Albemarle Economy Weathers the US29/Rio GSI Storm?

FORUM WATCH EDITORIAL

By. Neil Williamson, President

The early economic indicators are in.  While there are limitations in the initial data set, it looks like the significant efforts to mitigate the economic impact of the US29/Rio Grade Separated Interchange (GSI) may have worked as designed.

Please let me explain our logic.

Back in 2007, Free Enterprise Forum Research Associate Natasha Sienitsky authored the Workplace 29 report that found:

The Workplace 29 study area:
• supports more than 20,000 jobs, conservatively providing more than $800 million ($874,216,408) alone in direct salaries each year.
• generates 35% of taxes by all non-residential uses in Albemarle County and the City of Charlottesville; approximately $ 33,019,354 in total tax revenue paid to Albemarle County and Charlottesville City in 2006.
• provides per acre tax revenue of $24,700 for non-residential uses, compared to the entire county average of $335 per acre.
•produces approximately 45% of the county’s total tax revenue in 2006.

In addition to the above economic impacts it was determined that the Workplace29 study area generated 57% of all of Albemarle’s sales tax income.  Considering this was prior to the construction of Stonefield, Costco, and several other retail establishments it is not a reach to suggest that number has remained steady.

The conclusion of Workplace 29 stated:

Non-residential uses in Workplace 29 generate significant jobs and taxes for Albemarle County. The master planning process must continue to engage owners of these properties as the economic vitality and level of government service in Albemarle County and Charlottesville City have a close relationship to revenues generated by non-residential properties in the Workplace 29 area. The current Places 29 plan calls for a reconfiguration of the road network which will cause significant business disruptions along US Route 29 during an extended construction period. Neither the extent nor time frame of disruptions has been addressed.

Although changes in the character of US Route 29 may have long term economic benefits, short term disruptions, through extended construction periods, most likely would negatively impact business and as a result the revenue stream for Charlottesville City and Albemarle County. Therefore, careful consideration should be given to the impact of master plan formulation and implementation on business.

Our 2007 hypothesis does not hold up based on recently released 2016 economic data.

Book1The Charlottesville Regional Chamber of Commerce regularly reports regional sales tax data.  Their reports provide both updates as well as historical sales tax data.

The report last week, for all of Albemarle County, indicated sales tax revenue for the first half of 2016 was up over 2015 by greater than $495,000 (+7.25%).

Considering the significant disruption to the corridor including the closure of the intersection from May 23 – July 18, 2016 [opening date corrected 12:50 8/29-nw], one must conclude the intense marketing efforts, signage and business assistance efforts had an impact.

Back in March [in our Lemonade Post], we mentioned our appreciation for the marketing efforts of the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT), the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission (TJPDC) as well as Albemarle County.

With these early returns, it seems their mitigation efforts, which continue today, are having the intended results.  While we continue to witness economic dislocation (Better Living, PJ Networks, Sultan Kabob), much of this dislocation may have occurred with or without the new GSI.

As Albemarle prepares to produce a small area plan for the US29/Rio area, they would be wise to attempt to capture intersection specific economic data to confirm our conclusions based on county wide data.

We have not yet seen the July numbers but considering the trend for the first six months, I anticipate they will continue to be slightly ahead of 2015.

Absent a more detailed metric, I believe it would be appropriate to congratulate all the businesses involved for weathering a difficult storm; and to congratulate the speedy construction, all of the marketing and business outreach teams for a job well done.

As for our failed 2007 hypothesis, I am happy to have been wrong but one might wonder what the numbers would look like with a longer construction period and absent the unprecedented outreach efforts.

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 Supervisors Approve Overspending FY17 Budget

By. Brent Wilson, Field Officer

In just the second month of the new budget cycle, the Greene County Board of Supervisors discussed two issues last night (8/23) that would allow the county to spend nearly $33,000 over the approved FY17 budget.

The first issue that County Administrator John Barkley explained was that several positions are needed to be brought up to market value. He further explained that supplemental funds are being requested to fund the $27,250 for the reclassification of positions. Surplus funds from the FY16 budget will allow the county to be able to fund this request.

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Greene County Administrator John Barkley

Board of Supervisors Chairman Bill Martin (Stanardsville) asked Barkley if the funds were available or not?

Barkley explained that the savings from last fiscal year would be enough to cover this additional cost and that the Board of Supervisors had the authority to reallocate unspent dollars. Supervisor David Cox (Monroe) didn’t feel there should be increases to the budget both in dollars and personnel and departments should bring up issues during the budget process.

Martin explained that the budget was not being increased but that savings from last year were being sought to cover the increased cost. Cox indicated he didn’t remember adjusting salaries during the year from what was budgeted at any time during his tenure as supervisor.

Vice-Chairman Michelle Flynn (Ruckersville) stated that this was not a change to the budget and the underspending from last year would be used to cover the increased salary. However this change in salary should have been included in the budget process. Supervisor Jim Frydl (Midway) agreed that the additional money being requested should have been in the budget. However, the underspending credit from last year could be used to pay for the salary increase.

Martin said that three positions are being reclassified to be more efficient and to include grant writing. When this was put to a vote only Supervisor Cox voted against going forward to the second hearing of the request at the next meeting on September 13.

The next issue before the Board of Supervisors was similar in that an additional allocation of $5,500 was being requested to hire a temporary mechanic to fill in for a mechanic on short term (90 day) disability. With the start of the school year the need for a mechanic is critical in order to keep the school’s buses on the road.

Barkley explained that this is a similar need for funds as above in that the underspending from last year could be used to fund the additional spending. This action also passed 4-1 with Cox voting against it for the same issue – it is overspending the current year budget.

After the meeting County Finance Director Tracy Morris  explained that the savings from the prior fiscal year are moved to the Reserve Fund each year. The additional spending that was discussed tonight would be charged to the Reserve Fund since these amounts are in excess of the current year budget.

Both of these items will be heard again at the next supervisor meeting on September 13th for a final decision.

Brent Wilson is the Greene County Field Officer for the Free Enterprise Forum a privately funded public policy organization.  The Free Enterprise Forum Field Officer program is funded by a generous grant from the Charlottesville Area Association of REALTORS® (CAAR) and by readers like you.  To support this important work please donate online at www.freeenterpriseforum.org

Fluvanna Busy But Quiet Supervisors Meeting

By. Bryan Rothamel, Field Officer

After a rather uneventful summer, the Fluvanna County Board of Supervisors stretched out a bit with a busy meeting on August 17th.

Supervisors approved four public hearings without a single resident speaking.

First the developer of Nahor Village on Route 53 requested to lower the density of the subdivision. The development is eliminating additional attached units to make them detached units. The approved amendment to the zoning lowers the approved dwellings from 103 to 78.

Image result for hydrangaA new commercial greenhouse on Haden Martin Road was approved. The greenhouse will have retail operations and an annual hydrangea festival.

It is located on a private road that currently is maintained by owners of property on the road. The applicant, Silver Lining Flowers LLC, will take over maintenance of the road.

Supervisors cleaned wording in the other two public hearings. First was an amendment to a county ordinance, eliminating the need for the county to pay itself to review any property the government is trying to subdivide for the use of the county.

The other wording change was for an assisted living facility to be located across from the Lake Monticello main entrance. The facility will be in the Village Oaks community and was originally approved in 2005. The 2016 amendment brought the facility to be within the same understanding as the current county ordinance for assisted living facilities.

In action items supervisors approved advertising an amendment to the vehicle fees schedule. Currently if you have a titled vehicle, you are required to pay the vehicle ‘sticker’ fee (the county no longer issues stickers but the fee exists).

The proposed amendment is to only require vehicles registered with the DMV to pay fee. Meaning, if the car is not registered to operate on public roads it is exempt from needing a ‘sticker’.

During the budget process the supervisors briefly discussed hiring a full time county attorney instead of contracting legal services to Fred Payne and his law firm.

Staff noted supervisors budgeted $168,140 for the fiscal year for legal services. It is expecting additional funding will be needed to pay for full cost of services.

Supervisors waived the fees typically required for erosion and sentiment control for the Louisa County water line. One rationale being Fluvanna will have benefit of the pipeline via hydrants and the availability to pipe its own raw water through the line. Both things are being paid for by Louisa.

VDOT logoThe biggest surprise in the meeting was the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) update when the Fluvanna/Louisa residency administer, Alan Sanders, announced the speed limit on Route 53 will lower from 55 mph  to 45 mph between Route 618 and Route 619.

Various times the county has lobbied VDOT to lower the speed limit but it has been rejected each time. In 2010, then chairman Gene Ott sent a letter on behalf of the board requesting the change. Sanders said he spoke to Ott after receiving the speed study determining the lower speed.

The speed change will occur within the month and as early as 14 days. The regional office is responsible for the new signs but if not completed by the 15th day, the local office will schedule the new signs.

Supervisors will next meet on September 7th 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

Photo Credit: www.Hydrangamania.com

Bananas and Albemarle’s Outdated Economic Opportunity Map

This article first appeared in the August 21, 2016 Daily Progress

By Neil Williamson

Imagine being in the banana business — and you have no way to obtain fruit.Image result for Albemarle county development area

That is Albemarle County’s current economic development sales position: “Yes, we have no bananas.”

“If a manufacturer calls interested in locating near a highway, we tell them, ‘We have nothing for you,’. Prospect businesses are looking to move within three to six months if they are not looking to build. We tell them, ‘We have no product ready to go today.’” – Faith McClintic, Albemarle County’s economic development director

The “product” Albemarle is lacking is available, properly zoned land. McClintic’s comments to a joint meeting of Albemarle Board of Supervisors, Planning Commission and Economic Development Authority paint a very dark picture for Albemarle County’s economic future.

During the Fiscal Year 2017 budget cycle, the county budget summary stated:

“Other communities for a larger commercial tax base have been able to keep their real property tax rates more stable over the past several years.”

Despite the great recession, other Virginia localities with more vibrant business sectors have not been forced to raise property taxes to balances their budgets.

Currently 80 percent of Albemarle’s local tax revenue is from property taxes; only 20 percent is from business taxes. Other communities are closer to a 70/30 ratio.

If there was one lesson the community learned from losing the Deschutes Brewery opportunity (regardless of whether we were ever really in the game), it was that this community is ill prepared for the very economic development that the Comprehensive Plan envisions.

But it doesn’t have to be that way.

Over the years, Albemarle has spent millions of dollars setting aside parkland and open space to make sure nothing happens on selected properties. Isn’t it time Albemarle invests in making something happen in economic development?

Solving Albemarle’s economic development problem is not about the Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors holding a plethora of focus groups and multiple public work sessions to determine the types of jobs (and salaries) they would like to see. The elected and appointed bodies should instead focus on what they do control: the regulatory environment (planning, zoning and procedures).

Albemarle does not have enough land properly located and zoned for new business development or business expansion. The fundamental problem is that Albemarle’s Comprehensive Plan map and zoning maps do not agree.

Absent new land for development, Albemarle’s annual projected property tax increases are only just beginning. As the tax rates grow, businesses will stop expanding here, choosing instead more businesgreece-diagrams-friendly (and lower-tax-burdensome) localities. Fleeing commercial tax revenue exacerbates the situation, further increasing reliance on the property taxes.

There is a simple answer: Make more.

The two ways to “make more” are to expand the development areas (currently around 5 percent of land mass) and/or proactively rezoning development area land.

Proactive rezoning

Proactive rezoning is when a locality (with owner consent) takes the initiative and rezones land to match its Comprehensive Plan designation. In practice, this makes it easier to develop to the uses and the specific densities expressed in the community-vetted Comprehensive Plan. Since the locality is the applicant, misnamed “voluntary” proffers are eliminated.

Community involvement and education are key in any proactive rezoning. The idea that the community can weigh in on the concept of the rezoning rather than seeking specific site-plan information for a potential applicant keeps the discussion on the macro rather than micro level.

Political will and an understanding of development desires are required for proactive rezoning to be successful. Such rezoning can’t be significantly restricted by onerous form-based zoning codes.

Albemarle has proactively rezoned one region, the Downtown Crozet District (DCD). Due to the highly  restrictive form-based code that accompanied this proactive rezoning, thus far only one new private businesses has located in the DCD zone.

The Free Enterprise Forum believes strongly in property rights; therefore, the concept of owner consent to any proactive rezoning is critical. Such consent can easily be established with an opt-out provision prior to the final zoning change enactment.

If a countywide, comprehensive, proactive rezoning is not possible, perhaps Albemarle can look at those areas it has already determined to be the so-called “priority” development areas and start there. Pantops and the new Berkmar Extended both seem ripe for consideration.

Development area expansion

Due to the political work in Richmond of those who came before us, Albemarle has Interstate 64 cutting through the county. Later political activity produced the 1979 development area boundaries Image result for Albemarle county development area(approximately 5 percent for development, approximately 95 to remain rural). Because of the 1979 decision (and little adjustment to it), Albemarle County is woefully behind other communities in land designated for growth.

Based on new environmental restrictions (protecting stream buffers, preserving slopes) and the creation of Biscuit Run State Park (where development once had been approved), the 5 percent land mass of the development areas has been shrinking for more than a decade.

In addition, drinking the “new urbanist” growth control Kool-Aid, Albemarle choose not to maximize its highway frontage and disco-fashion-bradysto restrict development at highway interchanges.

Let’s face it: 1979 had a number of bad ideas (pet rocks, disco, Ford Pinto, etc.). It is far past time to reconsider this nonsensical notion about growth and, at a minimum, open economic development near interchanges to both commercial and industrial opportunities.

Expecting less than 5 percent of your land mass to generate enough positive business revenue to pay for increasing service demands from residents is not feasible. Albemarle will never catch up to its so-called “peer” communities if it does not dedicate, designate and zone more land to jobs.

Fractured board vision

A secondary but equally important problem is a lack of unity within a one-party-dominated Board of Supervisors regarding economic development goals. While Chairman Liz Palmer has stated that her desire for new business is to increase tax revenue, White Hall Supervisor Ann Mallek is concerned about the lack of job opportunities for the 440 families in her district living below self-sustainability (according to the Charlottesville Regional Chamber of Commerce’s Orange Dot Report).

Planning Commission Chairman Tim Keller raised the idea of seeking jobs that paid enough for residents to afford homes costing $600,000-plus.  Such price points generate “breakeven” property taxes [when the taxes generated equal the cost of services demanded]. He questioned the fiscal responsibility of seeking to grow lower-paying jobs.

Supervisor Rick Randolph took exception to the concept of looking toward advanced manufacturing as the job sector on which to focus. Charlottesville Tomorrow quoted Randolph as saying:

“I am feeling a disconnect [regarding] the need for manufacturing, when what we really need to focus on is the underemployment situation. I am looking at a target sector for employment that is missing our biggest need.”

Over the past five years working with the Central Virginia Partnership for Economic Development, Albemarle has identified and focused on four target industry sectors for growing and expanding business [ bioscience and medical devices, business and financial services, information technology/defense and security, and agribusiness].

Despite this concerted effort, the results have not followed. The most recent job statistics indicate a loss of 324 jobs in those segments that have been their focus. It does not take a rocket scientist to see that either we need to realign the targets or rework the opportunities we are presenting to the targets.

The Free Enterprise Forum appreciates all of these different perspectives on the types of jobs needed, but we continue to believe all the navel-gazing in the world will not promote a new paradigm in Albemarle where land is readily available and businesses are welcomed by the community rather than being seen as a threat to our way of life.

Who will champion the Albemarle Board of Supervisors coming together to lead the charge for improving the business climate?

Until significant changes are made in the county government’s staff culture and development structure (initiating proactive zoning, expanded development areas, and streamlined approval process, etc.), Albemarle will continue to lose new job opportunities, as well as losing existing businesses that chose to move to more welcoming localities.

When a new or existing business calls the county wanting to expand Albemarle’s employment opportunities and the business tax base, there should be a better answer than “Yes, we have no bananas.”

Neil Williamson is president of the Free Enterprise Forum, a privately funded non-profit public policy organization focused on local governments in Central Virginia. For more information visit freeenterpriseforum.org.

Photo Credits: http://www.livemaguk.com, Albemarle County, http://www.whyoffashion.com

Economic Development Homework Assignment from Albemarle PC

E-mail received Wednesday July 27th:

“Last evening (7/26), under New Business (after your departure) the planning commissioners briefly discussed your comments under “matters from the public.” We wonder if you might expand on your thoughts in a 1-3 page “discussion piece” for our review, reflection and comment at a future meeting.

Thank you.

Best regards,

Tim

J. Timothy Keller – At-Large Commissioner and Chair
Albemarle Co. Planning Commission

By. Neil Williamson, President Free Enterprise Forum

For a LONG TIME, Albemarle County has been institutionally aloof regarding business prospects. The consensus thinking had been ‘of course they want to come here, they are lucky we’re even considering letting them in’. Virginia’s economic development office only reluctantly sent prospects to Albemarle based on this attitude and the lack of inventory available. Many neighboring localities benefited from this posture as they positioned themselves as “Not Albemarle”.

According to some, this philosophical position has changed, we are still waiting to see “the New Day in Albemarle”. Like it or not, economic development is a competitive effort. The question is not only does Albemarle want to compete – the question is does Albemarle want to win?

Citizens are beginning to recognize the need for commercial and light industrial economic development that could increase revenue and relieve tax pressure on Albemarle County land owners. Staff to is recognizing the need as some have taken to comparing economic development decisions to getting a child to eat vegetables, it is no longer ‘do you want vegetables’ the question is ‘peas or carrots?’.

As part of Albemarle County’s Economic Development Strategic Planning, the Free Enterprise Forum believes the Planning Commission is uniquely qualified to assist in identifying and reducing the regulatory barriers to development while preserving the public input to the process.

In her presentation, Economic Development Director Faith McClintic identified Regulation & Development Review Time as one of the four County influences of cost components. As “Time is money”, the Planning Commission should consider several steps to reducing the time required for a prospect business to gain the necessary approvals to build or lease space and be open for business.

We believe the Planning Commission should focus on this charge rather than determining which type of job or income level we should be targeting. By focusing on improving the process, you make Albemarle more welcoming to ALL jobs.

Idea #1 Proactive Rezoning – The community vetted Comprehensive Plan map and the Zoning maps do not agree. If the Planning Commission simply did a County wide adjustment to the maps, with owner consent and proper public input, you could increase the inventory of properly designated land AND remove an unproductive 1.5 years from an applicant approval process. Such a public process might include a public education component regarding business taxes reducing pressure on property taxes.

To be successful the proactive rezoning must allow for development to occur. When Albemarle created the Downtown Crozet District with a proactive rezoning it added a burdensome layer of design guidelines that precluded almost all private investment in the district (only 1 business is now using the DCD zoning- and they almost could not).

Idea #2 Expand the development areas

Albemarle County is woefully behind other communities in land designated for growth. Based on the new environmental restrictions (stream buffers, preserved slopes) and the Creation of Biscuit Run State Park.

Expecting 5% of your land mass to generate enough positive business revenue to pay for citizen service demands, is not feasible. Absent new land for light industrial development, Albemarle’s projected property tax increases are only just beginning. As the tax rates grow, businesses will stop expanding here, choosing instead more business friendly (and lower tax burdensome) localities.

Albemarle will never catch up to its so called “peer” communities if it does not dedicate, designate and zone more land to jobs.

Idea #2.5 Removing highway interchange zoning restrictions.

Starting with the end in mind, Albemarle County should have land available to meet the Comprehensive Plan’s Economic Development goal of a varied and vibrant job base. According to McClintic, if a prospect business contacts her office seeking to have highway access, she must tell them she has nothing to offer.

Due to political work of those who came before us, Albemarle has Interstate 64 cutting through the County. In 1979, when the development area boundaries were created, Albemarle made a decision not to maximize this highway frontage. Let’s face it 1979 had a number of bad ideas (pet rocks, disco, Ford Pinto etc.) it is time to reconsider this nonsensical notion and open economic development near interchanges to both commercial and industrial opportunities.

As an aside, this issue continues to be discussed in the community. Just last week, the Albemarle County Farm Bureau passed a resolution in support of this concept.

Idea #3 Streamline Approval Process – One need only look to the Development Review Task Force, Development Initiative Steering Committee (DISC), DISCII (AKA Son of DISC) to see specific proposals to streamline operations that have not been instituted.

The level of detail required at the rezoning stage is ridiculous. Albemarle should return to the “bubble map” methodology which focuses on the use not the design of the project. This would significantly reduce the staff time to process applications and the applicant cost of reengineered drawings for multiple iterations.

Idea #3.5 Eliminate Mandated Community Meetings-Holding such meetings in the prescribed county fashion adds unnecessary red tape and time costs. Such meetings should be voluntary for applicants and those who hold them will tend to have a competitive advantage when their proposal comes forward. These meetings have become unelected screening devices that limit the quality and density of proposals that move forward to the Planning Commission.

Idea #4 Consider Municipal investment in an Industrial Park – Albemarle County has dedicated a significant portion of its development area to open space (parks, easements, stream buffers, etc.) that positively impacts the “Quality of Life” but generates zero tax revenue. An argument could be made that investing in an industrial park where local jobs could grow would be at least as valuable as paying a landowner not to develop their development area property.

Idea #5 Remove Development Area Building Height Restrictions If Albemarle wishes to develop a true urban core with significant population and business density, the current height limitations should be repealed. Allow the market (rather than government) dictate height requirements.

Idea #6 Metrics, Metrics, Metrics The Free Enterprise Forum believes people pay attention to those things that are measured. We recommend the Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors receive quarterly reports that contain the following:

          • what is the success rate for NMD projects?
            • How much commercial absorption is happening each year? If we achieve no real commercial, then aren’t these just overcomplicated residential projects?
          • What’s the Review time per project?
          • What’s the tax revenue impact per project?
          • What is the cumulative tax revenue impact of commercial development?
          • New Commercial SF construction/yr
          • New Industrial/Flex SF construction/yr
          • Residential build-out of higher profile areas or projects (e.g., Crozet, HTC, Belvedere, Liberty Hall, Spring Hill, Riverside Village, Old Trail)

As stated previously, the Free Enterprise Forum believes the Planning Commission is in the best position to identify and eliminate regulatory barriers. Such action will require courage and faith. Many of these types of decisions will require the Planning Commission NOT to weigh in rather to grant approval administratively. While we recognize this may be a new concept for many commissioners we believe not weighing in may actually generate more of the type of development the Comprehensive Plan envisions.

Thank you for the opportunity to provide more than three minutes of thoughts on this issue.

Respectfully,

Neil Williamson, President, Free Enterprise Forum

C’ville’s Hydraulic Houdini

By. Neil Williamson, President

What would you call it when Charlottesville works to make a primary pillar of an integrated transportation program disappear?

The Hydraulic Houdini.

Please let me explain.

Those with even decent short term memory can remember the argument over the now defunct Western Bypass and the Route 29 “Solutions”.  Rather than building a limited access bypass around Charlottesville’s congestion (The Free Enterprise Forum supported), Bypass opponents proposed a series of integrated “solutions” would increase the existing roadway capacity.

My friend Jeff Werner of the Piedmont Environmental Council (PEC) even had a nifty PowerPoint Presentation regarding the  congestion

Trafficit knot  @ Proff Rd             Trafficlymead Town Center             @ Hol                       knotTrafficLakes ...

As a part of the “six fixes” presentation Werner included #5

6) Widen the section of Rt. 29after Hol lymead Town Center       to fix the bottle neck,   & improve the intersection at  ...

Well, not so fast.

Even with all this Charlottesville seems ready to pull a Hydraulic Houdini to make the project disappear.

Last week, Charlottesville Tomorrow’s Sean Tubbs wrote about the Charlottesville Planning Commission’s lack of excitement regarding a possible small area plan for the intersection:

“I believe that, compared to the other small-area plans, this would be least prioritized,” commission Chairman John Santoski said. “I don’t think we want to invest a lot of time and energy in a small-area plan here when we have other places that we know need the attention.”

It is interesting contract considering Tubbs’ May 20, 2014 dispatch just prior to the MPO endorsement of Route 29 Solutions:

The Charlottesville City Council informally has endorsed a $203 million package of transportation projects to address traffic congestion on U.S. 29, including $10 million to begin plans for a grade-separated interchange at Hydraulic Road.

“It is a major connecting piece for the whole network and I think we don’t want to make it seem like it’s not a high priority even though it is further down in the pipeline,” said Councilor Kathy Galvin.

The idea of the Hydraulic Houdini appeared in Charlottesville Tomorrow’s coverage of last week’s Charlottesville PC field trip:

The Virginia Department of Transportation currently has allocated $10 million each for study of a future grade-separated intersection and a southern extension of Hillsdale Drive to Holiday Drive. That money is not available until 2019, and it is possible a future administration could reprogram the funds to other projects or other years.[Emphasis added-nw]

So what has changed? 

Where are the supporters with their “Real Solutions Now” placards as the City performs the Hydraulic Houdini?

Could it be now that property is being sold and the Western Bypass is beyond resuscitation, the goal has been met?

While we have steadfastly opposed the Expressway [even calling for a veto of Places29 (which passed unanimously)] we are shocked to see the “solutions” proponents so quickly abandon one of their pillars.

Perhaps now, in hindsight,  we see the “integrated” transportation plan for what it really was — not an innovative effort to improve US29 congestion but a savvy political alternative to eliminate three stop lights and, more importantly,  derail any bypass for at least a generation.

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson, President

Neil Williamson is the President of The Free Enterprise Forum, a privately funded public policy organization covering the City of Charlottesville as well as Albemarle, Greene, Fluvanna, Louisa and  Nelson County.

Photo Credits:  Piedmont Environmental Council

Greene PC Approves Comprehensive Plan

By. Brent Wilson, Field Officer

The Greene County Planning Commission held a final review of the revised Comprehensive Plan at their July 20th meeting. The Planning Commission has held public hearings to have their input into the revised document.

Per Virginia State Code Comprehensive Plans are to be updated every 5 years.

§ 15.2-2223. Comprehensive plan to be prepared and adopted; scope and purpose.

A. The local planning commission shall prepare and recommend a comprehensive plan for the physical development of the territory within its jurisdiction and every governing body shall adopt a comprehensive plan for the territory under its jurisdiction.

In the preparation of a comprehensive plan, the commission shall make careful and comprehensive surveys and studies of the existing conditions and trends of growth, and of the probable future requirements of its territory and inhabitants. The comprehensive plan shall be made with the purpose of guiding and accomplishing a coordinated, adjusted and harmonious development of the territory which will, in accordance with present and probable future needs and resources, best promote the health, safety, morals, order, convenience, prosperity and general welfare of the inhabitants, including the elderly and persons with disabilities.

The comprehensive plan shall be general in nature, in that it shall designate the general or approximate location, character, and extent of each feature, including any road improvement and any transportation improvement, shown on the plan and shall indicate where existing lands or facilities are proposed to be extended, widened, removed, relocated, vacated, narrowed, abandoned, or changed in use as the case may be.

Chairman Jay Willer asked the Commission if they had any revisions to add to the Comprehensive Plan. Commissioner Frank Morris would have like to have seen more language to slow down housing growth in the county. But he indicated that he was happy with the draft as it was presented.

Commissioner Morris asked Planning Director Bart Svoboda if the revised Comprehensive Plan was available on the county website.

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Stephanie Golon

Svoboda said that due to the size of the document that it was not yet on the website. Planner Stephanie Golon did indicate that it is currently online with the red line changes under the agenda.

When it is recommended for approval by the Planning Commission it will be added to the county website.

Willer had the only suggested change to the draft – he asked that the last sentence on page 8 which states there were no farms in the property that became the Shenandoah National Park be eliminated since there were in fact farms on that property. With that being the only change, the revised Comprehensive Plan was unanimously approved.

Willer explained that the Board of Supervisors will have at least one public hearing related the Comprehensive Plan. In addition, Willer presented two additional documents to also be forwarded to the Board of Supervisors. One was a formal resolution to forward the Comprehensive Plan to the Board of Supervisors and the second one was a transmittal letter with suggestions of how to change/enhance the process the next time the Comprehensive Plan is revised. Below are the six items being suggested to the Board of Supervisors:

· Better documentation, schedules and controls for the county’s fiscal management, both for anticipating revenue streams and accommodating future service growth and capital funding needs;

· Attention to the rigorous planning being enacted by the Board of Education and by the county’s emergency services functions to adequately incorporate future county needs, including funding possibilities and locational decisions;

· Assessment of county infrastructure and policies necessary for supporting continued growth and job creation in the designated growth areas, with funding strategies to support those needs;

· Strengthen the county’s health infrastructure, including both medical and emotional needs, particularly in light of steady increases in the number of aging residents;

· Review of the county’s needs for broadband communication, both for county services and for individual homes and businesses, evaluating county ordinances and emerging technologies that might leverage better access for all county residents; and

· Strategies for more consistent enforcement and oversight of county ordinances.

Both of these were approved 5-0.

The Comprehensive Plan will now be forwarded to the Greene County Board of Supervisors for their review and approval.

Brent Wilson is the Greene County Field Officer for the Free Enterprise Forum a privately funded public policy organization.  The Free Enterprise Forum Field Officer program is funded by a generous grant from the Charlottesville Area Association of REALTORS® (CAAR) and by readers like you.  To support this important work please donate online at www.freeenterpriseforum.org

Where Is Albemarle’s Economic Development Headed?

FORUM WATCH EDITORIAL

By. Neil Williamson, President

Much like turning an aircraft carrier, Albemarle County Economic Development Strategic Planning Process is very slowly moving forward while some involved are busy paddling in very different directions. The reality is there is not only a need to change direction, there is a dire need for the crew to work together to change the many adverse elements surrounding the ship.

Last night’s (7/26) joint meeting of the Board of Supervisors, the Planning Commission and the Economic Development Authority showcases how each member of this crew has a different perspective on not only the current reality but also regarding the eventual destination of this cruise.

Albemarle Economic Development Director, Faith McClintic shared a couple of stunning facts regarding how the county must respond to business inquiries (including expansion of existing businesses):

If a manufacturer calls interested in locating near a highway they tell them “we have nothing for you”

Prospect businesses are looking to move within 3 – 6 months if they are not looking to build. We have no product “ready to go today”

Several members of the joint meeting questioned some of the statistics presented and suggested the focus of the economic development strategic plan might be redirected.  Board of Supervisors Chair Liz Palmer mentioned that she thought this process was about bringing more business into the county to generate new tax revenue.

Planning Commission Chair Tim Keller also raised the concept of the types of jobs the plan was seeking to target suggesting the breakeven point [when the taxes = the services demand] for residential is $600K+ questions if we should be seeking to grow lower pay jobs.

Supervisor Ann Mallek took a different approach highlighting that the Charlottesville Regional Chamber of Commerce Orange Dot report identified her district as having 440 families lack basic self-sufficiency.  She is thinking of them when she is thinking about economic vitality.

Supervisor Rick Randolph took exception to the concept of looking toward advanced manufacturing as the sector focus.  Aaron Richardson of Charlottesville Tomorrow reports:

Of those in the workforce, the report showed, more than 26 percent of Albemarle residents hold some form of advanced degree, but only 7.8 percent of available jobs require more than a bachelor’s degree.

Those numbers, said Supervisor Rick Randolph, do not support staff’s assertion about the need for more manufacturing jobs.

“I am feeling a disconnect between the need for manufacturing, when what we really need to focus on is the underemployment situation,” he said. “I am looking at a target sector for employment that is missing our biggest need.”

Over the last five years, Albemarle has been focused on several target business sectors for growing and expanding business.  The numbers indicate they have actually lost 324 jobs in those segments that have been the focus.  We agree based on these results a re-tuning of the targets may be appropriate.

The Free Enterprise Forum appreciates all of these different perspectives on the types of jobs needed but we continue to believe all the navel gazing in the world will not promote a new Albemarle paradigm where land is readily available and businesses are welcomed by the community rather than being seen as a threat to their way of life.

Until significant structural (proactive zoning, streamline approval process, etc.) and cultural changes are made Albemarle will continue to lose new job opportunities and existing businesses who chose to locate in localities who have embraced the prospect of new business.

Absent such changes Albemarle’s Economic Development Program will not be compared to a well coordinated warship but more to the S.S. Minnow of Gilligan’s Island fame.

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson, President

Photo Credit: United Artist Television

 

 

Albemarle as Princess Elsa

By. Neil Williamson, President

frozen_elsa-wideJust as in the 2013 Disney smash movie, last night the Albemarle Supervisors in a couple of split votes  have effectively “Frozen” new residential development.

The end result will, in due course, significantly increase housing costs and pressure on the rural area and by right projects.  Chasing the elusive cash proffer, Albemarle may lose the intent of its  community vision as expressed in the Comprehensive Plan. And all of this could have been avoided.

Please let me explain.

All of this is in response to a new state law (effective July 1, 2016) that was created to make proffers better reflect the specific impacts of a proposed residential development.  The goal of the legislation is to make cash proffers fair.

Unlike the 2013 state proffer reform that Albemarle County adroitly avoided via years of Fiscal Impact Advisory Committee (FIAC) meetings (18) followed by no action, the 2016 law put Albemarle into a flurry of activity ending with the repeal of their cash proffer policy but not the elimination of cash proffers.

It is becoming clear this strategic repeal of the soon to be illegal proffer policy was designed and timed not to facilitate new development but instead to provide Albemarle questionable legal leverage to reject cash proffer amendments filed prior to July.

As a result of this legal slight of hand, Albemarle seems to be eager to delay or deny any application that might set precedent due to any  cash proffers.

Further there are indications that Albemarle will seek to impose new higher fees to capture the staff time required to assess and calculate the exacting amount of financial impact of a development on the four permitted areas: education, transportation, public safety and parks.

This untimely chill on new residential development comes the same day as the Charlottesville Area Association of REALTORS® (CAAR) market report (pdf) is released indicating:

Inventories are now one-third lower than the peak levels of 2010, when there were 2,812 active listings at mid-year and home prices were still searching for a bottom. At that point, there were 13.1 months of supply in the region and prices still had a few years left before bottoming out. Currently, the 1,836 active listings represent 7.3 months of supply given the average sales pace of the last twelve months. Still a buyer’s market, but trending towards balance compared to the 9.4 months of supply available last year.

If inventory is tightening and the supply of new homes is being “frozen” what does market economics predict regarding future housing affordability?

Absent proactive rezoning, such dramatically increasing development fees and dubious prospects for future rezonings will force many developers to either develop using stale zoning with in the development areas or build in the rural areas.

As we stated in our 2013 White Paper – Contradictory Consequences(pdf):

In addition cash proffers are an unreliable way to fund infrastructure spending.  Forecasting cash proffer revenue is much like predicting snow in Central Virginia, localities do not know when it is coming, how much they are actually going to get or when it will stop. Cash proffers rarely, if ever, total the amounts localities are banking on.

Based on this research, we believe local governments are starting to recognize the negative impacts of cash proffers. Localities are finding that just because the state legislature may empower the ability to collect cash proffers in may not be in the localities best interest to collect them.

The elimination of cash proffers will promote better community design and encourage new home construction invigorating the economic vitality of all localities

Cash proffers have produced a plethora of Contradictory Consequences without achieving significant benefit. Now is the time to repeal this rezoning ransom.

Albemarle is not alone reprising the role of Princess Elsa in this sad, cold, housing limiting  drama.  We have heard reports of similar “Freeze Everything” response to the new proffer reform from local governments across the Commonwealth.

While there are undoubtedly some who welcome this result, the Free Enterprise Forum believes that in time, just as in the movie, someone will come along and fix this problem, likely via a lawsuit forcing the Supervisors to do what they should have done with cash proffers in the first place:

Image result for let it go frozen

Respectfully Submitted,

 

Neil Williamson, President

Neil Williamson is the President of The Free Enterprise Forum, a privately funded public policy organization covering the City of Charlottesville as well as Albemarle, Greene, Fluvanna, Louisa and  Nelson County.

Photo Credits: Disney, memecrunch.com

Greene Supervisors Deny Auto Shop SUP Amendment

By. Brent Wilson, Field Officer

In their first July meeting, the Greene County Board of Supervisors denied a special use permit request that if approved would have amended an existing special use permit the terms of which are not currently being met.

Confused yet?  Here is the back story.

Ronald Snoddy received a Special Use Permit (SUP) on October 29, 2014 to expand his auto restoration home business on Mathew Mills Road (Route 607) with approval to construct a building at the back of his property to paint the cars that he restores.

In the 17 months that followed the SUP approval, Snoddy found a paint booth system small enough so that he would not need to construct a new building to house it and, in fact, it would fit in one of the existing buildings with some modifications. So Snoddy was able to avoid a significant expenditure and has been painting the automobiles that he is restoring. [Snoddy was issued a citation for being in violation of the 2014 SUP. He has appealed that violation. The appeal will be heard by the Board of Zoning Appeals on July 27th ]

At some point in the last few months, perhaps recognizing a lack of consistency with the  2014 SUP, Snoddy applied for a new SUP that more accurately depicted the placement and uses on his property.  Snoddy appeared before  the Greene County Planning Commission on May 18th to ask for a revision to SUP 14-009.

The Planning Commission recommended denial of the request on May 18th but as in all cases, the special use permit request goes forward to the Board of Supervisors. Snoddy presented the request to the Board of Supervisors  stating he felt he would be able to reduce the noise level of the paint booth and also reduce the emissions from the booth with a charcoal filter system.

The issue is that the building where he wants to locate the booth is close to one of his neighbors. In the public hearing, the neighbor near the location of the paint booth addressed the Supervisors and stated that the booth would be 50 feet from his property. He has concerns over the noise and emissions from the paint booth and sited that the issuance of a SUP requires that the character of the area not be changed which he feels the paint booth would change the character of the neighborhood where the originally approved location would not.

With the public hearing completed, the process shifted to a discussion of the Supervisors.

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Michelle Flynn

Supervisor Michelle Flynn (Ruckersville) stated that the original SUP clearly approved the construction of a separate facility at the back of the property which did not occur. Supervisor Jim Frydl (Midway) clarified that the first SUP was for construction of a structure farther away from neighbors and would comply with screening requirements. Supervisor Dale Herring (At-Large) stated he served on the Planning Commission in 2014 when the first SUP was approved and recalled that the location for the new structure was to be at a lower elevation and therefore the sound and fumes released would be reduced.

Supervisor David Cox (Monroe) wanted clarification – are there really two issues being discussed. Planning Administrator Bart Svoboda explained that if the revision was approved then it would replace the original SUP. If the revision was denied, then the original SUP would still be in effect.

Cox indicated his desire to see the operation continue and while there is some noise the lot provides natural screening and he can understand why Snoddy doesn’t want to add the expense of a new building if he doesn’t have to.

Chairman Bill Martin (Stanardsville) was pleased with Snoddy’s approach with his neighbors. But he expressed concern that relocating the paint booth would adversely affect the neighborhood and he wasn’t sure why the building approved by the first SUP couldn’t be constructed.

Snoddy addressed the Board at this point and asked if he could have time to speak to his neighbors and address the noise/pollution issues and would the Board be willing to approve the SUP if the neighbor’s concerns were addressed?

Several supervisors expressed reservations about guaranteeing approval even if the neighbors were satisfied.

Flynn had concerns that Snoddy has violated the first SUP by not placing the paint booth in the structure that was approved. Martin asked why Snoddy changed the location of the paint booth and was told that he found a paint booth that would fit in one of his existing buildings.

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Jim Frydl

Frydl  agreed with Flynn that Snoddy was currently operating illegally since he didn’t locate the paint booth per the approved SUP.

Martin asked Snoddy how much time he would need to make the changes to the system?  Snoddy stated up to 60 days.

Flynn stated that she could not guarantee that she would approve the new SUP even if the changes were made.

At that point, Snoddy asked for a brief recess and finally came back to the meeting and said he is requesting a deferral of 60 days with no guarantee of approval after that time. The Board voted 3-2 to not grant the applicant requested deferral. Another motion was made to deny SUP 16-002 which was approved 4-1 with Cox voting against the motion.

Despite the clarity of the decision several questions remain open:

  • What will Snoddy do with his current paint booth system?
  • Will he construct the building approved by SUP 14-009 or will he stop painting vehicles (even though he now owns a paint booth)?
  • Is Snoddy going to stop painting vehicles where he currently has the paint booth located since it is outside the original SUP and in violation of the law?

A number of these questions may be answered by the ruling of the Board of Zoning Appeals hearing and subsequent decision on July 27th.

Stay tuned.

Brent Wilson is the Greene County Field Officer for the Free Enterprise Forum a privately funded public policy organization.  The Free Enterprise Forum Field Officer program is funded by a generous grant from the Charlottesville Area Association of REALTORS® (CAAR) and by readers like you.  To support this important work please donate online at www.freeenterpriseforum.org

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