Today is the first business day of the new year. Rather than a look back on where we have been, The Free Enterprise Forum chooses to look forward.
We are in the midst of an economic crisis. How will this impact the Charlottesville region? How will this impact the long range planning in the region? What issues will be at the forefront in 2009?
Over the holiday, I took great interest at the large number of communities (and States for that matter) that have created infrastructure spending projects for the new Obama Administration. Just as the Virginia Department of Transportation(VDOT) is cutting road construction funds and eliminating staff in order to have enough money for road maintenance, new federal funds may be available. The cynic in me would argue that the bridges on the aging interstate highway system are a higher national priority than Hillsdale Extended but I could be wrong. Much of the early part of 2008 will be spent watching the passage and implementation of an infrastructure stimulus bill. I anticipate the major federal dollars in Virginia will go to the population (and traffic) centers of Hampton Roads and Northern Virginia.
By March 31, Virginia’s General Assembly will give Charlottesville and Albemarle the right to create a Regional Transportation Authority but will not provide any new taxing authority to pay for such a system.
In November 2009, the aforementioned cash strapped VDOT will produce their Route 29 Corridor Study regarding the 219 miles of US 29 from Gainesville to the North Carolina border. You may not have heard too much about this yet as the consultant team is in the midst of their “listening tour”.
Prior to dirt moving on the long debated Meadowcreek Parkway, the Free Enterprise Forum anticipates at least one, if not, two lawsuits will be filed, probably before the Dogwood Festival.
A perennial on our issues list. As Greene County works toward a new water impoundment, Fluvanna and Louisa’s water partnership will be tested as the cost estimates for their pipeline project come in.
The Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority (RWSA) will evaluate the two conflicting enginering designsregarding the New Ragged Mountain Dam Construction. Opponents of the Ragged Mountain Solution will continue to provide the media with great soundbites as the complex process slowly moves forward. The Free Enterprise Forum predicts the project will continue to move forward albeit very slowly.
The Free Enterprise Forum anticipates a change in the make up of the RWSA Board of Directors will be considered in 2009 but no action will occur until the Spring of 2010 when two elected officials (1 City and 1 County) will be added to the Board.
The downturn in the economy has significantly impacted the Central Virginia region. Perhaps the pinch has been seen the most in the real estate related industries. The Free Enterprise Forum sees continued stress in this sector at least through the third quarter of 2009. Based on our conversations with business owners, we are projecting increased business consolidation and unfortunately an increase in the unemployment rate for the region through the second quarter.
Not unlike a forest fire, the creative destruction this economic downturn has created will be painful and many may not be standing at the end, but those businesses that are able to survive will emerge stronger and more competitive.
There are positive signs. Early in January, the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors will likely enact a Comprehensive Plan Amendment that recognizes the significant benefits a strong business base provides to the community. As the weather warms and downward rent pressures mount on landlords, the shuttered doorfronts on the Downtown Mall will likely be repopulated with new businesses striving to succeed.
By the end of 2009, Greene County and Fluvanna County will likely complete their updates to their comprehensive plans with he assistance of the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission. How much of the TJPDC agenda finds its way into each of these documents remains to be seen. The meetings and drafts we have seen seem to indicate such an organizational bias.
Meanwhile, Albemarle County will be updating the Crozet Master Plan. The Albemarle County BOS has indicated it wanted the review to include consideration of the Yancey Business Park concept. By the time the county’s beaches open up we will likely know if the Crozet community will be receptive to such consideration or not.
In 2008, The City of Charlottesville and Albemarle County invested $36,000 in a study conducted by Advocates for A Sustainable Albemarle Population (ASAP) regarding Optimal Sustainable Population Size (OSPS) project. The scope of the project is to determine the proper population number to preserve the current ecological balance. The results of the first phase of this study are due in the first half of this year.
If the study indicates the community should be smaller than we are, whom will we vote off the island?
The Way Forward
While we have only scratched the surface on some of the issues we will be working in 2009, one thing can be assured, the Free Enterprise Forum will be there. Now entering our sixth year, the Free Enterprise Forum is proud to continue our service as an information resource and advocate.
If you find our updates helpful, please consider giving a gift. You can donate via the website www.freeenterpriseforum.org or via snail mail Free Enterprise Forum, 550 Hillsdale Drive, Charlottesville, VA 22901.