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.

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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.

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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 www.freeenterpriseforum.org

Greene Planning Commission Considers Ruckersville Firing Range

By. Brent Wilson, Field Officer

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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 www.freeenterpriseforum.org

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

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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.

Economic Development Via Regulatory Reform

By. Neil Williamson, President

employmentopportunitiesLocal economic development is about much more than just businesses moving into an area.  It is also about jobs and adding a new enterprise to the community.  While there are many paths to enhancing the local climate for economic development there are even more ways to create a regulatory environment that is openly hostile to such opportunities. 

Yesterday, a bipartisan group of Virginia’s congressional delegation (Griffith, Hurt, Kaine, Warner) introduced legislation designed to reform the federal permitting process.  The Augusta Free Press reports:

…introduced the Commonsense Permitting for Job Creation Act (H.R. 3434 and S. 1914) in both houses of Congress.  This bipartisan, bicameral legislation will address regulatory problems that have impeded prospective economic development sites like Berry Hill Mega Park in the Danville-Pittsylvania County area.

When local entities work to secure a site preparation permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to attract job-creating manufacturing firms, the Corps has often been reluctant to issue the permit if there is a lack of a company that has publicly committed to the site and prepared detailed blueprints.  A company will understandably not establish a facility at the site without an approved permit, but a permit cannot be approved without a company willing to locate at that site, creating an unfortunate stalemate situation.  The Commonsense Permitting for Job Creation Act specifies that the lack of a committed end-user company should not be a reason to deny a permit that meets all other legal requirements.

This “commonsense” federal legislation got me thinking about how local regulatory reform can improve economic development. 

Does the amount of time it takes to move a project from concept to moving dirt matter to a potential employer?

Should those charged with increasing the locality’s economic vitality spend a portion of their time looking inwardly to improve the permitting and approval process?

Based on our dozen years in the region, there is little or no uniformity to the regulatory environments of Central Virginia municipalities.

We regularly hear horror stories of projects that are taken to the brink of their very viability by overzealous (and often incorrect) interpretations and implementations of permitting.  We also have heard of local building officials giving contradicting interpretations.

We also hear of reasonable regulators who work with applicants to see that the letter of the law is followed and the project remains viable.

There are also significant differences in the time it takes to gain approvals from the localities.

If localities could identify procedural changes that could reduce the development process timeline without sacrificing public input or project quality, would they do it?

One such example is allowing the special use permit process and the site plan approval run concurrently.  Many Virginia localities do this now.  The reality is that these days many special use permits have a condition that the final site plan must come back for final approval to the Planning Commission.  Considering the significant amount of detail now required for SUP, adding the site plan approval (as a concurrent approval option)  could reduce the regulatory calendar by several months.

Of course there are some in the community that see the labyrinth of regulatory red tape as an opportunity to slow or halt increased economic development. 

The question each locality must answer is what level of economic vitality are you seeking and are your municipality’s ordnances, policies and procedures “shovel ready” for such opportunities?

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson, President

20070731williamson

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.

Fluvanna Supervisors Fly Through Light August Agenda

By. Bryan Rothamel, Field Officer

In the quickest meeting in recent memory, the Fluvanna County Board of Supervisors approved a new restaurant in the Cunningham District.

Fluvanna Supervisors typically hold a 4 p.m. meeting on the first Wednesday and a 7 p.m. meeting on the third Wednesday of each month. August has just one meeting scheduled on the first Wednesday as it typically is a slower time of the year.

The afternoon session had appointments to two boards, a budget amendment, reclassification of an open maintenance position and two appropriations to the Department of Social Services.

The evening session had just two public hearings, for the same property. The property is located on Route 6, near the intersection of The Cross Road (Route 733). Interestingly, the property was originally zoned R-1 in the 1970s when the county adopted zoning. It is only 300 feet wide.

The applicant asked to rezone from R-1 to A-1, which was granted unanimously. The applicant then also asked for a special use permit to operate a small restaurant. It was also approved unanimously.

No one from the public, other than the applicant, was present at the public hearing.

The earlier session finished up some fiscal housekeeping for action the supervisors took in late 2014. The supervisors voted to refinance two loan payments. It changed the FY15 budget by more than 1 percent, thus requiring public hearing and formal action on the budget changes.

The public hearing was held the meeting prior but Don Weaver (Cunningham District) asked staff to include a total recap of the 2014 action. The refinance of the 2005 courthouse bond saved the county $117,822 over the course of the debt. The refinance of the 2006 library bond saved the county $217,712 over the life of the loan.

The Department of Social Services requested two FY16 supplemental appropriations from state and federal funds. One of the appropriations allowed the hiring of a new benefit specialist, part time to help reduce the Medicaid backlog. The second one allows for additional overtime to help with the aforementioned backlog. No new money was expended. The DSS budget provided the required match.

Supervisors are looking to save money by spending more on a maintenance position. They voted to raise the pay but also increase the requirements of an open position. The net salary difference might be a few thousand a year, but the position now requires a specialty. This will allow the county to stop more costly contract services of the hired specialty, whatever it might be.

Chairperson Mozell Booker (Fork Union District) was absent from the meeting so vice chair Bob Ullenbruch (Palmyra District) handled the gavel. Booker, on planned vacation, is expected back for the September meetings. Tony O’Brien (Rivanna District) was present for the 4 p.m. session but left before the 7 p.m. session.

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bryan-rothamel.jpgThe Free Enterprise Forum’s coverage of Fluvanna County is provided by a grant from the Charlottesville Area Association of REALTORS® and by the support of readers like you.

Bryan Rothamel covers Fluvanna County for the Free Enterprise Forum

Why ‘Matters from the Public’ Matter

By. Neil Williamson, President

Recently, Greene County’s Board of Supervisors have encountered challenges with their regularly scheduled ‘Matters from the Public’ agenda item in their Board meetings.  It got so bad that last meeting, Chair David Cox pulled public comment off the agenda entirely.  At that meeting, the BOS hastily approved a new set of rules regarding ‘matters from the public’.

Greene County BOS meeting July 2015As the Free Enterprise Forum has attended over three thousand hours of public meetings, we find ‘Matters from the Public’ to be a critically important concept that must be managed in order to preserve civility and the ability for ALL to speak.  We believe Greene County and all local governments should regularly examine and refine  their rules of engagement.

Over the past twelve years, we have seen a great deal of important public comment during the ‘matters from the public’, including our own.  Some have been enlightening, some have been confrontational and some have been downright amusing:

  • A six foot woodchuck protesting the Meadowcreek Parkway
  • A series of lectures regarding Climate Change Falsehoods
  • A series of counter lectures on Climate Change
  • A citizen providing each member of the Board a bag of groceries
  • The call for legal action on a variety of local government  issues
  • Concerns regarding the plight of unsheltered dogs
  • Calls for Supervisor resignation in light of criminal charges
  • Highlights regarding Conservation Easements attained
  • Invitations to attend County Fairs and School functions
  • Accolades for local sports teams
  • And much much more.

Regardless of any particular political persuasion, the concept of the citizenry publicly engaging with their elected officials is a good one – that does need some level of management.

There is a responsibility on the elected board to listen and a responsibility on the speakers to be civil, direct and respectful with their comments.

top ten listWith apologies to David Letterman, there are a TOP TEN concepts that should be a part of any public comment policy.

#1  Unlimited topics – Public Comment should only be limited to include anything EXCEPT those items on the agenda for public hearing.  This allows the elected officials to hear from the public on those issues that will come before them as a part of the meeting.

#2  Citizens come First – Public Comment should come at the front of the meeting, prior to the consent agenda – This goes with #1 having all public comment at the end of the meeting really does not allow the public to engage in the work that is before the elected body

#3 Beauty in Brevity -Individual Public Comment should be limited by time – Speakers should have a predetermined time limit to provide their remarks.  The Chair must be fair and equitable in his/her application of the time clock across all speakers.

#4 Aretha Franklin was right –  All voices must be respected. Audience and members of the elected body should provide their undivided attention to the speaker during their allotted time.  This would preclude side conversations that are disruptive on the dais AND in the audience.  Applause, cheering, booing and other audible responses to comments from the public should be banned.  Such activity creates a “football game” mentality and may hinder those with opposing views from speaking.  It is incumbent on the chair AND the elected body to maintain a level of civility in the meeting.  Speakers may ask those who agree to stand or raise their hands in support of their position.

#5  Delayed Engagement – Dialog with the elected body should be prohibited.  This agenda item is to allow the public to speak to the elected body not to have a conversation with its members.  If elected officials wish to discuss items raised in the ‘matters from the public’ section, they should add an agenda item, as some have, ‘responses to matters from the public’

#6 Get Rid of The Game Clock – Public Comment period should not be limited by time.  While this concept creates havoc with board meetings staying on time, several localities have determined that splitting public comment to the beginning (for a set period) and then to the end (for as many who wish to speak) has resulted in higher quality public input.

#7 Mom Knows Best – Citizens providing pubic comment should use the Mom rule regarding language choice – if you would not say it to your mother, don’t say it to the elected body.  While some might consider this a hindrance on free speech,  the Courts are not so clear.

#8 Walk the Walk and Talk the Talk –  Public Comments should be directed to the entire elected body not to any individual member, staff member nor to the audience.

#9 Any Topic is Fair Game – All comments should be heard – Greene County’s new rules indicate the Chair will determine if the topic is appropriate.  The Free Enterprise Forum believes this is the opportunity for citizens to speak in a public forum and should not be limited by anyone regarding subject matter.

#10 Promote Citizen Connectivity – Public should be routinely reminded of all of the ways to reach their local elected officials and local government employees, including phone, e-mail, snail mail and other public outreach.

Matters from the Public has recently been under attack.  The Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) US29 Project Delivery Advisory Panel (PDAP) deemed such an agenda item to be superfluous to their discussions and only take comments via their website. This may be the start of a disturbing trend where citizens can’t directly engage.

The Free Enterprise Forum believes that citizens have a right to be heard by their elected (and appointed) officials.  We also believe public officials have a right to a certain level of decorum to their meetings.

Only if citizens and elected officials respect each other will this important agenda item be able to be maintained.

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson, President

20070731williamson

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 ‘Welcome Stranger’ Tax May Be Slashed by 75%

By. Neil Williamson, President

luther ingramSomehow, I hear Luther Ingram’s  “(If Loving You is Wrong) I Don’t Want To Be Right” as I read through the detailed reporting on the  current discussion of cash proffers.

While State law changes and a lack of locality infrastructure expenditures have combined to generate a new cash proffer number that is 75% lower than the current amounts, Albemarle supervisors are still entranced by cash proffers as the latest report indicates they have received promises of nearly $50 million dollars.

But I am getting ahead of myself. Please let me explain.

Albemarle County’s Fiscal Impact Advisory Committee (FAIC) has issued their advice regarding the County’s cash proffer policy.

To review, according to the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development:

A cash proffer is (a)any money voluntarily proffered in a writing signed by the owner of property subject to rezoning, submitted as part of a rezoning application and accepted by a locality pursuant to the authority granted by Va. Code Ann. Section 15.2-2303 or Section 15.2-2298, or (b) any payment of money made pursuant to a development agreement entered into under authority granted by Va. Code Ann. Section 15.2-2303.1.

Theoretically, cash proffers are designed to offset the infrastructure cost of new development.  The reality is that these “voluntary” sums are required to gain approval of residential rezonings.

It is important to note the cash proffer amount does not include the infrastructure cost (AKA Hook-up fees) for Albemarle County Service Authority.  Those are a separate line item totaling about $20,000 per Single Family Detached unit.

Until recently, localities had the ability to include maintenance items in their Capital Improvement Program as a part of the proffer calculation absent any true connection to new development.  Albemarle had considered many inappropriate capital items as a part of their cash proffer calculation.  The most egregious of these (that we know about) was three years ago when a technology upgrade was included.  At the time we stated our belief that new residential development did not generate the need for the technology upgrade.  Recently, Richmond tightened the rules regarding proffer calculation.

The staff report outlining the new methodology references the change in state code:

Note that the proffer amounts calculated in this memorandum reflect the net costs generated by growth-related capital projects in the following categories: Public safety facilities, park facilities, libraries, schools, and transportation projects. Note also, that, under current Virginia law, costs associated with maintenance and replacement capital projects cannot be included in the calculation.

In their memo to the Board of Supervisors the FAIC outlined the changes to the proffer calculations:

Under the revised provisions of the Code of Virginia only those items which expand capacity may be considered. The CIP and CNA has also been reduced to be essentially a maintenance program with limited capacity expansion. Moreover, the Committee finds that under the current proffer model, as the County’s capital budgets grow, so too do the dollar values of the proffer amounts per unit.
The committee found that the new calculated amounts were:

Single Family Detached (SFD): $4,918
Single Family Attached/Townhouse (SFA/TH): $3,845
Multifamily (MF): $5,262

For context, the 2014 “voluntary” cash proffer amounts were:

Single Family Detached (SFD): $20,987
Single Family Attached/Townhouse (SFA/TH): $14,271
Multifamily (MF): $14,871

Interestingly, buried in the staff memo is a different set of numbers based on the concept that only the FY 15- FY 19 Capital Improvement Program (CIP) should be used rather than the CIP plus the Capital Needs Assessment.  That calculation results:

Single Family Detached (SFD): $487
Single Family Attached/Townhouse (SFA/TH): $1,477
Multifamily (MF): $2,144

To most accurately reflect Albemarle County’s Capital expenditures, the cash proffer amount would not need to be $20,987 (the current amount) nor $4,918 but a mere $487 per Single Family Detached Unit.  

The Free Enterprise Forum has consistently called for the elimination of the ‘Welcome Stranger’  tax.  We agree that at these lower rates some of the concerns we raised in our 2013 White Paper Contradictory Consequences may be avoided.

However, even as these “voluntary cash contributions” may be reduced still find them to be an ineffective, unreliable revenue source with significant negative impacts.  Yes, capital programs must be funded but they should be funded by the entire community not just the new residential home buyer.

Again, we call on the Albemarle Board of Supervisors to eliminate the ‘Welcome Stranger’ Tax.

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson

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20070731williamson Neil Williamson is the President of The Free Enterprise Forum, a public policy organization covering the City of Charlottesville as well as Albemarle, Greene, Fluvanna, Louisa  and Nelson County.  For more information visit the website www.freeenterpriseforum.org

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Joni Mitchell and Albemarle’s Land Use Plan

By. Neil Williamson, President

These are confused days for economic development in  Albemarle County.

The Board of Supervisors initiated a development boundary adjustment and sent it to the Planning Commission for their advice and counsel.  While the Board seems interested in generating tax revenue from sources other than the residential property taxes, the Planning Commission does not have that concern.

In fact, considering the tenor of public and commission comments in last week’s (7/21) Planning Commission Work Session on the partial restoration of their development area, I am skeptical this Commission will support either the development area adjustment or the potential rezoning.  This sets up a most interesting political moment when the Board of Supervisors considers the development area issue in September; and create unsure footing for any potential applicant considering 1/3 of the BOS will change on 12/31.

Please let me explain.

At the meeting, a number of citizens came out opposed to the consideration of changing the Comprehensive Plan Development Area Boundaries.

After the first speaker suggested that Albemarle was about to be “raped”, Former Planning Commissioner Marcia Joseph applauded the fact that there is no Cracker Barrel as part of our charm.

Ignoring the obvious ownership issues, Albemarle resident Bradford Davis said not to “give Mystery Corporation Inc. the right to develop on our property“. [emphasis added-nw]

Another speaker took the opportunity to quote Joni Mitchell’s “Big Yellow Taxi” ballad:Joni_Mitchell_2004

They took all the trees
And put them in a tree museum
Then they charged the people
A dollar and a half just to see ’em
Don’t it always seem to go,
That you don’t know what you’ve got
‘Til it’s gone
They paved paradise
And put up a parking lot

There were a couple speakers who outlined specific positives of the proposed partial restoration (including the Free Enterprise Forum) but the vast majority of those who spoke were opposed to any adjustment.

Fighting with one (or both) arms behind their back

One of the Comprehensive plan goals is to grow the Commercial/Industrial tax base to make up 30% of the Albemarle’s tax revenue.   According to Albemarle’s Economic Development Director Faith McClintic, Albemarle currently is at 16.7% commercial tax revenue.  McClintic also reported that just .18% of Albemarle County’s land mass is designated for commercial and Industrial use.  Therefore, Albemarle strives to generate 30% of it tax revenue from just 825 acres (see chart below).

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Albemarle staff has indicated in previous meetings of 23 missed businesses opportunities (19 existing/4 relocations) due to a lack of available acreage.  This represents an estimated creation/retention of 1,160 Albemarle County jobs.

One of the key challenges for the Planning Commission is that economic development is not a key element in their land planning.

One commissioner, Tom Loach,  suggested he was opposed to development area restoration because the County has not kept up with its infrastructure promises in the existing development area.  Considering the positive economic input of industrial land, he might want to reconsider the basis of his opposition – designating (and eventually rezoning) these parcels will result in increased revenue potentially for capital projects within the development areas.

On August 18th when Albemarle’s Planning Commission holds a public hearing on this issue, we fully anticipate a large number of speakers asking not to alter the development area boundary.  We hope the Planning Commission will consider the impact of their decision on all Albemarle citizens including the positive county revenue ramifications, the job creation, existing environmental protections provided by ordinance and the small portion of land involved in this partial development area restoration.

In the end, the Free Enterprise Forum hopes the Planning Commission will choose to provide space in their Comprehensive Plan for business to grow jobs —  But, we’re not betting on it.

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson

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20070731williamson Neil Williamson is the President of The Free Enterprise Forum, a public policy organization covering the City of Charlottesville as well as Albemarle, Greene, Fluvanna, Louisa  and Nelson County.  For more information visit the website www.freeenterpriseforum.org

Photo Credits: First-Thoughts.org

Forest Lakes Outlaws

FORUM WATCH EDITORIAL

By. Neil Williamson, President

outlawThe Brookhill development that is in the early planning stages is located north of Polo Grounds Road and East of US29.  To be clear, the Free Enterprise Forum does not take positions on projects and has no position on the Brookhill proposal.  Our concern is focused on planning policy and how those policies stifle creativity and consumer choice.

This project is located just south of the Forest Lakes South development, that has been well received by the market since its inception over twenty years ago.  Considering Forest Lakes appeal and the location of the project, one might think a thoughtful applicant would attempt to mimic some of Forest Lakes “desirable” characteristics.

But as I was sipping my morning coffee reading Elise Cruz’s Daily Progress/Charlottesville Tomorrow article about the neighborhood meeting concerning Brookhill, I found myself nodding in agreement with the quote from Alan Taylor of Riverbend Development:

“This is the new way that communities are developed,” Taylor said. “If I tried to build a development like Forest Lakes now, … it wouldn’t be allowed to happen.”

Taylor’s comments reflect the reality of development in Albemarle County.  Over the last decade, via ordinance changes and policy direction, residential development has been forced into a new urbanist form that includes a higher level of density than the neighbors or the market wants.

The Neighborhood Model, which originally was sold as A model not THE model includes several concepts many of which are not only required in rezoning applications but are mandated by code:

Pedestrian Orientation
Mixture of Uses
Neighborhood Centers
Mixture of Housing Types and Affordability
Interconnected Streets and Transportation Networks
Multi-modal Transportation Opportunities
Parks, Recreational Amenities, and Open Space
Buildings and Space of Human Scale
Relegated Parking
Redevelopment
Respecting Terrain and Careful Grading and Re-grading of Terrain
Clear Boundaries with the Rural Area

The reality is that no longer can an applicant put forth the imageneighborhood design that they believe is best, will best sell or best fits the character of the surrounding neighborhoods. 

They are forced into new urbanist designs that prefer mixed use products, density over distance and pocket parks over parkways.

The buyer that is seeking a more traditional design, is left to look to existing housing stock, rural area development or to the surrounding localities with less restrictive design parameters. 

That how Albemarle is forcing the new housing market forward.  

Yes, when Albemarle County planning officials outlawed Forest Lakes, Forest Lakes became outlaws.

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson

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20070731williamson Neil Williamson is the President of The Free Enterprise Forum, a public policy organization covering the City of Charlottesville as well as Albemarle, Greene, Fluvanna, Louisa  and Nelson County.  For more information visit the website www.freeenterpriseforum.org

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