Greene Planning Reviews Capital Improvement Plan Process

By. Brent Wilson, Field Officer

Jay Willer, Chairman of the Greene County Planning Commission, has been leading a team to develop a more effective Capital Improvement Plan for the county. This week (9/20) the Planning Commission met to review the updated format and the answers to the questions that the Board of Supervisors asked several months ago.

Virginia localities are required by state code to develop a long range Capital Improvement Plan (CIP). The CIP is one of the most significant planning processes as it identifies the capital needs of the community over a specified period of time. This plan not only identifies the immediate needs but also seeks to capture long-term capital needs.

The CIP typically includes major investments in parks, libraries, transportation, community centers, facilities, technology, water, sewer and stormwater infrastructure – along with other areas that support the community.

In Wednesday’s meeting, Willer asked the commission if there were any questions for Planning Director Bart Svoboda. Commissioner Frank Morris questioned why the Economic Development Authority (EDA) would have a project of widening of road lanes for $2 million.

Svoboda explained that the EDA believes many county wide projects will help the economic development of the county – such as widening of roads, fiber optic cable, etc. The Board of Supervisors will prioritize the projects relative to how much funding is available – especially with the reservoir funding requirements.

With no comments from the public,  Willer explained that the current presentation is that of a Capital Improvement Inventory, not a Capital Improvement Plan . He explained that many of the items should be included in department expense budgets and larger items that benefit the county such as schools should be included in the CIP. In addition, definitely new items should be in the CIP and possibly items that provide new function should also be in the CIP.

One of Willer’s suggestions was to include the impact on the tax rate to pay for each expenditure to help give a sense of impact to the citizens of Greene County since over $150 million is to be provided from county funds over the five year period of the Captial Improvement Inventory. Vice Chairman Vic Schaff thought this was a good inventory of needs of the county but that the CIP should include projects that the county would need to raise additional funds to pay for, such as the water impoundment project  and possible school expansion.

It was brought up that the timing of the process is key so that the Capital Improvement Inventory could be separated into expense vs. CIP projects so that the expense items could be included in the departments budgets. The next issue discussed was how much detail should be gathered at the CIP level. Svoboda stated that the intent of the CIP is to raise issues that need action by the Board of Supervisors.

Willer asked the commissioners if they should stay with the format but that the Planning Commission is not tasked with providing priorities. He suggested that the Planning Commission provide a cover letter to the CIP report to encourage certain projects to the BOS. Also, Commissioner Saunders suggested that the items in the CIP be linked to areas in the Comprehensive Plan knowing that one item in the CIP may link to more than one area of the Comprehensive Plan.

Svoboda said that the Planning Commission should plan to finalize the CIP by November and in order to meet that date each department should submit their projects by October. If a department does not make a submission, then the prior year information should be used by just moving out each project one year.

Finally, Svoboda said that the Planning Commission needed to defer the CIP to a date in the future since it was approved as is. This was unanimously approved by the Planning Commission.

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 Supervisors Deadlocked On Staff Raises

By. Bryan Rothamel, Field Officer

The Fluvanna County Board of Supervisors are still undecided about a staff pay plan for the current fiscal year.

Before the previously reported land use action [Fluvanna Land Use Fireworks] on September 7 occurred, the short handed board was tied up (2-2) figuring out how to deal with the void of state funding for a staff pay raise.  The supervisors agreed during the FY2017 budget calendar to a sliding pay increase for staff. The scale was based on getting staff members who are currently paid below comparable market value closer to market value in an effort to stop the continual turnover. The vast majority of staff are at market value and were scheduled to receive a two percent increase.

The pay increase was built with money coming from the state government. When the state had less revenue then projected, the money the county is dependent on will not be given.

To keep the plan as was originally passed, the county would need to chip in $13,740 or 0.16 percent of the total budget. The county’s budget for $78.3 million includes a $50,000 personnel contingency fund and a $150,000 supervisor contingency fund.

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Patricia Eager

“It’s not a lot of money coming out but it is cumulative,” said Patricia Eager (Palmyra District).

Eager and Don Weaver (Cunningham District) would not budge past what the county originally allocated for the pay plan.

Staff gave an alternative that decreased the raise by 0.25 percent across the board but the county would have to contribute $6,034. If the raise is decreased by 0.5 percent the county would not have to contribute anything additional.

“It is not [the staff’s] fault the state had less revenue. Why penalize them?” said Mozell Booker (Fork Union District).

Chairman Mike Sheridan (Columbia District) said, “I want our employees to feel appreciated.”ger said, “I think it will take more than $13,000 to make them feel appreciated.”

Sheridan made an effort to compromise at the $6,034 contribution but Eager and Weaver would not add any funding.

“I’m sorry, staff. I’m really sorry that we don’t care enough about you,” said Booker.

Booker made a motion to contribute the $13,740 to keep the plan as originally agreed to but it failed to gain a second.

Eager moved for no additional contribution and Weaver seconded. The motion failed on a 2-2 vote.

The pay increase is scheduled to be discussed again September 21. Tony O’Brien (Rivanna District) arrived to the meeting after the item was discussed. The pay raise for County Administrator Steve Nichols was also deferred.

In other business, supervisors also agreed to lease a spot on the NCT tower slated to be built at the VFW site in the Cunningham District. The tower was originally to be 199 feet. The county needs it to be 250 feet.

NCT will build the tower at the height needed and own it for a lease of $18,000 a year. The county gets a discount of $250 per month for each of the first two cellular carriers. It passed 5-0. The supervisors waived county fees to adjust the tower SUP for the new height.

Supervisors also agreed to buy a new ambulance and re-chassis another ambulance to help the Fluvanna County Rescue Squad reliable ambulances.

The Board next meets on September 21. Besides discussing the pay increase plan again, they are also scheduled to have a public hearing on vehicle license fees.

Supervisors will start the 21st with a work session on “ordinances, policies, procedures, revenue enhancement, and expense reduction discussion.” The fun starts at 4 p.m.


https://freeenterpriseforum.files.wordpress.com/2015/10/bryan-rothamel.jpg?w=151&h=151The 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: Fluvanna County

Greene Discusses Legislative Priorities

By. Brent Wilson, Field Officer

As a part of their mission, the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission (TJPDC) has a Legislative Liaison who represents the interests and positions of the region’s localities before the state legislature and other state policymakers. Much of this effort occurs at the General Assembly during January-March of each year as well as, during the off season, attending legislative study committee meetings and other meetings of interest to local governments.

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David Blount

David Blount serves as the TJPDC Legislative Liaison (serving Albemarle, Fluvanna, Greene, Louisa, and the City of Charlottesville).  In this role, he annually prepares and presents the TJPDC legislative agenda proposal to local elected officials and requests their input and in time their endorsement.   Tuesday night it was Greene County Board of Supervisors opportunity for review.

Surveys have been collected from all the counties and Charlottesville to help develop the legislative priorities for 2017.  Blount plans on getting information in real time as opposed to reporting at the end of the process. He also wanted to review the 2016 legislative plan since there are two new Supervisors on the board since he last met with the Greene Board of Supervisors.

The Top Priorities of the 2016 TJPDC Legislative Plan were:

1) public education funding

2) equalized revenue authority

3) state mandate and funding obligations

Related to public education funding, Blount commented that the General Assembly had raised funding back to 2009 levels and he hoped the state would protect that investment. The main issue for the 3rd item was that the state should not impose unfunded mandates and shift costs to localities.

Blount will present each of the member localities an updated draft program in October and requested that they respond to him by November.

He addressed several issues that will impact next year such as the state revenue gap of $1.2 billion. His understanding is that the budgeted 2% pay raises will be delayed along with dipping into the “rainy day fund” to help close the shortfall. clip_image002

In addition, Blount addressed the Airbnb bill , wireless infrastructure (cell towers), standard of qualities in education and the Virginia Retirement System (VRS). The VRS rate of return the past year (of 7%) is actually above the past two years rates. Chairman Bill Martin agreed with the three priorities and committed to working with Blount’s schedule.

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 Land Use Fireworks

By. Bryan Rothamel, Field Officer

The past few months, the Fluvanna County Board of Supervisors have discussed how the land use program works and information regarding it. On September 7, the supervisors voted to keep the program as is. The vote was contentious at 3-2 with Tony O’Brien (Rivanna District) and Mozell Booker (Fork Union District) voting against it.

The program helps keep the county rural by reducing real estate taxes for property owners who use the land for agricultural, horticultural or forestry uses. The fourth section of the land use program is called open space.

Last month, the supervisors had a work session regarding the program but didn’t vote on it. On September 7th in the regular session the supervisors returned to the subject during unfinished business.

As soon as the item came up, Patricia Eager (Palmyra District) immediately moved to reaffirm the program as it currently is stated. Don Weaver (Fork Union District) seconded the motion. O’Brien then requested the item be discussed.

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Tony O’Brien

“I’m a little surprised board members are so happy to push this under the rug,” said O’Brien.

O’Brien said he wanted the item to be tabled until he could get answers to 17 questions he had sent to Commissioner of the Revenue Mel Sheridan. Mel Sheridan was not at the meeting.

O’Brien requested the supervisors hire a third party to investigate if residents utilizing land use are complying with the rules of the program. The third party could rule if residents qualify.

From there the residents could make amends to become compliant, change to a section of the program they do comply with or just pay full taxes and no longer be in the program.

Booker said she had no problem having an audit performed by a third party saying residents might not know they aren’t in compliance, herself included.

“We want land use. This county wants to be rural,” said Booker.

O’Brien said there were supervisors who should recuse themselves from the vote because they should know they aren’t compliant with the program.

Eager asked O’Brien to name who he thinks is not compliant as she has done everything to be compliant. He replied he never thought she wasn’t but questioned if Weaver and chairperson Mike Sheridan (Columbia District) were compliant. He also thought Booker might not be compliant but she was in a different arm of the program.

Sheridan said he asked a cooperative agent if he was in compliance and was told his practices were.

Fred Payne, county attorney, gave a legal opinion that supervisors do not have to recuse themselves just because they participate in the program.

O’Brien also suggested Mike Sheridan should recuse himself because Mel Sheridan is his brother.

Payne’s said Mike Sheridan had no need legally reason to recuse himself. He continued supervisors can always recuse themselves if they feel it is necessary but there was no legal reason to do so.

Weaver, who was quiet for the discussion, called for a vote which ended the discussion.

O’Brien said under his breath after the vote, “Embarrassing.”

Following the vote O’Brien made a motion to put the full rules of the land use program on the county’s website.

Payne then gave a legal opinion the motion was out of order because the issue was already voted on. Mike Sheridan then ruled the motion out of order thus not allowing it. O’Brien asked for a clarification of the opinion.

Payne said the motion was continuing an item that was discussed and voted on therefore a second vote was not necessary. The original vote was to ‘reaffirm and retain current Fluvanna County Land Use Program ordinances, policies, and procedures.’

O’Brien then asked the county administrator Steve Nichols who makes decisions regarding information on the website. Nichols said staff does not make decisions on content on the portions regarding the constitutional officers. Commissioner of Revenue is a constitutional officer.

As checked on the evening of Sept. 7, the Commissioner of Revenue’s portion of the website has a land use program section. There is a brief description of the program and another PDF page of instructions of the program.

As part of the PDF, there is citation of the exact county ordinance regarding land use and told to look for the ordinance on the county’s website. The PDF also says residents can call the commissioner’s office for further information.

Mel Sheridan was unavailable for comment regarding the Board of Supervisors meeting.


https://freeenterpriseforum.files.wordpress.com/2015/10/bryan-rothamel.jpg?w=151&h=151The 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 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