Monthly Archives: October, 2009

Albemarle Fee for All – 1,023% Fee Increase Proposed

 By. Neil Williamson, President

Albemarle County’s fee hungry Planning Commission is at it again.  Increased zoning fees will come up for public hearing at the Planning Commission on November 10th.  In one example, the fee proposal will change the cost of a  “Class B” Home Occupation Permit from $440.00 to $4,500.00 (1,023%).

What is a “Class B Home Occupancy”?  A home based business.  According to Albemarle County Code:

Home Occupation, Class B: An occupation conducted in a dwelling unit, with or without the use of one or more accessory structures, for profit, in connection with which there are employed not more than two (2) persons other than members of the family residing on the premises, which persons may be in addition to such family members.

So at a time when many formerly unemployed Albemarle citizens have created new start up businesses to replace their former employment, the county will mandate a $4,500.00 payment to review their application for a permit (there is not a guarantee of approval).  Do you think this will impact the number of start ups?  The Free Enterprise Forum believes this would have a significant negative impact AND is directly in conflict with Albemarle County’s intent to have citizens live, work and play in a smaller geographic footprint.

Activist Planning Commission

This proposal did not come out of nowhere.  Staff has been working on revising the fee structures for some time.  The staff provided an update to the Board of Supervisors on August 5th.  The Board of Supervisors provided direction to staff to move forward with the fees presented in their staff report.

The Albemarle County Planning Commission in its October 6th meeting decided (in a 4-3 vote Franco, Joseph, Morris opposed) to ignore both the Board direction and staff’s recommendation and to advertise fees far higher those endorsed by the Board of Supervisors.  This action preserved the Planning Commission’s legal ability to consider higher fees than the staff recommendation. [State law mandates fees enacted can not be higher than those advertised for Public Hearing.]

This is not the first time the Planning Commission has decided their advisory role to the Board does not mean they must follow Board direction.  As documented in our October 2008 post, the PC increased the subdivision fee proposal despite BOS concerns.  

Impact on Economic Development

Localities across the nation are dropping fees and streamlining the development approval process to incentivize development activity.  Never one to follow the crowd, Albemarle County is talking about economic development at one meeting and enacting six fold increases on an administrative review of a final site plan in another.

The Free Enterprise Forum believes these fee increases, and the other fee increases already approved will negatively impact the cost of housing stock (and commercial property) in Albemarle County.  A close friend often reminds me “No business ever pays taxes, the consumer does”.  In the world of economic development, such high fees will provide significant reasons for businesses not to locate or expand in Albemarle.

A close examination of the chart below indicates the significance of the proposed increases the Planning Commission has advertised this time around.

Selected Proposed Zoning Fee Increases      
Albemarle      
  Current Proposed %
  Fee Fee Increase
       
Zoning Text Amendment $ 840 $ 10,500 1250%
       
Zoning Map Amendments      
Planned Development < 50 acres $ 1,200 $ 13,500 1125%
Planned Development > 50 acres $ 1,570 $ 27,000 1720%
All other amendments < 50 acres $ 1,020 $ 13,500 1324%
All other amendments > 50 acres $ 1,570 $ 27,000 1720%
Deferral of scheduled public hearing at applicant request $ 35 $ 180 514%
       
Special Use Permits      
Rural Area Division $ 1,240 $ 3,000 242%
Home Occupation- Class A $ 13 $ 25 192%
Home Occupation- Class B $ 440 $ 4,500 1023%
Each additional resubmittal after 1st resubmittal n/a $ 2,250 n/a
       
Site Plans      
Final Site Plan – Administrative Review $ 410 $ 2,625 640%
Final Site Plan Planning Commission Review $ 1,130 $ 4,500 398%
       
Matters considered by Board of Zoning Appeals      
Variances $ 120 $ 1,275 1063%
Appeals $ 120 $ 240 200%
       
Matters considered by Architectural Review Board      
Site Plan n/a $ 2,600 n/a
Building Permit per ARB review n/a $ 590 n/a
       
Matters Considered by Zoning Administrator or others      
Official determination regarding compliance $ 75 $ 185 247%
Official determination regarding development rights $ 40 $ 750 1875%
All other official determinations $ 75 $ 1,400 1867%

The Free Enterprise Forum encourages you to make your voice heard regarding this proposal.  Albemarle County Planning Commission will hold a public hearing on this issue on November 10th.  I anticipate a number of concerned citizens may speak at the hearing or share their thoughts via e-mail  PlanningCommission@albemarle.org.

VDOT Weighs in on Greene County’s Proposed Future Land Use Map

By. Kara Pennella, Greene County Field Officer

             The Greene County Planning Commission recently held a lengthy worksession on its revised Comprehensive Plan. Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) Engineer Chuck Proctor was there to provide input on transportation in the proposed growth area. The Planning Commission revisited three specific areas of the county that the Board of Supervisors highlighted during their joint meeting earlier this month.

             The Planning Commission first discussed the area southwest of Route 33 between Routes 633 and 743. This property was added by amendment to the 2003 Growth Area and has been removed from the proposed Growth Area for the new Comprehensive Plan. The land on the opposite side of Route 33 remains in the Growth Area. 

            C. Proctor expressed concern over the number of access points on Route 33. He noted that since there are already full access points at 633 and 743 it would be difficult to put in another full access entrance to the property under the new regulations. A parallel road would be required between Route 633 and 743. Because this area has not been studied previously VDOT was unsure exactly where the road would go and what impact it might have on traffic on Route 33. Commenting on the property itself, C. Proctor noted “It’s a nice piece of property. I hate to see it developed.” He pointed out that this was the only large scale pastoral view from Route 33 in between Stanardsville and Ruckersville. He also expressed concern that including the land in the growth area at this time would detract from density in the rest of the growth area. However, he did note that the potential for a parallel road could have some positive aspects.  [Editor’s note – Is this comment  “I’d hate to see this developed” appropriate for the role of the VDOT Engineer? – nw]

             The second issue the Planning Commission asked for VDOT’s feedback on was expanding the growth area north up Route 29 to include the Highland’s Golf Park and some other lots already zoned B-3 and M-1.

             VDOT had concerns over including this area because the only access for these lots is Route 29. C. Proctor noted that there is no way to put a parallel road on the west side of 29. This would create a situation similar to Route 29 south of the Route 33 intersection.

             The third area the Planning Commission addressed is located east of Ruckersville from Route 616 stretching north to Route 33. Part of the land in this area has been zoned Senior Residential. There is also a section of land between the proposed growth area and the Senior Residential lots that was discussed. Concerns have been raised at both the Planning Commission level and the Board level that exclusion of the Senior Residential lots will make it more difficult to get access to water and sewer and move forward with the projects.

            Several new roads were recommended in this area as part of the Multimodal Corridor Study. If those roads were built there would be sufficient access for this area. Since this area was included in the Corridor Study, VDOT did not have much input on including this land in the Growth Area.

            The Planning Commission discussed all of these areas and comments at length. No consensus was reached. Since two Commissioners were not at the meeting, the Commission agreed to revisit this subject.

             The next portion of the meeting focused on the Chapters in the Comprehensive Plan. Each of the Commissioners present provided some brief comments and edits on the Chapters. The Chapters are available on the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Website. The public may also submit comments on the site.

             Finally, the Planning Commission began to tackle preferred density and zoning designations for area located within the growth area. A rough sketch of the area discussed will be presented for further revision at the next workshop.

             The Planning Commission will continue to discuss the Comprehensive Plan at their next regular meeting.

The Places29 Boondoggle – Lessons Learned

A FORUM WATCH EDITORIAL

By. Neil Williamson

On Tuesday, October 27th, at 6:00 pm in Lane Auditorium of the Albemarle County Office Building The Albemarle County Planning Commission will hold a public hearing on the Master Plan for the Northern portion of The US 29 corridor.  The plan, now known as Places29, has gone through an exhaustive consultant driven process that wore out all but the most strident of citizen participants.   places29_web

We have been involved in this process since the beginning, some of the changes we suggested eventually did make it into the final draft.  It is with some disappointment that we can not support the Places29 plan.  

Here are some of the lessons we have learned in the building of this boondoggle

Land Use should inform Transportation Planning Decisions

Places29 started with the concept that land use planning and transportation planning should be conducted by localities in concert.  The Free Enterprise Forum disagrees.  While land use policy should be locally driven, transportation policy impacts far beyond the borders of any locality.  Local land use policy should inform the  regionally agreed upon transportation planning to suit the needs of the entire corridor not just the three miles on either side of it to the county line.

Community Master Plan Steering Committees Should Include A Cross Section of The Community Impacted 

Once the Albemarle County Planning Commission decided that it as a body would be the

credit: Charlottesville Tomorrow

credit: Charlottesville Tomorrow

steering committee for Places29, it inadvertently left out the community participation and engagement.  While the PC has attempted to reach into the community, having a community “insider” on the steering committee has been critical to the success of the Pantops Master Plan and the Crozet Master Plan.

In addition, by mandating the PC be the steering committee resulted in less flexibility in meeting times and locations as well as less input from the very citizens this will impact the greatest.

Consultants Should Be Contracted to Appear for Public Hearings

If Albemarle County believes it needs to engage consultant design companies to complete the master planning work, they should develop contracts that mandate the consultant be available for public questions as the work finally gets to the citizens.  Too many questions have been answered that the consultant is no longer under contract so we may not be able to get the answer.  This is unacceptable.

Realistic Project Timelines should be included as part of the plan.

Places29 is the Kitchen Sink method of planning.  I will ask the Planning Commissioners on Tuesday night if any one of them honestly believes they will see even a majority of the projects in the plan accomplished (or started) within the mandated 20 year planning window.  If they can’t be built within the window – they should be dropped from the plan.

Project Dollars not Current Dollars should be used for Master Plans

The Free Enterprise Forum has agreed to disagree with the Planning Commission on this point.  We agree with VDOT’s methodology for calculating project costs, use National Highway Administration materials escalator and an inflation factor to determine the cost in the year it is projected to be completed.  If it is a series of years use the mid point.  The Albemarle County Planning Commission prefers to use current dollars indicating these are the most accurate numbers available.  I regret calling this the “Ostrich” method of calculating costs.

Have Study Partners Agree/Coordinate Your Conclusions

The Virginia Department of Transportation is a $400,000 partner in this $1.6 Million Dollar Study.  One would think when their consultant report came out regarding the Places 29 Corridor it would mirror the Places29 recommendations.  It does not in both additional information, the Kroger Flyover, Easter Bypass (since scuttled) and Leonard Sandridge Extended (since scuttled), and in errors of omission, Berkmar Drive Extended.  I must humbly note I predicted such Consultant Conflict in both my June 24th and September 10th Blog post.

Answer Specific Feasibility Questions Specifically

In March of last year the Free Enterprise Forum issued a report that questioned the viability of constructing the Rio Interchange.  Rather than answering the question directly, the commission heard that such roads are built every year and this would be no different.  

Expect Debate over New Tax Power

If as a part of the new transportation land use planning dynamic localities plan to discuss funding options for the half billion dollar price tag, they should expect debate of such a SuperTax.

In short, the Places29 Master Planning Process has gone off the tracks. 

  • It does not enjoy widespread citizen support or understanding
  • Large segments may never be built
  • It can’t be completed in the twenty year planning window
  • There are no funds available to implement the plan
  • There is much community distrust of the plan

For these reasons, and others you can find on the blog, we belive the Planning Commission should reconsider Places29 along the lines of What David Benish called The Big Five.  We believe the community could wrap its collective head around five ideas that might actually get constructed in our lifetimes rather than an extensive utopian new urbanism vision that will likely not be built out in the next generation.

Approving Places29 in its current form is a false promise to residents of a future that can’t be funded or built.  Some might call this action “perpetuating public fraud”, I prefer “Boondoggle”.

 

Fluvanna Again Delays Water Authority Vote

By William J. Des Rochers, Fluvanna Field Officer

At its October 21st meeting, Fluvanna’s Board of Supervisors again postponed a decision on accepting a draft agreement between Louisa and Fluvanna counties and the James River Water Authority.   Reportedly, a state agency has additional questions regarding the agreement and is seeking clarification on several points.  As a result, the process has been delayed for the second time this month.

As a result of the delays, the project might now require interim financing since the window for state issued financing has closed for 2009.  Additionally, it was announced that the Virginia Supreme Court has accepted an appeal filed by a Fluvanna citizen against establishing the joint water authority. 

The authority has been mired in controversy in Fluvanna since it was established over the objections of citizens who wanted a referendum on the subject. 

Although the meeting lasted less than one hour, the Board managed to make two other key decisions:  one regarding the Zoning Ordinance and one with respect to delinquent taxes. 

The Board amended the uses permitted and defined in the Zoning Ordinance to clarify ambiguities and establish greater uniformity.  According to the staff there were uses permitted in the ordinance that were not defined and definitions of uses that were not permitted.  The 96 pages of changes, after one deletion, passed unanimously.

The Board also retained Mr. Anthony Paone, of the Innsbruck Law Group, to “perform the services of a Delinquent [Collection] tax attorney.  The county currently has over $1.9 million in outstanding delinquent payments [including penalties and interest].  According to one source, the Treasurer was less than enthusiastic about the decision to procure outside counsel.

Separately, the Free Enterprise Forum joined with the Fluvanna Chamber of Commerce to hold a Candidate Forum on October 22nd.  Supervisor Moss and challengers Shaun Kenney and Keith Smith responded to questions before about 20 citizens, many of whom are influential in the community.

While the candidates took many of the positions articulated previously in the campaign, one new development was their united opposition to a Business and Professional Occupation License, or BPOL tax.  The tax currently has little support on the present Board of Supervisors so it is unlikely to pass anytime in the near future.

US 29 as an Urban Boulevard or Expressway?

urban frontageBy Neil Williamson, President

The Albemarle County Planning Commission will be holding a public hearding on the Draft Places29 master plan on Tuesday (10/27) at 6:00 pm in the County Office Building.  In preparing for this hearing, I am concerned if the graphics presented match the plans being discussed or even agree internally. 

Take a look at these first two images:

US29 Future view

What speed would be appropriate for this road?

Note the large pedestrian crosswalk wide sidewalks and sidewalk cafe’ aka “Urban Frontage”.

If the speed limit was 45 miles an hour, would the East side of this urban boulevard feel connected to the West side? Or, would the urban boulevard cut the community in half?

Places 29 is not occuring in a vacuum.  The Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT)  released their vision for US 29/Hydraulic/250.  While concepts for an eastern bypass and a connection road called Leonard Sandridge Extended have been scuttled from the plan due to strong opposition, the vision for the 29/H/250 interchange remains.  Compare their graphic to the ones above:

Slide 1

What speed could be achieved with the so called “Kroger Flyover”?

Does this help or harm the concept of an urban boulevard?

A footnote in the VDOT presentation regarding the US 29 corridor indicates VDOT will (in the long term) be seeking grade separated interchanges for all intersections from 250 north past Ruckersville.

The planning for the elimination of direct access to 29 is in the works.  VDOT has desired this for some time but local officials have held firm that such access decisions are their purview where VDOT should be safety focused.

In the Places29 plan new “Jug handles” are envisioned to permit access and speed travel times.  In the map below, you can see left turn movements will not be permitted from Rio Road.  Places29 Rio Interchange

It seems as though Places29 is speaking from both sides of its mouth.  By reducing the traffic movements avaiable, the flow of traffic will increase; an urban frontage condition is enhanced by slower speed traffic.

So which is it? 

Are we trying to speed traffic through Albemarle using restrictive local transportation design?

Or are we attempting to slow it down with land use?

Or do we really think we can have it both ways?

Albemarle’s Stragedy Retreat

By. Neil Williamson, President

The first two hours of last week’s (10/16) Albemarle County Board of Supervisors Strategic Retreat featured multiple reports indicating a significant drop in local, state and federal revenue over the last several quarters.  The five year economic forecast was equally dismal.  It was under this backdrop the County Supervisors brainstormed strategic concepts to positively impact their budget.

After the discussion, each Supervisor was given a number of green dots to rank their priorities on the list of strategic issues the retreat had identified.

Board Retreat Dot Exercise

photo credit: Charlottesville Tomorrow

The strategy receiving the most votes on this page was “Promote Economy, work with the Business Community”.  If I was new to the community, I would have to ask how this qualified as a new strategic priority. 

Doesn’t Albemarle County always work with the business community? 

Perhaps an example will illuminate the issue. 

Earlier in the meeting Supervisor Ken Boyd raised an example from out at the airport.  According to Boyd, there is a very expensive aircraft that wishes to be housed at the Charlottesville-Albemarle Airport (CHO).  A private entity is prepared to use private money to build a hanger to house the aircraft (and others perhaps) in a location and manner that is consistent with the Airport Authority Master Plan.  Parties to this proposal met with Boyd some time ago to brief him on the issue.

It is important to note, aircraft pay taxes at the airport where they are permanently housed.  Any additional aircraft permanently housed at CHO it would represent an increase in personal property taxes paid.

So as a win-win-win issue where is this proposal today, Supervisor Ann Mallek reported to the Board that the application is now in process. 

Lifting a concept from Ronald Reagan:  “In Process” is not a solution – “The Process” is the problem.

Albemarle County has long considered itself to be so desirable, that anyone wanting to open an enterprise here must be willing to do it the Albemarle way.  If they don’t want to play ball, we don’t need them.  This attitude manifests itself in laborious architectural review boards, a multiplicity of workshops and public hearings at the planning commission as well as a staff that is guided by starting with “No” as an answer.

The Free Enterprise Forum has written extensively about The Cost of Complexity and the many altruistic goals that lead to an application now requiring over 100 eyes to review prior to approval.  Often the cost of an Albemarle application review is higher than the cost to draw up the plans.

With the dark economic clouds above (and on the horizon), Albemarle County is starting to feel the ramifications of what they have wrought.  Significant retail sales tax revenue is bleeding out of Albemarle and Charlottesville as more and more shoppers are finding what they need, often at lower prices, just over the county line.

Some have suggested this retail flight is a good thing as Albemarle wants to save their limited land resources for higher paying jobs.  The reality is in economic development, the localities surrounding Albemarle all have the same slogan “We’re not Albemarle”. 

Beyond the competitive nature of relocating businesses, Albemarle has significant issues with both business retention and encouraging start up companies.

Without a strong business tax base, a larger share of the tax burden will fall to property owners.  Perhaps this dot exercise indicates Albemarle’s willingness to “work w/ business”  because too many times to count it has seemed like Albemarle County Government has been working against business.      

Albemarle County has spent the last fifteen to twenty years building an anti-business reputation, it will take much more than four green dots on a poster to change it.  But you have to start somewhere.

Greene County BOS Holds Joint Session with PC to Discuss the Comprehensive Plan

By. Kara Pennella, Greene County Field Officer

             The Greene County Board of Supervisors and the Planning Commission met in a joint session on Wednesday, October 14, 2009 to review the Draft Comprehensive Plan. Bill Wanner of Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission presented a summary of the plan to both the Board and the Commission. J. Frydl, Chairman of the Planning Commission also provided an overview of the process that the Commission used to come up with the proposed smaller growth area.proposed growth 2

             J. Frydl outlined the factors that went into creating the new growth area. First, the Commission looked at the preferred scenario created in the Multimodal Corridor Study (101 page PDF) Workshops and the water/sewer service area boundaries. They then tried to establish hard boundaries that followed property lines or other natural boundaries. Some properties were removed from the growth area because the Commission felt that the appropriate density had already been reached.  

           J. Frydl noted that there has already been some feedback from the public.  There have been some concerns from the public over removing property zoned Senior Residential because it might cause some issues moving forward with those projects. There have also been lots of comments about property on the southwest side of Route 33 and the PC is working to determine what, if any, of the property should be included in the growth area.

             The Board of Supervisors also provided comments on the draft plan. C. Schmitt had some questions regarding areas where the water and sewer boundaries did not match the proposed growth area. He noted the water and sewer service area was in the process of being reduced. C. Schmitt also expressed concern over making Stanardsville an Urban Development Area. He felt UDA’s required such a high density that Stanardsville might loose the village feel that residents sought.  J. Allen was generally happy with the plan but felt that there were a few properties that were taken out of the growth area that should be put back in. B. Peyton noted he would like to see property on the southwest side of 33 put back in the growth area. S. Catalano listed several areas that he would like the PC to revisit for possible inclusion in the growth area including the southwest side of Route 33 and some lots which have already been rezoned B-3.

             The Board and Commission briefly discussed the timeline for completion of the Comprehensive Plan. Staff indicated that the Board would likely not hold public hearings and vote on the plan until after the beginning of the New Year due to the reduced number of meetings for the holidays.

Greene County BOS Discuss Roads and 2010 Legislative Program

By. Kara Pennella, Greene County Field Officer

 Action Summary:

  • Motion to approve 2010 Legislative Program – Approved
  • Request for a Special User Permit for a residential accessory structure greater than 768 square feet on 4.64 acres of land located on Spotswood Trail – Approved
  • Resolution to accept and appropriate $240.00 in grant funds for the Stanardsville Volunteer Fire Department – Approved
  • Resolution to accept and appropriate $50,000 in grant funds for the Sherriff’s Department – Approved

             During its regular meeting the Greene County Board of Supervisors received its quarterly report from Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT).  David Blount presented the 2010 Legislative Program. The only public hearing of the evening was a request for a special use permit. Finally, the Board of Supervisors heard two requests for ordinance revisions from the public.

            VDOT representatives reported that Bacon Hollow Road has been completed and the speed limit has been reduced on portions of Route 29N. They are currently working on a step down from 55 to 25 on Route 230 so that the reduction in speed is not so abrupt.  VDOT has been working with a consultant on a traffic light for 607 and Preddy Creek Road. They may be able to do some preliminary engineering but there is no funding to go forward. Federal funding requires a 20 % state match which is unavailable right now. The Board is concerned because the County has about 1.6 million in proffers for the area that needs to be used.

             David Blount, Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission provided a review of the 2010 Legislative Program. He noted that not many of the agenda items had changed from last year. He expects that the legislature will have to start cutting funding from education to make up shortfalls. He predicted that this is will be the toughest budget the state has seen and expects that it will get worse before it gets better. After a brief discussion, the Board unanimously approved the 2010 Legislative Program.

             In the only public hearing of the evening, Wendell & Janice Lamb requested a special use permit for the construction of a covered picnic shelter larger than 768 square feet. The lot is zoned residential, but currently doesn’t have a home on it. The Planning Commission recommended approval with some conditions including that it not be used for commercial or public events, restoration of a stream buffer, a 20 ft screening yard, no pipe will be allowed to drain into the stream, outdoor lighting will be mounted horizontal to the ground and applicant will submit a site sketch for parking.  Applicant did not have anything to add to staff’s report.

             One neighbor addressed the Board regarding his concerns that the shelter might be used for public events. He was not necessarily opposed to the project, but had some questions about the use of the structure and what would prevent it from becoming a commercial enterprise.

             The Board discussed some of the proposed conditions on the special use permit. C. Schmitt wanted more stringent restrictions on the use. He proposed that the Board require that a majority of all persons using the property at any one time be members of the applicant’s family. He also proposed that they limit the time that applicant can use the shelter and place more restrictions on parking.  B. Peyton felt that the conditions sufficiently addressed concerns about the picnic shelter being turned into a business. J. Allen was concerned about other things that the shelter could be used for that were not a public use but might be offensive to the neighbors. Both M. Skeens and S. Catalano felt that the conditions would address most of the neighbors concerns. B. Peyton moved to approve the request with conditions. The special use permit request was passed 4-1 with C. Schmitt voting no.

             In matters from the public, Doug Watson a co-owner of the local BP Station requested that the Board consider amending the sign ordinance to include a grandfathering clause. He noted that he was having difficulty documenting whether his sign went up before the first sign ordinance in the county was passed.

            S. Catalano asked the Board if they would like to revise the sign ordinance and opened it up for discussion by the Board. J. Allen asked staff how many noncompliant signs they had found in the county so far and out of these how many have already made changes to their signs to comply with the ordinance. Staff indicated they had provided notice of noncompliance to about 50 businesses and 30 of those have already made changes to their signs. The Board quickly agreed that it was unfair to revise the ordinance now when so many people had spent money and time complying with the ordinance. 

             Tom Burgess addressed the Board and asked what happened to a county wide leash law.  The issue was discussed with staff who already has a draft ordinance and will schedule a public hearing.

           Finally, the holiday schedule for the Board of Supervisors’ meetings was announced. The Board will meet only once in November and December. Those meetings are scheduled for November 10, 2009 and December, 8, 2009.

2009 Candidate Forums

By. Neil Williamson, President

Over the past few weeks, the Free Enterprise Forum has been very busy coordinating candidate forums in several localities.  We have been conducting such forums since 2003, over the past few election cycles we have coordinated our efforts in Charlottesville and Albemarle with Charlottesville Tomorrow.  This cycle we completed Samuel Miller District, Rio District and Charlottesville City Council with Charlottesville Tomorrow.  We appreciate the opportunity to work with the CT staff on these events.

Photo: Charlottesville Tomorrow

Photo: Charlottesville Tomorrow

The questions crafted for these forums are designed to enlighten the audience about the issues of the day.  I encourage you to click on the video links below to see how the candidates answered our questions regarding the role of government in economic development, transportation, growth management and water supply.

Last week, we completed out fourth forum working with the Greene County Chamber of Commerce in the race for the Stanardsville seat on the Board of Supervisors.  On October 22nd, we will be n Fluvanna County conducting our last candidate forum for the cycle with their Chamber of Commerce.

Finally, I also implore you to vote on November 3rd.  In every race, turnout will be key.  If previous off year elections are any harbinger, less than 50% of registered voters will vote in this election.  Plan to make your voice heard on the 3rd. 

Video links to the first three candidate forums:

Samuel Miller District Candidates Forum from Charlottesville Tomorrow on Vimeo.

City Council Candidates Forum from Charlottesville Tomorrow on Vimeo.

Rio District Candidates Forum from Charlottesville Tomorrow on Vimeo.

Rio Land Use Arithmetic

By. Neil Williamson, President

This morning’s (10/12) Daily Progress features a front page story on land use taxation by Brandon Shulleeta .  Under the banner headline “Slutzky eyes land use tax restriction”, Shulleeta writes that Mr. Slutzky “may propose major reforms”.  In our estimation the proposal outlined is better described as the repeal of land use taxation in Albemarle County.

photo_cow2Shulleeta reports:

Under David L. Slutzky’s idea, rural landowners would be given a choice: They could pay real-estate taxes based on the land’s fair market value just like the vast majority of county landowners, or they could get massive land use tax breaks by agreeing to keep their land permanently undeveloped through conservation easements.

That change would mean some rural landowners would no longer receive land use tax breaks and would pay thousands or even tens of thousands of dollars more in taxes each year, money that could be used by the county for education, transportation and other services, or to reduce the tax burden on the vast majority of county taxpayers.

“I came to the conclusion that it may make sense for the county to say: ‘We’re going to reserve land use tax for people who truly preserve the land,’” Slutzky said in a recent interview.

The Free Enterprise Forum believes the land use taxation program is clearly a net benefit to Albemarle County.  We agree with retiring Supervisor Sally Thomas the “Cows don’t go to School”.  To those who believe this is a way that land rich folks get by without paying taxes, we are quick to point out all landowners pay the same tax levy on their primary residence and surrounding acreage.

We take great issue with Mr. Slutzky’s suggestion that land in land use is not “preservation”.  We have equated land use and conservation easements to the difference between renting and owning. We would argue the ecological benefits provided by a farm in land use for twenty years are the same as the ecological benefits of a farm in an easement.  The generational stewardship of Albemarle County’s countryside has long been “preserved” by the very farmers that relied on the land for their livelihoods.

This is not the first time Mr. Slutzky has brought forward the concept of Land Use taxation “reform”.  In July, 2008 the Board of Supervisors had a comprehensive review of the Land Use taxation regulations. In order to move any action forward the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors requires four votes.  Our blog post highlights part of the discussion: 

After dealing with a couple of routine public hearing items, the Albemarle Board moved swiftly into a discussion with Mark Graham, Director of Community Development regarding so called “Option 2″ for restructuring land use.  Mr. Graham’s review of the potential program highlighted the rather high costs for Albemarle County in the short term and the lack of significant long term benefits.  The staff report concluded with a recommendation not to move forward with Option 2. 

Supervisor David Slutzky raised a number of questions regarding staff’s analysis regarding market concerns created by enacting Option 2.  Supervisor Dennis Rooker also joined in the discussion related to lots that might be flooded onto the market.  Mr. Slutzky also asked his fellow Board members if they might be interested in seeing this topic reviewed if and when a Transfer of Development Rights program was considered. 

Supervisor Sally Thomas mentioned the ecological importance of trees beyond just as a renewable resource for lumber. 

After what for this board was a short discussion, Chairman Ken Boyd asked the question many in the room were thinking “Are there four of us that want to continue this discussion?”  In the end it was a 6-0 decision not to move forward with Option 2.

In the end the Board of Supervisors directed staff to work with County land owners and develop a land use revalidation system to make sure those receiving land use taxation benefits were truly using the land.  Some refered to this as “Counting Cows”.  Landowners (some prompted by their supervisors) returned the land use revalidation forms beyond expectation and the County Assessor is now evaluating the forms.

So what has changed?  Why is David Slutzky’s well known stand on land use taxation suddenly front page news?

Mr. Slutzky is in a political campaign in one of the most urban of Albemarle’s six magisterial districts.  Could this lukewarm call for land use repeal (“I’m not even sure I’d vote for it”) represent a political calculation?

Regardless of his own personal views, does Mr. Slutzky believe in January he will have four supervisors who will vote to repeal land use taxation?   I think not.  

Mr. Slutzky is not counting cows or supervisors; he is not counting the many ecological benefits of land use; he is counting Rio District voters that are ineligible for land use.  He is counting on their votes November 3rd.