Monthly Archives: September, 2009

VDOT – The New Sheriff in Town or Toothless Wonder?

By. Neil Williamson, PresidentRt29logo

In last night’s (9/29) Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT)  presentation on the Route 29 Corridor Study, started with the admonition that there is no funding to build any of the projects depicted on the presentation boards surrounding the room.

By my count, over 150 people were in attendance and there was a great deal of citizen anger regarding the two proposed solutions for US 29 in Charlottesville.  Board of Supervisors Members Dennis Rooker and David Slutzky both expressed significant doubts that either the “flyover Kroger” or the Leonard Sandridge extension would ever get built.  Considering Mr. Rooker and Mr. Slutzky are the County’s representatives on the Metropolitan Planning  Organization (MPO), their words have significance.

Interestingly no one has commented on one of the study’s major recommendations (page 10):

Legislation relative to access management, development of Corridor Implementation Plan, enhancing planner/practitioner tools for transportation and land use planning

Tools to remove traffic signals over the long-term, alter procedures so that new signals include an “exit” strategy

I was intrigued by these ideas and asked a VDOT veteran involved in the study.  He indicated VDOT desperately needs this power to place them as an equal parter with the locality in negotiating access to US 29.  If VDOT has their way, access in the future will not be directly on US 29 it will be on a secondary street.  VDOT now has an advisory role but localities can choose to ignore the VDOT advice.

To be clear, every traffic signal on US 29 has gone in with VDOT consent.  While VDOT is seemingly placing the US 29 blame all on the localities, clearly they too were a part of this party.  Now, this 1.5 Million dollar study suggests US 29’s planning corridors should be overseen jointly by VDOT and localities rather than just the localities.  After my discussion with the VDOT veteran, I spoke with a member of The Albemarle County Board of Supervisors who suggested there was no way VDOT would get that power.

So,what did I learn at this meeting?

  • There is no money for any of the transportation projects proposed.
  • VDOT wants to build a road on land that it already owns (mostly), Albemarle doesn’t — the road will likely not get built.
  • VDOT wants to be the new sheriff to “redefine and expand VDOT’s role as steward of the Route 29 transportation system” in the name of better transportation, the localities don’t want to give up this power, all politics being local, it is unlikely such legislative changes occur.

Absent these legislative actions, there is little chance the localities will uniformly deny access to US 29 throughout the corridor.  If controlled access and integrated side street systems are required for success and the localities refuse to grant VDOT such powers, the Route 29 Corridor Study  is a $1.5 million dollar toothless wonder to be added to the bookshelf.

How else could we have spent $1.5 million transportation dollars?

Greene County BOS Approves Change to 2003 Comprehensive Plan

By. Kara Reese Pennella, Greene County Field Officer

 Action Summary:

SUP09-003 Request by CVS 75711 VA LLC for a Special Use Permit for an electronic message center – Approved

CPA 09-001 Roberts request to remove approximately 200 acres from the growth area –Approved

Request from Social Services to fill a vacancy for a temporary emergency worker – Approved

             The Greene County Board of Supervisors held its regular meeting on September 22, 2009. Supervisor J. Allen was absent from the meeting. The Board held two brief public hearings. They also received an update from Social Services.

             The first public hearing on the agenda was a request by CVS for special use permit (SUP) to install an electronic message board. The property is located on 29 N and sits cattycorner from the Arby’s site which also has SUP for an electronic message center. Staff provided a brief report noting that the Board of Zoning Appeals has already approved a larger sign in exchange for reducing the number of signs on the property from 2 to 1. The Planning Commission recommended approval for the application in their August meeting. The Commission’s intent at the time was to attach the same conditions to this special use permit that were placed on the Arby’s sign.

             Applicant addressed the Board and noted that there had been some confusion at the Planning Commission meeting over whether the Arby’s sign had been allowed to change messages every 2 or 4 four hours. The Planning Commission had been informed that it was 4 hours and approved that time interval to maintain consistency between the two signs. Applicant has since confirmed that Arby’s sign was approved with a two hour interval and requested that CVS be allowed to use the same interval.

             The Board agreed that they wanted to keep the rules consistent for the two signs and approved the Special use permit with the conditions that 1) The electronic message center shall be considered part of the aggregate signage 2) The electronic message center shall not have neon colored lights and shall not flash, rotate or visually move so as to preserve the aesthetic character of the community and promote traffic safety, except as provided in number six 3) The message center shall not be animated in any manner 4) The electronic message shall not scroll across the electronic center 5) The permitted hours of operation for the electronic message center shall be consistent with the hours of operation of the building located on 60-(A)-20E. The electronic message center shall not be operated after the close of business. 6) Electronic message center may be changed at periodical intervals of every two hours, within the hours of operation. 

             The second public hearing of the evening was a request to remove 200 acres from the growth area in the 2003 Comprehensive Plan.  Robert & Susan Roberts, Jr. sought the amendment to remove 200 acres of their land from the growth area so that it may be included in a conservation easement. The total conservation easement will cover their entire 500 acre property.

             C. Schmitt noted that this was an appropriate request and a beautiful piece of property. B. Peyton indicated that he could not imagine denying this request. M. Skeens moved to approve the request to amend the Comprehensive Plan. The motion passed by a unanimous vote.

             In other matters from the public,  James Howard of Social Services presented an update on the increasing case load in Greene County. He indicated that food stamp applications were up 49%. Requests for help from the food bank were also up.  He requested permission to hire and emergency worker for the remainder of the year. Emergency workers are temporary workers who do not accrue benefits. Social services has some additional funds leftover from other line items and requested permission to use those funds to pay for the emergency worker. The Board approved the request for the emergency worker.

             The Board also discussed what it wanted to do with funds raised from the sale of a totaled police vehicle. In the past the funds raised from selling vehicles for scrap has gone back into the sheriff department’s line item. However, since the sheriff’s department had already purchased new vehicles for this year the Board determined that they would like to put the new funds into the general fund. They felt the money should be kept for an emergency.

I-66 Style Main Street?

FORUM WATCH EDITORIAL

By. Neil Williamson, President

Last week at the Charlottesville Albemarle Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) Policy Board meeting, the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) unveiled the preliminary outline of their Route 29 Corridor study.  There are many interesting slides in the presentation.  They will be presenting their findings to the public at 5:00pm on Tuesday evening at Department of Forestry 900 Natural Resources Drive | Charlottesville, Virginia 22903

The study reaches several conclusions:

  • Route 29 between Route 250 and Hydraulic Road is a major choke point of the entire 219-mile corridor
  • As currently designated, the Western Bypass is no longer an effective option to serve corridor-wide trips
  • The VDOT-owned Western Bypass corridor right-of-way represents a possible transportation corridor to potentially serve local and regional traffic, as well as a possible corridor for regional commuter bus service

The report saves its most stinging rebuke for the Places29 recommendations stating,

Places 29 recommendations do not fully address long-term needs on Route 29 from Route 250 to Hydraulic Road

The Corridor Draft report goes beyond simply highlighting the issues it also provides a recommendation for moving forward.  On the West side of US 29 the study calls for consideration of an extension of Leonard Sandridge Road North to Hydraulic or Earlysville Road.  On the East side of US29, the study calls for a bold new vision reconfiguring the proposed US29/Hydraulic interchange so that it extends south to include Route 250.

 Slide 1

 Make no mistake, this is a game changer.  It will be interesting what the local decision makers choose to do with the long range plan known as Places29 in the face of VDOT indicating it does not solve the long range issues.

Further, as businesses and residents attempt to get there heads around the Places29 plan and the VDOT plan it would be wise to remember Virginia Transportation Secretary Pierce Homer’s quote from Sunday’s Washington Post [referring to Northern Virginia]  “I-66 is part of Main Street in this area,” he said.

How should US29, Charlottesville’s main street develop?

The Candidate Forum Series Election ’09

By. Neil Williamson, President

The Free Enterprise Forum is pleased to announce our 2009 local candidate forum series.  The goal of these events is to hear directly from local candidates about issues that matter to you.  As a non-partisan organization, our goal is informed citizen participation.  The Free Enterprise Forum does not endorse candidates or support any political party.  Questions relating to transportation, rural preservation, property rights, infrastructure spending, and taxation will all be a part of the mix.I-voted-sticker-thumb-200x114

Each event will include a number of questions provided to the candidates in advance and a section where audience member questions, that have been submitted in writing to the moderator(s) will be asked.  Over the many election cycles we have found this format to be most beneficial and fair to the candidates and the public.

Please mark your calendars and plan to attend these important events.

In Albemarle County and The City of Charlottesville we will be co-hosting these events with Charlottesville Tomorrow:   

Wednesday, September 30th Albemarle County Board of Supervisors Samuel Miller District at Murray Elementary School at 7:00 pm.

Thursday, October 1st Albemarle County Board of Supervisors Rio District at Hollymead Elementary School at 7:00 pm.

Wednesday, October 7th, Charlottesville City Council at Burley Middle School at 7:00 pm

In Greene County we are co-hosting a candidate forum with the Greene County Chamber of Commerce:

Thursday, October 8th, Greene County Board of Supervisors Stanardsville District at William Monroe Middle School at 7:00 pm.

In Fluvanna County, we are looking forward to co-hosting a candidate forum with the Fluvanna Chamber of Commerce:

Thursday, October 22nd Fluvanna Board of Supervisors Candidate Forum at the Circuit Court Complex at 7:00 pm.

We look forward to seeing you on the campaign trail.

Fluvanna Supervisors Okay Development Changes

By William J. Des Rochers, Fluvanna Field Officer 

Fluvanna’s Board of Supervisors approved changes to a mixed use master plan and okayed a new recycling center in the county at its September 16th meeting. 

Southern Development secured the right to replace some commercial development with residential townhomes at its Sycamore Square development.  The issue was somewhat controversial in years past because the site is tied to a master plan (required in the R-3 zoning district). 

Opponents argued that increasing residential development at the expense of commercial would increase the demand for county services and hurt the county’s tax revenues.  Supervisors approved the measure 4-1.

RecyclingSymbolGreenSupervisors approved a municipal waste recycling facility adjacent to the construction and demolition facility.  The application, by VB Real Estate, also was approved by a 4-1 vote.

Supervisors also were briefed on the financing prospects for the new James River waterline to Zion Crossroads.  The county’s bond advisors suggested that in a worst-case scenario, the county’s tax rate could increase by about five cents in order to fund the waterline. 

The bond advisors anticipate having the funds in hand by mid-November.  Since the revenue generated by the waterline in the early years likely will not cover the debt payments, the county would have to provide its full faith and credit.  There was no word as to when the supervisors would take that step.

The Board will next meet on October 7th.

Greene County Planning Commission Reviews Plans to Reduce the Counties Growth Area

by. Kara Reese Pennella, Greene County Field Officer 

            The Greene County Planning Commission held a workshop session on Wednesday, September 16, 2009 to unveil the first draft of the new Land Use Map for the Comprehensive Plan Update. The new proposed map reduces the parts of the County designated for growth to an area slightly smaller than proposed water and sewer service area.

 TJPDC pic

Staff suggested as they move forward with the Land Use Map that instead of designating individual parcels for a specific use the County consider creating zoning rings. These rings would allow for more flexibility than assigning each parcel one preferred zoning designation.     

             The Planning Commission provided some brief comments to Bill Wanner of Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission regarding the new map. B. Martin was concerned that there had not yet been any integration of the old plan into the new plan and asked how that would be achieved. D. Lamb was concerned that we might be putting too much focus on the residential aspect of the growth area. He noted we need to plan for industry as well. A. Herring agreed pointing out that there have been 3-4 inquiries with the EDA over the last month or so from companies who are interested in moving to Greene County.

           proposed growth 2The Planning Commission continued their discussion of the Comprehensive Plan at the end of the regular meeting. B. Martin noted that he felt confident in reducing the growth area places where we have water and sewer, but “can’t justify anything smaller.” He was also concerned that there are a large number of landowners who will be affected by the reduction in the size of the growth area that were not present at the meeting to voice any concerns. A. Herring noted that the planning commission has advertised this meeting and there is only so much the commission can do to get people to attend meetings. The County does not have the manpower to knock on everyone’s door.

           J. Frydl briefly reviewed why some properties were taken out of the growth area. The growth area around Stanardsville was reduced in response to citizen comments that they wanted Stanardsville to remain small with a village feel. Some areas were cut because they did not have water and sewer service. Land located south of 33 was also taken out of the growth area. The Commission expressed some concern over removing this land and asked for clarification as to why it was taken out.

             The Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors will have a joint meeting to review the Comp Plan’s progress on October 13, 2009 at 6 pm.

Albemarle’s Agricultural Angst and Viticultural Vendetta

By. Neil Williamson, President [Please see information on the Annual Chamber-Free Enterprise Luncheon at the end of this post]

Old Vine

Photo Credit: Richard Robinson

Did you know Albemarle County produced the most wine grapes in the state, over 1,000 tons  in 2006 (the last year available)? 

Did you know over 500 acres in Albemarle is dedicated to vineyard operations (and wineries)?

Did you know the Monticello Wine Trail is one of the oldest and most populated wine trails in the state?

In this week’s (9/15) Albemarle County Planing Commission meeting, county staff estimated the vineyards and wineries were a $2.2 million dollar industry in Albemarle County. 

So based on the above, how is Albemarle County planning to celebrate October as Virginia Wine Month?  —  By regulating it.

As this is harvest, the local wineries are now literally up to their elbows in grapes.  During a recent break on the crush pad, one local vintner questioned Albemarle County’s intent.  “Why don’t they want me to succeed?”, she asked.   

Utilizing their adroit legal department, Albemarle (and Fauquier) believe they have found a way around the General Assembly’s action designed to keep local governments out of the vineyards.

The state legislature anticipated the kind of conflict between local government and the wineries and sided with the wineries when it recognized the importance of Farm Wineries with the passage of Virginia Code 15.2-2288.3 Licensed farm wineries; local regulation of certain activities. 

“Usual and customary activities at farm wineries shall be permitted without local regulation unless there is a significant impact on the health, safety, or welfare of the public.”

Based on our review of the publicly available documents, the Free Enterprise Forum does not believe Albemarle County (or Fauquier) has the legislative authority to enact the farm winery regulations currently under discussion.  Both the language and the intent of the General Assembly are clear.virginia's finest

Despite clear legislative intent, staff is brining new regulations to the Albemarle County Planning Commission in late October or November.

Agricultural Angst: What does Albemarle County have against Farm Stands?

In their first meeting of September, the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors acknowledged an issue regarding produce stands in the rural areas.  Sean Tubbs from Charlottesville Tomorrow has the full story here.  Mr. Tubbs reports:

For the past nine years, Albemarle County farmer Nathan Yoder has sold produce on Thursday afternoons at a stand at the corner of Free Union Road and Garth Road.  Someone complained to County’s zoning officials about the stand, triggering an investigation. While Yoder has permission from the property owner, technically he is violating the zoning code because he does not own the land on which he’s selling his goods. The County is allowing him to continue operations through the end of this season.

During the public comment portion of the meeting, resident Bob Rash asked the Albemarle County Board a series of pointed questions regarding government regulation of the farm stands.  He felt strongly that these farm stands are a critical distribution point for the rural enterprises they support. Another local farmer told the Free Enterprise Forum he planned to give some of his tomatoes to the farm stand that was operating on his land.  He believed if the farm stand was acting as his agent for the tomatoes they could also sell their own produce on his property without unnecessary government interference.   The Board has promised to examine and resolve the issue prior to the Spring growing season.

Considering the time and money Albemarle County has put into its land use revalidation program, one would think they would be more supportive of the farms that make up Albemarle’s rural economy. 

Next Thursday, The Free Enterprise Forum and The Charlottesville Regional Chamber of Commerce are sponsoring our annual luncheon.  This year’s topic is agribusiness “Making it:the business of Agriculture in Central Virginia”.  An expert panel including Virginia Agriculture Commissioner Todd Haymore, “Welcome to The Country” Author and orchard owner Frank Levering and Jefferson Vineyards General Manager Chad Zakaib will discuss these and other agribusiness issues.  The panel will be moderated by Valerie Long of Williams Mullen.   The luncheon will be held at Farmington Country Club and starts at 11:30 am. You can register online by clicking here, or call Danielle 434.295.3141 ext. 140.

 

The Greening of Population Control

By. Neil Williamson, President

Yesterday’s (9/15) Washington Post ran a David Fahrenthold article titled When It Comes to Pollution Less (Kids) May Be More.   I read the article which outlined studies from the Loondon School of Economics (LSE) and a separate report from Oregon State University(OSU) with great curiosity as I also recently read the Advocates for A Sustainable Albemarle Population  (ASAP) local government funded report on the ecological carrying capacity of the  Charlottesville -Albemarle region.  This carrying capacity report is the first in a series of ASAP reports that are a part of its Optimal Population Size Project.

According to the Post article, the LSE Study suggested that each and every new life is a guarantee of new greenhouse gases, the result of decades of driving and electricity use.   

The article continued by quoting the sponsor of the study:

“There is no possibility of drastically reducing total carbon emissions, while at the same time paying no attention whatever to the drastic increase in the number of carbon emitters,” said Roger Martin, chairman of the Optimum Population Trust, a British nonprofit that sponsored the report and whose goal is to rein in population growth in the United Kingdom and elsewhere. “For reasons of an irrational taboo on the subject, [family planning] has never made it onto the agenda, and this is extremely damaging to the planet.”

Quantifying the emissions output of each human life was the goal of the OSU study.  Not surprisingly, the results are dependent on where in the world you live.   As Fahrenthold reports: 

In the United States, each baby results in 1,644 tons of carbon dioxide, five times more than a baby in China and 91 times more than an infant in Bangladesh, according to the Oregon State study. That is because Americans live relatively long, and live in a country whose long car commutes, coal-burning power plants and cathedral ceilings give it some of the highest per-capita emissions in the world.

Seen from that angle, the Oregon State researchers concluded that child-bearing was one of the most fateful environmental decisions in anyone’s life.

Recycle, shorten your commute, drive a hybrid vehicle, and buy energy-efficient light bulbs, appliances and windows — all of that would cut out about one-fortieth of the emissions caused by bringing two children, and their children’s children, into the world.

I find it most interesting all of  these studies focus on the specific environmental costs without any effort to quantify the benefit side of the equation.

Greene County BOS Tables Request for Additional Funding from Greene Combined District Court

By. Kara Reese Pennella, Greene County Field Officer

The Greene County Board of Supervisors refused to vote to approve additional allocation of $840.00 to the Greene Combined District Court  for use in paying attorneys fees for court appointed attorneys in cases charged under the County Code. The Board previously requested written procedures from the departments involved for handling these charges. The requested procedures have not been received and the matter will be tabled until the written procedures are submitted to the Board.

Steve Williams, Director of the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission made a presentation to the Board titled “Dealing with the Impacts of Rapid Growth” (PDF) . He shared his experiences from New Hampshire focusing on the NH 101 A corridor which he believes is comparable to U.S. 29. Among the several issues that New Hampshire region faced he noted that there was no planning for fiscal sustainability. Additionally, long term residents were permitted to do things that were not considered good for the community and called for a better balance between the interests of the land owners and the community as a whole.

The Board also discussed the costs of connector roads with S. Williams. B. Peyton asked “Who bore the cost of connector roads?” S. Williams noted that in New Hampshire they were able to interconnect the parking lots of businesses just by getting developers make the curb cuts that allowed cars to pass from parking lot to parking lot. This was much less costly then constructing new connector roads.

S. Catalano addressed the issue of funding new roads and observed that in Virginia localities have limited ability to fix the roads. He noted that “to push more on development than their fair share would cripple our EDA.”

Finally, the Board heard from a group of citizens who are involved in a dispute within their subdivision of Dogwood Valley. Citizens suggested that the Board look into utilizing the Americans with Disabilities Act to help them get their roads paved. Members of the Board attempted to explain that they have no authority to improve the roads within the subdivision.

US 29 Consultant Conflict?

By. Neil Williamson, President

The recent Greene County Multi Modal Corridor Study conducted by Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission(TJPDC), included the following statement on page 22:

 

This pattern [of development] requires the primary arterials in Greene County [US 29 and Route 33] to function both as local main streets and as fast moving regional highways. When a street is asked to perform to contradictory functions, performance of both will suffer.

 

But wait, Greene County shares a border with Albemarle County  to the south.  The Places29 plan under consideration by the Albemarle County Planning Commission includes the following Guiding Principle (Page 2-2):

An efficient, effurban frontageective, and accessible transportation system will serve users across the entire spectrum, from local trips to regional ones, and it will be multimodal—including vehicular, transit, pedestrian, and bicycle access. In particular, improvements to the US 29 corridor should recognize and address the road’s multiple purposes. The system will also address the movement of freight by truck, train, and air. {emphasis added-NW}

 

Therefore, dependent on which consultant you believe, either US 29 is a highway of national significance or should be open to both local and regional traffic so long as those passing through enjoy the wide thoroughfares, bike lines, sidewalks and bistros along the way.

Earlier this week, The Lynchburg News Advance ran their editorial opinion of Places 29.  Not surprisingly, the editorial, Cracking the Charlottesville Bottleneck, was highly critical of the plan.  Here are a few of the highlights:

Once again, the folks up the road in Charlottesville and Albemarle County are doing all they possibly can to forestall any solution to the U.S. 29 corridor nightmare. . .

… But all the planning has ground to a halt in Charlottesville and Albemarle, where monied residents and their elected officials fancy themselves as the center of the universe. No bypass of our fair city is needed, they’ve said for years, because there is no traffic bottleneck — it’s mainly just local traffic, they say.

Now, county planners have unveiled “Places29,” a proposed master plan for the U.S. 29 corridor north from Charlottesville to Greene County. It’s a plan that would further concentrate commercial, mixed-residential and residential growth along U.S. 29. …

… Well, isn’t that convenient.

And extremely self-centered, even for the leaders of Charlottesville and Albemarle. For them, the world revolves around their little hamlet, much like popes of the Middle Ages believed Earth to be the center of the universe. (News flash: It’s not!)

The nightmare that is U.S. 29 through Charlottesville and Albemarle is a problem for all of Virginia, especially Southside and Central Virginia. And it must be looked at as a regional problem that needs a regional solution, not a parochial, “new urbanism” plan that serves only the interests of Charlottesville and Albemarle. …

The editorial closes with a rather pointed conclusion:

Places29 is an expensive academic exercise that serves only the perceived needs of a privileged few in Charlottesville and Albemarle County, not the needs of the many up and down U.S. 29.

So now the half billion dollar boondogle known as Places 29 features conflicting consultants visions and at least one out-of-town newspaper calling for a different direction (a bypass direction).  All this before the Virginia Department of Transportation weighs in with their vision for the US 29 Corridor from the North Carolina line to Gainesville.  This can only get more interesting.

Stay tuned.