Monthly Archives: December, 2009

Biscuit Run State Park – Where Do We Grow From Here?

 By. Neil Williamson, President

[For additional context on the Biscuit Run issue please see our previous post “Is Biscuit Run a Canary in a Coal Mine”]

As Brian Wheeler reported in today’s  (12/31) Daily Progress, and well covered by his Charlottesville Tomorrow’s story, the Biscuit Run development has been purchased by the state of Virginia for use as a future state park.  Governor Tim Kaine, who successfully instituted urban development area mandates for high growth localities in the state, is removing 3.5% (800 acres) of Albemarle County’s designated development area.

This is a reduction of Albemarle County’s development area.  For those unfamiliar with Albemarle County’s policies, 95% of the land mass in the county is planned to be “Rural Areas” the balance 5% (less now) is designated as development areas where limited infrastructure funding is focused to deliver a higher level of service to a higher density population.

John Cruickshank, head of the Piedmont Group of the Sierra Club is quoted in Brian Wheeler’s story:

Asked about the County’s concern that pressure may build for replacement land in the growth area, Cruickshank said he did not expect that to be a problem.

“I don’t see that this is a reason to open up new areas for growth. There has already been plenty of growth and other areas zoned for new development,” said Cruickshank. “A lot of that growth is already going to occur north of town and there is plenty of room for people who need homes.”

The Free Enterprise Forum must respectfully disagree with Mr. Cruickshank’s assessment. 

A development area of 5% (or more) should promote mixed use development that allows those citizens who choose to live in denser communities the benefit of close by employment opportunities and amenities.   If the development areas are not of sufficient size to allow for orderly development, individuals will be pushed into “by-right” development in the rural areas where government services are more expensive to provide. 

Without selecting specific parcels or regions, we believe Albemarle County’s development areas must be restored to their previous size.  Several proposals regarding development area adjustments have been discussed in the Albemarle County office building over the last 18 months.  These, and perhaps others, deserve consideration by the Board of Supervisors. 

While the development area has been reduced by the state without Albemarle County’s action, only Albemarle County action can restore the development areas to their proper size.

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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

The Free Enterprise Forum is Hiring!

The Free Enterprise Forum is looking for a new Greene County Field Officer.  Please share this post with anyone who may be interested in this exciting position.

PART TIME FIELD OFFICER (Greene County) – Great opportunity!! Local non profit is seeking a part time research associate to attend and report on local governmental meetings as well as conduct web research. 10 to 15 hours per week.  Flexible schedule does require weekday evening meetings.  Reply in confidence to Neil@freeenterpriseforum.org  No phone calls please.

Fluvanna Budget Woes Grow

By William J. Des Rochers, Fluvanna Field Officer

In a harbinger of things to come, Fluvanna County schools will receive less funding from the state, based upon its revised composite index. The index is a complicated formula that determines funding allocations based upon such criteria as the county’s property value, adjusted gross income, school enrollment, and taxable retail sales. County officials expect that the funding cut could approach $200,000.

While the amount is seemingly small, it reflects a broader problem for the county: revenue streams are decreasing while spending obligations – most notably debt — are growing. According to County Administrator G. Cabell Lawton IV, the county’s budget woes in the last fiscal year were attributable directly to the decline in revenues, not significant unanticipated spending.

Currently the county is owed some $2 million in delinquent taxes, penalties, and interest. This represents the equivalent of a six cent tax hike for one year, or twelve percent of the tax rate. But notwithstanding the County Administrator’s claim regarding FY 2010 spending, Fluvanna government has grown significantly over the past decade.

Had county government kept spending growth in line with inflation and population growth, budgets would have grown an annual average of about 5.6 percent over the past ten years. Instead spending rose by an annual average of 10.5 percent in major budget categories – over 80 percent higher.

Current county spending is about 50 percent higher that it otherwise would have been had officials kept to the 5.6 percent annual average.

Now the new Board of Supervisors will be in a severe bind. Debt payments will increase dramatically in FY 2011 and county taxes may have to rise significantly to meet those obligations. Spending cuts also may be a part of the debt payment strategy since each million dollars in savings will generate about the equivalent of three cents on the real estate tax levy.

Supervisors will have to use this two-pronged approach – higher taxes and lower spending – and the first key question they will face is how to proportion the two.

TJPDC Editorial Bias and Cookie Cutter Comprehensive Planning in Greene County

By. Neil Williamson, President

Last night (12/16) the Greene County Planning Commission considered a number of issues regarding the proposed comprehensive plan.  In addition to hearing concerns voiced by the Free Enterprise Forum (more on this below), they also affirmed their decision to remove the parcel of land on U.S. 29 containing Highlands Golf Park from the current designated Development Areas and chose not to include a recommendation for a Ruckersville Citizen Council to be appointed. 

The Planning Commission also expressed general support for Greene County joining The Journey Through Hollowed Ground project but did not want to single out that organization in the comprehensive plan.

Some intrepid readers may recall, this blog has been critical of the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission’s (TJPDC) management of the writing of Greene County’s new Comprehensive Plan.

In a March pos100_4056t, we highlighted TJPDC’s maps of Greene County included a blow out map of Zions’  crossroads.  In an April post, we raised the issue of TJPDC promoting groupthink and how county residents were being made to feel as though they were making planning decisions, when in fact they were being led like lemmings off a planner’s cliff.

The current document includes significant editorial commentary that is wholly inappropriate in a comprehensive plan.  A few tidbits:

the land use goals will have a direct impact on the health and viability of the agricultural industry in the county. [Page 2]

The land use goals will have a direct impact on all industries within the county.

The 2003 Greene County Comprehensive Plan estimated that the average new home built in the County costs $1,800 in government services above and beyond the tax revenue generated by the home. [Page 5]

since tax rates can remain low when residential growth is not expanding at a rapid pace. [Page 20]

tax rates remain low since residential development is slowed and county resources are not overburdened. [Page 20]

These statements are clearly opinion and ignore the fact that County government has the ability to change the equation at anytime by adjusting the tax rate or reducing services.  Tax rates are set by Boards of Supervisors and while tax levies are impacted by development, state mandates, citizen demands, even courthouse fires all impact the financial condition of the county

If these regulations or the underlying zoning do not reflect the intent of County planning policy, then the subdivision itself may not be consistent with current policies but must be approved anyway. [Page 26]

The word “anyway” is pejorative and should be struck.

To be fair the latest iteration of the Comprehensive Plan is much more  Greene centric but as we were reviewing the Land Use Chapter, we found a page that not only was never discussed by the public.  It was clearly cribbed from another TJPDC publication.  Page 23 reads in part:

“This document is intended to be a resource for the localities of the Thomas Jefferson Planning District on this topic”.

Later on the same page the TJPDC puts itself in the position of the master planner as it read:

“This requires much foresight as we put in the roads and pipelines to build the places we need.”

Faced with this type of language that until last night had not been called out by the Planning Commission, staff, or the public, one wonders how closely anyone is really reading the document.

Greene County BOS Hears from Citizens on Dog Issue

By. Kara Reese Pennella, Greene County Field Officer

Action Summary:

  • Greene County Code Amendment to Prohibit Dogs from Running at Large between Henshaw Run and South River Road –Approved

The Greene County Board of Supervisors heard a request from citizens to include the area between Henshaw Run and South River Road under the county statute prohibiting dogs running at large. This is the same statute that was expanded to all Residential areas in the county last month. Citizens in agricultural areas still must petition the Board to be added to the statute.

Numerous residents came to the meeting to express their opinions. Some shared horror stories. Others were concerned that the enforcement of this ordinance would extend beyond the obvious instances of aggressive dogs. Many citizens provided conflicting accounts of how local authorities were handling the problems with dogs and how they would handle them under this ordinance. There was also concern that hunting dogs were being targeted. Each side of the dispute provided petitions to the board; however, the validity of those signatures was contested by each party.

In response to the comments from the public, the county attorney reminded everyone that under the ordinance a dog does not necessarily have to be on a leash. A dog needs to be under the owner’s control. This can include voice control.

The Board discussed the conflicting petitions extensively. However, even with some of the questioned signatures most of the Board felt that a significant number of people represented in this area approved of the proposed change. J. Allen also noted that it was important to give people an option other than taking the law into their own hands when facing aggressive dogs that are not leashed. She noted that common sense should prevail in the case of small dogs or hunting dogs that might be lost. C. Schmitt was concerned over the lack of uniformity in the petitions. He also was concerned that the leash law might be hard to enforce in this particular area and felt further information was needed before making a decision.

M. Skeens moved to approve the revisions to the statute as advertised. The motion passed 4-1 with C. Schmitt opposing the motion.

In other matters from the Board, the Water Supply Plan has been released for public comment from the both citizens and the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ). This is an important step in securing Greene County’s water supply for the future. Copies of the plan are can be viewed in the county offices or purchased on CD for $5. The full plan is also available on the Greene County Website (pdf).

To read the press release regarding the Water Supply Plan click here.

Jerri%20Allen1

Finally, the Board said an emotional goodbye to longtime member Jeri Allen. J. Allen was presented with a plaque for all her service to the Board. C. Schmitt noted Allen was the “finest public servant I have ever been associated with….” Members of the public also thanked J. Allen for her service by giving her a standing ovation.

Photo Credit: Greene County

Is Biscuit Run a Canary in a Coal Mine?

By. Neil Williamson, President

Not that long ago, miners used to take canaries with them into the mine, the canary would become irate, and often die, if their were toxic fumes present, providing miners the warning needed to escape with their lives. 

In today’s Daily Progress (12/9), Brian Wheeler of Charlottesville Tomorrow has an interesting story regarding the potential of the Biscuit Run development becoming a State Park.  Given the high profile nature of this development and its residential potential of 3,100 homes, this article prompts a number of important questions.

[It is important to note The Free Enterprise Forum does not take positions on projects and has never spoken in favor or opposition of any development project.  The following is designed to examine the processes and policies rather than this particular project.]

Unsustainable and undeliverable?

Biscuit Run was approved 6-0 by the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors.  The level of proffers and mitigation were called “the gold standard” by the applicant.  Supervisor David Slutzky called the project “A poster child for how a development can make it through our process and add to our community” [Will Goldsmith quote from C-ville].

In C-ville’s Will Goldsmith’s coverage of the Biscuit Run Board of Supervisors approval he reported:

County staff had a few last-minute questions about “the most complicated set of proffers we’re ever going to be asked to administer,” in the words of Community Development Director Mark Graham

Could causality be established that the high level of cash proffers, the complexities of the proffers coupled with the significant other concessions made by the applicant negatively impacted the projected financial performance of the project?

If the project was a poster child when it was approved and is now seemingly financially unsustainable,  should we reexamine the “gold standard(s)” other applicants have been held to since Biscuit Run’s approval?

Often we look to projects that have been successful to mimic performance.  The Free Enterprise Forum wonders if a close examination of projects that do not meet their anticipated goals can be even more enlightening.  We ignore the canary in the coal mine at our own peril.

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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

Don’t Say You Weren’t Asked

 By. Neil Williamson, President

The reason many citizens give for not serving on a local government committee, task force, commission or board, is that they have never been asked.

Consider yourself asked.

The Free Enterprise Forum monitors over 100 such groups across our region. 

Local government works best when citizens share their talents and intellect in the pursuit of good government.  This is not to abdicate leadership responsibilities of elected officials (see related post here) but elected officials can only spend so much time on any one issue. 

Another concern I often hear is my schedule is already full.  If we chose to leave the work to those who have nothing else to do, what type of results should we anticipate? 

To serve on one such group is really not a that great expense of time to participate as a member of one of these groups and you can make a difference

Charlottesville City Planning Commissioners Bill Emory, Genevieve Keller, Jason Pearson and Dan Rosensweig discuss their priorities before choosing study areas. Photo Credit: Charlottesville Tomorrow

Every locality has different needs and different deadlines.

Albemarle County is looking for a number of positions with a December 16th application deadline.  Opportunities include the Albemarle Service Authority, Agricultural Forestal Committee, Natural Heritage Committee, Route 250 West Committee, Planning Commission, and many others.  Click here for details.

Charlottesville has a number of positions coming open in the Spring.  For details about these positions and how you can apply please click here.

Planning Commissioners from both Greene County and Fluvanna County have been elected to serve on their respective Board of Supervisors.  This leaves an important vacancy on each planning commission.  This is an excellent opportunity to participate.  Planning or design experience is not required.  For details about the Greene County position click here.  Details about the Fluvanna position are available here.

Nelson County did not have any changes on their Board of Supervisors but is always looking for good people to serve on their Boards and committees. For a full list of opportunities and a link to their application process click here.

Regardless of where you live or your unique skill set, local government needs you.  Democracy, especially on the local level, is a participatory sport.

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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

A Missed Opportunity

By. Neil Williamson, President

Last night (12/1), the Planning Commissions of Charlottesville and Albemarle County held a joint meeting including representatives from the University of Virginia.  Such a meeting held the potential for significant discussions regarding the integrated solutions to the planning challenges these organizations face.

But that did not happen.

Instead, the commissions received canned reports from staff about important projects.  Interesting? Yes, but there was very little interaction between commission members regarding concerns with these projects or how these plans work in context with the other plans moving forward.

Then, there was a glimmer of hope.  A chance for real dialog between these important decision makers.

One Charlottesville commissioner asked the members of the Albemarle County Planning Commission, “Is there anything we can do for you”.

Regrettably, the Albemarle County’s Commissioners responded that better communication between Commissions would be great as Albemarle is seeking to build the development areas to be more urban like Charlottesville so they have much to learn from them.

“Communication” — Really????? 

Later in the meeting [after the city and UVA representatives had left], the Free Enterprise Forum expressed our opinion that the Albemarle County Planning Commission missed an excellent opportunity to explore the planning commissions’ different philosophies regarding:

  • Meadowcreek Parkway
  • Use of revenue sharing for mutually beneficial transportation projects
  • Transit operations
  • Traffic issues on 250 in the Pantops region
  • Neighborhood connectivity [called cut through traffic by some]

This criticism was met with both nods of agreement and shaking of heads of disagreement  by members of the Albemarle PC.  

In “Other Matters from the Public”, retiring Albemarle Board of Supervisors member Sally Thomas thanked all the planning commissioners for their work during her 16 year tenure as a supervisor and closed her remarks expressing  her agreement with the Free Enterprise Forum comments. 

After the meeting was adjourned, one member of the Planning Commission seemed disappointed (and angry) as she expressed her opinion of the situation stating, “I disagree with you . . .This was neither the time nor place for those discussions.”

With all due respect, if this wasn’t the time or place, what’s the point?

Rather than having what might have been a frank discussion of the many areas of disagreement between the localities, the Albemarle County Planning Commission [I blame Albemarle because at least the City raised the question] chose the path of least resistance. 

I believe the citizens of both Albemarle and Charlottesville should be disappointed with this waste of a meeting.  The optimist in me hopes for better with a new Planning Commission, only time will tell.

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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: Busy 2010?

EDITORIAL Commentary

By William J. Des Rochers, Fluvanna Field Representative

 

The recent elections have changed the dynamics of the Fluvanna Board of Supervisors and as a result we can expect a more activist approach, especially in its first year. The two rookie supervisors have stressed greater transparency and accountability, while the two more conservative members would like to undo some decisions of the previous Board.

Here are some educated guesses on how the new Board will deal with some of the issues coming before it.

FY 2010 Budget: Apart from debt service, expect cuts. Supervisors know they will have to raise taxes to fund rising debt, but they will be loathe to increase taxes to fund any increase in operations.

The James River Water Authority (JRWA): This is unlikely to survive in its present form. At least three of the supervisors, not to mention widespread voter sentiment, oppose the joint authority with Louisa. Supervisors could opt for a Fluvanna-only authority to push the pipeline forward.

Land Use: Although the issue flew below the radar in the campaign, supervisors will be updating the subdivision and zoning ordinances to bring them into compliance with the new Comprehensive Plan. Past Boards have avoided dealing with the rural preservation issue, which many observers believe would require some downzoning to be effective.

School Board: Voters also elected a School Board that will not be a rubber stamp for the superintendent and one that should be more in tune with the supervisors’ philosophy. Both Boards might look for ways to reduce potential new school debt by reprogramming some existing high school debt funds to other essential school rehabilitation projects.

Taxation: Two issues are likely to emerge: setting a reassessment date –currently, taxpayers are over-assessed by about 15-20 percent – and, dealing with uncollected taxes. Taxpayers owe the county nearly $2 million in back taxes, penalties and interest. Although the Treasurer is responsible for collection, this could become a political issue as taxes rise and services are cut.

Administration: The new Board will be looking to hold the county administration more accountable for, among other things, more and better analysis of long-term financial implications of various projects, and policies. Supervisors occasionally have been asked to make decisions absent sufficient information.

Supervisors are anxious to get off to a quick start in January, but will be constrained to some degree by the learning curve and budget preparation in the first quarter. But by the end of 2010, then new Board should have its stamp on the county’s policies and practices.