Monthly Archives: June, 2010

Albemarle drops – “Open for Business”

By. Neil Williamson

Albemarle County is currently holding roundtables to discuss their proposed economic development action plan (pdf).   This evening (6/23) the first of the roundtables were held.  There was a very good showing of a cross section of Albemarle County including business interests, agricultural interests, environmental interests and regular citizens.  In total, we counted over 35 individuals at the meeting.

The original draft plan was developed by a small group of stakeholders including the Charlottesville Regional Chamber of Commerce and The Thomas Jefferson Partnership for Economic Development (TJPED).  This original draft went to the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors in June. 

The Free Enterprise Forum is fascinated by the word smithing that is being conducted to take the meaning out of much of the document.

In the original draft: open for business

1. EXPAND COMMUNICATIONS AND OUTREACH TO THE BUSINESS COMMUNITY – convey to the business community and the Virginia Economic Development Partnership (VEDP) that Albemarle County is “open for business.”

In the revised draft (new language in italics):

1. EXPAND COMMUNICATIONS AND OUTREACH TO THE BUSINESS COMMUNITY – convey to the business community and the Virginia Economic Development Partnership (VEDP) that Albemarle County is “open for business.” committed to working with businesses to promote economic vitality.

Words have meaning – are you open or not?

In addition, during the roundtable we raised the importance of those enterprises that might not be “businesses”.  Our community has several large “non-profit” employers that contribute a great deal to the fabric of the community including providing important services (and the jobs that go with them).  The Free Enterprise Forum prefers using the verbiage “enterprises” instead of businesses to recognize the importance of employers that may not fit the strict definition of business.

Words have meaning and the more the Economic Development Action Plan is edited with squishy word and vague statements the weaker a document it becomes.

Closed%20Sign If Albemarle County is serious about economic development it should shout it from the rooftops for all to hear.  The Free Enterprise Forum believes the Action Plan should say Albemarle is “Open for Business” or accept that it is closed for economic opportunity.

 

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20070731williamson 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

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Split Decision on Schools Project by Greene Board of Supervisors

By Teresa Gulyas, Greene County Field Officer

Crowds overflowed the public meeting room and spilled into the hallway for the Greene County Board of greene county sealSupervisors meeting on June 22. More than fifty county residents were present to show support for the school’s desire to use bonds to upgrade facilities for athletics and the performing arts; over twenty-five had signed up to speak directly to the Board. Groups of families and students stood outside waiting to hear the outcome of the meeting.

The Board’s agenda indicated that there was to be “a presentation regarding proposed school’s facility project”. As this was not a resolution, there was no public hearing per se. This caused some confusion among community members about the process the Board followed.

Greene County Schools Superintendent David Jeck gave the presentationgreene county track crack and described the current conditions of the facilities  as “embarrassing”. 

He requested “support from the Board of Supervisors for consideration of the project”. The proposal included significant upgrades and improvements to the physical plant of the schools athletic and performing arts facilities.

Priorities – Overview

Baseball/Softball: Light, irrigate fields, press box with restrooms and concessions (facilities with plumbing), other improvements, dugouts, stands

Track: Repair/Replace/expand to include Virginia High School league required 8 lanes, relocate fence

Stadium Area: improve/expand seating, centralize/expanded concessions & restroom facility, renovate press box building

Other: Expand/Improve Parking, replace WMHS Gym floor, Replace Performing Arts Center curtains/Stage & Seating improvements, tennis courts (to be located at the Park)

School Finance Director Kim Powell and United States Departrecovery_gov_logoment of Agriculture (USDA) Representative Jim Allen added information related  to the process of the funding application and reiterated that this project would have no impact on the school budget as it would utilize retiring debt line items to fund the repayment of  the new debt issuance.

The urgency of the request was due to the potential expiration of “stimulus” funds that are currently available to buy the low borrowing rate (about 4%). Allen indicated that the County must be in the “borrowing book” by August 28 to qualify for this “historically” low rate.

At this point, what was being asked of the Board was not completely clear, but Jeck seemed to be seeking conceptual support for the school’s plan and support for the USDA to proceed with the application process; official funding requests would come only after the application process and would require additional community input, Board meetings, resolutions, and public hearings.

After the presentation, Board Chairman Catalano asked for feedback from the Board members. Supervisor Mike Skeens (Monroe) was not at the meeting as he was out of town on a previously scheduled trip family vacation. Carl Schmitt (At Large) and Jim Frydl (Ruckersville) spoke in favor of encouraging the school and USDA representatives to go forward with the paperwork necessary to apply for funding.

Vice Chair Buggs Peyton (Stanardsville), who served as a Board representative on the architect selection committee along with Frydl, said he would like to see more details and thinks that all Board members should be present before he would be willing to encourage application for the funding. Board Chair Steve Catalano (At Large) stated that the county had frozen all capital projects and expressed concerns about shifting local priorities, particularly in relation to funding of mandated constitutional officers and said he was unwilling to support the schools continued consideration of applying for the bond.

Frustration and anger was palpable in the room when the Board took a five minute break that the audience perceived as the end of the meeting where they had not yet been heard. When the Board returned to the room, Catalano called those who had signed up to speak.

All speakers expressed concern that two members of the Board were unwilling to support even completing paperwork to apply for the bond.

Speakers included students, parents, teachers, and community leaders:

  • Marianne Shepard, president of the Greene County Chamber of Commerce and Vice Chair of the Board of the Greene County Economic Development Authority, stated that facility improvements were imperative to attract high end businesses to the county.
  • Steven Brucker, also affiliated with EDA, stated that businesses expect schools to be a priority with a community
  • Ernie Inzana described Greene County’s facilities as the least impressive of all those in the VHSL and wondered how other schools/counties have figured out how to get the facilities that have been needed for so long in Greene County. He commented that “you stop spending to stay out of trouble but when you stop reinvesting, that’s the start of death”
  • Sam Jeffers reminded Board members that they haven’t seen a process like this before because there hasn’t been economic stimulus money available before and that we cannot depend on its future availability. He expressed concerns about the impact on teacher recruitment and retention and left the Board with the thought that “athletics (adversity) doesn’t build character; it reveals it”
  • Darla Rose asked the Board to consider the intangible losses that would result if this project is not done and encouraged the board to avoid being “penny wise and pound foolish”
  • Pauline Hovey expressed appreciation for past fiscal conservatism but encouraged the Board to support this school project
  • Mark Sanford stated that the current facilities have been unsafe since 2000 and that the facilities were, by far, the worst he’s ever coached on
  • Andrea Wilkinson, Ruckersville Citizens Committee, stated that she had no children in the schools but emphasized that the Board had heard from the Chamber of Commerce, the Economic Development Authority, and the Stanardsville Area Revitalization group about the importance of these facilities being addressed
  • Robbie Morris advocated that the Board be good stewards of the taxpayers’ money by spending responsibly now to avoid future inflated prices as the economy recovers.
  • Numerous parents, teachers, and coaches including Jim Shifflett, Kim Powell, Nancy Rodland, Katie Burnell, Jeff Nave, Lea Hertz, Jacob Hertz, and Cynthia Shifflett expressed concerns regarding the safety and potential for injury and subsequent lawsuits with current facilities, the length of time the facilities have been in disrepair, and the frustration that Greene County is unable to be as competitive with inferior facilities.

Patsy Morris, former Greene County supervisor, was the lone member of the audience who clapped when the project did not get support from the Board of Supervisors.

Board members have reiterated throughout the year that they plan to make their decisions driven by data. The Free Enterprise Forum has several questions regarding data points that might be helpful in guiding the Board in their decision:

  • Would using objective and measurable criteria in presenting the state of facilities be effective in helping the Board of Supervisors prioritize specific infrastructure repair/replacement?
  • Considering the uncertainty of economic conditions, would the Board of Supervisors be more comfortable with a smaller project scope?
  • Would unraveling the project to discreet elements, each with an estimated cost provide the Board the ability to support a portion of the proposal?
  • Are there statistics on injuries, loss of revenue, parent/student/community or visitor complaints?
  • What would be the divergence in the project’s financing cost if the USDA loan was not available and another financing vehicle was used?

The Board of Supervisors will continue the discussion regarding support for the bond application at the next meeting on July 13 [with all supervisors present]. Although there will be no “public hearing” until there is a resolution, the public at last night’s meeting spoke loudly and clearly when given the opportunity to speak at the end of the meeting during matters from the public.

The following links provide additional information developed by the Greene County Schools related to the school project discussed at last night’s meeting:

Athletic and Performing Arts Facilities Update June 2011

Athletic and Performing Arts Facilities At A Glance

FAQs for the Athletic and Performing Arts Facilities

Fissures Start to Show on Fluvanna Board

By William J. Des Rochers, Fluvanna Field Representative

Having dispatched the FY 2011 budget, the Fluvanna County Board of Supervisors is settling down to govern the county and fissures are beginning to develop. What widely had been expected to be a center-right coalition seems to be on the way to a center-left alliance. And the two members of the left can just wait for the center to arrive to their point of viewfluvanna BOS 2010, without having to say much to justify their positions.

Take, for example, a June 16th decision to provide up to $300,000 in grant match funds for installation of a rotary at the intersection of Routes 15 and 53. What might have been expected to be an issue of affordability actually turned into a question of the county’s commitment to economic development.

The 3-2 vote to commit the funds should a grant application to Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) be accepted signaled a new approach on the part of the county. A private developer would also contribute to the cost of the rotary. Supervisors did not want to appear to oppose a public-private partnership that would stimulate economic development. County dollars are not expected to be committed for at least two years.

In other actions, supervisors approved:

· A new sign ordinance that established new categories and definitions that clarified the previous legislation;

· A liberalized nonconforming use ordinance that allows homeowners greater flexibility to expand their dwellings;

· A water supply plan, as mandated by the state; and,

· A withdrawal of 301 acres from an Agricultural-Forestal district.

In another development, another senior county official has resigned. The county’s economic development director, Ms. Vicki Karabinis, has resigned to pursue other opportunities. She joins the county administrator and deputy county administrator who have left the county in the past few months.

Supervisors have hired an interim county administrator. Mr. Frank Pleva, a former county administrator in Mathews and King William counties, will assume the position immediately. Officials expect that he will apply for the permanent position, which supervisors expect to fill within the next few months.

Photo Credit: County of Fluvanna

A Tale of Two Localities and Two Philosophies


By. Neil Williamson, Presidentstack of documents

In today’s banking environment, increased documentation is required  prior to a loan even being processed.  One of the documents required is designed to prove the property has proper zoning for the planned use.

“By Right” means the use planned for the site is already permitted under the existing zoning on the site.

A True Story –

An established developer contacted Albemarle County regarding a “by right” commercial project.  He needed a zoning compliance letter to secure the financing for the project.  The zoning department took 45 days to issue the letter.

Same developer had another “by right” commercial project in another Virginia locality (an independent city of comparable size).  In the second case, the bank required a zoning compliance letter and a plan of development certification letter.  On Monday, the developer sent an e-mail requesting the documents and dropped a check in the mail for the appropriate fees.  The very next morning he received the required signed documents via fax – before the check even arrived at the zoning shop.

The developer calculated the carry cost saving for the expedited process (instead of 45 days) to be in excess of $35,000 which can be put back in to the city in development hard costs (materials, jobs) rather than burned as interest.  Even if not rolled back into the project the cost savings has a positive influence on the bottom line (and impact on future rent costs).

This is but a small example, repeated across localities every day.

approved stamp Which locality was more business friendly? 

Considering both were approved, was the public better served in one locality over the other?

What processes could your locality streamline that would result in decreased carry costs while still protecting the public?

Crozet’s Misplaced “Priority” Master Planning

By. Neil Williamson, President

While Crozet Master Plan2010 Chapter 8 “Implementation” has not yet been released to the public, a portion of this chapter was included in Albemarle County Planning Commission packet for June 15th.  Buried on Page 46 of the draft is the following:

While decisions regarding public development proposals/investments should not be based solely on these priority areas, decisions on development proposals should be made with an understanding where public investments are being focused.  Land use decisions should be consistent with the priority areas established in the Plan.  New proposals outside of the priority areas should not be approved if planned facilities are not in place to support the project and the existing neighborhood.  These projects will need to provide a more significant level of improvements to ensure adequate infrastructure and services are available to the area. [Emphasis added-nw]

crozet-mountain-view-with-downtown Taken to its logical extreme, a new rezoning in Crozet, inside the development area but outside the “Priority” area could be held liable for funding infrastructure project that have little or any direct causation by the introduction of the development.

If this seems to have a familiar ring to it.  It is because almost a year ago today, the Free Enterprise Forum blog exposed this folly in the Places 29 plan:

Doesn’t Albemarle County bear some of the burden for providing infrastructure within the 5% of the county it has designated for development?

While we understand and concur with focusing limited local dollars in priority areas, the Free Enterprise Forum believes development area land use decisions should be evaluated on their individual merits not  on the basis of if they are in the county’s newly defined Priority Areas.

Does the Places29 Master Plan contemplate rejecting worthy projects within the development areas in favor of less worthy projects in the newly designated Priority Areas?

Imagine the economic impacts of a philosophical position where new residents fund the infrastructure demands of existing residents.

Given: Albemarle County is focusing limited local dollars in the priority development areas www.taxplaza.org

  • A new proposal for 100 homes comes in outside the “Priority”  development area but inside the Crozet development area.
  • The master plan identifies a need for a new police sub station to be located near the new development to serve the entire community. 
    • The capital cost of the new sub station is 500,000.      
    • Therefore:  Each new housing unit in the development would have to contribute $5,000 [above the existing “voluntary” cash proffer]

Considering the significant economic disadvantage this would place on this potential development, one could see two options playing out:

First, the development is built, the substation is built and the increased cost of development is passed onto the homebuyer inflating housing costs for the entire region.

Second, and much more likely in today’s economic condition, the accountants will determine the development to be unsustainable with the $500,000 infrastructure requirement and development does not occur within the development area because it is not in the “Priority Area”.

Albemarle County must accept the responsibility of concurrently funding the infrastructure demands of existing development area residents.  A failure to accept this responsibility and passing the buck to new projects not only will not work, it will push development into the rural areas where it is more expensive to provide public services and where by right development do not contribute any “voluntary proffers”.

Economic theory dictates that while Albemarle may choose “priority areas” for infrastructure spending, such prioritization should not impact the status of future proposals within the designated development areas.  If Albemarle chooses to go this route, new development proposals will not be financially viable and will not come forward.

Or perhaps that was the idea all along.

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20070731williamson 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

VDOT Takes the Places29 Driver’s Seat (or not?)

By. Neil Williamson, President

Included in last night’s public input session on Places29 was a new twist, the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) wilVDOT logol (or might) not certify the comprehensive plan section if it does not include all of the grade separated interchanges recommended in the transportation study they paid for as a part of the planning.  Without such 527 certification from VDOT, the Comprehensive Plan chapter would be invalid.

Reporting to the Board of Supervisors, Albemarle County’s Chief of  Planning David Benish prepared a PowerPoint slide that indicated “VDOplaces29_webT would not certify the comprehensive plan under Chapter 527” in his verbal presentation he changed the verb to “could”.

According to the VDOT website:

Chapter 527 of the 2006 Acts of Assembly added § 15.2-2222.1 to the Code of Virginia. The legislation establishes procedures by which localities submit proposals that will affect the state-controlled transportation network to the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) for review and comment. The chapter also directs VDOT to promulgate regulations to carry out the provisions of the statute.

The statute intends to improve how land-use and transportation-planning decisions are coordinated throughout Virginia by establishing standardized methodologies (definitions, analytical methods, etc.), procedures for analyzing transportation impacts and providing that information to citizens and policymakers.

Supervisor Ken Boyd bristled at the idea that VDOT (and the General Assembly), who is not providing needed road construction funding and has significant funding issues of their own would come in and dictate that the community build interchanges that it may not want.  Benish seemed to back off of his statement and slide and indicated this was not a “direct threat” from VDOT but a discussion point for staff.

Places29 Reality

The Free Enterprise Forum believes this is a critical point.  VDOT was considered a partner in the Places29 land use and transportation comprehensive plan when it started in 2005.  Now due to General Assembly action in 2006, Albemarle may have to accept (and possibly fund) the improvements dictated by the transportation study, whether the citizens agree or not.  If this is accurate, VDOT, not the locality, will drive local comprehensive planning as it relates to transportation.

Considering the the Department of Transportation’s current funding and staffing challenges, I am remain unconvinced the General Assembly has fully prepared VDOT to get behind the wheel on this issue.

If this turns out to be merely a PowerPoint slide added to the presentation by staff to use the potential of VDOT denial under 527 as a leverage point to push the interchanges forward — well that’s a horse of a different color.

More about Places 29

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20070731williamson 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

Greene County Board Denies Fried Companies Private Community Water Plan

By Teresa Gulyas, Greene County Field Officer

At the regularly scheduled public meeting of the Greene County Board of Supervisors, representatives from Fried Companies Inc. requested a certificate of convenience and necessity for private community water and septic systems for the Monroe Heights Subdivision. Fried Co. consultants, Don Hurl from Environmental Services Systems and Ray Freeland of Freeland Engineering, came to discuss preliminary plans for the type of system being considered. Supervisor Carl Schmitt (at large) wondered why this system was being considered when sewer services are available through the . Fried representatives indicated that there were conflicting reports received from the county regarding the availability of public sewer service. The Board of Supervisors clarified that sewer service is available and, with little discussion, unanimously denied the Fried Companies request.

The consent agenda was unanimously approved and there were no other matters from the Board. The meeting was adjourned in record time.

Fluvanna Planning Commission Okays New Sign Regs

By William J. Des Rochers, Fluvanna Field Representativefluvanna seal

Fluvanna County’s  Planning Commission held an agreeable — albeit long — meeting on May 26th and approved several measures, all unanimously.

Commissioners unanimously recommended that supervisors approve a revised sign ordinance for the county. The new ordinance, according to staff, clarifies a number of definitions and removes several inconsistencies within the current ordinance.

At the county’s staff request, the Chamber of Commerce has agreed to review the proposal and provide appropriate comment. The Free Enterprise Forum also is reviewing the approved draft.

In other actions, the Commission recommended that the Board of Supervisors approve:

· The withdrawal of 301 acres from the 1,206 acre Byrd Creek Agricultural and Forestal District, so that the withdrawn acreage may be placed in a conservation easement;

· Am amendment to the county zoning ordinance regarding nonconforming uses, specifically residential setbacks so that older dwellings may be expanded without seeking variances; and,

· An amendment to a special use permit to allow “mud bogging” on weekends and holidays at a recreational facility in the Cunningham district.

Commissioners also approved a site plan for a new facility at the Antioch Baptist Church (Cunningham) and agreed to initiate a zoning text amendment that would add as uses campgrounds and private cemeteries in the A-1 (Agricultural) district.

The Planning Commission also received a draft Cash Proffer Policy for the county but will not consider it until the review of the A-1 district and the rural preservation issues are resolved. Under the proposal, the cash proffer value is set at $7,601 for each residential dwelling.

Greene County Planning Commission Works to Align Comprehensive and Capital Improvement Plans

By. Teresa Gulyas, Greene County Field Officer

Greene County Planning Commissioners continued to discuss the Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) at their May 19, 2010 meeting. Incredibly, there were still no dollar amount figures for some of the projected equipment cost replacement. Bart Svboda, Greene County Planning Director, listed improvements identified in the Comprehensive Plan that should be considered for addition to the CIP in the future.

These projects include:

Public Safety   – Communications equipment repair

Building & Grounds – Purchase of Property for Greene County Fair

Building & Grounds – Purchase of property/building for a Farmer’s Market

Public Works – Establishment of a recycling collection site in the Ruckersville area

Parks, Recreation – Provision of a public swimming area

Community Development – Provision of rural broadband service

Community Development – Establishment of a library branch in the Ruckersville area

Schools – Creation of a state-of-the-art magnet Vocational Tech Center

Transportation- Provision of local transit service between villages & town centers

The Planning Commission decided unanimously to forward the CIP as drafted to the Board of Supervisors along with the project list so that projects can be reviewed in the fall prior to next year’s budget process. Alignment of the CIP with the Comprehensive Plan may encourage more pertinent input from county departments and will facilitate acquisition of meaningful proffers from developers.

In other news, the Ruckersville Baptist Church requested a special use permit for a church on an approximately 2.02 acre tract which is zoned R-1, Residential, and B-2, Business, located on Moore Road/Spotswood Trail and identified on County Tax Maps as 60-C(A)-14. (SUP #10-003) The Church would like to expand the parking lot and change its entrance to improve safety concerns. The request also included consideration of possible future expansion of the church’s fellowship hall although there are currently no plans to do so. The Planning Commission unanimously recommended:

  • Amendment of the permit to meet zoning and agency requirements
  • Submission of a site plan prior to any expansion or development
  • Addition of outdoor lighting and fixtures are on timers and use motion-detection sensors should be added for site plan approval
  • Low impact development practices would be used as feasible to manage storm water runoff

Other news from the Planning Commission included:

  • Updates for the Comprehensive Plan are now on the weblink and hard copies will be delivered to the Board of Supervisor’s prior to Memorial Day weekend
  • The Board of Supervisors has requested a joint session with the Planning Commission for June 22 for a Public Hearing on water and sewer issues.