Monthly Archives: November, 2010

If the ARB Meets Without Proper Members, Does It Make a Sound?

By. Neil Williamson, President

Did a calendaring error cause Albemarle County’s Architectural Review Board to hold an invalid meeting? 

According to County records, the terms of two ARB members, Chuck Lebo and Paul Wright, expired on Sunday, November 14, 2010.  Yet the ARB held its regular meeting on Monday, November 15th, 2010.  While we understand there was some discussion at the start of the meeting regarding potential reappointment, no one removed themselves from the meeting due to term expiration.

There was only one regular item on the November 15th agenda:ARB-2010-96: Clover Lawn Comprehensive Sign Review Revisions.  At the opening of the meeting, all five members of the ARB were in attendance, prior to the vote, one current member left the meeting.  This left two expired members and two current members who voted unanimously in support of the application before them.

With the support of only two “proper” ARB members, is this action valid?

Did staff advise the impacted ARB members that their terms expired 11/14/10?

It is important to note, The Free Enterprise Forum does not take positions on projects and thus has no opinion on ARB-2010-96

In addition, while we feel the meeting was inappropriate, we do not believe any ARB member knowingly acted inappropriately. 

We do believe the entire ARB may have been let down by both staff and the Board of Supervisors.  Considering Albemarle’s in house legal team, is keeping such calendars too much to ask?

Perhaps the even larger question, considering these positions expired on 11/14, why have we not seen advertising requesting applicants for these important positions?

The Free Enterprise Forum has confirmed that these now vacant positions have not been yet advertised as the Board of Supervisors has not yet decided how to move forward.

Albemarle County spends a fair amount of effort, via e-mail and PR to publicize openings for citizen engagement (see  Yet they chose to remain silent on these openings – Why?

According to Albemarle County website, the members of the Architectural Review Board are paid ($45/meeting) and are responsible for:

The Architectural Review Board shall administer the provisions of Section 30.6 Entrance Corridor Overlay District of the Albemarle County Zoning Ordinance in accordance with duties as set forth in such district, and shall promulgate appropriate design standards for such districts for ratification by the Board of County Supervisors.

The Architectural Review Board may, from time to time, recommend areas for designation as Entrance Corridor Overlay Districts.

The Architectural Review Board shall be advisory to the Planning Commission, Board of County Supervisors, and Board of Zoning Appeals in rezonings, special use permits, site development plans, subdivisions, variances and other matters within Entrance Corridor Overlay Districts.
Within limits of funds appropriated by the Board of County Supervisors, the Architectural Review Board may employ or contract for such secretaries, clerks, legal counsel, consultants and other technical and clerical services as the Board may deem necessary for transaction of its business.

Considering the importance of these four year appointments, the Free Enterprise Forum calls on the Albemarle Board of Supervisors to advertise  the now vacant ARB positions. 

We are not opposed to the reappointment of the current members but we believe such appointment should be made as a active choice by the BOS.

Finally, we hope the Board of Supervisors (or staff) provides direction to the expired ARB members prior to their next scheduled meeting (December 6).

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson


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


C-ville PC Sliding Down a “Critical” Slope


By. Neil Williamson, President

Despite months of intelligent discussion regarding objective, scientific information for determination of “critical” slopes, as well as detailed analysis of the goals of the “critical” slopes ordinance, Charlottesville’s Planning Commission now seems poised to take a new ordinance to public hearing that is worse than the bad ordinance on the books today.

Please, let me explain.

Regular readers may recall when this discussion first came up in March, staff report highlighted:

Staff has uncovered no evidence that any other city in Virginia with a population over 20,000 has a steep slope ordinance.

Prior to the March 9th Planning Commission meeting,  during the Planning Commission “Pre-meeting”, Commissioner Kurt Keesecker presented a concept plan for a scoring system that would result in a tiered approach to steep slope approvals. 

At the time the Free Enterprise Forum was intrigued by a science based ADMINISTRATIVE steep slopes waiver.  While we had reservations we clearly thought this concept was worthy of exploration.

The exploration continued with a August field trip to examine steep slopes.  The trip exposed some of the goals of some of the commissioners as the Free Enterprise Forum blog reported:

100_0325 On October 13, 2009,   The Planning Commission approved the critical slopes waiver for this parcel [for the Fontaine Fire Station]. In discussion on the site, I asked the rational for approving this site had to do with the proposed use as a Fire Station.  One Planning Commissioner indicated public purpose was certainly a factor in their consideration.

I pressed to see if a new residential complex would get the same consideration.  The Commissioner indicated if the applicant made a significant contribution to affordable housing that might be applicable.  He also said there were some on the Commission that felt public purpose was the only reason to grant “critical” slopes waivers but that was a part of the overall discussion to see how the entire Commission (and ultimately City Council) felt about this issue.

Culminating last month with a workshop featuring Morgan Butler of Southern Environmental Law Center presenting.  Mr. Butler earned this privilege based on his organization’s trumpeting of the need to stop development on steep slopes. 

Charlottesville Tomorrow reported on the meeting:

The Charlottesville Planning Commission spent three hours last week further refining a revision of the city’s critical slopes ordinance. Members of the environmental community have sought key amendments to the law in order to protect sites on which development would harm area water quality.

“We want to promote compact development and density in the city because of the environmental and social goals that kind of development offers,” said Morgan Butler of the Southern Environmental Law Center during the commission’s work session last week. “But at the same time we also want to preserve the environment and the environmental features that define Charlottesville.”

After three hours of Planning Commission linguistic noodling, the newly proposed ordinance is not scientifically based nor does it contain administrative waivers. 

The Commission (with two dissenting voices) felt Commission review of Critical slopes was most appropriate.  They also felt they should have broad authority.  Thus the new language reads:

(1) Definition of critical slope. A critical slope is any slope whose grade is more than 25% and which meets the following conditions:

a. Its run is greater than 20 feet; AND its total area is greater than 2,000 square feet; OR

b. It is within 200 feet of a stream as identified in the City’s Comprehensive Plan; OR

It contains significant and unique natural or topographic features [emphasis added-nw]

Could this language be more subjective?  The proposed language will make approvals completely arbitrary.  There is no definition of “significant, natural or topographical features.” 

Most, if not all, the developable (and redevelopable) land in Charlottesville contains critical slopes.  Taken to its logical extreme, this ordinance removes development rights from any parcel of land with critical slopes.

In Albemarle County, the current staff discussion is about how to tightly regulate the critical slopes to create a predictable outcome that meets the goals of the ordinance and can be approved administratively.  In March, it seemed the city had the same idea, but somehow the concept was turned on its head and The City of Charlottesville seems to be taking a different path.

How might this new critical slopes ordinance will impact development (and redevelopment) of affordable housing in the City?

Could these have a chilling impact on economic development?

Why have we not heard from Council on this issue? 

Once again we have more questions than answers.  Stay tuned.

Respectfully submitted,

Neil Williamson, President


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

The $999,000 Sustainability Plan

By. Neil Williamson, President

Every now and again, a media release will cross my desk and really make me dig deeper into the issue.  Such was the case earlier this week when the following was released by Steve Williams, Executive Director of the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission:

CHARLOTTESVILLE, VA – On Monday, November 22, 2010, the Charlottesville-Albemarle Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) Policy Board will reveal specific details on the activities to be undertaken to implement sustainability goals for the entire Charlottesville/Albemarle community. This longer term process is expected to dramatically improve land use practices and limit our imprint on the environment to improve the sustainability of the region.  The meeting begins at 4 pm at the TJPDC’s Water Street Center.

Last month, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) awarded nearly $1 million to the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission (TJPDC) to implement plans that foster sustainable communities. TJPDC, on behalf of the MPO and in partnership with Albemarle County and the City of Charlottesville, applied for a portion of nearly $100 million available through HUD’s new Sustainable Communities Regional Planning Grant Program. The grant funds will enable the region to work toward implementing the sustainability principles that were developed over a four-year period in the 1990’s and commonly known as the Sustainability Accords.

Regular blog readers know that the MPO is a federally mandated, federally funded organization charged with regional transportation planning.  The TJPDC serves as staff to the MPO but also serves other planning functions. 

As if the alphabet soup was not deep enough now Now HUD is awarding federal funds ($999,000) to the TJPDC to “to implement plans that foster sustainable communities” and the policy board of the MPO is revealing “specific details”. 

In a June 25th post to the White House Blog, trumpeting the federal program providing the funding for this grant, HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan blamed “sprawl” for a variety of the nation’s ills.  Secretary Donovan also blamed real estate agents and lenders for the challenges of housing and transportation:

For all the implications of “sprawl”—from job loss, economic decline and segregation, to obesity, asthma rates, to climate change and our dangerous dependence on foreign oil—all of them share by one fundamental problem: the mismatch between where we live and where we work. Whatever else we do to address these problems, America must find a way to connect housing to jobs. . . .

…During the housing boom, real estate agents suggested to families that couldn’t afford to live near job centers that they could find a more affordable home by living farther away.  Lenders bought into the “Drive to Qualify” myth as well – giving easy credit to homebuyers without accounting for how much it might cost families to live in these areas or the risk they could pose to the market.

With all due respect, the Secretary fails to recognize the choices American homebuyers (not agents) were facing  to live in the suburbs instead of the closer in communities.  Faced with the choice of a small home (or apartment) without a yard in a densely populated area versus a larger home with a yard  in a less dense area, a significant cohort chose the yard.

Later in the blog post, Secretary Donovan lays out the methodology of this planning/transportation exercise:

Where the Transportation program will fund planning activities that relate directly to a future transportation capital investment, HUD’s program will fund land-use related planning activities and affordable housing strategies that will be linked to that investment. This funding will make it possible for communities to hire staff with the expertise needed to remove barriers communities face to sustainable development. [emphasis added – nw]

Wrapped in this vision of “more sustainable communities” is a Planner Employment plan.  Considering the media release’s language “dramatically improve land use practices and limit our imprint on the environment”.    The Free Enterprise Forum is very concerned with the direction of these dollars.

We have seen this movie before.  Rather than “removing barriers” to sustainable development, we have seen such efforts in the past become mandates for specific design criteria.  The government goes too far when it dictates design criteria, that’s the market’s job.  Based on our experiences, we pay very close attention when the government comes in to help “dramatically improve land use practices”. 

While we understand the TJPDC/MPO’s excitement about receiving almost a million dollars to study sustainability, the Free Enterprise Forum believes this tax money could be better spent (though we are not given this option) on transportation and transit improvements that would make our current community more sustainable rather than flying in more west coast consultants to tell us what our sustainable future should look like.

Respectfully submitted,

Neil Williamson


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

Business Leaders Provide Feedback to Greene County Supervisors

By Pauline Hovey, Greene County Field Officer

The Greene County Board of Supervisors began a full and ambitious schedule on Tuesday by inviting input from area business leaders concerning water and sewer availability, pricing, a review of current site plan procedures, and other matters. Although Chairman Steve Catalano (At Large) remarked that the purpose of the 4:30 p.m. workshop was “informal discussion to hear from the community” and an estimated 30 or more people attended, only four attendees addressed the board.

With connections for public water and sewer currently running $10,000 each for an equivalent dwelling unit (EDU) in the Ruckersville Water System and the Rapidan Wastewater System, Greene County has the highest hookup fees in the area. Mr. Steve Jones, Chief Operating Officer representing Fried Companies, Inc., and one of three developers speaking at the workshop, noted the hookup fees were “extremely high” and suggested a few alternatives, including cutting costs for smaller residential dwellings and changing to a meter-based system for commercial properties, possibly increasing user fees based on a business’ water consumption.

Mr. Andrew Boninti, spokesperson for the Gateway Market Center located at Rtes. 33 & 29, home to the new Super Wal-Mart and Lowe’s, agreed that in order for Greene to stay business friendly, the county will need to address these costs. He suggested that the water and sewer fees are cost prohibitive for smaller retail businesses and restaurants, which will prevent them from locating in Greene County. He asked the board to “consider tax-incentive financing now to get ahead of the curve before you face a future business proposition.” He suggested if the board wants to entice prospective businesses, it would be in its best interest to work out these issues in advance.

Jones also addressed the site plan process, commenting that zoning and planning is “a work in progress” that needs open discussion to make it “more user friendly” and suggested forming a committee to address “what currently works and doesn’t work.” Noting the length of time it takes for the site plan process to move forward, he suggested some leeway is needed in the current regulations to the assist the County Planning Director in performing his duties more efficiently.

Following community comments, Supervisor Buggs Peyton (Stanardsville) stated he would like to bring more businesses to Greene County and suggested they look at the water and sewer hookup model and make revisions. Chairman Catalano added, “Our main goal is to be business friendly,” as he closed the workshop. The supervisors did not elaborate on any specific action they would take from here.

The workshop was followed by executive session, a workshop with the Rivanna River Basin Commission to review a proposed pilot study of total maximum daily loads (TMDL), and finally the regularly scheduled meeting at 7:30 p.m., the highlight of which came through “other matters from the board” at the end of the night. Supervisor Peyton warned the board to expect a shortfall in next year’s budget due to the reduction in property values. He expected the results of a property reassessment will reduce the county’s income by an estimated 4.5 percent. No definite figures are available at this point, but the supervisors are aware of the challenges ahead as they face the upcoming budget process.

That information generated further discussion regarding Supervisor Jim Frydl’s (Ruckersville) previous request to push the capital improvement plan (CIP) forward. Following up on his request from the last board meeting, Frydl asked when the information for the CIP would be available, noting it would be needed by the end of January in order to be used in the next budget process. He was reassured that the process to retrieve the necessary information from various departments is underway.

Notes from the Places29 Sausage Factory

By. Neil Williamson, President

Last night (11/10) the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors choose not to move forward on a vote on Places29 Master Plan because the text of the Plan as presented failed to fully embrace the direction of the Board.

On September 2, Charlottesville Tomorrow’s report the direction provided by the Board of Supervisors, had the following headline:

Controversial interchanges removed from Places29 master plan

As one who attended the meeting, I concurred with Charlottesville Tomorrow’s assessment.  Imagine my, and the supervisors surprise to find the following language still in the plan:

A. Page 7-15 “and other site conditions near the recommended grade separated interchanges at US29/Rio, US29/Timberwood Boulevard, and US29/Airport Road”

        B.  Page 8-5 “Design and construct US29/Hydraulic intersection as a single point interchange

        C.  Page 8-6 “Intersection Improvements at Rio Road and US29 including the eventual grade separation of the intersection and adjacent and parallel roads”

       D. List of Implementation Projects Project 7 “may also include the design of Ashwood Blvd grade separation

       E.  List of Implementation Projects Project 15 “including ultimate grade separation design concepts”

       F.  List of Implementation Projects Project 46 “Construct grade separated interchange at Ashwood Blvd.”

       G.  List of Implementation Projects Project 47 “Construct grade separated interchange at Airport Rd…”

       H.  List of Implementation Projects Project 50 “Construct Grade Separated Interchange at Timberwood Blvd”

       I.    List of Implementation Projects Project 51 “Construct grade separated interchange at Hilton Heights Road”  [emphasis added-nw]

Regular readers of this blog know when The Free Enterprise Forum reviewed the Places29 plan and found these references we called for the plan to be vetoed.

Our call for rejection was based on not only the interchange references but several other factors including the proposed consideration of the Places29 SuperTax, up to $.25 per hundred property tax surcharge to pay for transportation improvements within the Places29 footprint.  In last night’s meeting the Supervisors chose to take this out of the plan.

More editing remains however.  In our comments last night, the Free Enterprise Forum requested a legal opinion from Albemarle County Attorney Larry Davis regarding the enforceability of section 8.8 f

Commitments to phase proposed development to the availability of adequate services and facilities.”

The concept of phasing approved development in the development area is troubling at best.  At worst, the requirement of “adequate services and facilities” prior to permitting approved development is a legislative initiative that has failed in each of the previous ten General Assembly sessions.  Thus this provision CAN’T be enforced and should be dropped.

We are also concerned with some of the language surrounding the concept of Small Area Plans.  The small area plans seem to be a planner employment act.  On page 4-18 the Uptown designation, that may take decades to build out, calls for a Small Area Plan to

“define purpose, location, and use/design expectations more completely, as well as market feasibility and timing.” 

Determining market feasability and timing is not the function of government [in fact it is the only thing they do not regulate] — it is the private sector that decides when to put money at risk to determine market viability.

 The Free Enterprise Forum remains concerned about the reality of Places29 and citizen expectations it may generate.  Looking at the rendering below, how long until you believe this reality will occur along Airport Road:


urban frontage

Drafting legislation has often been referred to as watching sausage be made, the Places29 process certainly fits this bill.

Respectfully submitted,

Neil Williamson

Free Enterprise Forum Calls for Places29 Veto

Charlottesville, VA – As the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors prepares for the final public hearing on the Places29 Master Plan, one advocacy group suggests the process has gone on long enough.

The Free Enterprise Forum, a privately funded public policy organization, conducted an extensive review of the recently released Master Plan and, based on that review, is calling for the Albemarle Supervisors to veto Places29. The Free Enterprise Forum found that while the plan contains many good elements, on the whole it creates an unfunded planning mirage that will only create false citizen expectations and fails to address the core needs of the community.

Among the Free Enterprise Forum’s concerns is the Places29 plan still contains consideration of the so-called “SuperTax” where property owners along and near US 29 may be charged up to an additional $.25 per hundred to fund specific transportation improvements with in the Places29 footprint. At a time of economic challenge, the Free Enterprise Forum believes this could have a chilling impact on the economic vitality of the North U.S. 29 corridor.

Calling the plan “a Planner’s Plan” Free Enterprise Forum President Neil Williamson said, “If it were not so serious it would be laughable, the plan going forward to public hearing fails to provide answers to important questions of access instead saying such issues will be resolved in ‘Small Area Plans’. Looking at the maps, you can’t tell what ‘jug handle’ roadway you have to take to get to the airport.”

The Free Enterprise Forum cites other issues within the Places29 Master Plan:

· Use of current project dollars (2008) rather than “project year dollars”

· Costs that dramatically disagree with previous VDOT cost estimates (see the 29/H/250 Corridor Study) for comparable tasks.

· Lack of an economic impact analysis for a corridor that is the commercial lifeblood of our community where more than 20,000 jobs are located with an annual payroll of more than $800 million and along which a large percentage of local real estate, sales, meals and business license tax revenues are generated.

“As one who has been involved with this process from the very beginning (2005), the final version of the ‘Places29’ Master Plan is a misguided, improbable pipe dream that the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors should vote down,” Williamson said.

The Free Enterprise Forum is a privately funded, public policy organization. More information about the Free Enterprise Forum can be found on their website and their blog