Last night, Albemarle County’s Planning Commission, in a knee jerk reaction to an application plan it reviewed last week, (Charlottesville Tomorrow has the story here) approved a Resolution of Intent – to amend a section of the zoning ordinance.
The Readers’ Digest version of this story is that last week the Planning Commission was very frustrated that the did not have the legal power to halt a plan they did not like, so this week they took immediate steps to garner this authority.
While this may seem like waay inside baseball, I raise the issue because rarely does such knee jerk regulatory action result in positive public policy.
The section the Planning Commission is seeking to amend provides owners of Planned Districts (Neighborhood Model, Planned Urban District, Historic District, Rural Preservation District, etc.) the option of having their plans reviewed utilizing the regulations that were in force at the time of their district designation or the regulations in place the day of the review.
In last night’s meeting, the Free Enterprise Forum raised the concern that this proposal had not properly been vetted for the scope of its potential application. We also called for stakeholder roundtables prior to drafting the ordinance.
In subsequent testimony, Valerie Long of Williams Mullen cited Biscuit Run, Northpointe, The University of Virginia Research parks, Martha Jefferson Hospital, and Monticello as just a few of the projects that could be impacted by this amendment.
In response to our comments, one commissioner deftly turned the burden of proof of over regulation to those being regulated.
The Albemarle County Planning Commission sees this amendment as closing a loophole in the ordinance. Based on the manner in which ordinances are drafted in this community I am certain there was careful thought in the creation of this loophole. The genesis of this section of code was not discussed in detail last night.
At no point were metrics provided regarding the number of applications that had utilized this section of code. It was clear this proposal was a way for staff to answer the concerns raised by the Planning Commission in the previous week without any critical analysis [or staff report] to support the action.
IMHO this is using a sledgehammer to kill a fly. Since 2002, I can only think of two projects that utilized this provision in the code.
Albemarle County staff has taken great pains to express their concerns with the ever increasing workload being placed on their department, which has been decimated by frozen positions. I fear that since this is a pet project, either items higher on the priority list may be moved down the pecking order or, more discouraging, the planning commission attempts to move this proposal through with all deliberate speed at the cost of stakeholder involvement.
The optimist in me hopes staff will be able to dedicate the appropriate time to evaluate if this ordinance change is really needed and not be pressured into wasting limited staff time drafting an ordinance whose primary mission may be to soothe a frustrated commission.