Monthly Archives: November, 2009

Citizen Councils Should Inform Not Replace Decision Makers

FORUM WATCH EDITORIAL

By. Neil Williamson, President

The Free Enterprise Forum believes citizen groups (including us) should have the ability to be active participants in the workings of local government.  That being said, we are increasingly concerned that the leadership function of some Boards and Commissions may be inappropriately delegating to community organizations.

In last week’s (11/17) Greene County Planning Commission meeting, members of the Ruckersville Citizens Council (RCC)  came forward and suggested their organization should be given the responsibility for evaluating the Ruckersville section of the Comprehensive Plan draft.  While the formal letter they submitted  suggested “a group” be formed, their remarks to the commission left no doubt that they believed the RCC should be provided some type of “official” status within Greene County’s planning process.  They based this concept on the Crozet Community Advisory Council (CCAC) in Albemarle.

As opposed to the self selected RCC, The CCAC is directly appointed by Albemarle County’s Board of Supervisors and has a specific mission.

The CCAC will be a catalyst for effective and efficient Crozet Master Plan implementation. The CCAC will provide periodic reports to the Board of Supervisors on the status of Crozet Master Plan implementation and CCAC activities, such as:
land use form of development, business development and activity, services such as fire/rescue, police, schools and libraries, transportation and connections, affordable housing
and community-based activities such as parks and an historic preservation committee.
The CCAC will contribute to public understanding of and support for Master Plan implementation through enhanced communication and collaboration among all Crozet community stakeholders, and will seek to identify, and communicate and collaborate with unrepresented stakeholder groups.

In addition, there are specific qualification for serving on the CCAC:

Members shall consist of residents of the Community of Crozet, with representation of the following:
1. Community of Crozet citizens at large members 2)
2. Business community 2)
3. Other potential community representatives 8):
Claudius Crozet Park Board
Jefferson Madison Regional Library
Crozet Community Association
Parent Teacher Organization members from either the High School, Middle School, Elementary School
Public Safety representative i.e. Crozet Volunteer Fire Department or Rescue Squad
Other organizations or representatives

Even if the selection process is stringent and the scope of work is well defined, it does not matter if these groups are misused by decision makers. 

Recently, Albemarle County’s Planning Commission chose not to hear a Zoning Map Amendment (Yancey Mills Industrial Park) application, choosing instead to include it as part of the five year review of the Crozet Master Plan.  The Free Enterprise Forum does not have an opinion regarding the Yancey Mills project (or any other project for that matter) but we do believe this was an inappropriate decision by the Planning Commission.  Rather than voting the application up or down, the application was delayed and delegated to the CCAC. 

Is the CCAC appropriately equipped to weigh the needs of the entire county versus the needs of the Crozet community?

The Free Enterprise Forum thinks not.  The Planning Commission is.  This is why the Albemarle County Planning Commission has seven members (one from each district and one at large) to consider the application in the context of the entire community. 

Make no mistake, neighborhood groups can — and should– organize and have a voice.  This is a critical part of our process but all parties must be heard.  Applicants are often placed in a defensive position as they attempt to develop their property within their rights.

In the end, elected leaders must lead, not delegate, if citizens don’t like the direction they should replace the leaders.

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20070731williamson Neil Williamson is the President of The Free Enterprise Forum, a public policy organization covering the City of Charlottesville as well as Albemarle, Greene, Fluvanna and Nelson County.  For more information visit the website www.freeenterpriseforum.org

Unfettered Zoning Fee Increases Forever?

 By. Neil Williamson, President

Albemarle County has scheduled their zoning fee increase public hearing  to allow the current lame duck Board of Supervisors vote on the proposal on December 2, 2009.  The Board has already seen the fee increases as they included the numbers in their resolution of intent several months ago.

Despite our research and our direct testimony at the Planning Commission, the Free Enterprise Forum still has fundamental issues with both the timing and the concept of fixing the process by fixing the fees (with an automatic escalator).  We fear this puts too much emphasis on the fee increase side of the equation and provides no mechanism nor incentive for achieving departmental efficiency.  In addition, we have called for the implementation of these fees to be postponed until at least January 1, 2011.

Recent media accounts support our position.

In a November 13th editorial, The Daily Progress highlighted potential cuts to help alleviate the largest cost component to the fees, salaries:

Meanwhile, raising revenue addresses just one side of the equation. The other must be considered: Reducing county costs so that there is less reason to “need” fee hikes.

This can be done in two ways.

Some critics claim that the planning and development department is overstaffed, especially now that building permit requests have fallen due to the economic downturn. We know that the county has reduced some staffing levels through attrition and reassignment. Although we are not prepared at this time to say uncategorically that this department or any other needs to be trimmed still further, we do think the county should further consider this cost-cutting technique.

The county might be able to cut staff if it made its system less cumbersome. Rezoning and building procedures are so protracted and unpredictable that they add unnecessary burdens to the approval process. Of course, procedures should continue to safeguard the environment and the taxpayer, but streamlining the system would benefit everyone in time and money saved.

In a recent Letter to the Editor of The Daily Progress, Cecil Witt raised a number of concerns including the staffing levels of county inspections:

In the first half of 2002, there were 855 single-family home permits issued, with a staff of 15 employees. In the first half of ’08, there were 266 SFH permits issued, still with a staff of 15. In the first half of ’09 there were 155 SFH permits issued, still again with 15 employees on payroll. These numbers are taken from reports from the county.

Most interestingly, the City of Richmond raised fees in 2007 in order to produce an improvement in service.  A recent City audit (53 page PDF) found the cost justification faulty and questioned any resulting improvement in service.  Will Jones of The Richmond Times Dispatch has the story.

A 15.5 percent increase in Richmond’s construction permit fees may have been unnecessary, and it has failed to produce the promised improvements in inspection services, according to the city auditor. . .

The report is recommending that administration officials review the city’s costs to issue permits and conduct inspections, and to adjust its fees accordingly.

Albemarle County’s proposed zoning fees have an automatic escalator based on merit pay increases.  Understandably, labor is the largest component of the cost.  What if the fees also included a quadrennial outside audit of the fee schedule? 

Such an audit would clearly fall under the best practices Albemarle has touted in the past.  An audit, if done correctly, might expose the huge waste that is mandated not by code but by over zealous Albemarle County planning procedures.

The proposed fees (as advertised in this morning’s paper) include:

Selected Proposed Zoning Fee Increases      
Albemarle      
  Current Proposed %
  Fee Fee Increase
       
Zoning Text Amendment $ 840 $ 1,000 19%
       
Zoning Map Amendments      
Planned Development < 50 acres $ 1,200 $ 2,500 108%
Planned Development > 50 acres $ 1,570 $ 3,500 123%
All other amendments < 50 acres $ 1,020 $ 1,250 23%
All other amendments > 50 acres $ 1,570 $ 1,750 11%
Deferral of scheduled public hearing at applicant request $ 35 $ 180 414%
       
Special Use Permits      
Rural Area Division $ 1,240 $ 2,000 61%
Home Occupation- Class A $ 13 $ 25 92%
Home Occupation- Class B $ 440 $ 500 14%
Each additional resubmittal after 1st resubmittal n/a $ 1,000  
       
Site Plans      
Final Site Plan – Administrative Review $ 410 $ 1,200 193%
Final Site Plan Planning Commission Review $ 1,130 $ 1,800 59%
       
Matters considered by Board of Zoning Appeals      
Variances $ 120 $ 500 317%
Appeals $ 120 $ 240 100%
       
Matters considered by Architectural Review Board      
Site Plan n/a $ 1,000 n/a
Building Permit per ARB review n/a $ 590 n/a
       
Matters Considered by Zoning Administrator or others      
Official determination regarding compliance $ 75 $ 185 147%
Official determination regarding development rights $ 40 $ 100 150%
All other official determinations $ 75 $ 100 33%

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20070731williamson Neil Williamson is the President of The Free Enterprise Forum, a public policy organization covering the City of Charlottesville as well as Albemarle, Greene, Fluvanna and Nelson County.  For more information visit the website www.freeenterpriseforum.org

Fluvanna Supervisors Punt on Waterline

By William J. Des Rochers, Fluvanna Field Representative

Board Chairman Marvin Moss (Columbia) announced at the Fluvanna County Board of Supervisors meeting on November 18th that the Board would take no action on the James River Water Authority (JRWA) or the waterline until the new Board assumes office in January.

fluvanna sealThere was some concern that the lame duck Board might try to push through measures – such as bond financing – before the new, and more conservative, Board took over. However, when it became clear that there likely would have to be a bond referendum, there was little the incumbent Board could do.

It is quite possible that the next Board will replace the current Fluvanna representatives to the JRWA. This would be a popular decision with many in the community who believe that the current representatives are too closely aligned with the current supervisor majority.

Separately, the Virginia Supreme Court dismissed an appeal regarding the legality of the JRWA. Brought by Mr. Doug Johnson (a newly elected School Board member), the appeal was dismissed on technical grounds, before the arguments could be heard.

On another financial matter, supervisors were briefed on the option to refinance the school bond issue. This Board likely will authorize the bond counsel to prepare the necessary documents but will defer any refinancing commitment until January.

The county’s bond advisor agreed to provide a more detailed briefing on the subject in January, particularly since it was clear that most, if not all, supervisors simply did not understand the proposed mechanism that would be used to implement the refinancing.

The supervisors declared Fluvanna a “Recovery Zone” in order to enable the county’s Economic Development Authority to consider issuance of up to $1.1 million in “recovery zone facility bonds”. This amount was allocated to the county under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. The county qualified for the funds because of a significant increase in unemployment.

The first application for the funds is expected to be from Friendship Camp Inc. to construct an indoor swimming facility. The county’s full faith and credit is not pledged for the bonds, which will be issued commercially.

The Board also signed a contract with Davenport and Company LLC to serve as bond advisor to the county. The new Board may revisit this.

Streamlining Albemarle’s ARB Process?

By. Neil Williamson, President

There are times a picture is worth a thousand words. 

The chart above was a part of Albemarle County Planning Commission’s work session last night (11/17).  With a stated goal of streamlining the review of Architectural Review Board Applications (ARB), this chart (page 49 in the staff report) documents the significant hurdles each and every ARB application must face. 

The Albemarle County website outlines power of the ARB over properties located on Albemarle’s 21 Entrance Corridors.   

The Albemarle County Architectural Review Board (ARB) is appointed by the Board of Supervisors and is charged with the responsibility of regulating the design of development within the County’s Entrance Corridors. The goal of this regulation is to ensure that new development in these corridors reflects the traditional architecture of the area and that development within the corridors is orderly and attractive.

WHICH PROJECTS MUST BE REVIEWED?

Proposed development projects must be reviewed by the ARB if they are located upon parcels within a designated Entrance Corridor (EC) and if:

  • The project requires County approval of a site plan or approval of an amendment to a site plan before development can begin (generally only commercial, industrial, or multi-family development projects are required to have a site plan), or
  • The project requires a building permit (for commercial, industrial, or multi-family developments) before development can begin, or
  • The project requires a special permit from the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors because it involves outdoor storage or display within an Entrance Corridor, or
  • The project requires a special permit, rezoning, or comprehensive plan amendment and a request has been made for advice from the ARB.

The Free Enterprise Forum has raised concerns over the years at the proliferation of “entrance corridors”.  Perhaps by dropping the number of roads designated as entrance corridor, the process could be improved? 

The Free Enterprise Forum asks if Albemarle County (and applicants) are receiving value equal to the cost of the ARB review (both in fees and associated costs).

The chart speaks for itself.  The process review will go to Planning Commission public hearing on December 15, 2009.

A PDF of the chart is available at the following link:  arbflowchart.

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20070731williamson Neil Williamson is the President of The Free Enterprise Forum, a public policy organization covering the City of Charlottesville as well as Albemarle, Greene, Fluvanna and Nelson County.  For more information visit the website www.freeenterpriseforum.org

Greene County BOS Approves New Leash Law

By.  Kara Reese Pennella, Greene County Field Officer

Greene County continues to increase regulations on dog ownership in Greene County. On Tuesday, November 10th it passed a new leash law. The leash law does not apply to areas zoned Agricultural or Conservation. Subdivisions located in Agricultural districts may still apply to be covered by the leash laws. The new law does not necessarily require that dogs be tied up or fenced in but they must be under the control of their owners.

A number of citizens spoke in favor of a leash law. Many citizens who addressed the board would have preferred to see a more stringent law extending to the agriculture zoning districts and requiring that dogs actually be physically leashed not just under the control of their owners.

Board members noted that this new law is in response to numerous complaints that they have received from citizens. B. Peyton noted that most of the calls that he received concerned residential areas and felt this was a fair solution to the problem. J. Allen also noted she had receive many complaints and moved to approve the ordinance as proposed. The motion passed by a unanimous vote.

In other matters from the Board and the public, the Board received good news on economic development in Greene County. First, the Chamber of Commerce reported a successful grand opening of the new visitor’s center which is located on Route 29 near Blue Ridge Café. Second, the Chairman of the Board announced that the official groundbreaking ceremony for the Greene County Wal-Mart would be Friday, November 13, 2009 with work beginning on the project the following week.

Economic Development – it’s not a Department it’s a Philosophy

 By. Neil Williamson, President

Everyone is in Sales. From the person who answers the phone, the person who delivers the product, to the folks in accounting who issue the invoices  and everyone in between. Each and every person has an impact on if our clients choose to buy from us.” – A former boss

I was reminded of this advice during last night’s (11/10) Albemarle County Planning Commission meeting.  My boss was talking about the best way to keep clients was to make sure everyone in the organization was focused on meeting the client needs (thus driving sales).  The same could be said for municipality economic development ideals.  Clearly education and public safety are critical parts of creating an positive environment where business can thrive but so are clear, predictable regulatory programs as well as a business friendly mentality within government.

It two very different discussions, it was clear the current Albemarle County Planning Commission sees its role as one of “protecting the citizens from economic development” not “encouraging the type of development the community desires”.

Wineries Work Session

In response to state legislation (designed to keep localities oichardonnayut of the regulation of farm wineries), Albemarle County is attempting to regulate the hours of tasting room operation, the number of people attending events, as well as some of the activities that occur on the farm wineries. Albemarle believes this is within their scope of “Health, Safety, and Welfare”.

After several wineries spoke regarding the history of the state legislation and the significant negative impact of the regulations on their businesses, one commissioner suggested that it was well and good what the wineries think they got passed in Richmond, but that’s “not how our county attorney interprets the legislation”.

This is the legislation requiring interpretation:

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.”

Many questions were asked about what goes on by right on farm wineries but interestingly not much was mentioned about other by rural by right uses. Therefore if you are a neighboring parcel, you could invite hundreds of friends to a field party everyday without a special zoning clearance but if you place a winery on the parcel you now have an additional regulatory burden to bear.

One winery owner related to the Free Enterprise Forum that the Health Department mandated he install a septic system with the capacity to handle 200 people an hour using the bathroom for 8 hours every day. For special events, Albemarle County would like to limit that number to 50 without additional zoning clearance.

A Planning Commission with an economic development philosophy would recognize the significant tourism benefit that is derived from having farm wineries making the rural areas financially viable and would be seeking ways to help them. Instead, the current protective philosophy, sees only the trouble and none of the benefits of winery operations.

Is it any wonder there is a strong concentration of wineries just over the border in wine friendly Nelson County?

Zoning Fee Inflation

While some localities are slashing their building permit fees (Charlottesville in ½) and others are holding a “fee holiday” reducing planning fees to encourage commercial development (Chesterfield County), Albemarle County’s Planning Commission has recommended not increasing zoning fees until July 1, 2010.

In addition, the Planning Commission chose to move forward with the lower zoning fees that were suggested by staff and sent down from the Board of Supervisors rather than the inflated fees advertised for public hearing.

On the one hand, I applaud the concept of postponing the implementation of fee increases but I hardly think an extension of 150 days (Staff requested February Implementation) provides significant economic opportunity window. 

A Planning Commission with an economic development philosophy would recognize (and perhaps quantify) the positive economic impact of zoning changes and would proposes a 12 or 28 month delay in fee implementation. In addition such a forward thinking commission would aggressively review the 120 items that are part of the zoning reviews to determine if all these steps are needed.

Example – If a licensed Professional Engineer has calculated the storm water runoff using an accepted software program, should the county engineering department spend half a day to rerun those calculations by hand?

Economic development is tied to the community vision as expressed in the comprehensive plan. As landowners consider the development of their property they will consider the risks and rewards associated with going through the often subjective rezoning process. Increased fees will only increase the cost of rezoning and may result in many more projects going forward based on their underlying zoning, not in agreement with the comprehensive plan.

Consider the chart below from Saint Paul, Minnesota, They have married the planning and economic development departments.  How do you think that would work in Albemarle County?

Economic Development Partners

Albemarle County’s current Planning Commission does not have an economic development philosophy. The Free Enterprise Forum asks all supervisors across the region as they consider Planning Commission and other appointments that they weigh each candidate’s concern for the community’s economic vitality as a part of their evaluation process.

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20070731williamson Neil Williamson is the President of The Free Enterprise Forum, a public policy organization covering the City of Charlottesville as well as Albemarle, Greene, Fluvanna and Nelson County.  For more information visit the website www.freeenterpriseforum.org

Who is Moving In Next Door? The DIA Relocating Employee Profile

By Neil Williamson, President

Last Wednesday (11/4), the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors received a briefing titled “Survey of DIA Personnel Moving to Rivanna Station”.  The survey, conducted by the Center For Regional Economic Competitiveness, a non-profit research organization affiliated with George Mason University, provides interesting analysis of the jobs (and some of the individuals) who will be relocating to the expanded Rivanna Station in Albemarle County.  The Free Enterprise Forum has posted the full report (pdf) on our website.

The first question most folks were interested in are how many of the current employees are going to relocate when their jobs move to Rivanna Station.  It is important to note this does not mean they will be moving the residence.  39% of those surveyed indicated they would be Definitely Moving, while an additional 9% indicated they would probably be moving.Rivanna Fig 1

This indicates a higher acceptance of moving than the September 2008 survey, it is also important to note these civilian employees must make their decision by May 2010, so the deadline is fast approaching.

As the report succinctly describes:

This suggests that when personnel receive more information about the move and as more imminent without alternative options, personnel that were once reluctant to move become more willing to accept the relocation plan.

The report also includes a good deal of demographic information about the DIA employees.  The household income of DIA employees with two earners in the household is between $100K – $200K annually.  The majority of the survey respondents indicate they will have one or more children in the home in 2010.  Those families with school aged children seem to have a slight preference to moving to Rivanna Station (55%).

As the respondents have not yet made their final decisions about the move several factors were identified in the report that impact their decision:

Rivanna figure 9

Interestingly more than 2/3rds of respondents indicated they would be looking at purchasing a single family home during the two year time allowed for housing assistance.

The report indicates:

Only 10 percent of respondents indicated that they plan to rent a single family home, townhouse, or apartment. The remaining respondents (22 percent) are uncertain of their ultimate housing choice. As for where they are most interested in buying or renting a home, most reported that Albemarle County would be their first choice, followed by Greene County and Charlottesville. Respondents indicated that several factors are likely to influence their housing choice: high school options for their children, potential job opportunities for their spouses, the commuting distance to work, and more general quality of life amenities

Many of the survey respondents are expressing a concern regarding their estimated 7% drop in income (they receive a cost of living increase in the DC Market) will not be met with an equal drop in their cost of living.

Many respondents expressed skepticism about DIA’s current relocation incentive packages which will cover expenses of moving and logistics and one house hunting trip for up to 10 days as well as provide allowance for temporary housing in the Washington DC and Charlottesville areas. Their concern centers on the perception that the offered incentives will not make up for the loss of income and the potential loss from depressed home sale prices if they were to move to Charlottesville. Furthermore, many respondents believe that their overall income will significantly decline if they were to relocate to Rivanna Stations. Washington area residents currently receive a locality pay adjustment to account for cost of living differences.[1] DIA workers moving to Charlottesville can expect their salaries to be adjusted downward by 7 percent below their current pay to reflect the loss of the locality pay adjustment.

Issues related to the pay scale and the concern about affordable housing seem to suggest that many DIA employees are not convinced that the difference in the cost of living in Charlottesville will make up for the lost wages, especially those seeking to sell their house in areas of Washington where housing prices have declined during the past two years


[1] Source: 2008 General Schedule (GS) Locality Pay Tables at http://www.opm.gov/oca/09tables/locdef.asp

As one would anticipate, the current state of the Housing Market in the Washington DC area is also a concern to those looking to relocate. 

This report and the tables included should be required reading for anyone looking to understand the potential impact of the Rivanna Station Relocation on our region.

Should Tourism Taxes Fund Albemarle’s Conservation Easements?

By. Neil Williamson, President

In Wednesday’s (11/4) Albemarle County Board of Supervisors meeting, there was an exchange between supervisors regarding the potential funding of The Hatton Ferry Project in Scottsville.  After going back and forth one supervisor suggested the funds requested for the Hatton Ferry come out of the Acquisition of Conservation Easement (ACE) Program. 

It is a little known fact that since its inception the ACE program receives in hundreds of thousands of dollars annually from the Transient Occupancy (hotel) tax.  

hotel symbolThat’s right, every time a traveler chooses to rest their head on a hotel/motel/campground  pillow in Albemarle County a portion of their transit occupancy tax goes to fund county government purchasing development rights.

The occupancy tax was developed by the General Assembly for promotion of tourism and is limited by Virginia State Code regarding the use of these funds:

§ 58.1-3819. Transient occupancy tax.

A. Any county, by duly adopted ordinance, may levy a transient occupancy tax on hotels, motels, boarding houses, travel campgrounds, and other facilities offering guest rooms rented out for continuous occupancy for fewer than 30 consecutive days. Such tax shall be in such amount and on such terms as the governing body may, by ordinance, prescribe. Such tax shall not exceed two percent of the amount of charge for the occupancy of any room or space occupied; however . . .  Albemarle County, Nelson County, Mecklenburg County, Gloucester County, Spotsylvania County, Stafford County, Loudoun County, Bedford County, Cumberland County, Floyd County, King George County, Wise County, Botetourt County, Prince Edward County, Rockbridge County, Caroline County, Dinwiddie County, Page County, Wythe County, James City County, Franklin County, Tazewell County, Augusta County, Prince William County, Craig County, Prince George County, Patrick County, Pulaski County, Halifax County, Montgomery County, Carroll County, Northampton County, Amherst County, Giles County, Smyth County, and Greene County may levy a transient occupancy tax not to exceed five percent, and any excess over two percent shall be designated and spent solely for tourism and travel, marketing of tourism or initiatives that, as determined after consultation with the local tourism industry organizations, including representatives of lodging properties located in the county, attract travelers to the locality, increase occupancy at lodging properties, and generate tourism revenues in the locality. (emphasis added – nw)

The justification for this spending has been that tourists come to Albemarle County to see the wide vistas and open space.  Further,  parcels that have utilized occupancy tax dollars have been “highly desireable”  tourist oriented parcels.

The Free Enterprise Forum sees this legal nexus as tenuous at best.  It could be argued tourist come to Albemarle County because of its rich history, safe streets or the connection to Monticello none of these items are funded from the transit occupancy tax. 

The Free Enterprise Forum believes tourism is one of the cleanest and efficient forms of economic development in Albemarle County.  The Virginia Tourism Corporation commissioned a study in 2009 that found on the state level:

Every $1 Virginia invests in tourism marketing generates $5 in tax revenue for the Commonwealth. That’s a 5:1 return on investment.

What has been the calculated rate of return on investment of the transient occupancy tax dollars siphoned off for the ACE program?

Why shouldn’t this targeted tax collection be spent generating new business for our local tourism industry who collected the tax in the first place?

If Albemarle County is truly committed to tourism, it should reexamine the funding of ACE from the transient occupancy tax.

Fluvanna’s Election Portends New Direction

By William J. Des Rochers, Fluvanna Field Officer

If the newly elected candidates are to be believed, and there is no reason not to, county government is in for some big changes. The Board of Supervisors will, come January 6th, swing from a 4-2 margin that supported the liberal Chairman Marvin Moss on virtually all key issues, to a 4-2 against that philosophy.

Chairman Moss lost his bid for reelection to a second full term to newcomer Shawn Kenney, a conservative. The Charlottesville Area Association of REALTORS® (CAAR) Political Action Committee  provided Mr. Kenney with a campaign contribution. Kenney will join newcomer Joe Chesser who ran unopposed. Incumbent supervisor Don Weaver rolled over his opponent, Keith Smith, whose company owed substantial back taxes to the county. Mr. Smith also received a campaign contribution from CAAR.

Throughout the campaign, the issues focused on accountability, transparency, communication, and fiscal responsibility. Controversies over the new high school — and the debt it incurred – coupled with the controversy over the James River Water Authority (JRWA) were too much for Moss to overcome. He lost by just 53 votes (out of 981) but sources have suggested that a sizeable amount of his base sat out the race. Voting in the Columbia supervisor race declined by over 13 percent from his last election, while the vote for governor dropped by just seven percent.

The School Board also had a large turnover with three new members, two of which defeated incumbents. The issues primarily were the same as in the supervisor races with little campaigning regarding the quality of education offered to Fluvanna children.

The first meeting of the lame duck Board of Supervisors occurred on November 4th, with only one passing reference to the electoral upheaval. Supervisors agreed to fund the JRWA an additional $20,000 in operating costs and also were briefed on an upcoming Comprehensive Plan amendment: a new chapter on fiscal responsibility.

Supervisors also were told that they would receive a briefing on refinancing the school bond debt at their next meeting. The staff has been monitoring interest rates with a view toward refinancing almost since the bonds were issued at a blended rate of just under six percent.

Greene County BOS Approves Revisions to the Sign Ordinance

By. Kara Reese Pennella, Greene County Field Officer

  • Motion to award a contract for snow removal to Countryside Landscaping – Approved
  • OR #09-004 Revisions to Greene County Zoning Ordinance Article 14 – Sign Regulations – Approved

  • OR #09-005 Revisions to Greene County Zoning Ordinance Article 21A – Wind Turbines – Deferred

     

The Greene County Board of Supervisors held its continued October meeting on October 27, 2009. Items discussed at the meeting included revisions to the Greene County Zoning Ordinance and several grant opportunities for the county.

First, the Board reviewed changes to the county’s sign ordinance. Most of the proposed changes to the ordinance were intended to clarify revisions made to the ordinance in March of 2008. Additionally, electronic message boards would be prohibited in the proposed version of the ordinance. The signs which were already approved would remain in place; however, new applications for the electronic signs would no longer be permitted. The ordinance also clarified that advertising vehicles are not permitted in the county.

Several citizens and business owners addressed the Board regarding numerous portions of the ordinance that might be confusing or unclear. Business owners were concerned that the prohibition on advertising vehicles might start the county down a slippery slope where business owners would no longer be able to park their company vehicles out from if they have business logos on them. Issues were also raised over whether language regarding the signs at entrances to subdivisions should be clarified.

Business owners also took the opportunity to discuss some of the unintended consequences of the March 2008 revisions to the sign ordinance. Many business owners who supported the revisions believed their signs and most of the existing signs in the county had a permit; however, it turned out that many did not have permits on file. Many owners were unaware that they did not have sign permits. Now small businesses are finding it difficult to come into compliance. Several concerns were also raised that county buildings may not be complying with the new ordinance and that this creates a double standard. Finally, questions were raised about businesses that had similar signs but might not have been notified of a violation.

J. Allen reiterated her position on the sign ordinance noting that so many business owners have already spent money complying with the ordinance that it would be unfair to make exceptions now. B. Peyton also noted that he was not in favor of adding a grandfathering provision at this stage but requested that staff investigate the specific questions regarding some possible nonconforming signs that had not been cited for violations.

The Board discussed some of the issues raised by the public regarding confusing language in the ordinance but ultimately decided to adopt the revisions as advertised. J. Allen moved to approve the ordinance revisions as advertised. The motion passed by a unanimous vote.

The Board also considered an ordinance revision that would allow the use of small wind turbines to generate power for personal use. Currently, there is no provision in the zoning ordinance to allow them. The proposed ordinance was created in response to increased public inquiries. Under the proposed ordinance, large scale commercial production would not be allowed. Wind energy systems that produced between 10 kW and 50 kW would be permitted by special use permit and would have accompanying set back requirements. Small roof mounted systems would be permitted by right.

The Board discussed the provisions extensively. J. Allen noted that the idea of these systems going up in Greene County “just creeps me out.” S. Catalano agreed that it represented change that was hard to wrap your arms around. The county attorney noted that similar aesthetic objections were once made about telephone poles and electrical wires. S. Catalano expressed concern that one of these turbines might go up in the low flight area preapproved for Pegasus and asked that staff see if anything could be done to alleviate any problems that might cause.

The Board also asked for clarification regarding colors, lighting and how many units could be installed per parcel. The Board deferred the application in order to allow staff to answer some of its concerns.

The Board also discussed some potential grant opportunities with staff. The schools sought permission to apply for a grant that would help address problems with the school’s roof and windows. The grant is aimed at increasing energy efficiency in schools. It would help cover costs of repairs that need to be made soon. No local match is required if the grant funds are received. The Board encouraged the schools to move forward with the grant application.

Staff also requested permission to pursue grants with from the Department of Forestry to make improvements to the County Park. The grant would require a 50/50 match but the match can be made in kind or with other grant money the county has available. The Board gave staff permission to move forward with these applications as well.