The Albemarle County Planing Commission had scheduled a work session on last Tuesday evening (July 23, 2008) to discuss the Comprehensive Plan Economic Policy Update regarding Available, Affordable Light Industrial Land. This discussion was postponed one week (to July 30) by the commission due to a lack of attendance by Planning Commissioners.
Light Industrial zoning is generally referred to as allowing industrial, office and limited commercial uses (no residential). Light industrial users are varied and include bio-tech companies, defense contractors, food processors, equipment manufacturer, as well as service providers such as kennels, natural gas storage, auto body shop, waste management, contractor storage for excavation equipment, etc.
The staff report, written by Albemarle County Business Development Facilitator Susan Stimart, quantifies the projected need for Light Industrial (LI) Zoned land by existing Albemarle County businesses over the next twenty years. The report indicates:
Gathering 2006 employment by NAIC [North American Industrial Classification] codes typically found in LI, staff estimates current space using an average of 500SF [square feet] per employee, or a baseline consumption of between 454 and 672 acres. Based in growth trends of 3.5% annual growth [business growth not population-nw] and our desire to provide for local business expansion, this employment base is likely to double in the next 20 years, or a projected total consumption of between 908 and 1,345 acres. Taking out the 694 acres already developed and 333 vacant acres, this would result in a future shortage ranging from 121 to 339 acres.
It is important to note this demand analysis was prepared using data only reflective of existing business growth not new companies moving into Albemarle County.
The report correctly identifies a number of rezonings over the last few years (Hollymead Towncenter, Willoughby/Fifth Street, Albemarle Place) that have reduced the inventory of Industrial Service designated land. It also mentions the recent plant closings (Badger, Avionic Specialties) have created a “bump” in vacant developed LI property.
While it is hard to imagine a basic industrial user developing the land that is now Target/Harris Teeter it is easier to imagine a turn key operation moving into the Badger or Avionics plant.
Beyond the large manufacturer, many Albemarle County home operated small businesses (landscaping, hauling, etc.) are being forced out of their home occupation status as their businesses grow. In recent years, we have seen more and more of these businesses choosing to pull their equipment (and tax revenue) across the county line into neighboring, more business friendly jurisdictions.
The Albemarle County Planning Commission accepted public comment prior to deferring the topic on Tuesday evening. The philosophical question the Free Enterprise Forum posed was “Does Industrial Service belong in your growth area? and How do you deal with the ever present conflicts between Industrial Service and residential uses?”
The staff report framed the discussion along three options:
1. As a part of Master Plan process, designate and proactively re-zone additional areas into development areas to LI uses.
2. Modify the Zoning code as regards allowed uses in the LI and other zoning districts
3. Increase land available for industrial purposes through modification of allowances outside Development Area boundaries or expansion of Development Area boundaries.
Once again, Albemarle County is faced with the challenge of defining who it wants to be. In order to reach their adopted goal of “Providing local business development opportunities”, they may need to adjust their philosophical opposition to altering Development Area boundaries.
If Albemarle County is serious about its dedication to have industry (and the related jobs), it should create strategic enterprise zones outside of the development areas for this growth to occur. Failing this or a significant expansion of the development areas themselves, as industry grows it will simply move out of Albemarle County.
Perhaps this is the goal?