By. Neil Williamson, President
Over the last eight weeks, I have been researching the history and decisions of Albemarle County’s Architectural Review Board (ARB). The ARB sets and implements design “guidelines” in Albemarle’s twenty-one (21) entrance corridors. The resulting report outlines ARB issues and their unchecked expansion of regulatory power was released this morning (5/10/10).
One of the case studies in the report demonstrates the ARB’s protection of the entrance corridor from federally protected trademarks such as Stellar One:
The photo at left is a Fredericksburg branch of StellarOne. Such signage was denied ARB approval in Albemarle County.
The photo at right is StellarOne’s ARB approved Entrance corridor signage on North U.S. 29
The “Eye of the Beholder” report draws on research, legal challenges and case studies over the last twenty years.
The Albemarle County Board of Supervisors is scheduled to hold a public hearing on possible process revisions to the ARB on Wednesday May 12. The “Eye of the Beholder” report commends some of the changes but suggests there is more to do. Specifically the report recommends:
- ·reorganize by placing ARB approval below the Planning Commission
- ·refining the charge of the ARB
- ·revising design guidelines
- ·restricting the ARB ability to move buildings on a site
- ·redirecting staff and applicants to tell the board “no” when they make requests beyond their scope
It is important to note that criticism of the ARB is difficult for many applicants as they know they will be back before the ARB in the future. The scarcity of appeals to the Board of Supervisors may be an indication of the power the ARB currently wields. The research identified some enterprises that chose not to locate in Albemarle based on ARB precedent.
The photo at right is just some of the material samples that the ARB keeps a catalog for each ARB application.
After twenty years of ARB review, perhaps the community should look with fresh eyes at the impact of this process on the Entrance Corridor and business decisions that impact the tapestry of our economic vitality. Perhaps the homogenization of the entrance corridors have gone too far. The goal of this independent research is to foster that community discussion.
The “Eye of The Beholder” report benefits from personal interviews with applicants, applicant representatives, design professionals, former members of the Architectural Review Board and Albemarle County staff.
Researching this report has been eye opening to me. Weighing in at 27 pages the amazing thing about the report are the many things that ended up not in the report. As a part of this research, I personally interviewed ARB applicants, representatives, former ARB members, design professionals as well as elected officials. I also reviewed hundreds of pages of ARB minutes covering the last twenty years.
The questions raised by the report are significant.
- Are there too many (21) “Entrance Corridors”?
- Should the ARB regulate areas visible for less than 30 seconds on the “Entrance Corridor”?
- Should the ARB have the power to reduce the size of a building footprint based on its proposed use? Even if that use and building size in permitted By-Right?
- Is a homogenous appearance the desired result in the Entrance Corridor?
- Does the community feel the loss of some enterprises due to the Entrance Corridor Regulations”?
- How does the ARB’s charge conflict with other Comprehensive Plan goals? How are such conflicts mitigated?
As usual for a report of this scope, many questions are raised. Hopefully the community can actively engage in the question of “what should the Entrance Corridor look like?” as well as “How do we make it attractive and economically viable?”
The full “Eye of the Beholder” report can be found here.
Neil Williamson is the President of The Free Enterprise Forum, a privately funded 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