By. Neil Williamson, President
Earlier this week (1/19) the Albemarle County Planning Commission received an inventory report and demand analysis on light industrial land in Albemarle County. As I listened to Susan Stimart’s presentation, I found myself translating the rather clinical land use term “Light Industrial Land” into “Light Industrial Jobs”. Considering the challenging economic condition of Albemarle County I was suprised by the lukewarm reception some members of the Planning Commission gave to the report and its recommendations.
In preparing the report, Albemarle County staff conducted interviews with area property users and local real estate specialists dealing with commercial office and commercial-industrial property.
The results (of the interviews) in aggregate demonstrated that a foremost requirement, among the several factors considered by industrial-land users, is lower priced real estate with the appropriate zoning for their expected uses.
Beyond the new businesses considering locating in Albemarle the report highlights the disincentive to grow an light industrial business in Albemarle:
Companies expanding within the County typically incur an average of an additional $60,000 or more in carrying costs for development approvals, as cited by the Small Business Development Center in 2009. One factor (lack of zoned land) is creating incentive to leave and the other (zoning code restrictions) a disincentive to stay. Given the time and costs associated with local development approvals, the lack of industrially zoned land exacerbates the challenges to expanding a local business. (Emphasis added – NW)
After discounting the ability of some industrial enterprises to use the University of Virginia Research Park [enterprises locating in the park must have a research relationship with the university], the report states:
For non-UVA Park tenants, staff concludes there is a shortage of high-quality, vacant industrial land, compared with existing users’ stated demands, workforce projections and comparable supply in other jurisdictions within the region. ….The actual vacant, available County LI inventory is closer to 100 acres (emphasis added – NW)
Further challenging the economic development of these parcels is there relatively small size. With an average size of just 3.5 acres, many of these sites are unusable with the current zoning regulations mandating a larger parcel size. A number of these parcels are near residential developments raising the concern of conflicting land uses. In addition, the meandering streams and rolling topography of our region coupled with significant zoning restrictions may render many of the LI zoned parcels useless.
Based on the initial reaction to the report by the Planning Commission, I am not certain that a majority of the advisory body in charge of land planning in Albemarle is in synch with the Board of Supervisors which passed a resolution stating:
Yancy Mills and 250 East Corridor from I-64 to Shadwell Store – The report on available light industrial zoning should be expedited and a report on the possibility of expansion of this type of zoning in these areas should be brought back to the board in the first quarter for discussion and possible action.
On Monday night (1/18), Virginia’s new Governor Robert McDonnell mentioned his philosophy regarding the integration of planning and economic development in his speech to the General Assembly.
When a major business is considering a move to Virginia we must be able to meet the executives at the airport, drive them to a site ready for their project and show them that the only thing missing is them. Virginia is ready for their business – right now.
The Albemarle County Comprehensive Plan clearly enumerates the need for Albemarle to “Maintain a strong and sustainable economy.”
To meet this Comprehensive Plan goal the report indicates:
To meet the goal of providing a sustainable economy, diversified economic opportunities and the intent of the growth management goal to encourage non-rural related activities to locate in the designated growth areas, it is important to have a sufficient inventory of zoned lands in the growth areas to support anticipated and desired growth in these sectors of the economy
While there were members of the Planning Commission that seemed supportive of the concept of expanding the development area to accommodate large contiguous light industrial land uses, the chair was not. It is unclear where the entire Planning Commission was on the issue as not all members spoke to the issue before the discussion was closed by the chair.
Does Albemarle want light industrial jobs? The answer is not clear. If an enterprise beleives that the answer is unclear, they will locate or move to a place where they (and their positive economic activity) are expressly desired.
The report now goes to the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors for their review in their February 3rd meeting. It will be interesting to see if the Supervisors see this report as an economic development alarm or merely another staff report destined to gather dust on a shelf.
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