Albemarle County – Business Unfriendly?

Over the years, people [including members of the Board of Supervisors] have asked why Albemarle is perceived as unfriendly to business.  This week’s [July 29] Albemarle County Planning Commission meeting provides even more evidence supporting Albemarle’s disregard for existing businesses.

During the previously postponed work session on industrial service land designations in the Comprehensive Plan, staff presented a report indicating a projected shortfall of industrial service land over the planning period [20 years].  This shortage is generated by multiplying average business growth times the existing businesses already operating in Albemarle County not accounting for any new start ups or transplanted businesses. 

Ms. Nora Gillespie of the Central Virginia Small Business Development Center spoke at length regarding the number of home based businesses that have had great difficulty finding land in Albemarle County to move their growing businesses.  

Commissioner Eric Strucko questioned the validity of the numbers in the staff report.  He was “not convinced” there is a problem.  Despite testimony to the contrary, the majority of the Commission believes there are plenty of industrial service opportunities within the development areas that can easily accommodate light industrial uses. 

The Free Enterprise Forum advocated for consideration of Strategic Enterprise Zones located outside the development area that could appropriately be “up zoned to allow for Light Industrial Use”. 

Commissioner Tom Loach suggested any industrial service designations should be a part of the community driven Master Planning process.  While appreciative of Mr. Loach’s suggestion, I have some difficulty seeing a master planning process choosing to put land for a contractor’s service yard over open space or mixed use in the development area.

Commissioner Jon Cannon compared the lack of industrial service land to the affordable housing issue.  His point was we did not expand the growth area to solve the affordable housing issue, we have other mechanisms at our disposal.  Mr. Cannon is referring to the “affordable housing” mandate that all new residential rezonings must provide 15% of their stock as “affordable”.  The Free Enterprise Forum was the sole voice in opposition when this mandate was passed.  The result of this mandate is that 85% of new housing product became less affordable. 

It was not clear if Mr. Cannon was suggesting a portion of each rezoned property in the development areas should provide land for industrial service.  If this was his suggestion, The Free Enterprise Forum is very concerned that the ever rising mandates to rezonings (cash proffers, affordable housing, sidewalks, street trees, etc.) will force land not to be developed as planned communities but by right as designated by the underlying zoning.

While Mr. Loach did mention the importance of having jobs in the community, at no time, did the Planning Commission focus on the issue of existing industrial service jobs leaving Albemarle County.  

Early this morning more than twenty thousand workers commuted into Santa Barbara County California.  This evening, these workers will drive [the VAST majority alone] out of the county back to their homes, construction yards, plant nurseries and offices in the surrounding localities.  It has gotten so bad the saying is “Santa Barbara’s for newlyweds and nearly deads”.  I fear this is where Albemarle County is headed.  But don’t worry, the Planning Commission does not believe we have a problem.

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