinances, but are struggling as well.
Noisiness is measured by the 100-feet criteria in many localities, according to county staff. But Supervisor Sally H. Thomas raised a scenario in which children playing loudly could violate the proposed ordinance, despite the sound being far from a nuisance to her and many other residents.
“Grouchy old people” might try to use the proposed distance criteria to prevent children from playing loudly, Thomas said with a laugh. The supervisors agreed it was a bad idea.  Supervisor Dennis S. Rooker added that a resident shouldn’t be prohibited from having a celebration at night because a daughter is getting married, for example, just because neighbors can hear sounds coming from the house

The Free Enterprise Forum appreciates this discussion of noise but would also ask the Supervisors to consider if, through their current planning philosophy haven’t set up a “perfect storm” for fermenting neighbor noise complaints?

In yesterday’s discussion, staff raised a number of concerns regarding the use of sound meters by the police to enforce the ordinance.  Legal staff prepared the draft ordinance using the term audible rather tan a specific decibel level.  The suggestion was made you could increase the distance from the property line the noise was audible thus allowing louder noise. 

But what of the person strumming an accoustic guitar on their front porch which has a zero line set back?

What of the townhouse living New York Yankees fan who listens to the game in his backyard while his Boston Red Sox loving neighbor is tending his petunias a few feet away?

The “New Urbanist” design increases these, and other, potential conflicts as more people are placed closer in an effort to provide more economical delivery of government services and reserve rural open space.

In the end, Albemarle County will need to resolve the noise ordinance’s language to provide objectivity.  How they plan to address the new urbanist reality they are building has yet to be seen.

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