US29 Business Survival – Will Albemarle Put Their Money Where Their Mouth Is?

By. Neil Williamson, President

Wayback MachineJumping into Mr. Peabody’s WABAC time machine, we travel to May, 2014 where  we find the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors over the top in support of businesses in the US29/Rio Road area as they discussed and voted in favor of moving the Route 29 Solutions forward:

Ms. [Diantha] McKeel commented that it’s the intent of this Board to make the businesses as strong as possible during this period of construction, and felt that it was critical for VDOT to work with the Board as it reaches out to businesses

Ms. [Liz] Palmer said she agreed, and stated that there were a number of business owners who stated their support for the package – and she felt it was extremely important that they start working with the business community as soon as possible.

Ms. [Jane] Dittmar added that they have a very attentive Board of Supervisors that would stand by the business community 100% as they go through the process to improve the roads in the community, and finally have the ability to attend to some other things with a full concentration – ACBOS Minutes 5/27/14 Emphasis added –nw

Fast forward eleven months and the tenor of the conversation at the June 3, 2015 meeting of the Board was decidedly different.  As the Board was discussing making what Assistant County Executive Lee Catlin called “an investment in the future”, Supervisors pushed back about spending any money on an “Open for Business” advertising campaign or even increased signage.

While he noted the Chamber of Commerce support, Supervisor Brad Sheffield questioned if business owners even cared about this issue as so few showed up for the meeting when it was being discussed. 

Supervisor Ken Boyd, long an opponent of the Rio Interchange, took a decidedly different approach to his opposition stating he felt this was the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) folly and they should pay for any marketing effort not the Albemarle County taxpayers.

Supervisor McKeel was very concerned about the potential precedent such an expenditure might create.  She stated:

I have to have a comfort level that we are being fair to all the businesses in Albemarle County

When pressed for a legal opinion regarding the precedent setting and fairness issue, County Attorney Larry Davis explained that the documents presented laid out a clear case and rationale for the Board’s decision, if they should so choose, to fund this expenditure.  He concluded by saying:

I’m comfortable with it

After a motion to fund the business assistance program fully failed (2-4), Chair Jane Dittmar (one of the two votes in favor) asked a decidedly pointed question of her fellow Board members:

Do you want to put any financial wherewithal on an open for business campaign?  If not we won’t discuss it any further

us 29 logoAfter this cajoling from the chair and some internal grumblings, there was a majority on the Board that was interested in seeing the specifics of a campaign before ruling out the “investment”

This brings us to this week’s meeting (7/1).  Staff has brought forward a combined marketing campaign that is designed to:

·      encourage customer loyalty and minimize disruption to impacted businesses and their employees

·      support the larger tourism industry in the County, as many of the visitors who support the County’s tourism destinations are from locations such as northern Virginia/Washington DC and travel to the area using Route 29 North.

·      protect tax revenues generated from the general business district along the Route 29 corridor

In addition to the marketing campaign, the Charlottesville Regional Chamber of Commerce  has suggested a series of signs be erected as soon as possible to alert commuters of the enterprises that are and will remain “open for business”.  The concept is these signs be placed now and remain up during and a little after the construction period.

The Chamber even created a concept sign for the Board to consider.

chamber sign concept

Such a temporary set of signs, albeit redesigned, will certainly provide  US29 businesses with increased visibility during a difficult time.

Considering the import of this investment  issue and the importance of business in the North US29 corridor.  The question now is Will the Board put their money where their mouth is?

Sally Thomas photo credit Charlottesville TomorrowBased on their statements in the last meeting, I have my doubts but perhaps they will listen to former Supervisor Sally Thomas, a long time bypass opponent,  who also spoke at the May 27, 2014 BOS meeting regarding the  Route 29 solutions:

the Board [of Supervisors] also has the right to make businesses a priority, and encouraged them to learn from what’s just happened at McIntire in ensuring that local businesses are advertised and that alternative routes are provided, with VDOT giving them priority in their planning and engineering.  emphasis added – nw

As always, stay tuned.

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: Jay Ward Productions, Charlottesville Tomorrow 

Greene BOS Approves Cabins on Route 33

clip_image002Bruce Shifflett, owner of Lydia Mountain Resorts, appeared before the Greene County Board of Supervisors to request a Special Use Permit (SUP#15-003) for a general store and five (5) cabins on a parcel that partially fronts Route 33 west of Stanardsville (18-(A)-11B). Prior to the hearing, Supervisor Eddie Deane recused himself since his wife, Tina, works for the applicant.

Planning Administrator Bart Svoboda outlined the request for the nearly 4 acres that is zoned C-1 and partially fronts Route 33 at the entrance to Lydia Mountain Resorts. The Planning Commission on May 20th approved the SUP with a 5-0 vote with the only restriction that guests could stay no more than 30 days in a years time.

Shifflett addressed the Board and explained that the existing building on Route 33 was at one time a general store when he was growing up in Greene and he hopes to use it as a check in location for his guests. Currently the guests go directly to their cabin and there is no personal contact with the resort staff.

Next the session was open to the public where four speakers were evenly split on the permit. An adjacent landowner, Paul Vannoy, expressed concern about the density of having 6 buildings on less than 4 acres where property owners in C-1 can only build one home per 8 acres by right. He also lives downhill from the proposed dwellings and expressed concern about his ground water being contaminated.

Tina Deane, who is the manager of Lydia Mountain Resort, said that they are very sensitive to their neighbors and the units would be small one bedroom units approximately 400 square feet. She lives right beside the resort and it is quiet.

The hearing then shifted to a discussion of the Board of Supervisors. Supervisor Bill Martin (Stanardsville District) said he had received several emails opposing the SUP but he felt that it was supported by the Comprehensive Plan to develop tourism in Greene County and he likes the idea of the store front on Route 33. Supervisor Davis Lamb (Ruckersville District) complimented Shifflett on his quality of his development but he expressed concern that the ground water may be contaminated.

clip_image006

Greene County BOS Chairman David Cox

Supervisor Jim Frydl (Midway District) said that Shifflett’s development has been good for Greene County and that his only concern was the density of the four acres with 5 units. He suggested to Shifflett that he reduce the request to fewer units. Chairman David Cox (Midway District) expressed concern that for generations either 5 and then 8 acres have been required for one dwelling.

Shifflett offered to reduce the number of cabins from 5 down to 3 and explained that he isn’t sure if he would get 3 units and that it will depend if the lot would perk in proper locations to put in the units. At that point, a motion was made to approve the SUP with the general store and 3 cabins with the same 30 day restriction that the PC approved. The motion was passed 3-1 with Cox voting no.

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

Photo Credits: Greene County

 

How Local Government Accelerates Income Inequality and Reduces Economic Output

By. Neil Williamson, President

During last night’s joint Albemarle County/ City of Charlottesville Planning Commission meeting, I wondered if these bodies truly understand the economic impact of the regulations the propagate and enforce.  Considering this community’s interest in “income inequality” [Remember Occupy Cville?] it is curious that there has not been significant attention to local government actions that may be accelerating the so called  1% getting richer.

Please let me explain.

For years, some in the environmental community have asked that an ecological impact statement be considered for any new rezoning or amendment to the comprehensive plan.  Now it seems like we may be nearing a time when localities might be able to calculate the aggregate production impact of development restrictions.  Interestingly, many of those same folks who advocate for increased regulatory red tape also advocate for affordable housing.  Recent research supports the Free Enterprise Forum position that regulation inflates housing costs.

Thanks to our old friend,  Michael Harvey, this year’s summer reading list includes two papers released this Spring that use economic calculus to determine the impacts of regulatory restrictions on housing supply, housing affordability and Gross Domestic Product.

The first paper, Deciphering the fall and rise in the net capital share, is written by Matthew Rognile, a 26 year old MIT graduate student.  Presented to the Brookings Papers on Economic Activity conference, the paper argues counter to the prevailing economic theory that rich capitalists have an upper hand in generating new wealth based on their ability to invest rather than labor, instead Rognile links the “recent trends in both capital wealth and income are driven almost entirely by housing”.

His paper is filled with mind numbing calculations supporting his thesis but it is one of his charts that brings the meaning into much clearer focus:

rognile chart

In reviewing Rognlie’s work, The Economist suggests this new analysis suggests we rethink how we deal with income inequity:

But if housing wealth is the biggest source of rising wealth then a more focused approach is called for. Policy-makers should deal with the planning regulations and NIMBYism that inhibit housebuilding and which allow homeowners to capture super-normal returns on their investments.

Writing on Zerohedge.com blog, Daniel Drew highlights his hometown as a poster child for the regulatory red tape that can create inflated housing prices to the point that it becomes unsustainable.

Take a look at San Francisco’s zoning map, and ask yourself if that is what a free market looks like.

San Francisco Zoning Map

And if you were wondering what all those yellow squares were, this explains it:

Single Unit Zoning

As you can see, the entire city has been designated as a perpetual single-unit metropolis, and with water on three sides, the sprawl potential is limited. After seeing this, it’s no surprise that houses from the 19th century cost $1 million.

Greg Ferenstein, writing on The Ferenstein Wire, takes us back to the Joint Planning Commission meeting last night as he writes:

Local housing boards have made it damn-near impossible to build new condos. After much infighting, San Francisco plans on building up to 50,000 more units. But, San Francisco’s chief economist, Ted Egan, estimates that that the city would need at least 100,000 new units to stem increasing costs, let alone bring prices down to something more affordable.

If Rognlie is correct and we really care about inequality, it might be wiser to redirect anger towards those who get in the way of new housing, rather than rely on taxes to solve our problems. emphasis added – nw

While we have been providing anecdotal evidence of Rognlie’s point for well over a dozen years, it is very helpful to have an economic analysis, even if it is mathematically over our head, to support our position.

Perhaps even more impactful, is the April 2015 paper Why Do Cities Matter? Local Growth and Aggregate Growth by Chang-Tai Hsieh (University of Chicago) and Enrico Moretti (University of California, Berkley). This paper quantifies the impact of restrictive land regulations.

In economic theory, total-factor productivity (TFP), measures the efficiency of all inputs to a production process.  TFP  is a variable which accounts for effects in total output not caused by traditionally measured inputs of labor and capital. If all inputs are accounted for, then total factor productivity (TFP) can be taken as a measure of an economy’s long-term technological change or technological dynamism.

According to the paper:

We estimate that holding constant land but lowering land use regulations in New York, San Francisco and San Jose to the level of the median city would increase U.S. output by 9.7% In essence more housing supply would allow more American workers to access the high productivity of these high TFP cities.  We also estimate that increasing the regulations in the South would be costly for aggregate output.  In particular, we estimate that increasing land use regulations in the South to the level of New York, San Francisco and San Jose would lower U.S. output by 3%.

Interestingly, the paper concludes with two very different options for public policy, the first calling for the Federal government to constrain U.S. municipalities ability to set land use standards.  The second, seeks to link labor and jobs absent housing:

An alternative is the development of public transportation that link local labor markets characterized by high productivity and high nominal wages to local labor markets characterized by low nominal wages.

The Free Enterprise Forum appreciates the suggestion of the public infrastructure but anecdotally has seen the private sector stepping into this space in several ways including company sponsored van pools, telecommuting as well as remote office locations.

Back to our little part of the world, I have to wonder if given empirical data regarding the economic harm extensive land use restrictions create combined with the income inequalities that are accelerated by their imposition and the measured ecological benefit, might the discussions be more focused on the facts rather than feeling good about limiting private property rights.

Considering the discussions at the Joint Planning Commission meeting last night, I tend to think it wouldn’t make a hill of beans of difference; and that’s a shame.

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

 

With Dedicated Cash in the Bank, Fluvanna Chooses to Lease New Radio System

By. Bryan Rothamel, Field Officer

It happened quickly. It was over $6 million dollars spent without a debate. All five supervisors agreed, as did dozens of emergency service volunteers in attendance.

The Fluvanna County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a trunking radio system to replaced the aged, failing current system.

It is said 80 percent of Fluvanna is currently covered by radio coverage. Multiple anonymous emergency service personnel say that 20 percent of the county without coverage seems to be a popular place to be.

The new radio system will eliminate those various black holes. New towers will be built with emergency services on the top. All will be under 199 feet with the county only owning one, to be constructed next to the Sheriff’s Office.

The intriguing part of this, Fluvanna has set aside $6.9 million in county savings for the radio project in FY12. It has been sitting there for a few years now, closely protected to pay for the project in cash.

The supervisors approved lease to purchase, thus financing the project. The interest rate will be 2.65 percent with a first payment coming due in July 2017. The term will be for seven years, with two years of payments deferred. Payments will be just over $1 million per year.

So what will happen with the cash set aside?

It stays in county savings but now the project is accounted for. There is no penalty for paying off the lease early so supervisors could vote whenever to pay off the debt early.

While this is more debt, supervisors also noted this is in the best interest of the county and does not violate the debt clause of the Virginia constitution.

“It does not violate the debt policy, by our opinion,” said Fred Payne, county attorney.

Ullenbruch2014

Supervisor Bob Ullenbruch (Palmyra District)

Bob Ullenbruch (Palmyra District) said before the vote he was in favor of the leasing because the county has a few things lined up this year, alluding to water. He also said it could just sit there but feared future boards will use it for operations as a way to lower the tax rate, which violates supervisor policy.

James River Water Authority will have bills come due because of shared construction costs. A Zion Crossroads water system will also have construction costs, if given the final go ahead. A report earlier this year put a Zion Crossroads system at $8 million.

The supervisors did spend more money to install a trunking radio system instead of a conventional radio system. This allows Fluvanna to host other counties in the future. Neighboring localities can buy into the system to have their system using the same basic infrastructure as Fluvanna, just expanding the network. It is more cost effective for the communities involved.

That could lower Fluvanna’s total cost of the radio infrastructure.

Also at the June 17 meeting, supervisors approved an auction house to be built in Fork Union. The location is on Route 15, further south than the town. The auction house will share a parking lot with a church.

“I think it is fantastic to see another business open in the county,” said Ullenbruch. “I won’t have to drive so far to buy my things.”

The next supervisors’ meeting is July 1 at 4 p.m.

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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

Albemarle Rain Tax Clouds on the Horizon

By. Neil Williamson, President

waterfall-barrel credit creatingacomicI have good news and bad news.

First the good news, on Wednesday evening (6/24), Albemarle County wants your input regarding local funding sources for millions of dollars of state mandated water resource protection measures (Yes, that’s the good news).

The bad news is that absent significant public input to the contrary, a committee in Albemarle County seems to be headed over the falls toward a rain tax (AKA Stormwater fee) AND an expansion of government to properly implement the fee as well as annually evaluate, inspect, and regulate related credits.

From the “A-Mail”:

Over the past few years, new and expanded State mandates have significantly increased the scope and cost of the County’s water resource protection programs. The Board of Supervisors has indicated a desire to explore establishing a dedicated funding mechanism – separate from the general fund – to better support these programs. The Board will consider the funding mechanisms at a work session scheduled in the fall of 2015 Emphasis added-nw

The County staff has prepared a lovely video outlining the new unfunded mandates (they do not refer to them as such) as well as two of the three options currently under consideration: stormwater utility fee and a service District:

Water Resources Video

Reading past the soft shoe dance – Albemarle wants/is being pushed into spending millions of dollars on water resource infrastructure and they are looking for a way to pay for it outside of raising property taxes.  While the net result to the landowner is the same, calling the tax a fee opens up several new concepts for consideration including generating revenue from nonprofits (that do not pay property taxes) and reduction of fees based on objective, verifiable credits.

Flawed thinking.  In general we are in favor of user fees when the proper users can be identified.  The concept of credits is based on the idea if you are contributing less to the stormwater issue you should pay less.  In this instance this concept doesn’t hold water (pun intended) as the childless couple across the street pay the same property taxes as their neighbor with five children in the school system.  If the goal is for the community good, the entire community should pay for it.

You have to applaud Albemarle staff’s outreach – they even have a survey to help you determine how they should prioritize spending the money landowners will be forced to send them (regardless of methodology):

Weigh in on the water resources program now! The Board of Supervisors is soliciting feedback on community support for new programs and projects. Take the survey – your feedback is critical

The Free Enterprise Forum is opposed to the creation of the Water Resources Fiefdom where landowners must petition for credits and those credits must be verified by regular on site inspections.  No, as we wrote when the Board first posed this concept [Albemarle Hears the Siren’s Song of New Rain Taxing Authority], we believe the transparency of the general fund is a better place for this expenditure.  In addition, a lack of dedicated funding stream would mandate these projects regularly compete with other county capital infrastructure priorities including schools, fire stations and libraries.

The City of Charlottesville enacted such a policy in 2013, over our objection.   The difference is the City is 10 square miles with the vast majority impervious surface.  The tools available to Albemarle’s 726 square miles are more limited due to the wide variety of land uses and legislative controls regarding the impact to agricultural operations.

College-World-Series-logoSerendipitous meeting scheduling places this important water resources outreach effort  potentially in conflict with the penultimate University of Virginia College World Series game.

Albemarle is asking the right questions, will citizens step up and engage?

Or will we end up the creek?

Only time will tell.

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

Photo Credits: www.Createacomic.com, Albemarle County, NCAA  

Albemarle’s Comprehensive Disappointment

By. Neil Williamson, President Free Enterprise Forum

Adapted from comments made at the June 10th Public Hearing on Albemarle County’s Comprehensive Plan

happy New Year HatMy new year’s resolution was to be more positive. The current draft of Albemarle County’s  Comprehensive Plan has made this mission difficult.

There are good things in this 4 years long gestating plan including recognition of rural area farming conflicts with development and the right to farm, an enhanced chapter on economic development, as well as a plan condensing and reorganization that makes the formerly unwieldy tome slightly more user friendly.

But the Free Enterprise Forum must stand opposed to the current draft. We believe this plan should be vetoed.

Ultimately, we fear that the restrictive growth tenor and regulatory direction of this comp plan will be harmful to Albemarle’s advancement and will significantly jeopardize the ability of our children and grandchildren to afford to live and find work in this great community.

While we believe the vast majority of the citizens may not be in favor of this plan, but I can count noses and I believe the majority of the Board of Supervisors is prepared to move forward.

This opposition is based on (but not limited to):

  • providing Monticello veto power over development in its so called viewshed
  • apologizing rather than fully embracing economic development
  • increasing the cost and complexity of providing housingVETO-stamp
  • mandating residential densities the citizens and market does not want
  • seeking to move people out of cars rather than moving cars
  • falsely declaring Natural Resource protection the County’s number one priority
  • makes false promises about infrastructure investments while threatening to restrict property rights based on your failure
  • removing specific rural area recreational uses without considering others.

The Free Enterprise Forum has been an active participant in this process for the last four years, we are disappointed that the final document speaks to more government expansion, reduced property rights and less flexibility.

While we can not support this plan, the Free Enterprise Forum is disappointed but not disheartened.

If you choose to pass this plan, we look forward to working with you and continuing our fight for increased flexibility, economic advancement, reduced regulation and increased respect for property rights as you and staff attempt to move forward to implementation.

I really wish I could be more positive, at least I made it to June – thank you for the opportunity to comment.  Thank you to staff for their hard work on this project.  I know at times I have been a burr in their side.

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

Dr. Strangelove and Albemarle’s Comprehensive Plan

FORUM WATCH EDITORIAL

By. Neil Williamson, President

The Free Enterprise Forum has been a willing and active participant in Albemarle County’s dr strangeloveComprehensive Plan revision for over four years.  We have written extensively regarding our concerns about affordable housing, density, design criteria, social engineering via planning priorities and many other topics.

Now after three years of Planning Commission consideration and another year of Board of Supervisors editing and review, we must stand opposed to the current draft of the document based on its overarching government intervention tone, rural area restrictions and property rights infringements.  We do not take this position lightly and in fact note some of our advocated changes did make it in to the plan – but not enough.

The final scheduled Board of Supervisors public hearing is on Wednesday night (June 10).  After spending four years (and a nearly $1 million dollar HUD planning grant) of engagement, I am fairly certain the staff, the Board and even the special interest group advocates (myself included) are tired of wrestling with this document.

The easy thing would be to say “We did what we could, let’s pass this thing” but that would not be the right thing to do.

Not when the plan gives super property rights to one private entity – Monticello and punishes those land owners who have the gall to own property in that can be seen from “Jefferson’s Little Mountain”.

Not when the plan continues to apologize for economic development efforts that may provide good career ladder jobs in the development area for our kids and grandkids.

Not when the plan uses neighborhood design to increase the cost and complexity of providing housing in the development area in one chapter and then bemoans the lack of affordable housing in the next.

Not when the plan focuses more on getting citizens out of cars rather than improving the transportation network.

Not when the plan promises concurrency of infrastructure and public investment in the development areas and then threatens to deny development applications if the Board fails to find the political backbone to make such investment.

Not when the plan bombastically decries Natural Resource Protection the top priority for local government and calls for more planners less property rights.

Not when the plan threatens to remove some recreational uses and take away economic opportunity from rural land owners in the name of environmental protection and ignoring the current special use permit provisions that already address provide such protections.

No this plan must be vetoed – and it won’t be.

In reading the entire plan for the 14th time over the last month I have been struck by two somewhat allegorical comparisons to  my current predicament.

The first is the 1964 dark comedy movie Dr. Strangelove.  Few people remember that the full title of the movie was “Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb”.   The inevitability of the Comprehensive Plan passing is only measured by the number of times the Board of Supervisors has used the phrase “it’s only a guide” in their review even as they parsed the language.

alfred_e_neumanThe second allegorical comparison comes from MAD magazine and their cover boy Alfred E. Newman.  Newman’s philosophical position of “What? Me worry” might be the best way to understand the real meaning of this herculean attempt at planning control.

I wish I had a dollar for every time this plan has been referred to as a guide — not an ordinance.  Sure, until your ox is the one being gored, then it is up to who is interpeting the “guide”.     Considering the fact that the current Comprehensive Plan dictates that a small area plan WILL be completed prior to any transportation improvements on US29 at Rio Road and the interchange will be completed before the small area plan is really started – MAD may be the best fit.

pickens_bomb_rider1But in the end, as the Board of Supervisors positions itself to endorse the plan, I think Albemarle citizens might best identify with the Slim Pickens character in Dr. Strangelove as he rode the nuclear bomb into Russia.

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 Credit: Columbia Pictures, MAD magazine

Albemarle Transportation Policy – Multimodal or Anti-Automobile?

By. Neil Williamson, President

Albemarle County has been rewriting their state mandated Comprehensive Plan for over four years.  The Free Enterprise Forum has been an active participant in these conversations.  With the plan now headed to its final public hearing on June 10, we will provide our chapter by chapter review over the next two weeks culminating with our overall analysis prior to the public hearing. 

Today – Chapter 10 Transportation

The Transportation chapter of Albemarle County’s Comprehensive Plan continues the county’s (and to a lesser extent the Commonwealth’s) increased emphasis on multimodality often at the cost of automobile spending.  What is multimodalism?  According to Monique Wahba AKA The Multimodalist:

Multimodalism is about leveling the playing field so a transportation system can safely accommodate many modes or forms of transportation rather than have one dominate. To me, it’s about putting people first. When the question is “how can we move people from place to place?” rather than “how can we move cars?” the transportation solutions abound. We can have people move on their own – walk or bicycle or use some other self-powered mode of transportation. Or we can put them in some kind of vehicle – e.g. a car, a bus, a train, a plane. And when challenges in transportation arise, we can become more creative. Towns in the US and abroad are using funiculars to connect downtowns with outlying hilltop areas rather than limit themselves to roadway solutions, saving travel time and sparing their environments.

It is clear that the Comprehensive Plan is leaning toward pushing people out of single occupant vehicles and into other modes of transportation.  From page 10:13:

Albemarle County strives to promote transit-friendly, walkable, mixed-use communities that are served by multiple transportation modes. A connected, mixed-used community can reduce the number of vehicle miles traveled (VMT) and, thereby, improve citizens’ health by reducing vehicle emissions. A reduction in VMT improves air quality by reducing the amount of greenhouse gases emitted by vehicles. Interconnected streets and alternatives to vehicular travel, like mass transit, walking or biking also have the potential to improve or mitigate air quality problems by reducing VMT.

Multimodalism provides for:
Cost-Efficient Use of Public Dollars which benefits travelers by moving people (not cars) while expending the same amount of money and optimizing the use of existing facilities instead of building new ones.
Energy Conservation by reducing emissions through fewer and shorter vehicle trips.
More Transportation Choices by providing alternate modes, times, locations, and route choices for travel.
Mobility and Opportunity Equity by meeting transportation needs of low income, disabled, and other minority populations and providing more opportunities for getting to work, making connections, and career advancement.
Public Health by creating a safer environment for walkers and cyclists, with fewer crashes and lower fatality rates, supporting active lifestyles through more opportunities for walking, and providing more access to a wider range of goods and services.
Economic Vitality by providing greater accessibility for existing and future workforces, attracting businesses through more multimodal transportation choices for employees, and increasing property values by making places more accessible. Reducing time in commutes time equals money
Reduced Congestion by giving more modal choices reducing overall congestion and providing greater redundancy in network choices through other modes.
Quality of Life by designing streets as places to spur social interaction, promoting pride in neighborhoods, spurring more “eyes on the street” for crime reduction, and facilitating a greater sense of community through more accessible places and corridors.

When the conversation is focused on Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT) and not mobility, the Free Enterprise Forum sees the government engaging in social engineering.  Unfortunately, there is unsettled economic theory regarding the net benefits of multimodality (in this case transit) vs. auto dependency.  According to a 2010  Heritage Foundation paper by Wendell Cox:

The loss of productivity from relying on transit can be even greater than longer travel times for the employed. Unlike commuting by cars, it may be impossible to commute in a metropolitan area by transit. For example, a Federal Transit Administration study found that few low-income central-city residents in Boston could reach high-growth suburban employment areas within one hour by transit, a fact that reduces regional productivity.[47] University of California research indi­cates far smaller unemployment rates among African–American households where there is an automobile avail­able.[48] This is because cars shorten commute times and broaden access to jobs throughout the metropolitan area, not just to the limited areas with adequate transit service.

Other research by the Progressive Policy Institute has shown that access to cars improves minority and low-income employment and productivity, noting that “[i]n most cases, the shortest distance between a poor person and a job is along a line driven in a car.”[49] Additionally, a Brookings Institution report concluded that, “[g]iven the strong connection between cars and employment outcomes, auto ownership programs may be one of the more promising options and one worthy of expansion.”[50] This research demonstrates that in the modern urban area, transit cannot substitute for cars for a large share of trips.

This connection between employment and automobile ownership led the Clinton Administration to ease wel­fare-program restrictions to make it easier for recipients to own a car. In announcing the new policy, the White House stated that:

“Even in metropolitan areas with extensive transit systems, studies have shown that less than half the entry level jobs are accessible by transit. One national study found that twice as many welfare recipients with cars were working than those without cars, and 25 percent more low-income fam­ilies with cars were working than those without cars.[51]

Much of the multimodalistic theology revolves around the fact that more people would be engaged in different modes of transportation if only the infrastructure existed for them to utilize.  While one admires the passionate zeal the proponents have, the reality is the “Vanishing Automobile” isn’t.  As of 2007,  Virginia ranks #22 in automobile per capita in the United States.

Joel Schwartz of The American Enterprise Institute has calculated the various portions of market share of the multimodality.  In his 2006 report to UC Davis Institute of Transportation Studies Seminar he found:

market share

The Free Enterprise Forum believes the transportation chapter of Albemarle’s Comprehensive Plan should spend less time trying to get people out of their cars and more time making their automobile trips more efficient.

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson

NEXT: Dr. Strangelove and Albemarle’s Comprehensive Plan

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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

Albemarle Development Area Report Card 4 “D”s–Disappointment, Density, Delusions and Decay

Albemarle County has been rewriting their state mandated Comprehensive Plan for over four years.  The Free Enterprise Forum has been an active participant in these conversations.  With the plan now headed to its final public hearing on June 10, we will provide our chapter by chapter review over the next two weeks culminating with our overall analysis prior to the public hearing.

By. Neil Williamson, President

To understand the conceptual underpinnings of the Development Areas Chapter of Albemarle County’s Comprehensive Plan, one must understand that the over arching planning goal is to drive the majority of county residents to live in the development areas where it is more efficient to provide government services.

The generally accepted methodology for encouraging this population movement is to incise new dense development by making the development areas more attractive than rural area development by virtue of better service delivery, enhanced recreational opportunities as well as other amenities.

If you accept this premise, then the question is who will provide the amenities that make the development areas more attractive than rural area development.  In the early 2000s, the Development Initiatives Steering Committee (DISC) and the Development Initiatives Steering Committee II (DISC II AKA “Son of DISC”) believed that it was a joint public private partnership to provide such infrastructure.

THE BIG LIE – Concurrency of Public Infrastructure

The private side of the equation has held up their part of the bargain mainly as required “voluntary”  proffers for rezoning applications but the public investment has been lacking.

Consider the (empty?) promises in the Development Areas chapter:

The urban neighborhoods are expected to provide a full array of residential types and densities and look and feel like a city. All levels of retail, business, and industrial activities, along with regional employment centers. In addition, extensive urban and regional public facilities and services and infrastructure are to be provided. (8.4)

Strategy 2c: Continue to promote pedestrian safety through construction of crosswalks for sidewalks. The County has developed a capital needs list which includes locations for crosswalks to improve pedestrian safety. Funding and prioritization takes place through the Capital Improvements Program (CIP). This activity should be continued to improve pedestrian safety. (8.14)

New centers should be created in accordance with Master Plan recommendations. Existing centers should be recognized and, in some cases, enhanced. Public investment may be needed to create a center, such as a new public park in or near an existing neighborhood. New centers should be created in accordance with Master Plans. As destinations, centers should be visually discernible to help create and facilitate a sense of arrival. (8.17)

Strategy 3c: Work with residents and property owners to identify property maintenance concerns, establish maintenance expectations and programs to address them, and determine the resources that will best enable the programs to be effective.(8.30)

Existing neighborhoods are also key features of the Development Areas. Investments in infrastructure, such as water, sewer, sidewalks, and drainage, help to strengthen these neighborhoods. Improved street networks, connections to employment centers, and excellent school facilities help support residential development as well as encourage businesses to expand. (Introduction 8.3)

Decaying Core?

The public infrastructure investment in existing neighborhoods in Albemarle County has been tepid at best.  Some Supervisors are awakening to the fact that it is NOT new development that is generating the demand for infrastructure investment but instead deferred public investment.

As neighborhoods age new community investment will be needed not only to provide the amenities that supposedly draw residents to the Development Areas but basic infrastructure investment to keep citizens safe.

Adequate Public Facilities?

Later in the chapter, recognizing that the county has not met its investment obligations to support the Development Areas, the Comp Plan throws what can only be described as an illegal “Hail Mary” pass suggesting it can postpone development applications based on this County failure:

Strategy 9c: Do not approve proposed rezonings and special use permits outside of Priority Areas when planned facilities are not in place to support the project and existing neighborhoods, unless the proposed project will provide significant improvements to ensure adequate infrastructure and services are available to the area.

Planning staff may want to run this passage past legal once more.  Annually, Albemarle County and other localities attempt to gain such legislative authority via Adequate Public Facilities legislation.  It has failed in each of the last 10 General Assembly sessions.  Absent such legislation, under the Dillion Rule,  Albemarle County does not have the ability to reject development proposals on the basis that Albemarle County has failed to properly provide for their existing residents.

Density Desires-Stack’em and Pack’em

Objective 5: Promote density within the Development Areas to help create new compact urban places.

Albemarle County’s Growth Management Policy relies on development within the density ranges recommended for the Development Areas. Although parts of Albemarle County’s Development Areas were developed at less than two units per acre, low-density development prevents opportunities for transit and increases maintenance costs for roads and utilities. For these reasons, Albemarle County expects new development in a different pattern so that residents can have more opportunities to walk, bicycle, or take transit to work and entertainment. To avoid expansion of the Development Areas and to help create livable walkable places, density of new development is expected at a minimum of three units per acre in places designated as Neighborhood Density and a minimum of six units per acre where land is designated as Urban Density.

New Urbanist theology revolves at the altar of density – it is little surprise however that most existing neighborhoods balk at the concept of having such high density new development built around them.

Yet, rezoning applications that need to go through the public process and hear these neighborhood concerns also must answer the Comprehensive Plan demands:

Strategy 5b: Encourage developers to build at the higher end of the density range, on greenfield sites, provided that development will be in keeping with design recommendations in the Neighborhood Model.

Even worse than being just stuck between these competing goals, the Comprehensive Plan also seeks to maintain the unelected, unregulated “advisory” role of Community Councils –

The Gatekeepers – Community Councils hinder Property Rights 

Strategy 1b: Continue to use Community Advisory Councils to help develop Master Plan updates, provide guidance on conformity of proposed projects with the Master Plan, assist in implementation of the Master Plan, and to act as a clearing-house for information that is important to the Development Area.

The Freenimby1_thumb.jpg Enterprise Forum finds these unelected councils to be superfluous to the process and often counter to the County’s stated positions and goals.  One of the largest battles at the first Community Council was over the density planned for Crozet.

In addition, the Councils provide Planning Commissioners and Board of Supervisors members political cover and the ability to avoid making important decisions regarding the County’s direction.  While encouraging citizens to be engaged in the legislatively mandated planning process, the Free Enterprise Forum continues to call for the elimination of the illegal gatekeepers known as Community Councils.

Design Dysfunctions

In mandating Comprehensive Plans, Virginia State Code prescribes the nature of the plan:

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

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.

Albemarle County has a different concept of general in nature as the Development Area Chapter goes to great length to be rather specific regarding their new urbanist philosophical positions:

image

It is important to visually define the center to help create and facilitate a sense of arrival. In Figure 10, the clock tower and cupola help people to see their destination. Centers should be approximately ¼ mile from homes as seen in the illustration in Figure 11. This distance can be increased up to ½ mile if a center contains a transit stop.

This granular level of design can inhibit creative street alignment.  While the above figure might work well on paper the rolling hills that we appreciate in Albemarle County often require a less grid like pattern.

In the nearly 50 pages of the Development Areas chapter of Albemarle’s Comprehensive Plan, several new urbanist themes are demanded of private developers increasing the cost and increasing the Development Area amenities while Albemarle County continues to fail to make similar investments allowing some neighborhoods to decay and depreciate.

A robust infrastructure investment program is needed to support the lofty (and so far empty) promises of the Development Areas Chapter.

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson, President

TOMORROW – Albemarle Transportation Policy – Multimodal or Anti-Automobile?

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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 Credit: Source: Community Design and Architecture 2011

Albemarle Comp Plan Agritourism Fertilizer or Rural Regulatory Roadblocks?

Albemarle County has been rewriting their state mandated Comprehensive Plan for over four years.  The Free Enterprise Forum has been an active participant in these conversations.  With the plan now headed to its final public hearing on June 10, we will provide our chapter by chapter review over the next two weeks culminating with our overall analysis prior to the public hearing.

By. Neil Williamson, President

As of 2009, most of the geographic area of Albemarle is in the rural areas (95%+) yet, by design, the population majority is in the development areas (53%).  This population/area inversion means as a community we are becoming increasingly less connected to the agricultural enterprises that make the rural areas economically sustainable.

The Rural Areas chapter of the Albemarle County Comprehensive Plan is vastly improved over previous iterations.  Some of the concepts such as adaptable reuse of historic crossroads buildings and embracing the diversity of Albemarle’s agricultural products is refreshing and could be used to grow agribusiness; other portions seem to be regulatory overreach that seems to want to stunt such growth before it begins.

As an example in considering new uses for the Rural Area, the Comprehensive Plan has set forth criteria that will be incredibly difficult to meet, including:

  • relate directly to the Rural Areas and need a Rural Area location in order to be successful
  • be suitable for existing rural roads and result in little discernible difference in traffic patterns.

The first provision seems to be an impossible challenge; how to define “need”. There are successful urban wineries but, all of Albemarle’s  have proven success in the Rural Areas.  The second perverse provision reminds me of a former Albemarle County Supervisor who famously once said

 “I love the wineries, it’s their customers I could do without”.

While the disconnect with the business demands of a rural enterprise may be predictable due to our population centers shifting to the development areas, it is no less troubling.  For that reason, we were happy to read the very specific language in the Chapter regarding conflicts between agricultural enterprises and residential uses.image

Livestock produces odors and noises.  Application of fertilizer, especially manure, on crops can produce smells that are offensive to non-farming residents, especially when those residents are entertaining outdoors.

This recognition of rural enterprises as the primary function of the Rural Areas is refreshing.

Regulatory Round-up

Interestingly, on page 7.41 the Rural Area Chapter references recent legislation that limit locality regulatory power:

On July 1, 2014 State legislation became effective that expanded the opportunities for events at farms with bona fide agricultural operations and also for farm breweries.  Localities are only able to to regulate events that have a “substantial impact” on public health, safety and welfare – which the State does not define.

Albemarle has decided a significant impact is a party of 200 people:

Strategy 6a: Continue to require special permission for events at farm wineries, farm breweries, and bona fide agricultural operations for over 200 persons and for other events in the Rural Areas for over 150 persons.  These special events should promote or support agricultural production or a unique rural activity, such as a County fair, and should be limited to once or twice per year.

Not content to just limit the number of people gathered in the Rural Areas, the Comprehensive Plan is also seeking to determine what outdoor recreational activities one is allowed to do in the country.

Banning Golf, Swim and Tennis

While some on the planning commission were looking to be more permissive suggesting uses such as commercial mountain biking, cyclocross, zip lines and rock climbing activities, the tenor is much more restrictive regarding other recreational uses in the rural areas:

Clubs for swim, golf, and tennis have many suburban characteristics and typically are located in or adjacent to the development areas.  A Development Area location is more accessible to and compatible with nearby residential uses where sidewalks and road improvements are expected.  Expectations from patrons can be very different from those of nearby farmers.  Consideration should be given to removing these uses from the list of available special uses in the Rural Area.

To be clear, currently these uses require a special use permit that provides the locality the mechanism to develop conditions that mitigate impacts on the community.

Example 1: The Old Trail Golf Course in Crozet is located in the Ruraloldtrail golf Area.  This serves as an amenity to the Old Trail Community and provides a buffer between the dense residential area and the rural area.  As apart of their special use permit Old Trail and Albemarle agreed to agreed to 18 conditions that covered many important considerations including water usage and source, public accessibility to the course, the use of native plants throughout the course, minimal grading plan, extensive stream buffering system and much more.

Example 2: The Blue Ridge Swim Club.  According to their website:

The Pool at Blue Ridge Swim Club is a historic treasure. Built in 1913 by R. Warner Wood, the Blue Ridge Pool was the centerpiece of Blue Ridge Camp, established in 1909. The camp was founded by Wood, a University of Virginia graduate with a Master’s degree in Greek and History and a firm believer in developing both mind and body. According to his 1918 brochure, Blue Ridge Camp offered “symmetrical, physical, mental, moral and social development in boys, along with plenty of healthful, natural fun.” Boys slept in tents on the property and activities included swimming, calisthenics, boxing, wrestling, baseball, football and track.

image

Wood and his friends chose a spot where a spring fed the stream to build the pool. He is said to have hired an engineer who had worked on the Panama Canal to design the water flow system, which brings water from the stream into a nearby settling tank, where the silt separates from the water. The same system continues to supply water to the Pool today.

In 2010, about 100 years after its founding, The Blue Ridge Swim Club wanted to return to its roots offering summer camp activities similar (but updated) to those offered in 1910, the centerpiece being the pool.

In order to accomplish this task, a Special Use Permit was required which included 10 conditions that served to provide the community with a set of expectations regarding camp operation.  Those conditions included:

SP-2010-00041 Blue Ridge Swim Club subject to the following conditions:

1. Development of the SP-2010-00041 uses use shall be in general accord with the conceptual plan titled “Blue Ridge Swim Club “ prepared by Kelly Strickland and dated December 20, 2010 and revised February 2, 2011 (Attachment A) (hereafter “Conceptual Plan”), as determined by the Director of Planning and the Zoning Administrator.

To be in accord with the Conceptual Plan, development shall reflect the following major elements within the development essential to the design of the development:
• Limits of disturbance
• Location and size of pavilion building
• Location of parking areas
• Minimum clearing possible may be allowed to locate well, septic line and drainfields, parking and pavilion
as shown on the Blue Ridge Swim Club concept plan.
Minor modifications to the plan which do not conflict with the elements above may be made to ensure compliance with the Zoning Ordinance.

2. The hours of operation for SP-2010-00041 Blue Ridge Swim Club shall not begin earlier than 12:00 PM (noon) and shall end not later than 8:00 P.M., each day, seven days per week, Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day weekend.

3. All outdoor lighting shall be only full cut-off fixtures and shielded to reflect light away from all abutting properties. A lighting plan limiting light levels at all property lines to no greater than 0.3 foot candles shall be submitted to the Zoning Administrator or their designee for approval.

4. Food prepared off-site may be sold from a concession stand that is depicted on the Conceptual Plan.

5. Approval of the Health Department for the well, septic and food concession shall be required prior to approval of a site plan.

6. Approval by the Virginia Department of Transportation for the entrance shall be required prior to approval of site plan.

7. Prior approval by the Fire Department shall be required prior to all outdoor cooking and/or campfires.

8. No amplification of sound shall be permitted, with the exception of a megaphone used on Fridays during each season (Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day weekend) during field games, radios, and electronic sound producing or reproducing devices, provided that any such amplified sound shall comply with the applicable noise regulations.

9. Parking on Owensville Road by attendees or staff of the Blue Ridge Swim Club or the Camp shall not be permitted.

10. No more than 200 people shall be on the property for any purpose at any time.

The Free Enterprise Forum believes that if the Comprehensive Plan is enacted as drafted neither of these two entities would be permitted to be constructed in the Rural Area (to be clear they would be grandfathered and permitted to continue current operations).

In Late February we queried Albemarle’s Deputy County Attorney Greg Kamptner regarding the impact of this change in language in the Comprehensive Plan on future applications.  While acknowledging he could not envision all possible applications, he was kind enough to opine on three possible outcomes:

In one example, a swim club SP application is received in the months right after the comp plan is adopted. Staff’s analysis would undoubtedly consider the language in the comp plan, note that it states that the County should consider that this type of use should no longer be located in the Rural Area, and likely conclude that the application is inconsistent with the comp plan. Even though the comp plan refers to “considering” the issue, staff’s conclusion could be reached because the application generated the very concerns that the comp plan was seeking to address – the proposed use would be suburban in nature and generally incompatible with the Rural Area.

In a second example, staff could note that the comp plan language provides that removing this type of use be considered for removal from the Rural Area, note that the issue has not yet been considered, evaluate the application based on what is proposed and the general context of the comp plan’s concern – swim clubs and similar recreational uses are generally suburban, not rural, in nature, identify the potential impacts on the district and adjoining properties, but then focus its analysis on the qualities of the particular application and make a recommendation accordingly.

In a third example, a swim club SP application is received a couple of years after the comp plan was adopted. During that time, the Board has considered and rejected the idea of doing away with swim clubs in the Rural Area in their entirety but has, instead, adopted a zoning text amendment that creates performance standards for Rural Area-type swim clubs (and different standards for suburban swim clubs). The comp plan language remains because its review cycle has not begun. The staff analysis for the SP likely would acknowledge the language in the comp plan, note that the County considered the issue, and decided to address it as it did in the zoning text amendment.

Because the comp plan is a policy document created to guide decision-making, it is different from an ordinance and does not compel a particular result.

Considering the unique conditions the Special Use permit provides and the unclear outcomes of such Comprehensive Plan language change, the Free Enterprise Forum recommends changing the Comprehensive Plan language to be less specific and simply recommend evaluating ALL recreational uses in the Rural Areas and their impacts.

Restricting Rural Interstate Interchange Development

Within the Comprehensive Plan Albemarle suggests development at rural interchanges is acceptable as long as it is the right kind of commercial development:

Strategy 7d: Permit uses at rural interstate interchanges that support agriculture and forestry.

So considering the above, the county is OK with rural interchange intersection development but needs to have a nexus to the agricultural community.

Albemarle County speaks at length about their desire for tourism and economic development in other chapters of the Comprehensive Plan.  Albemarle often touts that it is the #2 locality in the state in number of Farm Wineries.

image

From Late April through Late October, each and every Saturday, Albemarle also watches as thousands of winery tourists (and their transient tax dollars)  go over the mountain to Waynesboro to find a hotel room.  Part of the reason, the Rural Interstate Development Restrictions.

As tourism is important to the success of many rural agricultural enterprises, the Free Enterprise Forum believes allowing hotels located near rural interstate interchanges would be supportive of agriculture.  We suggest adding language to the plan that would “consider” under what performance based standards hotels might be allowed by special use permit at rural interstate intersection.

Albemarle County would be wise to allow more rather than less activity in the rural area and provide enforceable special use permit conditions to ensure that the 95% of the county that is designated as Rural Area remains economically viable.

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson, President

TOMORROW: Albemarle Development Area Report Card 3 “D”s – DENSITY, DESIGN, DELUSIONS AND DECAY

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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: Albemarle County, Old Trail Golf Club, Blue Ridge Swim Club

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