Finding Four Leaf Clovers


By. Neil Williamson, President

At the suggestion of an Albemarle County Supervisor, my new year’s resolution was to be happier and more positive. Recently, I have found good reason to do just that as there have been several important directional decisions by local elected officials. These decisions, some of which are not yet finalized, may not completely agree with the Free Enterprise Forum positions but they are clearly positive for the community.

The four-leaf clover is the best known lucky symbol around the world and across many different cultures. It is the most common yet the rarest to find.

Albemarle County  Cash Proffer Reform – in the Spring of 2013 The Free Enterprise Forum issued its Contradictory Consequences Cash Proffers White Paper.  This paper outlined the problems with cash proffers and how development was occurring by right rather than through rezoning.  The paper called for the abolition of cash proffers.  In addition, changes to State law impacted the proffer calculations.

As Sean Tubbs of Charlottesville Tomorrow reports:

Localities in Virginia have the ability to charge developers a fee for each residential unit that is allowed because of a rezoning. Albemarle adopted a policy in 2007 that currently requires developers to pay $20,987 per single-family dwelling, $14,271 for each townhome and $14,871 for each unit in an apartment complex. . .

…In September, supervisors directed the Fiscal Impact Advisory Committee to review the cash proffer policy to determine if it is an effective means of generating revenue to pay for the cost of additional infrastructure required to support population growth.

Over the course of the group’s 18 meetings, county staffers realized that a 2013 law passed by the General Assembly has changed how Albemarle can calculate proffer amounts.

“The change in the statute is that the only thing that can be considered now are projects that expand capacity,” Fritz said. “Building a school or expanding a school expands capacity. Replacing a school’s roof does not necessarily expand capacity.”

Applying the legal mandate to county policy would mean Albemarle could only charge $4,918 for each single-family unit, $3,845 for townhomes and $5,262 for each apartment unit.

The Free Enterprise Forum believes that cash proffers are an improper welcome stranger tax that neither captures the cost of increased density nor supports the comprehensive plan.

THE FOUR LEAF CLOVER:  Albemarle is moving to a lower cash proffer. While we continue our call for repealing the rezoning ransom known as cash proffers, we appreciate this reduction, which is not finalized, as a step in the right direction.

Charlottesville Community Meeting Requirement Revisions – Early this Spring Charlottesville City Planning Commission chose to ignore their planning staff recommendations and throw what Deputy City Attorney Lisa Robertson called “the kitchen sink” at applicants.

As we described in our “Is Charlottesville Catching the Albemarle” May Forum Watch Editorial:

We fear the city is moving in the direction of Albemarle County [Also known as the Albemarle Flu] who has made development applications so expensive and time consuming that they have not seen a significant residential rezoning in many years.

The Free Enterprise Forum is very concerned that Charlottesville’s well intentioned desire for increased public engagement results in several significant unintended consequences and may be legally challenged. Further, we believe this new layer of review will significantly reduce the number of applications that come forward and reduce the economic vitality of the development sector. We fear this may be the intended consequence of the proponents of this ordinance change.

Proving our persuasiveness, when the ordinance was voted on by the Planning Commission it passed. But when it first went to City Council concerns were raised about when the Planning Director might choose to waive the community meeting requirement.

THE FOUR LEAF CLOVER: In the first reading of the proposed ordinance last week, City Council limited the community meeting requirement to Special Use Permits and Rezoning applications.  While the Free Enterprise Forum believes no such meetings should be required of applicants, limiting the community meeting requirement to those applications where the citizens can have impact on the application is a clear positive.  As Councilor Dede Smith said, “We shouldn’t give citizens false hope”.

Albemarle County Service Authority (ACSA) Property Owner Agreement EliminatedFor the last three legislative sessions, owners of rental properties,. REALTORS and others  have worked to eliminate utility lien provisions in State Code regarding tenant non payment.  The concept in its simplest form is that the property owner is not party to the transaction, the utility extends credit  to the tenant not to the property owner.  The authority often requires a security deposit from the tenant. 

Despite success in each legislative session, ACSA was advised by their legal counsel that they still had this authority to require property owner agreements under a separate section of code.

From the ACSA Staff report:

Effective July 1, 2015, the Code of Virginia section, 15.2-5138 – Enforcement of charges, was repealed by Senate Bill 868. The repeal generated concerns, from some of our customers in the property management community and the ACSA’s administration of the Property Owner Agreement. After thoroughly researching the changes in the Code and guidance from the ACSA’s attorney, we believe that we remain in compliance with the Code sections related to “Lien for Charges (15.2-5139)” and “Fees and charges for water and sewer services (15.2-2119).”

THE FOUR LEAF CLOVER: After discussing the issue with the Free Enterprise Forum and reviewing the lien policy with staff,  ACSA Executive Director Gary O’Connell found the lien policy had never been used.  He  recommended the ACSA Board eliminate the Property Owner Agreement.  In their September 17th meeting, the Board approved the elimination of the Property Owner Agreement.

Albemarle County Increases Land Available for Light Industry: After the Planning Commission unanimously voted in opposition to the proposed adjustment to the development area boundary, The Board of Supervisors took up the issue in a special meeting on September 23rd.

The Free Enterprise Forum has been a proponent for increased inventory of well positioned light industrial land for over ten years. In a July 2008 blog post we wrote:

Once again, Albemarle County is faced with the challenge of defining who it wants to be.  In order to reach their adopted goal of “Providing local business development opportunities”, they may need to adjust their philosophical opposition to altering Development Area boundaries.

If Albemarle County is serious about its dedication to have industry (and the related jobs), it should create strategic enterprise zones outside of the development areas for this growth to occur.  Failing this or a significant expansion of the development areas themselves, as industry grows it will simply move out of Albemarle County.

Perhaps this is the goal?

THE FOUR LEAF CLOVER:  Albemarle’s Board of Supervisors unanimously supported a small (35 acre) development area restoration/adjustment.  While the Free Enterprise Forum, and Albemarle Economic Development staff, encouraged the Board to move forward with a larger restoration.  This  Board did more than “the least they could do”.   They could have done nothing.  While we believe the board was too eager to seek unanimity (and reverse the negative impression the PC vote caused), we will never know if they had the votes for a split decision on a larger restoration/expansion.

In addition, the BOS asked for a full light industrial inventory to determine if there is the need for further restoration/expansion (this work was put on hold by the Planning Commission in their Comprehensive Plan discussions).

It is scientifically debated whether the fourth leaf in a four leaf clover is caused genetically or environmentally. Its relative rarity (1 in 10,000 clovers) suggests a possible recessive gene appearing at a low frequency.  In local public policy, we would suggest the four leaf clovers above were environmentally impacted.  Only through active citizen participation can such advances be made.

Over the years, much has been written about four leaf clovers but the following poem captures the power and the meaning of this common rarity:

I know a place where the sun is like gold,
And the cherry blooms burst with snow,
And down underneath is the loveliest nook,
Where the four-leaf clovers grow.

One leaf is for HOPE, and one is for FAITH,
And one is for LOVE, you know,
And GOD put another in for LUCK
If you search, you will find where they grow.

But you must have HOPE, and you must have FAITH,
You must LOVE and be strong — and so —
If you work, if you wait, you will find the place
Where the four-leaf clovers grow.

Author: Ella Higginson

Yes, Virginia there are reasons for optimism.  The Free Enterprise Forum will continue to press for increased opportunity and reduced regulatory burdens; but it is important to recognize these forward steps. However small they may be, each is a four leaf clover and a step in the right direction.

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.

Budget and Finances Dominate Greene BOS meeting

By. Brent Wilson, Field Officer

The current budget is only a quarter old and Greene County  is looking ahead to the next budget cycle. At the September 22nd meeting of Greene’s Board of Supervisors Chairman David Cox asked for any changes to the budgeting process and also complimented staff on the early completion of the year end close which is awaiting audit.

County Administrator John Barley outlined the budget process and also thanked staff for their improved closing cycle. The actual results are the basis for the new budget process. All departments came in under budgeted spending pending review by the auditors and the good news continued in that revenues were up in all categories.

Barkley then went on into specific areas such as the jail budget which will have a larger hit to the next budget, EMS funding, capital projects and the Capital Improvement Plan, Safety/Radio communication system, school facility/buses, public safety issues, etc.

Supervisor Bill Martin, At Large, asked Barkley when the audit would occur and was told it would be advanced from February/March, 2016 to November, 2015. He next brought up the current reserve policy and stated that something needs to be done to make it easier to be understood. It is currently unclear to a lot of people at the current policy of 15% of the annual budget plus one month operating expenses.

Supervisor Jim Frydl, Midway District, explains on his Facebook page, “There is so much confusion about the purpose, definition and reasoning for having a reserve fund. The attachment provides a good explanation for anyone that wants more information. Greene’s current minimum reserve policy is two-part. A 15% minimum plus an additional one month’s expenses equals the total reserve. Adding the two components together equals a 23.3% minimum.”

eddie_deaneSupervisor Eddie Deane, At Large, believes that the reserve policy needs to be changed. Martin wants to be sure it is understandable. Deane then commented that he felt the budget needs to be cut as he feels some departments are overstaffed. Last year the budget required $4 million draw down of the reserve fund  and the current budget required a $3 million draw down of the reserve fund to make it balance.

The discussion shifted back to the make-up of the Reserve Policy – should it be comprised of all assets (as it currently is) as opposed to only cash. The current policy includes cash along with all other assets. The complaint is that the current reserve policy doesn’t provide a measure of ability to make cash payments.

Shifting back to the outflows – the cost of the water and sewer exceeds $2 million annually. This is a huge drain on the county’s resources and unfortunately the economy declined when this was put in place therefore significantly reducing the number of EDU hookups to subsidize this cost. This is the main issue causing Greene County to have to use some of the Reserve Fund to balance the budget. The fact that departments underspent by 15% raises the question – are budgets in the county inflated?

Supervisor Davis Lamb, Ruckersville District, questioned if the county can continue to “borrow from the reserve”. The water impoundment is projected to cost $40 million and a strategy on how to pay for it needs to be developed.  Lamb cautioned that Greene needs to be frugal and must cut spending to help provide funds for the water impoundment.  Frydl indicated that a combination of increased tax revenue along with cutting back is needed.

Deane brought up the concern of possibly getting back to having to borrow funds to make payments – like was done in 2003. Frydl agreed that we have to be frugal like was done this past fiscal year. But he had concerns about taxing residents for future needs and just letting the funds sit idle.

Lamb felt that funds need to start to be accumulated to be able to go forward with the Water Impoundment project. In addition, once the financials are audited the calculation of the reserve fund can be done and confirm if it below the current policy level which he fears is the case. If that is the case, then the policy calls for corrective actions until the reserve fund reaches the targeted minimum balance.

After the meeting Tracy Morris, Greene’s Finance Director, stated that Greene County would not be able to borrow the full amount of the water impoundment project. Lamb was asked how much he felt should be added in the next budget cycle to start building funds in anticipation of the Water Impoundment project and he agreed to get back within a day. After two days he has not replied prior to this article being published.

Frydl Campaign photoSupervisor Jim Frydl was questioned after the meeting and he had a completely different understanding of where the county is financially and specifically the Reserve Fund. He went on to explain…..

“The new reserve balance will be calculated based upon the Audit which we hope to be around year end.  I would guess based upon the unaudited year end numbers that we will still be above out (sic) minimum as stated in our current policy.  Keep in mind that our policy requires that we keep 23.3% of the budget set aside, never to be used for any reason.  It can not be used for projects or any budget except for emergencies.  That is why a lower minimum makes sense.  Are you comfortable knowing that 23.3% of your money that we collect is never to be used?  That is 17.5 cents of the total 75 cents collected.”

“The water impoundment is a long term capital asset and will be financed via long term bonds or loans.  Typically the term for this type of infrastructure is 40 years.  The annual payments will have to be considered in the budget discussions.  These discussions must include long range forecasting and a decision regarding the prudent reserve minimum along with any additional funds that may need to be collected to provide for the addition of the impoundment investment.  Depending upon how we choose to move forward, the impoundment project engineering and construction can be 3 years or 5 years.  We are in the process of completing the decisions and planning required to begin the process.  Depending upon the pace of increasing demand, and economic conditions, the project can be started within 6 months.   The addition of the water and sewer infrastructure fee is an example of the preparation and planning needed before beginning the project.”

Obviously there is a difference in the understanding of where the county stands financially and the calculation of the Reserved Fund won’t be completed until near the end of the year when the audit is completed. Since the targeted Reserve Fund is a calculation of a % of the annual budget and one month’s budgeted spending it can be calculated as needed.

The other side of the comparison is what the actual Reserve Fund balance is – this is a balance in the books of the county. So there can be a calculation performed at any point in time – knowing that this has not been audited. But for management purposes this can be monitored on an ongoing basis. Not sure why the supervisors don’t have this available at least on a monthly basis (without audit approval). We shall see what the auditors say and see if there is a development of a different measurement to gauge the ability to make payments in the short term on a cash basis.

The Board of Supervisors needs to come to a common understanding of finances of the county – and soon.

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

Photo Credits: Greene County, LinkedIn, Campaign photo

Fluvanna Sets Comprehensive Plan

By. Bryan Rothamel, Field Officer

Fluvanna County has finished its five year update to its Comprehensive Plan.  Notable changes include goals and possible future implementations. It all circles around where the county wants development.

The major focus for the next five years is development of Zion Crossroads and keeping rural areas outside of that area undeveloped.
The Palmyra Community Planning Area (CPA) shrunk with a focus to keep Palmyra village-like. The Zion Crossroads CPA expanded to include all of Route 250 from the Albemarle border and less east of the Route 250 and Route 15 intersection.

Previously Fluvanna implemented a newer zoning type, planned unit development (PUD), but still does not have an approved PUD. A PUD is mixed use and is its own zoning for the land in question. The land could have commercial next to residential with varying densities.

The 2015 update to the Comprenhensive Plan tasks the planning department to eliminate PUDs outside of the newly expanded Zion Crossroads CPA by 2016.

In 2014, Walker’s Ridge was a proposed PUD that was defeated. Two reasons it faced heavy opposition was because its location, just north of Palmyra village, and it lacked water infrastructure. It was to use community wells and mass drain fields. Its second iteration, Poplar Ridge, was approved as a zoning amendment to its R-3 zoning.
Water is on its way to Zion Crossroads, at least plans for it are on their way. County Administration staff is currently negotiating a final design and construction contract to build a water and sewer system for the CPA.  It is expected that contract will be presented to the Board of Supervisors in closed session in early October with a recommendation in public session on October 21. That would be the earliest for the supervisors to vote on it. Funding will have to be discussed.

Iif final design and approval are completed by spring 2016, construction all 2017, a functioning water system could be ready by mid-2018. That is a best case, fast tracked scenario. There are a lot of dominoes that would have to fall perfectly in place, on time for that to occur.

Once water is in, the county anticipates development to come next. With that, the county might implement more zoning options including floating zoning and hybrid zoning.

Floating zoning is overlaid on current zoning but is not attached to the land. If an applicant wants that zoning, an application and approval then brings that zoning ‘down to earth’. It still sets standards for the land but needs to be still be approved before the land is officially zoned.

Hybrid zoning allows land to be zoned two types, simultaneously. Something zoned C/I (commercial and industrial) has all the rights of B-1 and I-1 — any of those uses are permitted.  This is helpful in area with high traffic and needing to be very flexible. A warehouse could have its industrial uses but also set up a showroom for customers without needing more permits.

Also at the September 16 meeting the supervisors authorized purchased of a new ladder truck. It replaces a truck Lake Monticello Fire Department uses that was aged before the county started using it. The cost the county is covering, up to $50,000, is the same estimated amount the old truck needed in repairs to be better functioning and safe.

Supervisors also approved another landscaping business in the Zion Crossroads CPA. This type of business is low water usage and the supervisors have now approved a few in the past 18 months.

The county will pay two employees who provide surveying during regular business hours. Using the employees and paying them above their regular pay is much cheaper than contracting an outside surveying company.

Fluvanna Supervisors next meet on October 7 at 4 p.m.


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

Greene PC Considers Location, Location for Houses and……Firing Ranges

By. Brent Wilson, Field Officer

On September 16th, a split decision by the Greene County Planning Commission recommended denial of a Special Use Permit request for a firing range just east of Ruckersville on Route 33.

After a lengthy public hearing on August 19th, the Planning Commission opted to defer their decision until their next meeting.  At the September 16th meeting Lyle Durrer, owner of Big Iron Outdoors, came back with additional information that the Planning Commission had requested at their original meeting – detail of the building, safety zones, sound issues, etc. Home owners in the area of the proposed site have joined together to form the Greene County Neighbors, LLC in Opposition to the Open Range, SUP # 15-001/2.

Lyle Durrer, owner Big Iron Outdoors

Lyle Durrer, owner Big Iron Outdoors

Durrer explained that the proposed property is a containment range – not a fully enclosed range. The site plan contains 8” thick walls, 4 foot wide firing lanes that are at least 7 foot tall (they may be higher depending on how deep they can dig them out) – Durrer commented “not much can escape”. He further outlined that safety issues will be reviewed daily and a round count by lane will be maintained to determine when to clean the lanes and recycle the material.

Durrer hired Troy Industries to study the range design and see how to keep the noise level down to the required level. The “Standard Operating Procedure” is drafted but will be finalized when the county tells him what he is allowed vs. not allowed to do.

Planning Commission Chairman Jay Willer again expressed concern about the need for specifics. Durrer asked Willer what specifically he was questioning and Willer gave an example by asking about the options of the thickness of the walls – 2 feet block vs. 8 inch thick poured concrete.  Durrer explained that the 2 feet cinder block has potential to shatter and he would go with the poured concrete walls.

Commissioner Vic Schaff asked how often the lanes would be cleaned and Durrer replied that his research has told him that just over a year is what he has found as to how frequently to clean the lanes. Schaff also expressed a need for more specific information similar to Willer’s concern. Durrer understood that a site plan was required for this hearing and questioned whether everyone applying for a SUP provide engineering drawings? He stated he would build to the code – “don’t you trust me”?

Willer stated that if this was an issue of building a house there would be less concern about the details. Because a firing range has extreme safety issues to be considered we need to be sure we get it right. It may be unfair to you and we trust you but need to be sure this is a safe project that doesn’t change the character of the area it is proposed in.

Commissioner Frank Morris said he was confused as to why the level of detail was being requested for this SUP. Commissioner John McCloskey was not questioning that the project would be built in compliance with county code – but the project may not provide safety and sound levels needed for this particular area – a growth area near Ruckersville and heavy residential area.

Durrer expressed his frustration and stated he was at a loss as to what is needed by the county and felt he has provided what is needed for a special use permit. And that the firing range would be an economic benefit to Greene County and it will be in compliance with county code.

Willer spoke to the location issue and asked “is this the right place for a firing range”? It is a good business opportunity for Greene County but the location is his biggest probleclip_image002m with this SUP. Commissioner McCloskey agreed with Willer and stated that the location issue is his largest concern and he doesn’t want to keep asking Mr. Durrer for more information is the location trumps all other issues.

Schaff felt the firing range could potentially work in the proposed are but he has some concerns.  Morris stated he felt the firing range would work in the Ruckersville area. He also stated having shooting done in a controlled environment would be much better than uncontrolled shooting on farms throughout Greene County. Commissioner Eva Young agreed with McCloskey about no need to ask Durrer for more details but agrees with Morris that the proposed site appears to be safe and supports the SUP.

Morris made a motion to approve the SUP and it was voted down 2-3 with Schaff, McCloskey and Willer voting nay. At this point Morris asked Durrer if he would change the location of the firing range and his answer was – NO. Commissioner Schaff made a motion to deny the SUP based on VA Code Section 16-2a  which speaks to projects changing the character of an area. This motion was approved with the same people voting aye for a 3-2 approval.

Willer reminded all that this is only a recommendation that gets passed on to the Board of Supervisors and they will make the final decision. After the hearing, the commission discussed “Approval of the August 19th minutes at the PAC” when the public hearing of the firing range was held. Morris asked that as much detail as possible be provided.

After some discussion, it was decided to refine the record to show each speaker’s comments that were unique. When a comment was consistent with previous speakers it wasn’t recorded in detail. This need for detail was spurred by the talk of a potential lawsuit on this issue.

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

Photo Credits: Greene County, NBC29

Albemarle Land Use Decision, Orange Dots and Friday Night Lights

By. Neil Williamson, President

The subtitle of The Friday Night Lights television program ask the question “What if a moment could change everything?”; an appropriate question considering the facts surrounding the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors Comprehensive Plan Amendment decision this week.

This morning (9/21) The Charlottesville Regional Chamber of Commerce released an updated Orange Dot report on family self sufficiency.  The report, which will be presented at the Chamber Jobs Action Summit on Wednesday found:

The Report update identifies that within the City of Charlottesville, 1,800 families (25%) lack self-sufficiency and within Albemarle County, 3,861 families (16%) also lack self-sufficiency. Using a realistic formula accounting for area costs for food, shelter, clothing, energy and transportation – and child care where needed, area families (depending upon the number of children) need to earn $35,000 – $40,000 a year to be self-sufficient.

This unsettling information comes as the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors are poised to vote on a Comprehensive Plan Amendment to expand the development area by adding land near the intersection of US 29 and I-64 for light industrial jobs.  While the timing of the expansion is being driven by a specific economic development prospect, the decision is significantly larger than any potential applicant.

In discussing the issue Planning Commissioner (and BOS candidate) Rick Randolph has inaccurately positioned the question.  In addition to referring to this as the “Brewery CPA” on his campaign Facebook page he also wrote:

It is apparent from my remarks on the 18th that I opposed this proposed beer industry being located at this site at this time. This does not mean, as I stated, that had the CPA been for a 1,000 employee high-tech industry wanting to open an East Coast corporate center in this property that I would have felt the same way.

Albemarle County, not any business, is the applicant for the proposed Comprehensive Plan Amendment.  This point, while being made abundantly clear to all attending the meeting, has been conveniently left out of Randolph’s political statement.  This omission, and his apparent lack of understanding that absent this CPA approval his fictional 1,000 employee high-tech industry would be lacking space in Albemarle is regrettable.  The fact he is propagating such misinformation through his campaign is enlightening.

This Sunday, The Daily Progress ran a front page story regarding the CPA and those who support jobs in Albemarle.  I was quoted in the article:

“It’s beyond one applicant,” Williamson said. “This is the county as an applicant trying to expand the product base that you have to sell as economic development. If Albemarle chooses not to move forward with economic development, with this economic development Comprehensive Plan Amendment, I fear the ripple effects to be negative for perhaps a generation.”

Here in the start of High School Football season, the BOS would be wise to consider why these so called Friday Night Lights are already lit when visiting teams arrive at the stadium in the late afternoon.  As with econopen-for-business_thumb.jpgomic development, you can’t just flick a switch and turn the lights on and when they go off it takes a long time to get them back on.

We believe a moment can change everything.  We continue to hope the Albemarle Board of Supervisors keeps the Open for Business light on by voting in favor of jobs in approving this CPA.

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.

Albemarle’s Economic Development Tipping Point

Adapted from comments to the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors Public Hearing September 9, 2015

By. Neil Williamson, President

Good evening, my name is Neil Williamson and I serve as President of the Free Enterprise Forum, a public policy organization focused on the local governments of Central Virginia.

The decision before you tonight is whether you wish to open a portion of well located land into your development area as a new center for light industrial jobs.  This is likely a tipping point in Albemarle’s economic development history.  The crux of the discussion of this Comprehensive Plan Amendment is about three things: Jobs, Revenue and Growth ControlEverything else is a designed distraction.

Go Big or Go Home.  There have been some who have suggested shrinking the proposed development area expansion to just one or perhaps two parcels.  The Free Enterprise Forum believes the larger the expansion the more flexibility the county will have if and when rezonings come before the board and, perhaps most importantly,  the bigger the expansion, the more career ladder jobs can be located in Albemarle.

JOBS are the building blocks of a community.   Economic diversity helps a local economy weather market cycles. A number of academic studies show that a city’s or region’s economy will perform better with more diversification because risk and market effects are spread out. This CPA will help diversify the job base.

two centsMy Two Cents.  As a Board you are intently aware of the significant demands on your budget.  You have even appointed a Citizen Resource Advisory Committee (AKA CRAC Committee) to find new sources of revenue.  . You spent this afternoon with the School Board discussing funding the future.

If the numbers that have been leaked are correct, the use of just part of the Development area expansion could equate to $.02 on the residential tax rate.

Should I Stay or Should I Go Now?  For years Albemarle’s economic policy was that applicants were lucky we are even considering your application regardless if it was an expansion or a new business.

It was not unusual to see other localities market themselves as “not Albemarle”  In recent months, we have seen a warming in favor of economic development and a positive business climate – a positive vote on this CPA will be a strong signal to the world – “ALBEMARLE IS OPEN FOR BUSINESS”

Please know, a negative vote will be equally enlightening.

Thank you for the opportunity to speak.

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.

The Answer to Albemarle’s Revenue Shortfall Solution – Beer?


By. Neil Williamson Presidentbeerfriend

Before we get ahead of ourselves – Beer alone will not solve Albemarle County’s projected revenue shortfall in future years – but it could help.  If a light industrial park, perhaps with a craft brewery, could generate the equivalent of $.02 of the Real Estate Tax rate, might you pull up a bar stool?

Please let me explain.

Later this week, Albemarle County Board of Supervisors is considering a Comprehensive Plan Amendment (CPA) that would change the development area boundary near the intersection of US 29 and I-64.  The CPA would change the designation of approximately 223 acres from rural use  to development land use.   This week is a work session, the public hearing will be next Wednesday evening. It is important to note the CPA would not change the underlying zoning on the land; that would require a rezoning. However, such a rezoning could not occur without a CPA approval first.

Proponents, including the Free Enterprise Forum, have referred to the change as a restoration of the development area to replace some of the land mass that was effectively lost with the creation of the Biscuit Run State Park within Albemarle’s Development area.  Others have contended the Biscuit Run property was mainly residential and the proposed restoration is light industrial but that only makes the math work more in the favor of the proposal.

Faith McClintic, Albemarle’s new Economic Development Director told the Planning Commission that they have a prospect business very interested, but not yet committed, to locate on a portion of the proposed development area expansion.

Deschutes-BrewingAccording to media reports, Deschutes Brewery of Bend Oregon is considering Albemarle, Ashville, North Carolina, Charleston South Carolina and Greeneville South Carolina. One source indicated the company is seeking to build a facility that would have the capacity to expand to produce up to 600,000 barrels a year. The company hopes to make a final decision by the end of the year and to begin operations by the spring of 2019.

To be clear, the CPA is for much greater land mass than required by the prospect.  The brewery is reported to need between 25 and 35 acres for their operations.  In looking at Albemarle County, they found only two other parcels that were properly sized and zoned and neither met the applicants site location needs.

It is interesting to see the push back by some at Albemarle’s new reality seeking to grow business rather than contain it.  In this week’s C-ville,  Lisa Provence highlighted these concerns:

“Former supervisor Sally Thomas represented the Samuel Miller District from 1993 to 2009, and she’s seeing a way of doing business that simply wasn’t done during her tenure on the Board of Supervisors, when the board was more concerned with keeping growth in check than luring out-of-state businesses.

“In the game of economic development, we’re shocked by the things Faith McClintic says are quite common in communities determined to bring new businesses,” says Thomas.

After our incredibly persuasive argument in favor of the CPA, we were somewhat shocked by the unanimous decision of the Planning Commission recommending denial.  The Planning Commission however has a very limited view.  They do not have to spend four months in meetings determining how to fund unfunded mandates and hearing the pleas of those who have their programs on the chopping block as well as those who have been “taxed enough already”.

According to information shared at the Planning Commission, the prospective company could employ more than 100 workers at or above Albemarle’s current average income level and produce greater than two million dollars in annual local tax revenue.

Staff has estimated the “theoretical” by-right development potential of the impact area to be 54 homes. Over the years, we have often heard that residential units do not pay for themselves with the taxes they generate.

If the leaked estimates are accurate, if approved and subsequently rezoned, once operational this partial restoration of the development area could generate almost 2 pennies of tax relief (or at least lower increases) for Albemarle County.

I would suggest supervisors take a good hard look at this economic development proposal — perhaps over a craft beer.

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:,

Greene Supervisors Discuss Revisiting EDU Decisions

By. Brent Wilson Field Officer

Greene County received a request to be able to transfer an EDU that has already been purchased to another piece of property. This request lead to an agenda item at their August 25th meeting to discuss the EDU Purchase Policy for water and sewer systems.

Chairman David Cox, Monroe District, asked County Administrator John Barkley to outline the evolution of the current policy.


Greene County Administrator John Barkley

Per Barkley, last year Supervisor Davis Lamb, Ruckersville District, and a small group surveyed other localities fee structures vs. Greene County’s current fee of $10,000 per EDU (Equivalent Dwelling Unit). The current policy prohibits EDU’s to be transferred from one property to another. Policies can be changed – it is up to the Board to determine if it is fair or not and is it fair to treat large and small accounts the same?

2008 was the last increase up to $10,000 per EDU – one for water and another for sewer. The original cost in 2005 was $4,200 per 200 gallons/minute and it has increased 3 more times up to the $10,000 level in 2008.

Lamb said that he has received a request to transfer an already purchased EDUs to another property.


Supervisor Davis Lamb

He mentioned one of the committee members last year stated that allowing EDUs to be transferred would allow more flexibility. Economic times are hard and he supports allowing EDUs to be transferred to help stimulate growth in the county.

Supervisor Eddie Deane, At Large, remembered that the Board had allowed the transfer of three EDUs in the past. Supervisor Jim Frydl, Midway District, explained that RSA had allowed the transfer in error and the Board of Supervisors agreed to honor the transfer – one time only. Deane stated that he felt allowing the transfer of EDUs would be very business friendly for Greene County. He further stated that we are in a recession and struggling to attract business. Allowing the transfer would be beneficial to attracting businesses to Greene County.

Lamb indicated that developers pay $20,000 per home for EDU’s in Greene County. Supervisor Bill Martin, Stanardsville District asked Lamb if he is asking for a one time exception or a change to the policy? Lamb indicated that he proposes changing the policy due to the slowdown in the economy. Martin also brought up the fact that the county has sold far fewer EDUs than hoped and Greene is incurring a deficit each year of nearly $2 million due to this.

Cox proposed a workshop to review the current policy. Frydl clarified that the workshop would review the total financial impact of changing the EDU policy. Deane agreed that it is time to revisit the EDU policy to see what makes sense.

After the meeting Alan Yost, Director of the EDA, was asked his opinion and he felt that the EDU policy needs to be looked at to see what supports business.

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

Greene Planning Commission Considers Ruckersville Firing Range

By. Brent Wilson, Field Officer


Lyle Durrer, Big Iron Outdoors

Last Wednesday (8/19) the Greene County Planning Commission held the best attended public hearing in recent memory.  The issue on the agenda was a Special Use Permit (SUP) request to construct and operate a public firing range near the intersection of US 29 and Route 33.

The applicant, Lyle Durrer, owns and operates a gun shop named Big Iron Outdoors in Ruckersville just east of US 29.  He has found that his customers regularly have asked – “where can we shoot in Greene County?” – and he had to tell them there were no public gun ranges in the county.  This demand from the marketplace lead Durrer to seek a Special Use Permit to open a shooting range on a family owned parcel next to his Ruckersville gun shop.

clip_image004A SUP is required as the land Durrer wishes to place the gun rage is zoned A-1 and  does not allow a public shooting range by right.

Typically the Planning Commission meets the third Wednesday of each month at 7:30 at the county office building. However, there has been a great deal of discussion in Greene County about this SUP so the meeting was moved to William Monroe High School’s Performing Arts Center and the time moved up to 6:30 in anticipation of a large number of comments from the public.

With the location of the firing range being close to several housing developments, there has been a significant and organized effort opposed to the location and design of the project.

Planning Commission Chairman Jay Willer welcomed the crowd and said he was thrilled with the turnout regardless of which way you feel on the issue.

After Zoning Administrator/Planning Director Bart Svoboda outlined the SUP request, Durrer addressed the commission about his plans for the firing range. He explained that there is no range in Greene County and his customers have been asking for a safe place to shoot. He also met with Greene’s Economic Development Authority along with other range owners, and engineers on how to build a shooting range.

Durrer said that he spoke to neighbors in the Godalming subdivision and has not refused to speak with anyone about the range and explained that he is going above the requirements to stress safety.

Durrer further explained that the range will be a tourist benefit to Greene County and he will donate at least one day per month to the Greene County Sheriff’s department for training. This is something that they currently have to travel to accomplish. As a response to concerns about declining property values, he spoke to the Commissioner of Revenue for Greene and was told that in his 28 years nothing being built has reduced values of existing homes. He concluded his discussion by asking those in the audience who supported the range to stand and over half the audience stood.

At 7:19 Chairman Willer started the comments from the public section of the hearing with over 80 people signed up to speak. He assured that all would be heard but would be limited to 3 minutes but that speakers could give their 3 minutes to another speaker – up to 9 minutes total.

For over three hours citizens spoke on the subject with the majority of the concerns being against either the design of the range (semi-open air) or the location (near Godalming development). Those that spoke against the range expressed safety concerns and fear that the value of their property would significantly decline.

Many of the opponents expressed a desire for a firing range, just not the design that Durrer is proposing. Noise also was a concern, with 20 lanes firing from 10 am to 8 pm for seven days a week potentially. One speaker grew up within a couple miles of a shooting range in Pennsylvania and said it was not pleasant. He could understand a range being built and then people moving near the range with a depressed price for the property. However, this is a situation where a high end housing development already exists and the permitting of the shooting range would lower the value of the existing homes unfairly.

Another opponent explained that not only will the range be near a housing development but it will also be within 30 feet of a zoned residential area. His research found that the Durrer family owns property near Midway (west of Ruckersville) and there are only 6 homes near the property and no school buses pass that area. He questioned why they don’t use this property for the firing range.

Those who spoke in favor of the firing range stressed the research that Durrer has done and that firing at a range is much safer than firing on a farm which is the norm in Greene County. Bill Saunders comments echoed those that suggested that the issue be deferred and studied further and more specifics in the design and engineering can be presented.

After the public portion of the hearing, the Planning Commission then addressed Durrer or Svoboda with their questions.

Commissioner Frank Morris asked Durrer if the perimeter behind the shooters would be bullet proof and was assured that it would be and that no shooters would be allowed down the lane. Targets will only be changed when all weapons are unloaded and place on the range.

Commissioner Vic Schaff asked Durrer for the design of what exactly is to be built, how much sound is to be abated and needs to see a Standard Operating Procedure manual for the range. Durrer answered that he will finalize these issues when he is told what can and cannot be allowed.

Commissioner John McCloskey had similar concerns to those of Schaff specifically that multiple vendors are being proposed and that someone needs to oversee the project and coordinate it. Durrer answered that he will do what he is asked to do.

Willer explained that a SUP goes with the land and not to the current owner. He also had concerned about the need for specifics and stated that “you don’t want me to design the range”. He suggested that Durrer return in September with a specific design for the firing range. With no further questions for the commissioners, Schaff proposed that the SUP be deferred until the September meeting and the motion was unanimously approved.

While some speakers raised suggestions of other location for the proposed gun range, none of the commissioners pursued this line of questioning.  As they are limited in their scope to review the SUP application that is before them, it will be interesting to see if the Planning Commission chooses to explore the location issue at their September meeting.

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

Albemarle’s New Day or Arrogance

By. Neil Williamson, President

Adapted from comments given to Albemarle County Planning Commission August 18, 2015

Good Evening. My name is Neil Williamson and I serve as President of the Free Enterprise Forum, a privately funded public policy organization focused on local governments of Central Virginia.

During my daughter’s accepted seniors college tour we heard two types of pitches from the schools she was considering the first “We are a great school, you are lucky to be considered” vs the college president saying directly “If you hear just one thing today please know, we want you here”.  Guess which school we selected.

In recent months, I have heard that it is “A new day in Albemarle County” regarding economic development. I have been told that along with the hiring of an economic development director, there is a renewed zeal for generating business tax revenue to help relieve pressure on the residential tax payer.

Tonight may be the first evidence of this new positive attitude. In the work session, Mr. Loach objected to Albemarle County Board of Supervisors acting as the applicant in this case. Clearly this is not that unusual as some on the commission remember the proactive rezoning of Downtown Crozet was handled the same way.

Tonight you have heard from some that this approval has been fast tracked. These are many of the same voices that objected when I suggested the US29 Solutions package was being steamrolled through. I will say now, as they said then, all the proper work sessions and public hearings are being accomplished.

As one who has worked in national sales, I can tell you without question the one thing you need is inventory. Absent available inventory, sales do not happen. It seems clear from the staff analysis, Albemarle County is clearly lacking properly located and sized light industrial land.

Tonight you have the opportunity to take a step forward and recommend approval of land dedicated in the comprehensive plan for JOBS.

Not recommending approval of this Comprehensive Plan Amendment also has meaning, it means the Planning Commission does not see the development area as a living breathing thing but as if it came down from the heavens etched in two stone tablets.

Please do not return to the Albemarle Arrogance that says to those who want to operate a business “you’re lucky to be here” and instead say you are “open for business”

Thank you for the opportunity to speak.

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson


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.


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