Renaming Fluvanna’s “Confederate Park”?

By Bryan Rothamel, Field Officer

The July 1st Fluvanna County Board of Supervisors meeting was filled with discussions about history and historical perspective. And ended with the supervisors wanting the public to talk about it more.

The meeting started unusually with new business item ‘renaming of park’ being moved to beginning of the meeting. New business typically occurs at the end of the public session, just before the last public comment section.

The park in question is currently identified as ‘Confederate Park’ by a sign the public works installed last year. County records never show a formal name being selected for the small grassed area.

The only thing in the park is a confederate war memorial, honoring the Fluvanna soldiers who died. Around the monument are three stones, one for a Fluvanna battalion, one for a Fluvanna man and a third for all the Fluvanna women who died during the war.


Mozell Booker

“We are not thinking of doing anything to the park,” said chairperson Mozell Booker (Fork Union District).

Booker suggested the park should be expanded to not only include just the confederate memorial but other memorials. Names were suggest of ‘Memorial Park’ or ‘Monument Park’,

Booker, who grew up in Fluvanna and graduated from segregated Abrams High School, emphasized the confederate monument should stay because it signifies an important part of history. “It is Fluvanna’s history. It is my history,” she said.

The county placed the sign in the park during a 2014 emphasis of identifying public areas. The reason it was given the name Confederate Park is because it has frequently been identified throughout history as such. But formally, no name has been given.

“The timing is just suspicious to me, but if it is for all the right reasons then I’m for it,” said Bob Ullenbruch (Palmyra District).

Booker said the timing was fine because it was a discussion about Fluvanna and “it is always a good time to talk about Fluvanna.”

She said many times that the monument should not come down. She suggested other monuments that could be placed in the park including something to commemorate the 150 anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation. She said the park could be a safe place for families to talk about the Civil War.

“It is a good place for families to come and talk personal history,” said Booker. She said often the Civil War is a difficult item to talk about in schools but families could talk together about it.

Four people spoke during public comments to voice support of renaming the park and no one suggested taking the monument down.

“The space could be more than just a memorial to more than just the confederate soldiers,” said Marvin Moss, president of the Fluvanna Historical Society. He said the society has someone willing to donate a stone to honor the anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation.

Dr. Frank Gallo felt if the name was such an issue, he could handle it immediately after the meeting, without any fanfare. “I have a hacksaw in the back of my car. We can take it down tonight.”

Supervisors are asking residents to suggest names via the county’s website feature called, ‘My Two Cents’. Residents can also contact county administration to suggest names. As always, public comments are a good time to talk to the supervisors.


Bob Ullenbruch

At the first June meeting a resident suggested naming the new Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) bridge on Route 6 after the name of the original 1800s bridge  that was there, Temperance Bridge. John Cooke, often viewed as a ‘founding father of Fluvanna’, was a Thomas Jefferson contemporary and also a supporter of temperance, a movement to stop alcohol consumption. The name would give reverence to Cooke.

To name a VDOT bridge, it will cost the county possibly a few thousand dollars. County staff will get final estimates from the state department. VDOT requires the county to foot the bill of making the signs.

Ullenbruch suggested not just naming a bridge in reference to someone from old Fluvanna history but of people who have made a difference in more recent history.

Steve Nichols, county administrator, suggested there are many public spaces that need names. He gave the example of county rooms that are rented that should be named to make identifying them easier.

Supervisors again will look to the public to give two cents or five minutes of time (length of public comments) to identify names that would be appropriate for everything from bridges to rooms.

The supervisors voted to accept a $10,000 gift that will be used to place a 20-station outdoor fitness track along the Heritage Trail.

“This really is a long-standing setup,” said Nichols.

The money was donated by the Heritage Trail Foundation. The fit trail will be at the Eastern Trailhead.

The board also approved a county-wide employee appreciation program. Last time the Board discussed the program, Ullenbruch left the meeting after Tony O’Brien (Rivanna District) said Ullenbruch sounded like a communist.

The program now includes a total county payout of $1,750 per year. There is yearly prize of a one-time bonus of $500 for the top employee in public service. If a group wins the award, it will be divided equally. The other five nominees for the yearly award will receive a one-time bonus of $250. Again, a group would divide the earnings.

The program was reduced in monetary size after supervisors voiced concerns with how much money was being asked. It still includes on the spot and retiree recognition.

Ullenbruch moved to pass the program with O’Brien seconding. It passed unanimously.

Supervisors also voted to buy the property currently being used as the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s office. The county is currently paying $2,000 a month to lease the space.

Oddly enough, according to the county’s online tax records, the county sold the property to the current owner on April 29, 1999 for $76,000. The county is purchasing the property for the 2015 assessed value of $147,900. The fund balance will be used to pay for the property.

Supervisors will next meeting on July 15. The August schedule includes two meetings on August 5 but none the rest of the month.


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

US29 Business Assistance – What Are You Willing To Do?

By. Neil Williamson, President

Adapted from comments to the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors, July 1, 2015

Good Afternoon. My name is Neil Williamson and I serve as the President of the Free Enterprise Forum a privately funded public policy organization focused on local government.

I understand you received an e-mail from my associate, Tim Hulbert of the Charlottesville Regional Chamber of Commerce. Tim can’t be here for public comment due to a previously scheduled medical appointment but does hope to join you later this afternoon when you are discussing the US29 Business survival program.

In a blog post yesterday, I highlighted the many expressions of support this board has provided to potentially impacted businesses throughout the Route 29 Solutions approval process.

According to the approved minutes of the May 27th 2014 meeting:

Ms. [Diantha] McKeel commented that it’s the intent of this Board to make the businesses as strong as possible during this period of construction

I am a big Sean Connery fan. Considering his many memorable roles, it is hard to believe he  only won a single Academy Award. He won as Best Supporting Actor for his role as veteran patrolman Jimmy Malone in The Untouchables.

sean-connery-as-jim-malone-in-the-untouchablesIn one of the best scenes in the movie, Malone confronts Elliot Ness, played by Kevin Costner and asks, “ You said you wanted to get Capone. Do you really wanna get him? You see what I’m saying is, what are you prepared to do?

Ness replies: “Anything within the law.”

Considering the broad support this board has indicated it would provide to the businesses impacted by the construction of the Rio Road Grade Separated Interchange and the modest plan your professional staff has created to mitigate some of the business interruption, I have just one question.

What are you willing to do?

Your answer will speak volumes.

Thank you for the opportunity to speak.

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson


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

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

By. Neil Williamson, President

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’m comfortable with it

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

chamber sign concept

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

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

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

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

As always, stay tuned.

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson


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

Photo Credits: Jay Ward Productions, Charlottesville Tomorrow 

Greene BOS Approves Cabins on Route 33

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

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

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

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

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

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


Greene County BOS Chairman David Cox

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

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

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

Photo Credits: Greene County


How Local Government Accelerates Income Inequality and Reduces Economic Output

By. Neil Williamson, President

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

Please let me explain.

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

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

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

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

rognile chart

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

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

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

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

San Francisco Zoning Map

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

Single Unit Zoning

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

According to the paper:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson, President


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


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

By. Bryan Rothamel, Field Officer

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

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

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

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

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

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

So what will happen with the cash set aside?

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

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

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


Supervisor Bob Ullenbruch (Palmyra District)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Bryan Rothamel covers Fluvanna County for the Free Enterprise Forum

Albemarle Rain Tax Clouds on the Horizon

By. Neil Williamson, President

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

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

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

From the “A-Mail”:

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

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

Water Resources Video

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Or will we end up the creek?

Only time will tell.

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson, President


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

Photo Credits:, Albemarle County, NCAA  

Albemarle’s Comprehensive Disappointment

By. Neil Williamson, President Free Enterprise Forum

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson


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

Dr. Strangelove and Albemarle’s Comprehensive Plan


By. Neil Williamson, President

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson


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

Photo Credit: Columbia Pictures, MAD magazine

Albemarle Transportation Policy – Multimodal or Anti-Automobile?

By. Neil Williamson, President

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

Today – Chapter 10 Transportation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

market share

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

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson

NEXT: Dr. Strangelove and Albemarle’s Comprehensive Plan


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


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