Greene Planning Commission Hears Request for Cell Tower

By. Brent Wilson, Field Officer

clip_image002Last night, the Greene County Planning Commission had a lengthy public hearing regarding a proposed cell tower.  The wireless business continues to evolve and now the business includes “Tower Companies” that seek to gain the required approvals to complete cellular networks and eliminate areas without service; many of these companies also hold and maintain the towers for the life of the lease.

The applicant in Greene was one such “tower” company – TowerCom, LLC (acting on behalf of T-Mobile) – who was seeking approval for a special use permit for a 195 foot monopole with an additional 4 feet wireless telecommunications facility on Simmons Gap Road in southwest Greene County.

Ron and Janet Parham own 176 acres in southwest Greene County that borders on Simmons Gap Road and is identified on the County Tax Map as 46-(A)-20 and it has two zonings – 27 acres as A-1 and the balance as C-1. Planning Director Bart Svoboda went over the request and recommended approval with only some coloring requirements so that the tower would better blend in with the background environment.

Svoboda explained that the adjacent landowners were contacted and only one had any concerns with the tower. This landowner, Lance Petty, might have the ability to halt the project as he has a right of way through his property to the site that has been identified for required access to the cell tower. Petty attended the meeting and was the only person to speak during the public session.

Petty addressed the Planning Commission and explained his opposition. His primary argument was the distortion of the pristine view of the area of Greene County where the tower is proposed to be placed. He further questioned how many Greene County residents would benefit vs. Albemarle County residents. He explained that the process to get a cell tower in Albemarle County is more complicated than in Greene County and he assumed that is why the tower is being requested in Greene County, close to Albemarle County.

Petty asked that the Planning Commission study the proposal further and identify how many residents in Greene County would gain service vs. how many in Albemarle County.

Nicole Scro representing TowerCom, LLC explained that a balloon test was advertised and conducted with over a dozen local residents present and most were satisfied with the results. Commissioner John McCloskey questioned the benefit of the tower to Greene County residents vs. residents of Albemarle County. Chairman Jay Willer asked to see the slide that showed the location of all cell towers in Greene County and estimated that several of the existing towers would reach beyond Greene County’s borders.

Svoboda inversely said that cell towers in adjoining counties help with connectivity in Greene County and Greene County relies on those towers to transmit information to the Rescue Squad.

McCloskey then asked Svoboda if this was a preferred location and he answered no, but explained that more service is better for that area of Greene County. Scro explained that the cell tower would give T-Mobile connectivity, it would have access for emergency services and would also have three additional connections available for other cell providers. She also pointed out that while residents may not have T-Mobile due to not having service available, the addition of the tower may encourage some cell users to switch to T-Mobile to gain better service.

Morris then discussed again the desire to see what other locations TowerCom had considered and would they be willing to move to other locations that would project a signal into more of Greene County. Valerie Long, also representing TowerCom, explained that for a variety of reasons the location selected was the best for this project but she would be willing to share the other locations with the Planning Commission.

However, Long explained it was T-Mobile’s goal to get this tower project started by the end of the year.  She mentioned they have already filed a site plan.  McCoskey also expressed some concern about the SUP being open ended and spoke of a 6 or 12 month time limit if the SUP was approved.

Regarding the number of Greene/Albemarle County customers served, Svoboda stated:

We don’t ask that of a grocery store . . . We’re not going to make market decisions based on number of customers . . . [the recommendation] is about the use and the impact of that use.

Willer asked that the commission constrain their decision to the request for the SUP not to determine how many residents in Greene would be served or how profitable the tower would be for T-Mobile. The motion was made with the three color restrictions plus adding that the tower begin construction within one year of Board of Supervisors approval. The motion was approved on a 4-0 vote, with Morris abstaining.

clip_image004What wasn’t considered in the discussion was the fact that some residents in Greene County will benefit due to the fact that there are enough residents in Albemarle County to make the installation of this tower in Greene a profitable venture for T-Mobile. It can be theorized that absent Albemarle resident demand, T-Mobile may not have wanted to do this project and help provide connectivity to a distant part of southwest Greene County. A piece of the pie is better than no pie at all, especially to a citizen who needs the rescue squad!!

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

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What Albemarle Can Learn From Amazon’s HQ2 Search

By. Neil Williamson, President

This afternoon, in an alphabet soup of a joint meeting Albemarle County’s Economic Development Authority (EDA), Planning Commission (PC), and Board of Supervisors (BOS) discussed Site Readiness from a Site Selectors Prospective in an effort to focus on growing business.

Timmons Group Joe Hines presentation “Are your sites and community prospect ready?” was eye opening to many in the room.  Hines suggested the locality should own or control parcels under consideration and that the locality needs to make infrastructure investment on the parcel to become most attractive in the site selection process.

Assistant County Executive Lee Catlin (in likely her last public presentation prior to retirement) used much of Hines Presentation talking points to present an overview of the Deschutes Brewing competition that Roanoke won.   The discussion was very good and highlighted the areas where Roanoke was better prepared for the opportunity.  (Check out  @Neilswilliamson Twitter feed for more details)

In a seemingly unrelated news event, Business Insider reports on Amazon’s search for a new 2nd North American Headquarters.

The company’s press release lays out a few details of what it’s looking for: metro areas with more than one million people; a “business-friendly” environment; a strong technical workforce; be “urban or suburban locations with the potential to attract and retain strong technical talent,” and “communities that think big and creatively when considering locations and real estate options.”

Ignoring the obvious million people hurdle, how do you think Albemarle, or Charlottesville for that matter stacks up regarding “communities that think big and creatively when considering locations and real estate options”.

Considering Catlin’s presentation,  one portion that was not mentioned was the “community” response to Deschutes.   Over two years ago, I wrote in Da Lessons from Deschutes.

4.  While the Supervisors recognize the economic reality, the public is notnimby1 yet sold on the concept of increased economic development.  This lack of public support is seen by outsiders as “unwelcoming” and is clearly a competitive disadvantage.   As Lisa Provence reported in C-ville regarding the Planning Commission denial of the CPA, some are not convinced that economic development (AKA Growth) is a good thing:

 

Watching the various states and localities compete for the Amazon 2nd Headquarters, I am amazed by the deftness of their marketing and efforts to show community support:

This challenge is actually an opportunity.  Notice Amazon did not say “governments” who think big and creatively.  They are looking for a community that will not only welcome them but allow them to become one with them.  The communities competing for HQ2 are attempting to present their community as complimentary to the creative class.  Don’t think this is only in big time economic development.  Roanoke’s “Hashtag” campaign was a big part of the Deschutes Decision.

Albemarle Supervisor Rick Randolph thought the presentation corrected a “myth” that Albemarle lost Deschutes – he said instead Roanoke won it.  Sounds like splitting hairs to me but I still have the core question.

Is Albemarle ready to energetically embrace economic development?

Randolph said he was supportive of “smart” economic development where jobs went to Albemarle citizens and no traffic was generated – sounds like a unicorn hunt to me.

Supervisors Liz Palmer and Brad Sheffield both expressed interest in redevelopment sites.

One positive suggestion came late in the meeting from Planning Commissioner Jennie More.  More thought that economic development should be a part of the community vetted Master Plan process.  This might be a first step in developing the kind of community buy in that can be more than “accepting” of economic development instead can cheer for it.

This meeting was a good first step, but I remain concerned that not everyone is equally energetic about economic development and the community is clearly not yet fully engaged.

If everyone understands the net benefits of economic development and brings positive energy to support the effort, perhaps then Albemarle can be in a position to “Win”.

If not, we may want to ask if Albemarle should be (or is) in the game at all.

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.

Greene Supervisors Hears Five Year Regional Hazard Mitigation Plan

By. Brent Wilson, Field Officer

It makes good common sense to hope for the best but plan for the worst.  For Virginia localities it is more than common sense, it is mandated by state law.clip_image002

In response to this requirement, Billie Campbell, Senior Program Manager, and Wood Hudson, Planning Manager, of the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission  addressed the Greene County Board of Supervisors at their first meeting of October (10/10). They presented a draft of the 2017 Update of the Regional Hazard Mitigation Plan . The Disaster Mitigation Act of 2000 set out requirements for State and local governments to update their plans every five (5) years.

clip_image005The purpose of plan is prepare for natural disasters before they occur and it covers all jurisdictions in the Thomas Jefferson Planning District – Albemarle County,  the City of Charlottesville, Greene County, Louisa CountyFluvanna County, Nelson County, and the towns of Scottsville, Stanardsville, Louisa and Mineral. The first plan was approved in 2006, then in 2012 and it is now due to be updated by December 17, 2017.

In August a draft of Regional HMP was submitted to the Virginia Department of Emergency Management (VDEM) who will then forward it to FEMA for their review and comments and once they have approved it, each jurisdiction must adopt the plan.

According to the draft plan:

Natural hazards tend to be low-probability, high-impact events. One year could be mild with natural
events scarcely interrupting communities, while the next could be literally disastrous. The purpose of hazard mitigation is to make an effort to minimize the damage and loss of life caused by disasters when they do occur. Hazard mitigation is one component, along with emergency response and post-disaster recovery, to the larger strategy of dealing with the human impacts of natural hazard

With more people living in areas susceptible to natural hazards, the costs associated with such hazards have been steadily increasing over time. The localities of the Thomas Jefferson Planning District (the Counties of Albemarle, Greene, Fluvanna, Louisa, and Nelson, the City of Charlottesville, and the Towns of Scottsville, Columbia, Stanardsville, Louisa, and Mineral) are impacted by variety of different hazards. In order to lessen the growing cost of disaster recovery on the localities and minimize the disruption of business during a disaster, there is a growing need to mitigate the impact of known hazards. Through proper planning and the implementation of policies and projects identified in this Hazard Mitigation Plan, the region and the localities can reduce the likelihood that these events will result in costly disasters.

The Hazard Identification and Analysis section of the plan describes natural hazards which pose the greatest threat to the Thomas Jefferson Planning District. Hazards are profiled in terms of prevalence, intensity, and geographical scope. The section includes a description of the hazard as well as analysis based upon historical and scientific data.

The specific areas of the plan are:

        1. flooding and dam failure
        2. winter weather
        3. wildfire
        4. temperature extremes, drought and landslides, and
        5. tornado and earthquakes.

The plan calculates a risk factor for each event within the TJPDC study area.

Hazard-Mitigation_full_doc

Within each category are specific actions recommended to be taken that include describing the hazard, potential mitigation, lead responsible entity, estimated cost, funding method and the time period of the issue.

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Campbell asked that the Board consider making the resolution supporting the plan. All of the supervisors supported the plan but wanted to wait until the second board meeting of the month to allow time for them to review the proposal. The request was deferred until the October 24, 2017 meeting and it is hoped that the Supervisors will approve the resolution at that time.

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’s Proactive Economic Development Effort

By. Bryan Rothamel, Field Officer

Fluvanna County is preparing the way for development in the Zion Crossroads area. Water and sewer will start construction in the coming year, but Fluvanna County staff have an idea to make properties in development area ‘shovel ready.’

The proposed program, Fluvanna Shovel Ready Sites Program (FSRSP), will provide money to property owners to help them have land ready for development quicker.

Jason Smith, director of community and economic development, has vocal approval to develop the program. His idea is a play off of a similar state program, Virginia Business Ready Sites Program.

The statewide program has a minimum acreage of 100 acres. Fluvanna has two cooperating landowners who can combine to be eligible but most properties in Zion Crossroads area are smaller.

FSRSP would fill the gap for properties 2 to 99 acres.. Smith said several property owners he speaks to are willing to have their land developed, but they don’t fully know the process or what it entails.

“This is a program creates an avenue to have a conversation,” said Smith.

Virginia classifies property for development in five tiers. The higher the tier, the easier it is to develop. Most Fluvanna land is sitting in tier one.

“One of the core features of the Fluvanna Shovel Ready Site Program is rezoning. That takes two to three months. Developers don’t want to fiddle with that paperwork and two or three meetings,” said Smith.

Rezoning a property from Agricultural-1, which the vast majority of Fluvanna is zoned, to a business friendly zoning jumps property to tier three.

Along with zoning, the program would help landowners take care of various other due diligence programs like surveying or environmental studies. Smith said developers don’t want to hear there is an issue that needs to be mitigated because they’ll move to another location in another locality.

Smith said, “If we can do all the red tape, if we can take care of that, [developers] want to open up and make money. They don’t want to sit around for a year.”

He briefed the Board of Supervisors of the program during a work session in September. He will bring it back for final approval in November in hopes of rolling it out by January 1.

“We can’t wait. We can’t,” said an anxious Smith.

He said his office gets request for information every few months with questions that automatically disqualify any county property. Water infrastructure will help but moving properties to tier three or four will help speed things along.

Smith proposes moving $35,000 from a microloan program to FSRSP. The microloan money has been budgeted for several years with no businesses applying or using the money.

Just like the idea behind microloans, anyone interested in getting financial assistance through FSRSP would have to apply through the Economic Development Authority of Fluvanna. Once approved, landowners would work with county staff to complete the proposal.

“[The program will] provide a financial assistance opportunity to actually do something with the property, instead of just letting it sit and watch the property two miles up the street in Louisa county be developed,” said Smith.

Smith’s intention is to get final supervisor approval during the November 1 session. If approved, he would then have community meetings to publicize to landowners.


The 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: Ryan Pace Communications Management, LLC

VDOT’s SmartScale Funding Deadline Accelerates Local Land Use Planning

By. Neil Williamson, President

“Nothing focuses the mind like a hanging.” – English Poet Samuel Johnson

Perhaps in the case of the Route29 Solutions Hydraulic Plan the last word in that phrase should be changed to ‘transportation funding’.  Both The City of Charlottesville and Albemarle County are preparing to receive, hold public hearings and endorse the Hydraulic Small Area Plan, a forty to fifty year land use plan, over the course of 40 to 50 days.

Why? It’s all about the money.

Please let me explain.

SMART SCALE - Funding the Right Transportation ProjectsWhen the Commonwealth of Virginia changed over to the transportation funding program now known as Smart Scale it was touted as taking the politics out of transportation funding decisions [interestingly, Route29 Solutions was one of the last projects funded under the old system].

From their website:

Virginia’s SMART SCALE (§33.2-214.1) is about picking the right transportation projects for funding and ensuring the best use of limited tax dollars.  It is the method of scoring planned projects included in VTrans that are funded by HB 1887. Transportation projects are scored based on an objective, outcome-based process that is transparent to the public and allows decision-makers to be held accountable to taxpayers. Once projects are scored and prioritized, the Commonwealth Transportation Board (CTB) has the best information possible to select the right projects for funding.

An important part of the funding decision rests on the position of local government on the project and how the project relates to the municipality’s Comprehensive Plan.  In the case of Hydraulic, this involves two governments and two different Comprehensive Plans.

In determining the timing for the Hydraulic Small Area Plan, it was determined that the land use plan should inform the transportation plan, rather than the other way around (which was done at Rio/29).

Due to the number of projects submitted and the intensity of the objective review, VDOT  determined that the Smart Scale process will only open every other year and then only for about 90 days.  Here is where the timing issue arises.

Diagram 1

When, at the request of the Charlottesville Albemarle Metropolitan Planning Organization (CAMPO), Virginia Transportation Secretary Aubrey Layne advanced the funding for the panel to develop the land use plan AND the transportation plan, it was done to explicitly facilitate the Smart Scale intake dates.

From the January 2017 Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) media release:

The study schedule anticipates having the small area land use plan complete and any recommendations for transportation improvements finalized in the summer of 2018. That timetable will allow the localities to prepare applications for the next round of Smart Scale project scoring in September 2018.

So here we are.  Charlottesville City Council and Planning Commission will hold 5 joint public hearings the evening of October 10th.  Which one is last?  You guessed it The Hydraulic Small Area Plan.

Conceptual Land Use Map Oct 2017 P71

Albemarle County will hold their Planning Commission Public Hearing on October 17th.

In an interesting piece of bicameral political theater, both the Planning Commissions [as well as City Council and Board of Supervisors] will be pushed to approve the Small Area Plan without making significant changes for fear the funding schedule will be lost.

It is hard to believe that many folks [perhaps even planning commissioners] will have taken the time to read the entire document.  But never fear, the decisions are not being made from the top.  Again from the January VDOT media release:

“It is important to emphasize,” Secretary Layne continued, “that Aubrey-Layne-photo-credit-VDOT.jpgthe land use decisions will be made by the city, county and the MPO. There are no preconceived solutions or presumptions here. We are kicking off a process at the MPO’s request; the outcome of that process remains to be seen.”

How involved with the Planning Commissions and elected officials get with this small area plan knowing VDOT is building the transportation plan based upon these assumptions?

Is 120 days a good measure for reviewing a 50 plan?

Is creating a sense of urgency a bad thing in these planning exercises?

Will the public be fully engaged?

Will the elected officials?

Once again we have more questions than answers.

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 Credit: Route29Solutions.com

Ill Conceived Proposed Albemarle Rural Recreation Regulations

Rural Recreation Comments to the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors October 4th, 2017

Good Afternoon.  I am Neil Williamson, President of the Free Enterprise Forum, a privately funded public policy organization focused on local government in Central Virginia.

Today on your agenda is a work session regarding Rural Area Recreation.  The staff report on this work session is excellent and the precision of the staff recommendation is also well stated.  The potential path staff outlined includes both new zoning code language be developed to be less recreation type specific and supplemental regulations developed.

While we are willing to assist you on this path, the Free Enterprise Forum sees another way.  All of your goals can be accomplished with conditions on special use permits.

By our back of the envelope calculations, rural recreation is an economic driver in the community representing nearly 2,000 jobs and an annual payroll of $40 million dollars.  In addition, rural recreation is a part of the fabric of Albemarle County.

The Free Enterprise Forum asks you to abandon this folly and utilize your limited staff resources to meet real needs of the community.  Each of you have spoken about issues that are deserving of additional support.  Rather than reworking the zoning code and the 100+ hours of preparation and public meetings, perhaps put that energy toward solid waste 50 year plan, or updating one of the development area master plans that are already overdue.

If you do choose to move forward, please ask your legal team how to do so that it will not prevent existing facilities from replacing or expanding their operations.

As an example, if Blue Ridge Swim Club has the pool destroyed in an earthquake, there is a legal question if they can rebuild?

If Old Trail Golf Course wanted to add an additional 18 holes, some in the legal community have suggested it would not be permitted.

Or make the smart call.  Recognizing the multitude of real planning issues Albemarle needs to address, please vote no on the resolution of intent and reallocate the staff resources.

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.

Local Government Spending Index Released

Study Finds Disparity in Local Government Spending

Charlottesville, VA – As political candidates are vying for election and local governments are starting their FY2019 budget process, a new study shows that the rate of increases in local government spending vary dramatically. The “Choices and Decisions” report, conducted by the Free Enterprise Forum, is based on an independent locality-specific local government spending index (LGSI). The report, which studied fiscal years 1990-2016, identified Nelson County as the locality with the greatest increase in LGSI with Albemarle County a close second.

Free Enterprise Forum President Neil Williamson said, “The goal of the LGSI is to inform and promote dialog. The comparison of local spending trends, combined with population data provides citizens an objective tool to evaluate spending decisions. Equipped with this data, citizens can ask better questions of elected officials during the elections and budget season”.

The LGSI is based on self-reported data required to be provided to the Commonwealth of Virginia’s Auditor of Public Accounts. The numbers focus exclusively on the operating budget of each municipality. This number will not include capital expenditures thus avoiding having single-year spikes in capital spending skew the results or interpretation of the data.

It has been theorized that inflation adjusted spending would largely track changes in population and school enrollment. While a correlation was found in some localities studied, this trend was not universal:

Albemarle County – adjusted for inflation, Albemarle County’s total spending increased by over 152% during the study period while population and school enrollment increased by 55% and 36% respectively.

clip_image004City of Charlottesville – During the study period (1990-2016), Charlottesville experienced a population increase of almost 23%, the second smallest of the municipalities being studied. In addition, Charlottesville experienced a cumulative growth in school enrollment of just over 1%. In contrast, inflation-adjusted operating expenditures increased over 80% during the study period.

It was also theorized that growth in inflation-adjusted per capita spending among the localities would be similar because of the high percentage of programs mandated by the state and operated by the localities.

In contrast, the analysis clearly indicates wide variation in per-capita spending decisions made by the localities. During the study period, four localities had roughly 50% increase in per capita spending, while two, Albemarle and Nelson, increased per capita spending by over 60%.

The Free Enterprise Forum is a privately funded public policy organization dedicated to individual economic freedom. The entire report, and supporting documentation, can be accessed under Reports Tab at www.freeenterpriseforum.org

Preddy Gables Seek Proffer Amendment from GC PC

By. Brent Wilson, Field Officer

Preddy Gables, LLC came before the Greene County Planning Commission at their September meeting (9/20/17) to file a rezoning application to amend the proffers approved on July 13, 2004 (RZ#04-152). The goal of the proffer amendment is to remove the proffer regarding tying the number of apartments to be developed to the development of retail space.

Currently the property located on Terrace Greene Drive / Seminole Trail, due to the ratio in the existing proffer, can only develop 276 units of which there currently are 260 units in existence. Under the new proffer, the total number of units would remain unchanged but the development of those units would no longer be tied to the construction of additional commercial space.  In addition, the proffer amendment increases the amenities and restricts the size of units in the last phase to be no larger than two bedroom. units.

This would be the last phase of the development and was displayed to develop the property that is lower in elevation and closer to Route 29.

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Terrace Greene Apartments- Phase II

Zoning Administrator Bart Svoboda presented the project to the Planning Commission (less Chairman Jay Willer who was absent from the meeting). Svoboda indicated that there were no concerns from any of the agencies reporting and that all of the infrastructure was done originally to accommodate the full development.

Chris Gordon, a representative of the management firm working of the project, reviewed a conceptual rendering of the project. It showed the new section would be below the existing section and he also indicated that the existing structures are fully occupied.

Gordon continued on to explain that the new structure would have several different features – parking would be underneath the structure rather than surface parking, this would require elevators to be used rather than staircases. While not specifically built for older populations, it would be more convenient and easier to access the units in the new structure.

In addition a new pool, work out room and – something that existing renters have requested – a dog run to allow tenants to let their dogs “off-leash” to exercise are all part of the proposal. Gordon stated that the developer has not contacted adjoining landowners yet, as they wanted the feedback from the Planning Commission before taking their idea to the “neighbors”.

As a public hearing, the meeting was opened to the public and there was no one to comment.

In conjunction with this public hearing there was a second public hearing to address revising the height limit in Residential District (R-2) in Article 6 from 40 feet to 50 feet.

County Zoning Ordinance – Article 6, Residential District, R-2, 6-7 HEIGHT REGULATIONS Buildings may be erected up to forty (40) feet in height

This change would allow the new structure to raise up the 42 feet planned (2 feet in excess of the current height allowed).

The height discussion among the commissioners was mixed. While the feeling was that this particular project would use this higher limit to benefit a hillside, however other future projects may not have this topography and therefore it would actually rise 50 feet up from the sight line.

The Planning Commission approved the request to amend the proffers 5-0 and approved the change to the Residential District height by a vote of 4-1 with Commissioner Frank Morris voting against the change in height.

Based on the change in State law, the commissioners completely ignored the issue of the original proffer ratio of residential vs. commercial property. They did not ask the developer about any future plans for commercial development. The law, known as Senate Bill 549, was signed by Governor McAuliffe in March, 2016.  It restricts both the subject matter and manner in which localities may accept proffers in residential zoning actions.

Instead, the commissioners discussed the existing units being “sold out” and that this would bring more additional housing to Greene County. By itself that is good, but that opens the question of the increased  demand of infrastructure on the county, especially schools.

In their letter supporting the rezoning the applicant provided evidence of limited impact on schools:

The existing apartment units at Terrace Greene are home to school teachers, policemen and countless other residents who contribute to the local community. Terrace Greene’s 260 apartments currently have only twenty (20) children residing there, and developing the last 90 units within an elevator building having no three-bedroom units is less likely to appeal to families with small children than the existing 90-unit plan being amended–meaning that these amended proffers are likely to reduce school impacts.  Given that, the economic development and other benefits, this new concept for the final project phase will, like the existing units at Terrace Greene, have a net positive impact–fiscally and more generally –for Greene County.

Balancing the need for housing in Greene and the cost of providing government service to the new housing is an important consideration; as is protecting property rights.

Interestingly, many potential business expansions use the number of “rooftops” in determining the viability of new locations.  One need only look to the recently released Sales Tax data from the Charlottesville Regional Chamber of Commerce to see how the commercial landscape of  Greene County has changed.   In 2006, the total sales tax revenue was $867,433. In 2017 (January-June) the amount was $934,396 in just six months.

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

Photo Credit: http://terracegreene.com/photos.html

Charlottesville Resolution: Ignore Public Comments

By. Neil Williamson, President

Woody-Allen Photo Credit Evening Standard.Getty ImagesWoody Allen once said “Eighty Percent of Success is showing up”  Charlottesville Chief Deputy City Attorney Lisa Robertson is taking it one step further to 100 percent and on time or your voice does not matter.

Please let me explain.

On tomorrow night’s (9/12/17) Charlottesville Planning Commission Consent Agenda is a resolution to amend the zoning code [Page 145 of 266 page agenda download]. 

This resolution contains the most anti engagement language I have ever seen in my thirteen years of public policy work; the resolution directs staff to ignore public comments received after the middle of June:

Amendments set forth within the “Legal Audit” draft dated February 28, 2017 (other than those referenced in (1)-(6), above) as to which no objections were received from the public as of 5/24/2017; for these text amendments, the proposed ordinance shall incorporate items noted in the “Questions and Corrections” document updated through 6/13/2017

In the last three Planning Commission work sessions on this issue, there have been less that ten citizens in attendance.  The Free Enterprise Forum has provided input after the May 24th date.  Why should our comments on July 25th or anyone else’s be ignored by staff?  Was that meeting not a work session on the zoning code amendment?

Equally troubling is the roundabout manner in which the staff seems to want the discussion of building height to go away.  Even as the City’s own PLACE Design Task Force is scheduled to discuss and possibly vote on a preferred solution this Thursday.  This resolution, if passed on Tuesday, would likely circumvent some of the discussion by proactively eliminating code language:

Deletion of the following words from the definition of “building height” set forth within sec. 34-1200 of Article X (Definitions): “This distance is calculated by measuring separately the average height of each building wall, then averaging them together.” Also: delete the diagram included in 34-1200 as part of the definition of “building height.”

The charge of the PLACE Design Task Force:

To guide the community in making decisions about place making, livability, and community engagement.  Act as an advisory body to the Planning Commission and City Council in matters pertaining to urban design and place making.

Yet Charlottesville’s legal staff feels empowered to push forward this amendment before the design professionals have an opportunity to formally weigh in on its impacts.

Make no mistake, staff is embolden to keep this moving forward on their terms but the Planning Commission does not have to accept the language in the proposed resolution. 

A courageous Planning Commissioner could, and SHOULD, step up and suggest that the item be removed from the consent agenda and the language be revised by the commission.

But will anyone step up?

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 Credit: Evening Standard/Getty images

Frederick Fleet and Charlottesville’s Form Based Code Charrette

FORUM WATCH EDITORIAL

By. Neil Williamson, President

Frederick Fleet photo credit 123peopleI fear we may be at a Frederick Fleet moment with next week’s impending Charlottesville’s Form Based Code Charrette.

Please let me explain.

The technological marvel super ship the Titanic had its maiden voyage delayed by several months due to shipyard repairs to her sister ship.  The voyage was postponed until April 1912.  Four days into the journey, lookout Frederick Fleet spotted an iceberg immediately ahead of Titanic and alerted the bridge.  The First Officer ordered the ship to be steered around the obstacle and the engines to be stopped, but it was too late.

It has been suggested if the Titanic sailed on its original schedule, it never would have encountered the iceberg.

Next week, Charlottesville (and their consultant team) are embarking on a design charrette process that, may have a similar timing issue and may be destined for a Titanic style conclusion.

The Charrette process is an intense design exercise; the word is derived from the French word for “little cart” and refers to the intense work of architects before a deadline.

Charlottesville’s consultant firm DPZ website explains the charrette process:

In a one- to two-week work session, the charrette assembles key decision-makers to collaborate with the DPZ team in information sharing, iterative design proposals, feedback and revisions, organizing a complex project quickly. Professionals and stakeholders identify options that are rapidly prototyped and judged, enabling informed decisions and saving months of sequential coordination.

For projects requiring public participation, the charrette is effective in managing a large audience, encouraging input and producing valuable political and market feedback. The dynamic and inclusive process, with frequent presentations, is a fast method of identifying and overcoming obstacles. The shared experience helps vest interest in the design and build support for the vision. A number of DPZ charrettes have concluded with a final presentation during a city council voting to approve the plan!

In my limited experience, charrettes are fast paced, deadline driven and can feel a touch rushed even with the buy in from all stakeholders.  That hardly describes the current Charlottesville environment.

In recent months, even prior to the August 12th events, Charlottesville’s efforts to create a Form Based Code for the Strategic Investment Area (SIA) has been met with significant community concerns regarding gentrification and affordable housing.  In a meeting last week, one resident said,

You can’t ask a room full of white people to make zoning changes in low income neighborhoods

In an April affordable housing community meeting at Mt. Zion First African American Baptist Church, an attendee raised concerns about the SIA plan and the plan’s lack of commitment to the existing community.  One resident stated,

The City Council has knives in all the Charlottesville citizens back.

In last week’s meeting, a leader in the affordable housing community questioned whether the SIA plan was a valid starting point and questioned the City position that it was developed with significant community input.  He also questioned the “power structure” within the charrette process as well as the ability of residents to attend meetings held during the day.

Into this tense environment, a team of Form Based Code experts and consultants are arriving in town on Monday.  Tasked with producing a community supported set of Form Based Code concepts in a week’s time, the consultant Form Based Code Institute will be operating in an “open door” studio in the IX Art Park Event Space (522 2nd St SE).

Specific meetings are scheduled throughout the week

Specific Focus Groups:

Zoning—Mon. September 11 4:00 pm

Housing—Tues. September 12 10:00 am

Property Owners—Tues. September 12, 1:30 pm

Public Works—Wed. September 13, 11:30 am

Planning Commission—Wed. September 13,  4:00 pm

Presentations:

Opening Presentation—Tues, September 12 6:00 pm

Final Presentation—Thurs. September 14 @ 6:00 pm

Beyond definitions of Form Based Codes, two affordable housing concepts were discussed at last week’s meeting: additional height in exchange for affordable housing units or expedited development proposal review for reaching a certain percentage of affordable housing.  One resident suggested that form based code’s goal is to make review process easier.  The consultant replied, we would never make the approval process so easy that it could not be expedited.

Another idea to reduce the cost of building in the SIA was to reduce parking requirements by providing city owned structured parking in support of residential uses.  Considering structured parking is mandated in the SIA, this might be a concept that could save upwards of $20,000 a unit.

The reality is Charlottesville needs more housing, across all price points. We continue to believe one of the key hurdles to creating more housing (affordable and otherwise) is the oppressive regulatory environment; we believe a well crafted Form Based Code coupled with public investment and financial incentives could jump start development in the SIA.

While the Free Enterprise Forum believes that Form Based Code has great potential to provide predictability of outcomes and allow some use flexibility, we are very concerned that the years of work that has brought the project this far may be thwarted due to the current political environment.

To that end I am reminded of a comment from another resident in the April Mt. Zion meeting,

You’re going to come here from somewhere else, and tell us what to do

Anything that comes out of the charrette process will still need to go through the Planning Commission and City Council approval process.

Considering the current climate, I am reminded of Titanic crewman (and survivor) Frederick Fleet who was on duty when he saw a black mass ahead of the ship. He struck three bells and telephoned the bridge. Though the ship swung out of the way, he watched as an iceberg scraped the starboard side.

The Free Enterprise Forum is ringing the bell.

We fear this ill timed, but worthy, Form Based Charrette exercise will be met with a similar fate.

It is a shame.

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.