Monthly Archives: May, 2008

Voter Vocabulary

Forum Watch Editorial

By. Neil Williamson

 

The Free Enterprise Forum’s definition of a Voter Vocabulary term is a government program whose title describes very little but induces lemming-like support.  The grand daddy of this technique is the term “Smart Growth” coined by the staff of then Maryland Governor Parris Glendening.  Other examples include Sustainable Development, Traffic Calming, Land Use Integration and Revenue Enhancement.       

 

Earlier this month Delegate Brian Moran (D-Alexandria) launched the latest entry in Virginia’s Voter Vocabulary hand book.  In a Virginia-Pilot Op-ed, Moran, who has made no secret of his desire for the Governor’s seat, calls for the creation of an “Office of Responsible Growth”.

 

This Orwellian sounding concept is a logical next step in wrestling control of plans and proposals away from local government (and citizens).  After weeks of meetings at the Planning Commission level, Fluvanna County agreed to “outsource” its Comprehensive Plan to the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission (TJPDC).  The Free Enterprise Forum has learned Greene County has indicated some interest in following the same road (pun intended).

 

Over the past five years, TJPDC as an organization has become very good at coordinating public meetings and framing the presentations and questions in a manner that provides the public the perception of involvement and still producing an end product that matches their philosophical bend.

 

TJPDC plans and reports are filled with Voter Vocabulary references such as pedestrian friendly (who would want to be pedestrian unfriendly?), buildings of a human scale (?), and sustainable solutions (if it is not sustainable is it a solution?).

 

Of interest, the Executive Director of the TJPDC, Harrison Rue, recently resigned to accept a position at an international consulting firm, ICF International.  In discussing his departure with Nancy Miner of The Central Virginian Rue stated, “I’ll be in [ICF’s] transportation practice … working with regions around the country on the same kind of land use integration that we have here.”   We anticipate hearing from Rue in the near future regarding Land Use Integration with Sensible Sustainable Solutions.

 

Thus during a search for a new Executive Director and in addition to their current activities, Fluvanna County will be paying the TJPDC to create the vision Comprehensive Plan.  The Free Enterprise Forum remains hopeful that the plan will accurately reflect the core values of Fluvanna citizens.  We are concerned Fluvanna (and possibly Greene’s) Comprehensive Plan may be developed in a cookie cutter methodology filled with Voter Vocabulary words and without significant (and meaningful) citizen involvement.  The Planning Commission, Board of Supervisors and citizens deserve better.     

 

Respectfully Submitted,

 

Neil Williamson

Greene County Board of Supervisors 5/27/08

Greene County Board of Supervisors

Greene County Administration Building

05/27/2008

Kara Reese

 

Executive Summary

 

Proposal to award a contract for maintenance of the Emergency Communication System to Clear Communication- Approved

Resolution to accept and appropriate Byrne Justice Assistance Grant for the Sheriff’s Department – Approved

Resolution to accept and appropriate Hazardous Materials Emergency Preparedness Planning Sub-Grant – Approved

 

Present

Steve Catalano, Chairman

Buggs Peyton, Vice Chair

Jeri Allen

Carl Schmitt

Mike Skeens

 

Also Present

Barry Clark (County Administrator)

Ray Clarke (County Attorney)

 

7:40 pm – Call to Order

 

 

1.         Emergency Communication System Maintenance Contract

A proposal to award a contract for maintenance on the County’s Emergency Communication System to Clear Communications was brought forward. 

 

Vote:

C. Schmitt moved to approve awarding the maintenance contract to Clear Communication. J. Allen seconded the motion. All board members voted in favor of the motion.

 

2.         A Certificate of Appreciation was awarded to Eagle Scout Fletcher Hultman for construction a new pedestrian bridge in the park.

 

3.         Matters from the public- None

 

4.         Consent Agenda

  1.  
    1. Minutes of the previous meeting
    2. Resolution to accept and appropriate the Byrne Justice Assistance Grant for the Sherriff’s Department.

– The grant amount was $1,931 with $215 of local matching funds required.

  1.  
    1. Resolution to accept and appropriate $7,500 for a Hazardous Materials Emergency Preparedness Planning Sub-grant

Vote:

All matters on the consent agenda were considered together and passed unanimously.

 

5.         Other matters from the Board

 

-The 2008 retreat for the Board of Supervisors will be July 1, 2008.

 

-C. Schmitt requested that the Board consider adopting a resolution on improving the county’s transportation system to help send a clear message to legislators in Richmond.

 

-J. Allen reported that as liaison to the Planning Commission she was concerned about citizen opposition to B-3 zoning at the last Commission meeting. She suggested that B-3 zoning may no longer make sense and the Board should reevaluate current zoning categories.  S. Catalano requested that staff draft a memo addressing the current business zoning scheme and its compatibility with Greene County’s development.

 

-There will be only one meeting of the Board of Supervisors in June. The June 24th meeting has been cancelled.

 

6. FY 2008-2009 Budget for Greene County Schools

 

Darcy Higgens, Chairman of the School Board presented a brief overview of the School’s FY 2008-2009 Budget.

Some key items in the budget included:

·        Adjustments to the teacher’s pay scale to create a more linear scale

·        A pay increase for teachers

·        An 8% raise for teacher’s assistants

·        A 3% raise for administrators

·        An anticipated increase in health insurance costs of 14%

·        An increase in mileage reimbursement to 48 cents per mile

·        Installation of surveillance equipment in the Middle School and High School

·        A new math curriculum

·        New instructors for Technology and English/Drama at the High School

·        A reduction in Elementary School staff

·        The purchase of 4 new busses

·        The transfer of 4 cars from the Sheriff’s Department

·        New transportation software

 

 

 

 

 

Comments from the Board:

         New superintendent Dave Jeck was formally welcomed by the Board of Supervisors.

         B. Peyton noted that it is important for employees to understand the compensation structure up front and applauded the School Board for fixing the teacher’s pay scale.

         J. Allen noted that this particular budget was a lot a work. She felt well informed during the process. She was pleased with plans to adopt a new math curriculum.

         C. Schmitt is interested in building a collaborative approach between the two Boards. He suggested meeting with officials in Henry County to learn more about the collaborative relationship between the schools and local government there.

         S. Catalano would like to identify and combine common functionalities between the schools and county in the future as a means to increase efficiency. He also noted that the Board of Supervisors faces tough questions from constituents. It is helpful to Board members to have access to information to answer those questions accurately. In the future, he would appreciate if the School Board could provide the financial justification for encouraging an early retirement policy.

         B. Peyton indicated that if in the future it becomes necessary to raise taxes to fund education he would be willing to consider it. However, there needs to be good communication early so that the Board can identify when and if a tax increase is necessary.

         S. Catalano encouraged both Board and constituents to work together in order to make an appeal to the Legislature in Richmond regarding changes that need to be made in education.

         The Board of Supervisors was generally pleased with the School Board’s Budget and hoped for increased cooperation between the both boards in the future.

 

Meeting Adjourned 8:55 pm

Greene County May PC Meeting

Greene County Planning Commission

Greene County Administration Building

Kara L. Reese – Free Enterprise Forum Greene Field Officer

5/21/08

 

Executive Summary:

RZ#08-001 Request to Rezone from R-1 to B-3 on approximately 16.16 acres along Seminole Trail/Cedar Grove – Deferred to July 16, 2008

RZ#06-002 Request to Rezone from A1 to B2 and R2 on approximately 327.54 acres near Spotswood Trail, Dunnes Shop Rd, and M&M Rd. – Denied

PC Appeal App. #08-001 Extension for Pond’s Edge – Approved

PC Appeal App. #08-002 Extension for the View – Approved

PC Appeal App. #08-003 Extension for Cardinal Forest – Approved

PC Appeal App. #08-004 Extension for Kings Court – Approved

 

Present

Davis Lamb – Chairman

Norman Slezak 

Jim Frydl

Phyllis Woodfolk

Anthony Herring

 

Also Present

Bart Svoboda

 

 

6:30 pm Work Session: Updates to Capital Improvements Plan (CIP)

 

Overview of proposed changes to CIP

  • Public Safety 
    • New request for Ruckersville facility
    • New request for Stanardsville facility- old facility barely accommodates size of current vehicles
    • New request for additional response vehicle
  • Building & Grounds
    • New request by EDA for new/renovated offices
  • Courts & Judicial
    • Courthouse renovations are nearing completion and will be struck from FY 09-10
  • Public Works
    • Several new projects were added to address water and sewage needs
  • Parks and Recreation
    • Installation of electric/water service and restrooms were given priority within this category

 

Work Session closed at 7:17 pm

 

Regular meeting called to order at 7:30 pm

 

I.  Greene County Water Study

 

N. Slezak moved to amend the agenda to allow Mr. White to present the regional water study to the Commission. P. Woodfolk seconded the motion. Vote: Unanimous.

 

Water Study Presented by Mr. White of W & W Associates:

  • Current water resources
    • Rapidan River- safe yield 1.15  (million gallons per day) MGD
    • Water treatment facility – current capacity 1.2 MGD
  • Future water demand estimates indicate that peak demand will increase to 1.2 MGD in 2009. This daily peak demand will exceed Greene County’s current production capacity. Peak water demand is expected to continue to grow to 3.3MGD in 2033.
  • To meet these future water needs it was recommended that the county build a new pump storage reservoir with a 3.5 MGD Minimum Safe Yield and construct a new water treatment plant.
  • It was noted that there are other areas competing for the same water source. The sooner Greene County makes its claim on the Rapidan River the better it will be for the county.
  • Five potential sites were studied and ranked according to 10 criteria:
    • Volume/ safe yield of the potential site
    • Environmental impacts (It is important to note that this is a high ranking factor because federal approval will depend on the environmental impact)
    • Infrastructure impact
    • Construction costs
    • Proximity to service area
    • Distance from the Rapidan River
    • Land acquisition costs or difficulty
    • Impact on land owners
  • Five potential reservoir sites were ranked according to these factors. Listed from most favorable to least favorable they are Upper Welsh Run, White Run, Buckner Run, Henshaw Run and Blackberry Lane.
  • The total cost estimates for the top two choices Upper Welsh Run and White Run were $39,200,000 and $36,600,000 respectively.
  • In addition to the construction of the reservoir, it was recommended that the county add additional wells to supplement water supplies until the reservoir is constructed.

 

 

II.        Public Hearing on request by W. Copley McLean to rezone from R-1 Residential to B-3 Business approximately 16.16 acres Located on Seminole Trail/Cedar Grove Road (County Tax Maps 66C-(2)-A & B)

 

Staff:

  • The property is located cattycorner from Sheets on the Southwest corner of Cedar Grove and Route 29.
  • The property is currently zoned for residential use and the developer currently can build 39 single family homes on the property ‘by right’.
  • An access road would run from Cedar Grove Road, roughly parallel to Route 29 and come out at the Rapidan Center. A light would ultimately be installed at the intersection of the access road and Route 29. This access road would meet up with the recently approved Kinvara development creating a loop.
  • Staff believes that the proposed use complies with the comprehensive plan by making the Route 29 corridor a commercial area.
  • Lighting and landscaping buffers are now covered by a new county ordinance.

 

Applicant:

  • M. Barnes of K.G. Associates indicated the developer is willing to proffer a 25 foot buffer instead of the 20 feet buffer required by the ordinance.
  • Regarding transportation issues, the applicant believes that there is an agreement in principle, but that the language needs to be hammered out.
  • Currently, the plan does not include an additional access point for residents who live behind the southwest corner of the development.

 

Public Comment:

Ten residents of Waverly Acres or the immediate vicinity voiced several concerns about the project. Residents feel that they have not been given any information about this project. They are concerned that the B-3 designation instead of a B-1 designation will result in “heavy uses” such as truck stops and bus stations.

 

Residents are also concerned that their access point to Route 29 will be cut off and that there will be increased traffic. Hawthorne Road is the only road in and out of Waverly Acres at Route 29. VDOT has plans in the works to close the crossover at Route 29 and Hawthorne Road. Residents believe that the approval of this plan will secure or hasten the closing of the crossover. Residents want additional access to 29 or the crossover to stay open.

 

Commission:

         N. Slezak would like to see some interaction between the developer and citizens to addressing some of the residents concerns. He was also concerned that this project does not contain items such as walkways, public bus stops and bike racks. M. Barnes indicated the developer would be open to discussion with the public regarding these items.

         J. Frydl commented that adding businesses in this location would provide a tax benefit to the community. He also pointed out that there would be access to Route 29 for Waverly Acres resident by taking the proposed new road North to Cedar Grove or South to a new traffic light. This would be safer access than the current crossover at Hawthorne Road.

         A. Herring stated that he felt the Commission needed more detail particularly with respect to proffers.

         Other members of the Planning Commission echoed the sentiment that more detail was needed. Proffers need to be much clearer.

 

 

 

Vote:

N. Slezak moved to defer action on the application until July 16, 2008 in order to give the developer time to meet with citizens and to clarify proffers. A. Herring seconded the motion, which passed unanimously.

 

 

III.       Carroll & Lynnette Morris/K & B Properties request to rezone from A-1 to B-2 and R-2 approximately 327.54 acres  located on Spotswood Trail, Dunnes Shop Road, and M & M Road.

 

Staff:

            This project has been before the commission previously; while some proffers had changed the basic plan remains the same. The location of this development surrounds the Welsh Run site which has been studied for a purposed water retention facility. The plan anticipates location of such a facility at the site. Staff noted that a traffic study was not legally required; however, it could be useful in evaluating the project.

 

Applicant:

            Applicant and his representatives didn’t have a lot to say. Applicant was frustrated with the process and felt that a traffic study was not necessary.

 

Public Comment: (NONE)

 

Commission:

         N. Slezak was concerned that this development was premature given the current market and growth rates in the county. He wants to assure that the county has orderly growth. Further, a traffic study is necessary to fully understand the impact of the proposed development even if not required by law.

         D. Lamb was interested in what the buffer distance would be between the proposed homes and water.

 

Vote:

N. Slezak moved to recommend denial of the project. J. Frydl seconded the motion. The motion was unanimously approved and the rezoning application was denied.

 

 

IV.       Minutes of April Meeting – approved

 

V.        PC APPEALS

PC Appeal App. #08-001 Extension for Pond’s Edge

PC Appeal App. #08-002 Extension for the View

PC Appeal App. #08-003 Extension for Cardinal Forest

PC Appeal App. #08-004 Extension for Kings Court

 

 

 

Staff:

These are four applications to extend each project up to three years. The question posed to the Commission is do you want the developer to build now or in 3 years? These requests are often market driven.

 

Applicant:

Applicant does not want to dump excessive housing on the market. Applicant also indicated he may seek rezoning on Cardinal Forest and The View.

 

Vote:

P. Woodfolk moves to approve all appeals. Appeals are approved unanimously.

 

V.        Next Meeting of the Planning Commission will be July 18, 2008. There will not be a June meeting.

 

Items which may be addressed in the next meeting are:

         the deferred recommendation regarding the Copley project

         revision of by-laws

         an inoperable vehicle ordinance

         establishing a time line for the comprehensive plan

           

Meeting adjourned at 9:47 pm

 

 

Too Much Planning?

This morning’s Daily Progress featured a column by George Will mentioned Friedrich Hayek’s description of the “Fatal Conceit” – the idea that government can know the future’s possibilities and can and should control the future’s agenda.

Considering Hayek’s position and the high level of planning in Albemarle County – with 50 planning commission meetings annually and 22 Entrance Corridors regulated by the Architectural Review Board – raises the question, can there be such a thing as too much planning? 

If one multifaceted governmental review of a proposal is good, shouldn’t ten make the proposal ten times better?  Or, is there a point of diminishing return on time (and tax dollars)? 

On May 21, 2008, The Albemarle County Board of Supervisors, Planning Commission, and Architectural Review Board held their first joint meeting since 2005.  The meeting, in part, was a reply from the Development Review Task Force report created to evaluate the development approval process.

The majority of the meeting included presentations explaining the process and allowing staff to identify where potential time savings can be made. 

Staff was concerned about applicants who do not include all the items on the development submission checklist.  They explained that the checklist is provided as a guide but if an applicant turns in the application without everything they still must accept it.  One board member suggested writing an ordinance to require those items.  Another board member was concerned that if that was done the locality could not then ask for additional information.  This item, as with all others introduced at this meeting will be continued in a future meeting.

In one of the more interesting slides of the day, staff highlighted that many localities Albemarle County often compares itself to only hold Planning Commission meetings once a month.  Albemarle County Planning Commission meets once a week.  In addition to the considerable time commitment of Planning Commissioners, the staff time to prepare for a planning commission meeting is enormous.  One solution discussed was increasing the number of proposals that can be handled under administrative review (eroding Planning Commission/Board of Supervisors power).  Projects that are administratively approved require half the staff time of projects that go to the Planning Commission. 

After the staff presentations, Paul Wright of the Architectural Review Board presented a number of concerns the ARB has with the current processes.  These concerns included enforcement and an inability of the ARB under its current powers to control the skyline within the entrance corridors.

The resulting discussion changed the course of the meeting entirely.  Rather than looking for ways to streamline the development review process and improve public understanding, the members of the ARB pressed for more power.  In addition they expressed concerns that they were the last consulted regarding one of the County’s own projects Albemarle High School expansion.  One member of the ARB suggested they should be consulted on every building the County has an interest in.

Thus a meeting designated to discuss streamlining development approvals devolved into a conversation creating new time intensive initatives and possibly expanding ARB powers. 

The results of the meeting are more meetings to evaluate the ARB proposal and the staff proposals.

The ARB is an advisory board on matters in the entrance corridor overlay district to the Planning Commission and The Board of Supervisors.  The Free Enterprise Forum has previously expressed concern over the number of roadways that are now considered Entrance Corridors (22).  Not satisfied with expanding their powers geographically, The Free Enterprise Forum believes the ARB is accelerating toward expanding its “advisory” powers.  Such an expansion should be approached with great trepidation.

Again quoting Nobel Laurate Economist Friedrich Hayek,

“What our generation has forgotten is that the system of private property is the most important guarantee of freedom, not only for those who own property, but scarcely less for those who do not. It is only because the control of the means of production is divided among many people acting independently that nobody has complete power over us, that we as individuals can decide what to do with ourselves

We shall never prevent the abuse of power if we are not prepared to limit power in a way which occasionally may prevent its use for desirable purposes.” –The Road to Serfdom, 1944 

 

Workforce Development – The Lack of Career Ladder Jobs

This evening, Albemarle County’s Planning Commission will launch a review of the Economic Development Chapter of the Comprehensive Plan.  Starting with workforce development, the commission will review the strategies listed in the current plan and consider the creation of new strategies. 

The review of the Economic Development policy must be focused on how this chapter is interrelated with the other aspects of the Comprehensive Plan and what type of “Enterprise Environment” results from fully enacting the provisions in the plan. 

“It is not by planting trees or subsidizing tree planting in a desert created by politicians that the government can promote … industry, but by refraining from measures that create a desert environment.” – The Economist (March 3, 1990) 

Based on our read of the statistics prepared for tonight’s meeting, the Planning Commission may be starting at the wrong end of the Economic Development Elephant. 

Workforce Development is a very different problem in Albemarle County than in most areas of the country.  With historically low unemployment and an educated workforce almost 48,000 strong, the workforce issue is much more about “underemployment” rather than unemployment.

Comparatively Virginia and Albemarle County have about the same percentage of high school graduate population (86% to 87% respectively) but when when looks to the population with a bachelor’ degree or more the state is far behind Albemarle County (54% to 30% respectively).

As a potential impact of the higher education level, Albemarle County has 3% points lower rate of people living below the poverty line (2000 statistics) compared with the balance of the state.  Conversely, the working poor must compete in a job market filled with well educated applicants. 

While career ladder jobs exist in health, government and education sectors, the balance of the industries do not have a large number of middle level positions.  This scarcity of positions often leads to the flight of the middle managers or under employment.  A third option is the “forced entrepreneur” theory, it may be argued that the dearth of mid level jobs could be driving much of the entrepreneurial spirit in this population cohort.   

It is important to remember that the end goal in this process is an improved “Enterprise Environment” not just jobs.  As the Mercatus Center at George Mason University found in its June 2006 Policy Comment:

“Economic performance does not hinge on job growth per se, but on labor productivity and entrepreneurship, which ultimately translate into higher employment.” 

Workforce development priorities must be balanced with other economic development need including regulatory review and revision to improve the business environment and therefore grow the economic prospects for the entire community.

Houston – Hey Look No Zoning

The Preserving the American Dream Coalition  held its sixth annual conference in Houston Texas last  weekend.  The first day was filled with touring the city of Houston and its surrounds to see what a city with “No Zoning” looks like as compared with other cities.

Houston does have a permissive regulatory environment but also has required setbacks and follow the international building code.  One other aspect of Houston surprised me — it is really flat.  We toured one planned community, Sienna Plantation of over 10,000 acres which had less than 10 feet of elevation change within the property.  When this project is completed, likely 15,000 residences, it will double the population of Missouri City, TX.  This master planned community, complete with walking trails, golf course, street trees and parks, was built without government direction.  Not to suggest this master planned community is without stringent codes of its own but the code of development that was developed was market driven and to date has been very successful.    

The other interesting observation from the Houston tour was the market driven approach to mixed use.  Rather than government mandated lofts over restaurants (i.e. Portland), the buildings with different uses (retail, service, residential) seem to be well intermingled in terms of use in the denser areas.  As you reach into the suburbs, in both planned and organic neighborhoods, uses are much more traditionally segmented — without prescriptive zoning.

Houston is not without its problems but the pattern of development is market driven and their market has weathered this latest housing crunch better than most.

The lesson I took from my time in Houston is land development depends on a wide variety of ever changing variables, the best mechanism to address such chaos is the free market.  In the free market, land owners that choose the development vision consumers want are rewarded, those choosing less popular styles are proportionally punished. 

Regarding planning reulation, Houstonians really are getting more by doing less.

 

The Higher Bar for Land Use

Albemarle County Board of Supervisors had an unusually full house earlier this week when they discussed their land use tax relief policy.  Under the policy, land that is in agricultural production or forestry is taxed at a lower rate than the standard rate.  As several supervisors took pains to point out, the property owner is paying the full rate on their residence and the two acres that surrounds it.

The Supervisors agreed to review and likely implement a self certification program to make sure all those land owners receiving land use taxation are using the property according to the rules.  The specifics of the certification program have not yet been worked out but The Free Enterprise Forum believes any such program must be user friendly and not require outside assistance to fill out.

In the more heated discussion, Albemarle County Supervisors decided to take a look at, as Supervisor Dennis Rooker put it, “raising the bar” on the land use program.  To be fair, not one supervisor indicated a desire to completely eliminate the program but Supervisor David Slutzky seemed to be the most adamant about changing the participation parameters. 

One option Mr. Slutzky mentioned was providing land use taxation only to those parcels under conservation easement.  This option failed to receive support of the Board.  In the end the Board of Supervisors agreed to hear back from staff regarding “Option 2” which would require land owners to enter into a contractual agreement with Albemarle County that they would not develop their land for a period of time between 4 and 10 years.  The motion passed 4-2 with Chairman Ken Boyd and Supervisor Lindsey Dorrier in the minority.  

Staff indicated the re-validation discussion would move forward in June and the discussion of possible changes to the land use participation parameters would follow shortly thereafter.

While The Free Enterprise Forum is in support of a reasonable re-validation program, we believes the proposed participation parameter change will unintentionally accelerate the conversion of farm land to residential.  Example:  Farmer John Smith has 150 acres of land in land use with 8 development rights on the parcel.  If he runs into a tough year, major medical issue, or other financial hardship, he can split off a section of his parcel and sell that section to make ends meet.  If he had signed the proposed participation agreement (that like a conservation easement would go with the land) he would be forbidden to sell a small portion and could be forced to sell the farm.  It would be likely the purchaser of the farm land would calculate the carrying costs of the land until the agreement lapsed and the cost of 5 years of back taxes and reduce the amount available to Farmer Smith.  This is a bad policy.

Currently, when land moves out of land use the landowner is responsible for the current year and five years of back taxes at the prevailing rate.  The proposed participation parameters amount to local government looking to gain more control over land.  With over 60% of Albemarle County in Land Use (not including those in conservation easements) we believe the program is working. 

“Raising the Bar” will generate great distrust with little or no benefit to Albemarle County residents.

 

One Saturday in May

Over the weekend, the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission (TJPDC) held a community forum for the United Jefferson Area Mobility Plan (UNJAM 2035).  The UNJAM forum was designed to provide the TJPDC with ideas that will set the course for the region’s future transportation development.  According to The Daily Progress, “50 or so attendees hashed out ideas in small groups”.

The keynote speaker for the forum was Reid Ewing, a research professor at the National Center for Smart Growth at the University of Maryland . Professor Ewing is also the co-author of “Growing Cooler: the Evidence on Urban Development and Climate Change“.  His remarks spoke to the need for our communities to be designed differently to better integrate all aspects of our lives.  He was strongly in favor of mixed use development as a part of the solution to global warming.

The Free Enterprise Forum has written extensively about mixed use development and new urbanism.  The concept clearly has merit and likely has a growing niche in the market.  That being said, we are most curious about the make up of the audience at the TJPDC UNJAM forum.  

Does the TJPDC believe this was a representative sample of the concerned public?

How many of those attending the meeting were staff members or elected officials from the various municipalities?  While it is critically important that staff and elected officials attend these meetings, it is of equal importance that John Q. Citizen is also represented. 

In a previous iteration of the UNJAM meetings, the TJPDC held a series of evening meetings to allow a schedule challenged citizens multiple opportunities to review the presentation and interact with staff.

The Free Enterprise Forum believes holding such an important meeting on the Saturday of Mother’s Day weekend was a mistake.  This scheduling decision was detrimental to gaining both public involvement and public support of the TJPDC’s grand transportation vision.  Too often, we find these meetings not to be about generating true public engagement but more about the satisfaction of a grant requirement for public meetings.  

A careful review of the meeting agenda, keynote speaker and small group work seem all be designed with a specific outcome in mind.  After watching five years of such meetings, The Free Enterprise Forum believes the TJPDC is involved in building a Group Think mentality.    

Tim Borcher of Minnesota State University – Moorhead describes the groupthink as “a concept that was identified by Irving Janis that refers to faulty decision-making in a group. Groups experiencing groupthink do not consider all alternatives and they desire unanimity at the expense of quality decisions. — Negative impacts of such groupthink:

  • Examining few alternatives
  • Not being critical of each other’s ideas
  • Not examining early alternatives
  • Not seeking expert opinions
  • Being highly selective in gathering information
  • Not having contingency plans “

While I am convinced the TJPDC is guilty of promoting groupthink and thus poor decision making,  I less certain the groupthink environment the TJPDC is providing is deliberate.  The Free Enterprise Forum is very concerned the UNJAM 2035 plan will move forward without significant comment from the majority of the community. 

To their credit, the TJPDC is accepting public comment until 30 June via the UNJAM website.  The Free Enterprise Forum strongly encourages residents of Albemarle, Charlottesville, Greene, Fluvanna and Nelson to visit the website and make your voice heard. 

If the TJPDC remains open to public comment on the UNJAM 2035 plan and receives no such comment, the blame for this lack of involvement can not rest just on one poorly scheduled meeting.  Such blame must be shared by all in the community to busy to zip the TJPDC an e-mail regarding your thoughts on the plan.

Those members of the public who choose not to speak up and make their voice heard, agree to be ruled by those few who are willing to do so.  

Who will speak up?

 

How is an Office Building like a Cow?

How is an office building like a cow? — Neither goes to school

How is a cow different than an office building?  – The office building pays higher taxes [and no one ever stepped in an office pie].

This Wednesday, The Greene County Chamber of Commerce hosted Dr. Gerald L. Gordon, President and Chief Executive Officer of the Economic Development Authority in Fairfax County, Virginia.

Dr. Gordon was a delightful speaker and highlighted that Fairfax County is in the top ten nationally for office space.  A minor factoid in his remarks included his Authority, which is completely government funded, operates on a budget of 7 million dollars with about 50 employees. 

The reason Fairfax County continues to dedicate such resources into business development is they can see the return on their investment. 

One question Dr. Gordon is often asked is “How do we achieve the success of Fairfax without becoming, well you know — Fairfax?”  He replied that localities should be selective and aggressive about the types of businesses they wish to locate in their jurisdiction.  He highlighted information technology specialist who could obtain security clearance as a current need in the market. 

Of equal importance, Dr. Gordon highlighted the need for political stability in the locality.  He cited his neighboring county Loudoun which has had huge ideological shifts on their Board of Supervisors every four years creating an unstable environment to place a business.  He considers the relative calm the Fairfax Board of Supervisors has achieved to be a selling point for Fairfax County.  Businesses are looking at a much longer window than 4 years when contemplating an expansion or corporate headquarters move.

I would take Dr. Gordon’s point one step further to suggest that environment that is established by the residents and their elected representatives [read regulatory environment] has a great deal to do with the overall economic vitality of the region. 

Today’s technology has decreased the importance of physical location of a business.  Business owners are freer than ever to locate their businesses wherever they want to live.  This region is a great place to live with a great quality of life.   

Our region is well represented by the Thomas Jefferson Partnership for Economic Development as the regional economic development catalyst.  Their new Executive Director, Michael Harvey, has initiated a significant strategic planning process designed to involve the majority of stakeholders in determining what type of economic development (if any) the region would welcome.  As a participant in one of these sessions, I was struck by the variety of views of economic development held by stake holders.  In addition I found that the concerns about big business coming in far outpaced the understanding of the benefits of such new business development. 

It is important to note within our region, and within the state, some localities are more advanced than others in being proactive wanting business to come in to their locality and encouraging growth and development of the existing businesses. 

The Free Enterprise Forumbelieves businesses provide far greater rewards beyond the positive tax revenue.  Without fail businesses provide sponsorships for ball teams, all-night-long parties, volunteer hours on non profit boards and much more.  That being said we believe tax dollars spent on economic development must be viewed as an investment and regularly evaluated as such.  We do not forsee the need for a budget the size of Dr. Gordon’s but some government spending on economic development is warrented.

Until voters recognize the significant benefit businesses provide to the community and welcome new and expanding businesses, our region will not be “in the game” for the most adventagous business development opportunities.   

The Dredging Distraction

Often in local public policy, an indirect opposition approach is used to distract the public from the true agenda.  The Free Enterprise Forum fears this may be the case in the current dredging discussion occurring in the City of Charlottesville and Albemarle County at this time.

A well known engineering firm has come in and raised a number of questions with the assumptions another well known engineering firm used to develop estimated costs for dredging the South Fork Rivanna Reservoir.  The high cost (combined with the less than needed increase in holding capacity) were two of the factors that took the dredging option out of play for the proposed 50 year community water supply solution. 

The firm providing the second opinion has stated to fully develop an estimated cost and resulting yield of a full dredging operation will require a contract of $277,000.  The firm did determine based on its preliminary work that direct pumping the siltation to the airport is not an option.

In what may be the understatement of the week, the firm stated dredging is a complicated business with many unknowns.

Based on our discussions with industry contacts, The Free Enterprise Forum believes both firms are eminently qualified for their tasks and (despite outcry to the contrary) neither firm has introduced significant prejudice of one proposal over another to the process.

More importantly is the subtle shift The Free Enterprise Forum perceives in the community water supply discussion.  More and more we are hearing that there may not really be a need for a 50 year community water supply solution. 

Why not have a 10 year solution?

Why should we look that far ahead?

Or my favorite: We can have a plan but really we don’t have to really mean it or fund it.

This blog has highlighted the need to eliminate water supply as a growth control tool.  If a community’s comprehensive plan calls for a certain amount of growth, the community water supply should be available to accommodate that growth.  If the community wishes to change that part of the comprehensive plan, there is an ongoing process to facilitate that change.

The Free Enterprise Forum believes the process RWSA used to come up with the community water supply solution was inclusive and exhaustive.  The public meetings were well run and well attended.  While we did not endorse the solution, we did endorse the process used to reach a solution.

Make no mistake, the Dredging Distraction is not really about the South Fork Rivanna Reservoir.  It is really about two very different agendas:

1) Delaying/Reducing the scope/eliminating the 50 year Community Water Supply solution

2) Mitigating how much City residents will need to pay for the increased water supply.

This evening at 5:00 pm Charlottesville City Council will see the dredging presentation and hear discussion from many intimately involved in the process.  Listen carefully and see if you are able to hear the groundwork for what we perceive as the real agenda.